The curse of video game movies
Video games are one of the most important sources of entertainment today. Only in 2018, the video game industry made USD 134.9 billion in sales, consolidating itself as one of the preferred forms of entertainment for millions of people around the world.
Despite this, video games have not fared very well when it comes to movie adaptations. In MFC Editorial we analyze what lies behind the difficult task of making a good film based on video games.
The bad relationship between movies and video games began in 1993, with the first film adaptation of a video game. Ironically, the chosen character was the same one who initially consolidated the video game industry in the international market: Mario, Nintendo’s flagship plumber.
Super Mario Bros. (1993) was directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, and starred Bob Hoskins in the role of Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. Despite being based on one of the most popular video games in history, the film was a total failure for both box offices and critics.
The reasons for Super Mario Bros. failure are many, but the most important one is the transformation that suffered the original idea, distorted enough to become a caricature of the concept. The world of Mario and friends went from being the colorful fantasy kingdom full of mushrooms from the video games, to the dark dystopia of a parallel universe where dinosaurs evolved into humanoid beings.
Other titles have received similar treatment, although to a much lesser extent. Examples of this are films like Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or the Resident Evil series, which gradually moved away from the source material to form their own narrative concepts, creating truly cinematographic proposals. On the other hand, more faithful projects, like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) or Assassin’s Creed (2016), didn’t dare to delve into the themes proposed by the source material, resulting in pantomimes of their video games and big commercial failures.
Thus, the curse of video game movies was born, condemning them forever to fail terribly, until some savior manages to break the bad streak.
Adapting Video Games
In the 80s, the video game industry was increasingly becoming more and more important in the entertainment scene, evolving year after year to end up as the phenomenon it is today. For its ability to tell stories, create worlds and, above all, allow us to explore them, video games have provided an experience never seen before in the entertainment industry and it is even considered by many as the tenth form of art.
Even so, every time a video game is adapted into a movie, the results are the same. Despite having an already established fan base, it seems that just the title is not enough to guarantee the quality or the profits that are expected from this type of productions.
Unlike novels or comics, formats from which film adaptations tend to become big hits, movies based on video games usually end up being forgotten. Part of this failure is due to a poor understanding of the format it intends to adapt, its characteristics and limitations.
While novels and comics usually offer more direct narrative experiences, the techniques employed in videogames are different, focusing especially on interactivity, looking for the player to immerse in the worlds and scenarios developed, through an experience where their decisions matter.
The newly released Detective Pikachu (2019) is one of the films based on a video game that has generated big profits. This is due to, in addition to the value of the brand, the exploration that the film made of the universe proposed by the video games. Despite having a weak script, Detective Pikachu reached nearly USD 426 million at the box office, so it was considered successful enough to start working on sequels, even without reaching the label of total success obtained by films such as Iron Man (2008) and its earnings of USD 586 million.
Seeking to match the success of Nintendo, the trailer for the new Sonic film, the mascot of SEGA, was released in April, a month before the premiere of Detective Pikachu.
After the great reception of the realistic designs of the creatures in Detective Pikachu, Paramount Pictures expected the same results for their interpretation of Sonic. Unfortunately, they didn’t get it.
A wave of negative comments seized social networks in the days following the revelation of Sonic‘s design, among which were the surprising comments of the original designers of the character. Such was the magnitude of the public’s rejection that Jeff Fowler, director of the film, announced on his Twitter account that Sonic would be redesigned, changing the release date from November 2019 to February 2020.
This type of influence that fans had on the Sonic movie is quite common in the world of video games. The big developers often present their projects at events such as E3, from which they receive comments and critics from their users in order to make relevant changes. However, it is an event that has never happened before in the history of cinema.
On the other hand, video games have run with a bit more luck when it comes to being adapted to a TV series format. Titles like Castlevania have been moderately successful and a series of The Witcher starring Henry Cavill is in development.
Among other future projects is a trilogy of Metal Gear Solid films, a Monster Hunter movie starring Milla Jovovich, to be released in 2020, and a new animated Mario movie, which is being developed by Universal and where its creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, acts as co-producer.
The rejection suffered by the design of Sonic was essential for filmmakers to decide to make a better version of the film, as often happens in video games. Despite the slump, there is still time to see what video games have to contribute to the world of movies and if the curse gets to be finally broken.