Video Game Movies: Why Do They Have To Suck?

Films are enjoyable. Video games are enjoyable. Together? Not so much.

At this point, it’s pretty much a given that a movie based off of a video game is not going to be much of a success. This isn’t due to a lack of interest, for some of the games deemed worthy of having a movie adaptation have HUGE fan bases spanning multiple generations, like Warcraft, Super Marioetc. It isn’t because they ignore the source materiel, even though some of these movies have strayed far from it, with some of them even being made by the creator of the game, like Wing Commander, which many believe is one of the worst video game movies to date.

Some say it’s impossible to create a truly great video game movie because it’s impossible to replicate the experience of interactive entertainment, playing the game, and put that on the big screen. But what these creators are missing, and what could really make it work, is remembering to include what makes the games themselves enjoyable in the first place: fun. So many of these movies take themselves too seriously and end up just feeling silly. Some of the blame goes to the fact that so many of these were made in the 90s, when movies that weren’t obvious about how they were supposed to feel just became weird, like making side-scrolling brawler Double Dragon a strange, post apocalyptic Los Angeles, and, of course, the infamous 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie, which Nintendo highly regretted, and caused them to never make another movie to date. It was given a gritty, “real” feeling, which doesn’t really make much sense looking at the original game, a brightly colored, light action adventure game. Overall, it’s the silliness that brings these movies down. Again, taking themselves too seriously, mixed with bad writing and bad acting. There are some great video games that, at times, don’t take themselves too seriously and are all the better for it, like the Paper Mario series, and the Mother series, where they aren’t afraid of goofy writing and moments that just work so well, something these movie adaptations could stand to learn.

Now, not all video game movies have been awful. There are a few, a very small few, that some consider gems, like Mortal KombatTomb RaiderFinal Fantasy, Resident Evil, and Hitman (depending on who you ask). Each of these have something that just works, like Tomb Raider’s Angelina Jolie’s perfect mix of great acting and kicking ass, or Mortal Kombat‘s purposeful over the top, silly martial arts fights. But what’s interesting is that all of these acceptable adaptations have sequels ranging from meh to just plain awful. If these movies’ creators thought they cracked some secret formula, it was probably just a one time success.

One would think that in the modern day, with so many huge and successful animated movies, that video games could find their much needed niche in animation. This isn’t the case. Movies like Warcraft are still being made, trying to push live action with WAY too much CGI. It’s almost baffling why this approach is still being tried then there’s proof of another, successful way. Look at Disney’s 2012 surprise hit Wreck-It Ralph.  A video game based animated flick featuring both original characters and games, as well as familiar faces and references. This movies was a hit, with a sequel on the way, and it’s no secret why. In addition to just good writing and a stellar cast, Disney is no stranger to what, again, video game movies need to be: fun. On the other hand, we have Pixels. Kind of the same idea, but as a live action Adam Sandler movie and it was absolute poo. Disney proved it can be done if done the right way. This is probably why there are rumors of Nintendo making a deal with Disney to produce some movies, after they swore off movies because of 93’s horrific Mario flick, and they wanna be on their way in the next couple of years. Imagine something along the lines of a Disney-made Marvel Universe for Nintendo, with each character having solo movies and then a Super Smash Bros. Avengers type movie. If done right, it could be a huge success.

Is animation the only answer? Not necessarily. This December’s Assassin’s Creed looks quite promising, with an original story by Ubisoft and starring the very entertaining Michael Fassbender. Hopefully movies like this prove that there’s more than one way for a highly successful industry to adapt to other forms of entertainment.