Why do video game movies always fail?4 min read

Video game movies mostly always fail. I think this isn’t too controversial an opinion to have. Heck, there have been about two decades worth of evidence to back up my claim.

Why do video game movies fail?

But why is this?

Especially when we have video games becoming cinematic in their own right, such as The Last of Us, the Bioshock franchise, and, of course, Metal Gear Solid.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts or any of my answers on Quora.com, then you’ll know that two of my biggest passions are video games and movies. Surely a video game movie is going to be a dream come true? Surely the cinematic qualities of video games would carry across to the big screen? Sadly, the answer to both is, so far, a resounding no.

The fact that they’ve mostly always failed has been something I’ve thought a lot about. And I do think I’ve started to figure out why, which I’ll discuss now.

1: The incompatible nature of movies and video games.

With video games, you mostly always take control of a character. Through your actions, you decide their life in the game world. It is fully interactive. And, in the case of Role-Playing Games (RPG), such as the Mass Effect franchise, you partake in universes in which you feel an integral part.

Now we have the world of movies. Gone is the feeling of you being a part of it. Instead, you sit there, watching the events play out in front of you.

You are a spectator, not a participant.

Video game movies become so much less inherently interesting when you take on such a passive role in the universe you are given.

This is why I feel that the transition from book to screen is so much easier.

2: Studios don’t understand video games

Movie studios are just don’t understand video games. As mentioned, the simple nature of both media makes them incompatible. In the past, they’ve made some valiant efforts – Duncan Jones’ Warcraft and the recent Tomb Raider. And some … not so valiant efforts, with Super Mario Bros and, well, Uwe Boll.

In most instances, these video game movies are created by people who know nothing about the media. The recent Ready Player One, by Steven Spielberg, is probably the most valiant effort in recent years. And yet, as I discussed in my review, even this was somewhat flawed.

3: Video Game movies stray from their source

This is the cry of many-a-person that seen their book destroyed on the screen. We have Stephen King famously hating Stanley Kubrick’s version of the Shining. Roald Dahl disliked the 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

The same is also true for movies straying too far from the source material.

Nowhere is this truer than in Super Mario Bros, from 1993.

Starring the late great Bob Hoskins as Mario Mario and ‎John Leguizamo as Luigi Mario (don’t get me started), it was an undeniable mess. Gone was everything that made this universe great.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie. The one thing they did keep was the fact they were plumbers.

Goombas and Bowser both got makeovers. In, quite possibly, the worst way ever.

4: Uwe Boll

I have already mentioned the German filmmaker, Uwe Boll, but this guy deserves his spotlight. It is possible to attribute almost every bad video game movie to his mind.

Over the past decade and a half, he has been responsible for transitioning some iconic video games to the screen. All of them have been failures, both critically and commercially. The summary of his movies on rotten tomatoes is an absolute joy to read; his highest rated movie is just 45% – the lowest rated being 0%.

Let’s just take a look at the games that he has butchered:

  • House of the Dead
  • Bloodrayne
  • Postal
  • Alone in the Dark

All of these movies have stripped away everything that made them great. Alone in the Dark is probably his best attempt at a movie and even that was laughably bad.

Now, I’ve spent a lot of time saying why video game movies always fail.

But what can be done?

This has also been a question I’ve thought a lot about. And I do feel that the best solution is to just not make a direct transition from game to screen.

Instead of inhabiting a video game universe, come up with your own that just so happens to be about video games. I feel this is why something like War Games worked so well. The game aspect came second to everything else that was happening on the screen. Yes, it isn’t exactly a video game movie, but it still counts.

I do have hope for the future. With iconic directors like Duncan Jones being the keys to Warcraft and respectable actors like Alicia Vikander taking the helm of Lara Croft, I do feel we are entering a golden era of video game movies.

Hopefully, this will continue and we can build on from Spielberg’s Ready Player One. Who knows — in another five years time, this post might seem totally out of date.

Here’s hoping.

What do you think? Why do video game movies always fail? Maybe you think I’m totally wrong. You can let me know by getting in contact at dan@nobetterdan.com.