Is 2016 the Last Chance
for Video Game Movies?
Video games have a pretty complicated relationship with movies to say the least. Whether it was movies made into video games or vice versa, through the years each industry has been trying to capitalize using the other. With Warcraft, a movie based on the game series of the same name, now in theaters, let’s delve into how video game movies have fared in the past, how 2016 is a big year for them and how it could affect the future.
First, a little history about the two industries. Games and movies both have this strange quality in that they’re able successfully adapt other media. There have been successful movies and games based off of TV shows, cartoons, books, comic books, toys, board games, hell even theme park rides. Video games have been able to adapt basically everyone successfully more or less, but movies have struggled adapting one medium in particular: video games.
Focusing entirely on movies released in theaters in the US, the first full-length, wide release movie based on a video game was… Super Mario Bros. Now you’re probably having a few responses to that. Either “OH GOD NO!” or “Really?!” or maybe even “What the hell? They made a Mario Bros. movie?” But yeah, in case you didn’t know, there was a Super Mario Bros. movie and it was an abomination.
So as you can see, video game movies got off to a fantastic start. Joking aside though, there were some alright movies to come out of this, such as the first Mortal Kombat movie, the Lara Croft films, and possibly a Resident Evil movie. However, despite a few decent films, none have ever achieved critical acclaim or really succeeded financially.
The highest-rated movie according to Rotten Tomatoes is Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, or the CG Final Fantasy film that wasn’t about Cloud. The highest rated film according to Metacritic is the first Mortal Kombat movie, coming in at a staggering 58/100. So in short, these movies aren’t really competing for Oscars.
Yet, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re making bank, right? Money cures all ailments, right? RIGHT?! Well yeah, it would, if these movies actually made any money. Right now, the highest grossing video game film worldwide is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time at around $335 mil, which sounds alright until you realize that 15 other movies made more money that year. It’s even less impressive when you consider it didn’t even crack $100 mil in the US, which 30 other films reached that year, including that insipid Yogi Bear movie.
But alas, Hollywood keeps churning out these movies and 2016 looks like it could be a huge year for them. Looking at big releases in the US, there figures to be four video game movies this year, which is the most in a single year (06, 07, and 08 all had three). Not only is it the most in a year, but it’s also the most expensive with the four films, Ratchet & Clank, The Angry Birds Movie, Warcraft, and Assassin’s Creed, collectively costing over $450 million and that’s without factoring in marketing campaigns.
So this year has a lot invested in video games movies, especially with both Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed being viewed as big “blockbusters” with franchise potential. Each movie has managed to pull in their fair share of big name actors and actresses, including Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jason Sudeikis, Sean Penn, Maya Rudolph, Ben Foster, John Goodman, and Rosario Dawson.
Unfortunately, things have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. Ratchet & Clank, which had the smallest budget of the four at $20 million, has only raked in $12 mil while also being met with poor reviews. Angry Birds has been a success to some extent, breaking through $200 mil worldwide and receiving a mixed reaction, but it hasn’t necessarily achieved “megahit” status or “universal acclaim.”
Warcraft premiered last week, hoping to bring in money and start the big video game movie boom. So far though, the critical reaction has been… poor. With critics generally panning it in early screenings, Warcraft doesn’t appear to be shedding game movies’ status as “mediocre” anytime soon. However, the financial status has been mixed bringing in significant cash worldwide, but underwhelming in the United States.
This brings us to the (multi-) million dollar question. Is this year “make or break” for video game movies? Simply put, it’s unlikely. Video game movies were clearly failures in the past, yet studios have still heavily invested in these properties hoping for something to catch on, and why wouldn’t they? Many video games have pre-established stories to adapt, recognizable imagery, pre-existing fanbases, and huge upside as “franchise” films.
No matter how poorly these films do, critically or financially, there’s going to be more. In fact, there’s two planned next year, with the 97th entry in the Resident Evil movie franchise (and supposedly the last), as well as an Uncharted movie. Even after that there’s a Sonic the Hedgehog movie on slate and a Sly Cooper film that had a teaser released some time ago.
If Warcraft or Assassin’s Creed succeed, they might spur a surge in these types of movies, but otherwise 2016 may just go down as a year studios tried a wee bit harder to get video game movies to trend. Regardless, it isn’t as though anyone’s hoping for these films to fail or video games to never be adapted, it might actually be the opposite. With games becoming increasingly more story-based and much more accepted in mainstream pop culture, there’s numerous games ripe for adaptation; maybe even some older ones.
Still, in case you still think a bad 2016 will end video game movies, just remember that Hollywood’s laziness knows no bounds. Studios will buy up any recognizable property around, like, say, Tetris. And then adapt it into, maybe, a sci-fi thriller movie. Oh wait, that’s happening…