Why movie adaptations of video games fail to live up to their full potential

movie adaptations of video games

It seems that every movie released now is based off someone else’s work. Not that this is a new practice, but it’s reaching epic proportions these days. Is it because originality is dead? Not even close. It is more of a homage to the original creator’s vision and talent. In many cases, this melding of mediums turns into great art or at least a fun two hours at the theater. Unfortunately, the video game industry seems to be the ugly duckling of the movie adaptation world.

We aren’t talking about movies about video games. These can be instant classics like the Fred Savage film, The Wizard or huge flops like Adam Sandler’s latest Pixels. The poison of the adaptation industry is a film based purely off of a video game. The last one to hit the theaters was 2014’s Need for Speed. A domestic flop, the driving and action film did better in foreign markets and managed to turn a profit. However it’s been largely forgotten in the one year since it’s release and been left to languish through on demand services like Vudu and DTV. This is a rare case, though. More often a video game adaptation will follow in the footsteps of the first super adaptation fail.

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The ’90s were an awesome decade for Nintendo. After releasing the Nintendo Entertainment System, everything seemed to be coming up roses for the company. Leading this charge were a pair of plumbers from New York that took the whole world by storm. ‘Super Mario Bros.’ is one of the most popular video game franchises in history and will likely always be known as such. So when the idea came down the pipe in ’93 to bring Mario and Luigi to the big screen, it seemed like a no-brainer.

To keep a tragic tale short, Super Mario Bros. went on to be one of the most famous film failures of all-time. You can point to any number of different reasons as to why the first video game film adaptation failed, but the fact is that the trend has continued to this very day. Is it because gamers don’t come out and support their favorite games on the big screen? Well, it’s not fair to blame them for the failures of so many films when the games and merchandise continue to do so well. The gaming industry has grown to an amazingly strong, multi-billion dollar industry with arms reaching all over – comics, music, clothing, and toys. So what makes the films so different?

One issue is simply attempting to translate the immersion a player feels while playing an engaging video game into a somewhat-passive theater experience. Unlike comic books and novels which are meant to be more spectator entertainment, video games force you to move and take actions, instead of simply watching it all unfold in front of you. A perfect example of this is the 2005 movie Bloodrayne. The vampire actioner enticed gamers with a fun storyline and exciting gameplay. When brought to film, however, the excitement players felt was just not there.

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Bloodrayne and Super Mario Bros. were also hurt by one other major factor plaguing many game adaptations. Their only reason to exist is to make money. These are actually the worst types of adaptations, but it is even worse when a film company slaps gamers in the face by ditching the original material altogether or straying too far away.

“Way off base” and Resident Evil go hand-in-hand in the minds of many gamers. The gaming franchise, which has been hugely successful since its initial launch, throws players into dark and creepy mansions and alleys overrun by the walking dead, relying mostly on atmosphere to build tension. For whatever reason, the filmmakers behind the film franchise turned this scary game into a sci-fi action flick, focusing only on the game’s mutated creatures and evil conspiracies.

The fact is that there will likely be very few movie adaptations, of video games, that will ever work. The experience of fighting evil for many, many hours cannot be duplicated by simply sitting in a movie theater for a couple hours. There is no immersion in the storyline and the true connection to the heroes is simply not present. This will not stop Hollywood from trying, but at least we know our games are still waiting for us at home.

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This post has been authored by guest contributor, Brittni Williams. An entertainment blogger by profession, Brittni writes about movies, video games and all things pop culture. Her works have appeared in Relatively Interesting, The Action Life and FizX. She can be reached via email at brittniwilliams@outlook.com.

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