Why are video game movies so bad? An introspective analysis


Despite entertaining generations of gamers, video game movies have nearly always flopped at the box office.

“Super Mario Bros.” “Mortal Kombat” and “Bloodrayne” are just a few of the flops out there that make any gamer want to cringe. Yet Hollywood won’t stop. “Assassin’s Creed,” “Angry Birds” and the CGI-laden blockbuster “Warcraft” are in production.

Is there something consistently universal about the quality of video game films, or is something else at play?

For starters, you could argue that video games aren’t a medium meant to be translated into a film format. The main draws aren’t just the storyline or even the cinematic graphics, but rather the immersion and interaction the player has in the game.

People play video games to burn off steam. Shooting zombies, riding dragons and rescuing princesses doesn’t have the same impact if you’re watching it from a third-person perspective, instead of doing the shooting, riding and saving yourself.

Each game is a player’s own experience. A game like “Journey” wouldn’t be translatable to screen, because part of the story is interacting with another player as you trek across the land. It’s a personal connection that wouldn’t have the same emotional impact if you watched it on the silver screen, even if it had an inspirational soundtrack, as well as narration by Morgan Freeman.

Other games like “Undertale” and “Bioshock” are different depending on the player’s choices. Sparing monsters and saving Little Sisters, or killing relentlessly, influence the ending and tone of the game. This sort of aspect couldn’t be translated to a script or screenplay. 

Imagine trying to make a film out of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Sure, you could take a linear thread out of the many, many choices and make a flick out of that, but then the original thrill of choosing your own adventure is gone. It’s a regular plot – and the audience has no impact on what happens to the movie’s characters, which is the reason that multiple ending games are becoming more popular.

Of course, medium isn’t the only reason video game movies often flop. Games with a more linear plot, such as “Half Life” or “Kingdom Hearts” could arguably be adapted, especially based on their rich storylines and interesting characters.

However, a bad director or shoddy script royally screw up even the best storylines. Director Uwe Boll is notorious for this; “Far Cry” and “Alone in The Dark” aren’t just unfaithful to the games they were adapted from, but downright awful to watch from an outsider’s perspective. 

Likewise, “Super Mario Bros.” has potential, but was trashed by the bastardization of the original story, the overly complicated plot and the fact that the leading actor Bob Hoskins was frequently drunk on the set.

All in all, it takes care for a video game to be adapted to film. Only certain games with a more linear progression lend themselves to adaptation and even then, an element of the original product is lost. And of course, all good films require care, talent and effort by the production team to be anything worth watching.

Arguably the best video game film out there is ‘Wreck It Ralph,” because it had something for everyone. The use of original characters meant that it didn’t alter the canon of any beloved franchises, while still being able to convey its own meaning and progression. Gamers themselves could appreciate the cameos, references and game-based gags in the film.

So, Hollywood directors, take note: just because it sold well on Steam doesn’t mean that it’ll break the box office. That and if there’s ever a “Runescape” movie, it’d better be good, because I’ll be watching.

Marlese Lessing is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu.

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