The very first movie that was based on an actual video game, Super Mario Bros., came out in 1993. That was just over two decades ago. And ever since then, video game movies have, well, sucked. There’s not easy way to say it but movies based on video game properties aren’t good. There have been some decent ones but none that you would ever consider to be a quality film. I’m typically a pessimist so my natural instincts tell me that this trend will never change. However, I do believe that, any day now, Hollywood will get their act together and we’ll finally get that video game movie that all gamers can be proud of.
Why am feeling positive that, not only will the trend of bad video game movies change, but will change real soon? Well, I do have the sense that we’re kind of due to have that positive change. And, if you look at movie history and today’s social climate, you may agree with me. But first, we got to look at why a lot of video game movies sucked before.
When video games started to gain popularity, Hollywood did try to cash in on this fad even way before the Super Mario Bros. movie. There was Tron in 1982, Wargames in 1983 as well as The Last Starfighter and Cloak and Dagger in 1984. These films were not only very successful at the box office, but were critically praised as well. They weren’t based on actual video games, however, but made up games just for the movie. They were still fun movies but gamers wanted to watch films based on the actual video games they played.
Unfortunately, we soon got our with with the aforementioned Super Mario Bros. To say that the movie studios butchered the game would be an understatement of unimaginable proportions. Instead of transporting Mario and Luigi to the fantastical land of the Mushroom Kingdom to fight of a giant dinosaur-like creature to rescue Princess Toadstool/Peach, we got a movie where everything is set in a parallel dimension where dinosaurs evolved sentience and the ruler of the land, King Koopa, wants to take over both dimensions. The film was a critical and commercial flop. It flopped because it was a terrible translation of the game and just plain a terrible movie.
And ever since then, Hollywood has followed Super Mario Bros. blueprint of taking a video game property, looking at its premise and then sucking out all of the personality that made the video games great in the first place. It was understandable during the infancy of video games as, well, they didn’t have all that much story to work with. Super Mario Bros was essentially all about a plumber who runs to the right and jumps in order to save a princess. Street Fighter was all about a fighting tournament that took place all around the world. Resident Evil was all about destroying zombies and the occasional big zombie. The games were fun but the plots were paper thin. Of course Hollywood had to beef things up. However, they usually went too far and just added elements that didn’t fit with the original feel of the games.
However, as technology improved and the industry got bigger and bigger, a lot more effort was put into making video games a more engrossing experience. It wasn’t all about running to the right anymore to save the princess. They became epic quests of a band of heroes fighting a one winged angel who wants to destroy the world with a giant meteor. They became complex tales of espionage and political intrigue of a man assigned to prevent the development of a walking, bipedal machine that can launch a nuclear missile from any where on the planet. There was still room for silly games, like a bunch of angry birds flinging themselves into buildings, but, for the most part, video games stories became complex.
Wideo game narratives have grown up a whole lot and they have reached a point where some gamers actually don’t play games anymore because they want the excitement. Some times, they just want to play the game to see how the story unfolds. That’s how well developed stories in video games have become. Unfortunately, it seems like Hollywood is only catching up to this notion as of recent years. Just a few years ago, we were still getting stories that didn’t really fit in with the universes that the games have built up. There was Need for Speed, which only got the concept of racing and nothing more as well as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li which totally retconned the titular character’s as well as everyone’s backstory.
Things do seem like they’re changing. Hollywood is finally catching on that changing the source material to suit their own tastes isn’t leading to glowing reviews and the love from the video game community. There is a lot more love being put into video game movies as of late. Assassin’s Creed may have put the “ass” in “assassin” but the story is rather faithful to the Ubisoft games. Warcraft took things really serious and draws its plot straight from the games. They aren’t good movies but they are steps in the right direction.
Another thing reason why I think video game movies will soon become better is the proliferation of really good comic book and superhero movies now. During the 80s, comic book and superhero movies were much like video game movies: they were pretty bad. There was the occasional gem like the first two Christopher Reeves’ Superman movies as well as the first two Tim Burton Batman movies (why is it always the first two?) but those were the exceptions to the rule. Mostly, they just sucked. It took some time before Hollywood got their act together here and, even now, you can still see them struggling to keep them consistently great. Marvel has a stellar track record but I’m still hoping that DC will finally get their head out of their butts and get things done right.
This feeling of positivity for superhero films is basically because there are now some really incredible films based on them. We did have to slog through a whole boatload of crap to get to this point, though. It took more than a couple of decades for Hollywood to start getting things right with superheroes, so it only reasons that video games will be getting things right soon as well.
And I do believe that today’s social climate, you know that the general population is practically begging for it. We now live in a society where geek culture rules the world. Pop culture today is geek culture. And video games have always been a strong part of that. I do think that we’re reaching a point where some Hollywood actors/actresses/writers/directors/producers/gaffers/key grips/etc. have grew up playing video games. I think these guys have dreams of being part of the team that makes the very first excellent video game movie. And, if these guys get the job, I’m betting they’re going to give more than just 100% to make their dream a reality! There’s no way they’re going to let Mario down, are they?
But the biggest reason why I think it’s only a matter of time we get a really great video game movie from Hollywood is because there are already some excellent movies based on video games. It’s just that they didn’t come from Hollywood! Japan has been making some really good video game movies for a long time, like Bayonetta: Bloody Fate and Ace Attorney. There are some fan projects like the Mortal Kombat: Legacy shorts and the excellent Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist.
These are proof that video games can make for good viewing experiences. It’s just a matter of time before Hollywood starts doing the same.
When do you think video game movies will become great? Let me know in the comments section below!