Photo Credit: Geograph.org
Katie Lalwani looks into why video game film adaptations continue to fail in the box office.
With a host of mixed reviews, Tomb Raider (2018) has become the latest in a long line of game to film adaptations that failed to win critics over. The film joins the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Warcraft, Hitman, and Resident Evil, with its inability to gain the favour of film goers. On paper, a video game to film adaptation seems like a sure-fire success, boasting a big budget, and star-studded cast along with an already established fan base. Why do video games continue to fail to succeed on the big screen?
“Changing something they know and love so that it becomes unrecognisable almost certainly leads to a film adaptation failing with fans.”
One prime issue at hand is the fact that video games and films are very different forms of entertainment. Video games provide an immersive experience where control is in the hands of the player. With this sense of freedom, experiences are often individual and unique to the player. This appeal is impossible to replicate in the passive experience offered by cinema.
Often, as with any adaptation, filmmakers make various changes to the source material. This is, of course, a necessity. How else can the likes of an eight hour game be condensed into a two hour film. Yet, it’s often the case where too many changes are made, leaving the result wavering too far from the source material. Filmmakers often build their own narratives, making unnecessary changes to characters or disregarding beloved fan favourites altogether. This shows little regard for the fact that many games are successful because of their well-crafted narratives and likeable characters. Changing something they know and love so that it becomes unrecognisable almost certainly leads to a film adaptation failing with fans.
“Perhaps the only way to successfully bring video games to the big screen is to pay homage to the genre rather than seek to adapt a single franchise”
Another key flaw of video game films is that more often than not, the film focuses on action sequences and visual effects. A visually stunning film is not enough to compensate for a lack of script and character depth. Without any real substance, video game adaptations can often feel gimmicky.
On the other hand, films influenced by games that are not a strict adaptation on any particular franchise, have found more favour from cinema goers. The recent cinema release of Ready Player One is a prime example, with the film evoking a sense of the virtual game world players love. Meanwhile Wreck-It-Ralph, offered an animated love letter to arcade games, featuring references and cameos from popular video game characters. With this in mind, perhaps the only way to successfully bring video games to the big screen is to pay homage to the genre rather than seek to adapt a single franchise. This way, the films can appeal to gamers without alienating non-gamers.
Despite this history of failure, video game film adaptations continue to be made. Adaptations currently in the works include an Uncharted film, an animated Super Mario Bros title and even a live-action Detective Pikachu film starring the voice of Ryan Reynolds. Time will tell if these films continue to fall at the hands of negative reviews and poor sales or learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.