Every few years there is a wave of announcements that seem to all happen close together - touting a bunch of video games brands to now become a bunch of new movies. These deals tend to happen very rapidly although many of them end up in development hell when finding the right script, director and actors to be involved with them. The more surprise hit of a game too, the more likely there will be a rush to buy the rights while it’s new or reissue them if it’s a longer running series.
So instead of going head first into Review #10 of the top 20, I decided to write up a post this week reflecting on what’s been covered so far, but first also looking at what else has been going on in the world of video-games to film in the past few months. Because we seem to have reached another one of these peak announcement years where it seems something new is talked about officially every other week.
The easiest place to start of course is the current list’s status and how recent and upcoming films might have changed it. When I first made the list this series is based on in early May, there hadn’t yet been the release of the Warcraft feature film. Indeed had I included it into this list then right now it would be easily the number one film on it - having made $433.5 million dollars worldwide in cinemas.
However, as reports have pointed out - the film was not a complete success. With an estimated budget of around $160 million, heavy marketing costs, and with the US domestic result being way down on expectations (at only $47.2M) - it required success in China for making up the bulk of the box office. Which for the film makers thankfully happened.
Even then it’s estimated the film still lost around $15M at least. If this stops a sequel to the film has yet to be seen. My prediction is a sequel will happen, perhaps with a lowered budget and a focus on the Chinese market. But it certainly wasn’t the result Universal was likely expecting of such a well known brand and probably came as a surprise to a lot of people.
[On a personal note, I still have yet to see it but people have told me it’s fairly faithful to the source origins. I’m not a giant Warcraft fan myself, so if you have an opinion about the film I’d love to hear your comments below.]
On that “strong brand” front, Warner Brothers is hoping to cash in on the seeming success of the more recent rebooted Tomb Raider games, and has announced officially a 2018 return to the brand with a rebooted film. Announced with Alicia Vikander in the role of a younger Lara Croft. The two previous Tomb Raider films, starring Angelina Jolie, were considered successful although suffered diminishing returns.
It’s unsurprising that Time Warner, who own both WB, WB Games and have ownership in Square-Enix, Tomb Raider’s developers and publishers, would see this as a potential win for another feature film. Simply because they own into the rights and will profit from any various tie in products and boosted game sales they can sell.
On the real absurd front though, you can’t go past the crazy that is Larry Kasanoff. The producer of such brilliance like Mortal Kombat Annihilation is pitching Tetris as a feature film, but more specifically as a sci-fi feature film trilogy no less. He seems fairly confident that the idea is very brilliant, but it certainly begs the question - if the sci-fi concept is so strong, does it really need a game brand like Tetris attached to it just to make it work?
Likewise, with the smash success of Pokémon Go, a resurgence in the idea of a live action Pokémon movie once again has been making headlines. While Nintendo doesn’t wholly own the brand, they’ve been very shy about making any of their games into live action again after the events surrounding Super Mario Bros. But seemingly bowing to pressure, hype, and probably lots of $$$ The Pokémon Company put the brand out there and Legendary and Universal Pictures have picked up the rights to make a live action feature, due for fast tracked production next year (and likely a 2018 release). Assuming it goes smoothly of course.
“We’re not in the film and television business, we’re in the franchise, intellectual property business,” Co-President Nick van Dyk of Activision Blizzard said while talking about turning their famous IP’s into multimedia products . And so much like the competition for console and PC gamers between Call of Duty and Battlefield, so too will the competition for more eyeballs happen those watching a Call of Duty planned feature film, TV series, and general “cinematic universe” by Activision (who also announced a Skylanders based TV series at the same time).
Shortly after EA and Paramount followed by announcing a possible Battlefield one as well. So far Battlefield is going just for the “small screen” but if both companies are ambitious as each other it’s not long before they’re also fighting it out for movie releases, and other media products as well. They’re not the only company looking to expand though.
While Ubisoft’s confident their own picture sub-company - Ubisoft Motion Pictures - will release a slew of game features of higher quality than the ones before, starting with the long time due Assassin’s Creed feature late this year... but the road still seems bumpy.
Between the company putting out mixed messages about the reason for the film, and the former UMP CEO and Assassin’s Creed producer walking from his role to make his own production company (with a goal to make more video game films from companies OTHER than just Ubisoft) - it’s not looking as bright and cheery as they’d hope. As much good will as a leap of faith video can do, there is no telling just yet how good “Assassin’s Creed” starring and co-produced by Michael Fassbender will be this December until it arrives. Until then, here is the films teaser trailer below.
Sometimes though the production seems a little to late to jump on the buzz. Much like peoples’ attacks on The Angry Birds movie coming along too late (although it still went on to make $346M worldwide), New Line has announced they intend to make a film based on the Fruit Ninja mobile game. Welcome to 2010 all over again everyone. With this sort of delay next we should expecting to see a Flappy Bird film scheduled for 2019 at the earliest.
On the same front, while it was originally announced way back at the DICE Summit in 2013 a planned feature film based on the Portal franchise and headed up by J.J. Abrams of all people seems to going back on track according to the man himself. Abrams has been linked with the project right from the start, however his production slate has been fairly busy with Stars, both Trek and Wars, in recent years seemingly delaying the project. If the planned talks with Valve happen much quicker than Half Life 3 has then maybe we’ll see a Portal feature film this side of 2020. But don’t hold your breath.
Another previously long time announced game to film comeback is the confirmation that another attempt to make a film based on Gears of War is starting again. Universal has picked up the rights and announced its intent during a showcase of the upcoming Gears of War 4 thanks to the games developer The Coalition’s studio head Rod Fergusson. The film has two other seemingly false starts in the past. Back in 2007 it looked like Warners/New Line was intent on turning the game into a feature, and again in 2012 it looked like a new script was being er.. geared up again. No pun intended.
What’s more telling towards my look into trend is it’ll clearly join all the other films that just take a basic idea and run with it. Fergusson had this to say:
“When you’re doing a movie like this, you have to realise that it’s a different medium with a different audience.”
“I think if you were to go in and say, ‘Okay, it’s got to be completely 100 per cent faithful to the game canon,’ or the story of the game, what’s going to end up happening is it’s not going to be the best movie. The big thing we’re really trying to focus on is making the best Gears movie possible, as opposed to the one that’s the most closest to the game.”
We’ll see Rod, we’ll see.
As I mentioned at the start of the article - breakout success stories can also be snapped up really quickly, which why it wasn’t surprising to see Campo Santo’s Firewatch also announced to be picked up as a feature film. Given the character driven nature of the game it’s unsurprising, but what is interesting is the deal between the company and production house Good Universe to make media that switches back and forth between the two mediums. Some attempts like this have happened in the past by other companies so far with little success (Warner’s attempts with Enter The Matrix way back in 2003 probably being the largest that comes to mind), but they could be creating new ground with this plan should it work.
And finally, Paul W.S. Anderson’s last planned Resident Evil feature film - creatively titled, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter arrives very soon. To be fair when you’ve already subtitled your films Apocalypse, Extinction, et al. there isn’t probably anywhere else you can go on the subtitles probably. Hopefully by calling it the final chapter they can’t come back to it either and the series must end here.
Anyway, it hits cinemas first in Japan in late December 2016 and arrives January 2017 almost everywhere else. This is well timed for the release of the next game in the series, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard which also arrives January as well.
Recently released have been several trailers all built around the use of GN’R track. Milla Jovovich returns as super powered character Alice with numerous other returning actors as well, with the film returning to Raccoon City and the Hive where it all began in the original film way back in 2002. I’ll ugh, leave the opinions on it until I see the thing itself next year...
As for other opinions, well I’ve reached the halfway point on game adaptions... a clear conclusion probably can’t yet be made. But what can we tell so far from the 10 films I have looked at so far though?
After my introduction post on the whole concept the first film in the viewing pile was Uwe Boll’s House of the Dead. At the time I found it quite sub par, but given what I’ve sat through since it’s come out looking better than I expected. Ignore the wide level of acting quality, the shockingly dated editing techniques, and the plot holes... and you’ll find it is mostly well shot and entertaining at least, if often for the wrong reasons. Boll might have led to diminishing returns on other game films, but he started slightly stronger than I’d expected to ever give him any credit for.
The second feature I looked at is a film that often tops the lists for worst VG films, but certainly feels like that applies more to the expectations and nostalgia of disappointment than the film itself. Don’t get me wrong, Super Mario Bros. certainly isn’t anywhere near perfect but it has a cheesy charm that makes it a breezy watch and certainly still isn’t that bad as a film overall. Given the on set issues and everything that surrounds the history of it’s production, the fact that something even watchable exists is amazing enough. Helped by a cast that tries even at the films worst and well developed production design for the time, you could (and certainly can) sit through a lot worse.
The next film was the first I expected would be a test of viewing patience and certainly lived up to my expectations while destroying the original audiences ones (as the film’s own tag line alluded to, for all the wrong reasons). Mortal Kombat Annihilation is a very sloppy film that feels like someone took a generic soap opera script and set it in the world of Mortal Kombat. Add to it horrifically bad visual effects, even for 1997, and basically little to no redeeming features what-so-ever, and its got a great run for being the true worst game film I’ve seen so far.
Another week, another sequel... but one where a series fan proved not to be the best choice to direct for a follow up in Silent Hill Revelation. While bolstered by ambition, the movie questions just who a game adaption really might be for. And likewise made me to begin questioning my resolve on the needed balance that is so hard on making games into films in the first place. In any case it’s not a bad film by any stretch, just providing as many good parts as WTH? moments, but certainly made me feel that maybe the game brand itself just isn’t a great thing to adapt into a film beyond it’s visual style.
If Silent Hill was made only because of it’s solid visual ideas, then Doom likewise was made only a need to include it’s singular gimmick... a sequence of the film shot as a first person shooter segment during it’s final act. The film is cookie cutter sci-fi otherwise, copying elements from every other monster sci-fi made in the past 30 or so years. The team behind it wring every reference to the original games all the while making the film nothing like them. The film plods along squandering some great production design and wasting decent talent on rubbish dialogue and plot. Dwayne Johnson himself knows it wasn’t a great film and he was in it, so that should be answer enough.
Instead of making a direct sequel, the 2015 release of Hitman: Agent 47 went down the path of a soft reboot - keeping the general concept intact but altering the details with a new cast and concept. Problem was that rebooted concept they have for the film still isn’t the same as the game. The result was a middling action film with little redeeming plot or development and that still seemed to miss a lot of what made the game brand different than any other assassin/killer flick. Personally I liked it slightly more than the earlier 2007 Hitman film, but it all depends on what you expect from your Hitman adaption I guess.
If Agent 47 was at least mildly entertaining, it looked like one of the most entertaining films on earth up against Max Payne; a brooding dark mess of a film which ignores several of the core parts of what made the game it was (like noir, voice overs, and lots of shooting) for a plot focused far more on Norse mythology, very little shooting, and Mark Wahlberg lazily scowling his way through it all. In some ways it’s the closest in tone to its source and plot origins of any movie I’ve looked at so far, but then due to the poor focus on any elements and little in the way of action... it misses every chance to turn this into a success by cutting everything off at the legs and doing the complete opposite of what you expect it should. Top notch effects, consistent style, and a genuinely amazing production design and location work elevates it above bottom of the barrel. A missed opportunity.
In a way I didn’t think of at the time Silent Hill isn’t that far off Max Payne, in that it provides a very tight visual package but the rest of the film just doesn’t reach its expected potential. But unlike Payne it’s not without trying. The game works better as a game than perhaps any other form because of a combination of its elements (that including taking from books, art, TV, and film) and putting into package that only works best in that interactive form. While I enjoyed seeing it again, I can see why both that it’s considered a success to some while I can also see its flaws for a general audience. You can see more why the audiences and critics weren’t as receptive especially with it’s pacing and story. Worth watching for the visuals, world building, and tone but perhaps little else - Silent Hill is decent enough on the scale of video-game films but perhaps overrated by some.
A surprise awaited me when it came the following film. When I sat down to watch Street Fighter for the first time in over 20 years, I wasn’t expecting much... but instead found the experience... well fun. Certainly the film had its share of problems, almost killed Capcom, and Jean-Claude should never have been given that main role. But I found myself genuinely grinning and laughing my way through the cheese and constantly forward moving plot. And Raul Julia alone should be worth the price of it anyway. It’s not going to win any awards, it’s not an adaption, but as I’ve already done - you could certainly sit through a lot worse films than Street Fighter: The Movie.
And finally, and most recently, I sat through the mess that was the 2007 Hitman feature film. Dull, plot hole ridden, and using a story that would have hardly fit an hour long TV show let alone a film twice that length. The film’s writer predictably fell into form and delivered the usual rip offs of better films and numerous plot problems I’d expect. It doesn’t help also the film, much like the reboot that followed it, was perhaps a bit too serious than the game franchise that inspired it as well. The director and the cast tries their best to salvage something, not helped by studio interference, but it’s a dud that falls almost entirely on the writer’s shoulders.
So where does this leave the series so far? A few things appear consistent, some unexpected and expected running themes, and some bigger questions...
As I’ve noted almost every movie, because it makes me laugh when I go to see who directed the feature... 9 of the 10 films so far are directed by someone from (at least as it currently stands) some part of Europe. There is something the studios, rights owners, etc. are immediately putting together with the idea of the various styles of European Cinema. Specifically why this is well... I’m at a loss. A lot of the films have shot in European cities, which might explain some of it, but you don’t need a European director just to film in Croatia, or Hungary, or France. So there is clearly more to it.
The two biggest trends I haven’t discussed though so far are more to do with what I can only call “justification of source.”
One of these trends is a nod to the source material in what are cursory inclusions. This is like using only names but nothing else from the game in films, or a single specific moment, or something like these linking back to the game in the most simple way possible. Like the FPS mode segment in Doom (or likewise every Hell reference in it), the rubber duck in the bath in both Hitman films, or the winning pose at end of Street Fighter for just some examples. This is to kinda sell the link of the video game to the movie, often in the most basic of fashion.
In theory there isn’t anything wrong with giving a nod to the source of your film, and there are plenty of non-game films that do this... but when you film itself has little else in common with the brand, like so many game films do, these come off as much weirdly forced moments. Especially though when almost every game film does it. Why, again I don’t know.
It would be like if every book adapted to a film required an appearance by the book’s author, or a poster with them on it, or a character from another of their books to appear in the film for no reason at all other than to justify the link. Except in the film the book wasn’t really adapted in the first place.
The other trend, while related, it’s even worse... it’s the video game link within a cursory inclusion. That’s like, for more examples, when Bison’s console was an arcade controller in Street Fighter, there are people playing the Hitman video game appearing in the Hitman movies, and when Uwe Boll used actual House of the Dead 2 footage in the movie of House of the Dead.
To continue the above book trend, it would be as if you had someone in your film reading the book the film is being made of.
It’s absurd. It’s almost like the overt product placement you see in some films, frequently jarring and really takes you out of the movie if you know the source materials. People involved in making some of these films say they don’t want to use direct copies of the plots in games, but then ignoring that and cherry picking elements or easter eggs they can often be more distracting forcing them in this way instead.
Getting back to the idea of cursory source references though, this has been my other major issue so far. So many of the films fall into generic genre films or genres nothing close to their sources. People working on them are missing what made the brand the game had unique in the first place, cramming them into mismatched plots or types.
But the issue is I’ve yet to see a balance that says going for the source or not going for the source of adaption is the right answer. There have been films that have done better than cherry pick some elements, but instead fallen flat on more basic filmmaking craft issues. Then there are ones that have all but ignored what it was that made the game what it was and taken simple details and the brand name. With all of them the biggest test you can throw at these is to ask one simple question:
Most of them... probably wouldn’t make a difference. House of the Dead, Super Mario Bros., Doom, Max Payne, and both Hitman’s could be replaced with other generic ideas, names and the few game nods removed and they possibly could just be other films otherwise unchanged.
Both Silent Hill titles fair slightly better, but the mythology is so large they dip into the films just can’t spend enough time to make them work as plots. The first film shares the original games setup, and the second film that of the third game but because they also have to link as films things really have to be pushed in a certain direction. At least the original film also went onto influence the games that came later, which tells you some of the ideas were loved by future western teams.
That just gives us last the two “fighting” movies so far - Mortal Kombat Annihilation which just crams in characters and plot with no care wrapped around a soap plot, and Street Fighter - which takes a lot of characters and crafts a story around them in a not faithful but not unfaithful idea either.
So this just leaves me so far where I began. Are these “adaptations” enough. Has anyone tried? Not exactly. Some are closer than others, but I haven’t felt like anyone has nailed the feeling of one of these games in the respective movie completely. Ones that have looks are missing the story, ones with story parts done somewhat well are crammed into a generic messy film, and none of them have taken an actual story from any of the games and actually turned it into a film yet either. I’m still waiting for someone to at least try that.
If this is the outcome after 10 films so far, I have no idea what I’ll be saying after 10 more.
But whatever that ends up being, it’s going to be interesting.
As promised at the end of Hitman - next time - Aliens (the film) with zombies, and a dash of Alice in Wonderland for taste? Basically. Hell, there’s possibly the review right there in a nutshell.
#11 - Hitman (2007)
#12 - Street Fighter (1994)
#13 - Silent Hill (2006)
#14 - Max Payne (2008)
#15 - Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
#16 - Doom (2005)
#17 - Silent Hill Revelation (2012)
#18 - Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997)
#19 - Super Mario Bros. (1993)
#20 - House of the Dead (2003)
About ‘Game Over: Failure of the Video Game Feature Film’
A series looking at the top 20 profitable video game feature films to figure out what is lacking and what should be done to make a successful adaption of game to film. There are a set of rules to stick by, so for an introduction on the whole series I’m doing please check out the original post located right here.
Movie fanatic, writer and publisher of numerous gaming and movie websites of the past, and former video game guide writer. Started making content in 1997 and ran or assisted with several successful sites, mostly in the realm of Horror and Survival Horror gaming through the early and mid 2000's. Includes sites such as ResidentEvilFan.com, Streets of Silent Hill, EvilGaming.net, SurvivalHorror.org, ShenmueDojo.com, VGN, Gamers Alliance, GamersLounge.com, and BHXnet/BIOHAZARDextreme among others. Usually under the name Rombie. Still occasionally appears around on old video game and Resident Evil forums and semi-frequently appears on the ProjectUmbrella.net Resident Evil podcast.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.