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Player Down: Have Video Game Movies Used Up All Their Lives?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

By Suzannah Young

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

Since the arcades of the ‘80s to the X-box living rooms of today, video games have assumed an important role as both a technology and a medium in popular culture.

Around the time of the birth of video games, there was also the birth of video game movies. “Tron” hit the box offices and became one of the first – and definitely the first notable - video game movie to gain popularity in 1982.

It was a science-fiction, action, adventure film about a video game creator who found himself transported into the game he manufactured and must play through the game to get back to the real world.

Today, rather than featuring video games within or alongside the real world, current filmmakers are now taking the real world out of the equation all together. New video-game movies and shows such as “Uncharted” (2019), “The Witcher” (2019), and “Mortal Kombat” (2021) take a real-life video game and create a whole plot that takes place within that video game’s world.

This phenomenon has created a whole new movie genre that combines mediums in a way that is familiar enough to be recognizable but refreshing enough to be exciting.

Photo Credit to IMDb

While, technically, “Super Mario Bros” was the first video game transformation to hit the big screen in 1993, the niche genre only consists of about 50 movies in total. In the past five years, however, these video game adaptations seem to be gaining popularity as these gaming franchises extend into Hollywood.

But while the game may take a new form, its name remains consistent. As a defining aspect of the genre, all video game film adaptations share the same name as their respective games.

Ironically, however, while the video games are all computer generated/virtual, the films and shows made about them seem to be a healthy balance of both live action and animation.

Some notable adaptations within the past couple of years include “Uncharted” (2022) and “Sonic the Hedgehog” film series. This is not to mention those such as “Halo” (2022) and “The Witcher,” that have taken the shape of entire TV shows.

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

The highest grossing films inspired by video games include “Warcraft” (2016), “Rampage” (2018), “Detective Pikachu” (2019), “Uncharted,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (2022). Still, out of these, only four have actually been acclaimed.

Since 2019, the only video game adaptation films to score above 60 percent on Rotten Tomatoes have been the “Angry Birds Movie 2” (2019), “Detective Pikachu” (2019), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020), and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” (2022).

“Werewolves Within” (2021) seems to be among the most popular of the semi-successful genre.

This sounds like a good idea – so why isn’t it working? Why do we see video games that are made into movies failing so miserably?

One major issue with this category of television is its exclusive appeal. A large part of the attraction here is the movie’s correspondence with the game. Thus, audiences for these movies and shows are typically comprised mostly of those who follow and play the game.

While those outside the gaming community can still enjoy these movies, their experience is much different than those who have actively experienced the alternate world through gaming.

Photo Credit to Wikipedia

Still, the most obvious factor for the failure of these film adaptations is that video games are not movies and were never meant to be.

Still, one upside of these gaming movies is that one does not have to play the game to understand the movie/show. Films based on books are more likely to lack key details and sidebars needed to make sense of the plot, making a live action version much more difficult for those who did not read the book. (See “Harry Potter” franchise, “Dune”, etc.)

Thus, the advantage for video games is their lack. Video games essentially provide the setting and archetypes, and the movie creates its own plot. Video games have an advantage here because they do not have plots. Similar to the way books create a made-up world through words on a page, video games create a world through visual technology.

The next feature-length, live action video game movie the world should watch out for is “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves” slated to hit theaters on March 3, 2023, starring Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez and Rege-Jean Page.

To follow is the feature-length animation, “The Super Mario Bros Movie,” slated to hit theaters on April 7, 2023 — starring Chris Pratt as Mario, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong and Anna Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach.

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