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6 Reasons Why 90% of Video Game Movies Suck [Rant]

Double Dragon (1994) Mark Dacascos (Jimmy Lee), Alyssa Milano (Marian Delario), Scott Wolf (Billy Lee)
Video games don't make good movies because video games have bizarre concepts, poor stories and too much action.

Last week John Carpenter, famous horror director of Halloween and other films, said he wants to make a movie from the video game Dead Space.

"You know it's great," he said, “The first game was more - I guess it was like Alien - but not quite. It was a little different than that. I maintain that Dead Space would just make a great movie because you have these people coming onto an abandoned, shut-down space ship and they have to start it up and something's on board. It's just great stuff.

"I would love to make Dead Space [into a film], I'll tell you that right now. That one is ready-made."

While I love Carpenter's work, his video game movie will suck. Why? Because they all do.

Of all the movies in the list at the rating site Rotten Tomatoes, none have higher than 43% for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010). It’s described as "It doesn't offer much in the way of substance, but Prince of Persia is a suitably entertaining swashbuckler -- and a substantial improvement over most video game adaptations."

That is the best that video game movies have to offer.

I love video games and I love movies and really want to see a good movie made out of a game. But, it's a huge challenge.


1. Video Game Movies Have Horrid Plots

Double Dragon (1994) Mark Dacascos (Jimmy Lee), Scott Wolf (Billy Lee)

Video game movies have horrible plots, but that's only because most video games have weak plots. The medium lends itself to simple plots.

Sure, some games have complex plots and are written by accomplished writers. But it's impossible to tell a complete story in the framework of a game.

Gamers want freedom. Freedom to explore and get lost in a game's world. If they wanted to play a game that forces them into a complete story they'd play Dragons Lair. Remember Dragon's Lair? It was basically an animated movie that challenged you to move the joystick in a certain direction at a specific time. Move up. Move left. Move right. It was fun for it's time, but gamers want more now.

Besides, video game movies are inherently flawed because...

2. Video Game Movies Are Like Bad Action Movies

Street Fighter Raul Julia, Jean Claude Van-Damme
Video game movies are always action movies. The reason is that popular games are made into movies. The most popular video or computer games are action games. 

The first video game movie was based on the extremely popular action platform game Super Mario Bros. I guess we should be glad they didn't make Donkey Kong.

In 2012, the most popular games were Halo and Call of Duty and it usually follows that trend. But, it's hard to make a good action movie.

Here's what reviewer Roger Ebert said about First Blood (1982), the most popular action movie of all-time, "In fact, although almost all of 'First Blood' is implausible, because it's Stallone on the screen, we'll buy it." Ebert added, "Stallone creates the character and sells the situation with his presence itself. The screenplay should have stopped while it was ahead."

Action movies are fun, but don't make strong movies. There's only so much character development and plotting you can do when going from a car chase to a gun fight.

If a video game movie doesn't have enough explosions people complain it's not faithful to the game. So it's lose-lose.

Even action movies, no matter how unrealistic, have to have good characters. Which leads me to my next point.

3. Video Game Movies Have Weak Characters

Super Mario Bro - Dennis Hopper (King Koopa)

Video game characters aren’t usually very complex and you can’t have a movie with Nintendo guys running around. Some films have tried to make complex characters out of video game properties, but you have to throw everything out and start over. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

That means explaining what would motivate a plumber to go into a sewer. It's not like he's a city worker. In Tomb Raider they came up with a motivation for Lara Croft to be a treasure hunter thanks to her Dad. That worked.

In Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Chun-Li is a world-renowned concert pianist. Then, they have to explain how she learned Wushu fighting.

Despite the Wing Commander game having a fairly good, but rudimentary plot, in the movie they had to explain why a lone fighter would be up against overwhelming odds.

5. Video Game Movies Have Bad Actors

Wing Commander - Freddie Prinze Jr.

One of the many keys to making a good movie is to find good actors, and good actors rarely want to make a video game movie. Why? Because they don’t know anything about it and they have to pretend that doesn’t make a difference.

Kristin Kreuk, who starred in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, said, "I’ve never been a gamer, but I’ve seen a lot of 'Street Fighter'. It was really popular when I was in late elementary school into high school, so I’m very familiar with it. I’ve seen a lot of people play it."

That’s right. She thinks watching people play a game makes her an expert on it.  That’s like saying you’re a master chef because you watch Rachel Ray.

On the other hand, take someone like Angelina Jolie who played Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and actually played the game!

She found something in the character to relate to. "This was a side of myself that I didn’t think was in me." Jolie said about the film, "But it wasn’t a surprise to people who know me. You spend so much time in your head as an actor, living in the dark, you forget to be free. And I’m the first person to be looking for what freedom means and to feel trapped and in a cage. It took me a while to realize that when I was standing at the edge of a waterfall in Cambodia, and I was so happy...God, I really learned what the world is about. Now it makes more sense to me, because if this is how I’ve needed to be my whole life and I didn’t have an outlet for it, it maybe explains why I’m a little crazy."

So, let's say you have an actor that is passionate about the role and takes it seriously. You're still screwed because it's based on a bunch of pixels running around doing bizarre stuff.

6. Video Game Movies Have Ridiculous Concepts

Super Mario Bros

Another problem with video game movies is the concept. Video games have outlandishly impossible concepts. It's escapism.

Making a movie out of a guy that jumps on mushrooms and fights a giant dragon is hard to take seriously.

The only way to do it is to change everything. Super Mario Bros is a good example.

The game is about two plumbers who travel to the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa.

The movie is about two plumbers who travel to a world inhabited by evolved dinosaurs covered in slime. They took a bizarre concept and made it even more bizarre.

Street Fighter, which was a standard martial arts fighting game, could have become a martial arts film like Enter the Dragon (1973). Instead they turned it into a war film.

Mortal Kombat stayed more faithful to the concept, but still struggled to depict the outlandish characters and settings in a realistic way. It's great as a video game translation, but horrible as a movie.

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 34% and Laura Evenson, reviewer from the San Fransico Chronicle wrote, "'Mortal Kombat' the movie has everything a teenage boy could want: snakes that jut out of a villain's palms, acrobatic kung- fu fighting and a couple of battling babes. Everything, that is, but an interesting plot, decent dialogue and compelling acting."

In the end, video game movies are doomed. Maybe John Carpenter can make a good movie out of zombies on an interstellar mining ship. But, if history repeats itself, it will be a dud.

Can a video game be adapted into a good movie?

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  1. I could see the Dead Space thing working if only because it sounds like Alien which itself was similar in a lot of ways to Halloween which Carpenter directed. The other problem for video game movies is you don't usually get renowned directors like John Carpenter; you usually get someone like Uwe Boll, a 21st Century Ed Wood. The Super Mario thing could have worked better if they'd done it as a portal fantasy movie like Wizard of Oz or Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: 2 guys from our world get sucked into a bizarre fantasy world and have to save a princess from a dragon.

    Anyway, I think I'll go work on my script for adapting my NHL 2009 season into a movie.

  2. Though I think the ultimate video game movie would be to adapt Atari's Ninja Golf. Think how awesome it would be to see Tiger Woods hit a drive and then fight ninjas to get to his ball! (That actually sounds like a perfect Nike commercial.)

  3. The problem with video game movies is that the film makers try to follow what the game sets up. If you were to take a good fun game that has a good concept, and strip it bare, you might have a chance. Say if you were to take a series like the Zelda franchise, which for the last decade, has been half story anyway. Do away with 90% of it and start over, you could conceivably come up with a decent fantasy film. Ultimately though, if you want a good video game film you have to start out with something most of them don't anyway, a good writer.

  4. I've tended to enjoy video game movies. I loved Wing Commander. I'm still obsessed with Mortal Kombat. Street Fighter had a fun cast (you can never go wrong with Ming Na, and that was Raul Julia's last movie!). The Tomb Raider movies had some of the early movie roles of Gerard Butler and Daniel Craig, plus Angelina Jolie (you can never go wrong there, either). Even the Dungeons and Dragons movie is entertaining to me. Although D&D is based on a RPG, it's basically the same thing.

  5. Films have different narrative structures to games: a typical game structure is a series of action heavy levels. Occasionally you do get this structure in films e.g. Pandorum - hero has to run through a series of corridors (levels) fighting creepy things while another character trapped in a control room feeds him data, the plot is revealed in this way and also through chance encounters with other survivors in brief interludes between the levels. It sort of works (unless you didn't like the film in which case it doesn't.) Similar level-based narrative in Sucker Punch.

  6. all the bad ones, made way for a few good ones... sadly I can not think of any at this point...

  7. These are all good points. I can't think of any good video game movies I've seen. The movie makers should breathe life into the characters, keep their goals intact, and create a fantastic plot with them. I do agree that some games are too outlandish to make into movies.

  8. Oh, don't get me started on Boll. I was going to include his terrible movie with Jason Statham, but decided not to kick a dead horse. NHL 2009 could work if it had ninjas too!

  9. A Zelda movie would be good TS, but you'd take a chance of alienating the only people that would appreciate the name value. If he didn't wear the little green hat they'd burn the theater down. Great suggestion though!

  10. Another good example of that would be Half-Life, Gene, where things are happening around the main character that advance the plot.

  11. Was there a film of Half-Life? Damn - must have been too busy watching Doom...

  12. There's no Half Life movie. .. yet


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