Why Can’t Video Game Movies Succeed?

By Matthew Ryan – 24th March 2014
Why Can’t Video Game Movies Succeed?

Video game movies have, from the get-go, struggled to win over fans and critics alike. While a number of them have generated decent amounts of revenue, and a few others making decent profits, the genre as a whole has always fallen flat. Obviously there are reasons as to why these movies have never really seen success; and with the silver screen adaptation of Need For Speed now a few days into its theatrical run, I thought I’d take a look back at the state of video game movies, and try to explain why it is exactly that they can’t catch a break.

A Brief Look Back

While 1995’s Mortal Kombat, and a slew of Pokemon movies from 1998 to 2000, can take some of the credit for establishing video games in movies; it wasn’t until 2001 when things truly took off, for better and for worse. With a credible actress as the lead, a massive budget and an army of fans to boot, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider launched video game movies into a favorable position; one that as of yet, has not been capitalized on.

While the movie itself received poor reviews, it was a commercial success, drawing in just shy of $275,000,000 at the box office, over double its $115,000,000 budget. This commercial success was enough to warrant a sequel, which was released in 2003. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life proved yet again to be a commercial success, but failed to reach the heights of it’s predecessor. Although the movie received slightly better ratings, (43/100 to it’s predecessor’s 33/100, as per Metacritic), the series was dead and video games had to find another avenue in the film industry.

Tomb Raider Movie

While financially successful, both Tomb Raider movies were critical failures.

In between the two Tomb Raider movies, another recognizable video game series was adapted to try to take the movie scene by storm. 2002’s Resident Evil launched arguably the most successful video game movie adaptations yet. With five movies in the series already released, and a sixth on the way this year, Resident Evil has at least proven that video game movies can, if managed correctly, last in the ruthless world of film. Like Tomb Raider, the Resident Evil movies have all been commercial successes, yet critical failures, with a hardcore fanbase, that will undoubtedly generate revenue, driving the series onward.

With movies such as Doom, Hitman, Silent Hill and Max Payne rounding out a decade of less-than-stellar video game movies, in 2012, Prince of Persia looked to finally change the fortunes for all future adaptations. With one of the largest budgets of any movie in history, Prince of Persia was filled had the potential to deliver a movie that truly paid homage to its namesake. Instead, the titular Prince was an American and the antagonist, English. Lacking little-to-no resemblance to the games, Prince of Persia was critically hounded, while simultaneously becoming the highest-grossing video game movie of all time. Critically panned and commercially successful. Do you notice a trend emerging?

A Brief Look Forward

As you could probably tell, although they’ve never been that well received, video game movies aren’t going anywhere any time soon. A slew of movie adaptations of some of the gaming world’s most famous stories will be gracing cinema screens over the next few years. There have already been a number of confirmed reboots happening, namely a Hitman reboot titled Agent 47, and an as-of-yet unnamed reboot of Tomb Raider. There are also a number of new additions to the big screen, with the likes of the upcoming Assassin’s CreedWarcraft and Uncharted movies being some of the bigger names involved.

I personally feel the most optimism towards the animated movies coming out. Both a Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper movie have been announced, and it seems to be a far more promising avenue for video games in the movie business. A first major benefit of being animated is that the movies in question will look like the games they are adapting. Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper are both franchises with armies of fans, and seeing some of their favorite games brought to the big screen will undoubtedly please a great many of them. A second, and arguably the largest, benefit is the cast. Casts in animated movies have the benefit of not having to look like the characters they are playing, and as such, the movies will remain very true to the games.

Sly Cooper Movie

The upcoming Sly Cooper movie shows the potential of future video game movies.

  • TotallyNotGlenn

    lol What are you talking about? NFS passed the 100 million mark in box offices recently.

    • Matthew Ryan

      “Critically panned and commercially successful. Do you notice a trend emerging?”

      I’m well aware the movie’s made money. That’s not the only thing that makes a movie a success though. That’s what I’m talking about.

      • TotallyNotGlenn

        What else indicates a movie’s success? Critic scores?

        Frankly, critic scores are low, while viewer scores are high, a frequent trend with many movies. Decent viewer ratings, plus making a lot of money indicates high interest. Sounds successful to me.