It's been 15 years since the first Resident Evil movie was released, which adapted the highly successful survival horror which was developed by Capcom in 1996. Since then, the franchise has boomed, and the series now has six movie adaptions under its belt and a total gross of almost $1 billion. The last of the series — Resident Evil: The Final Chapter — will be released this January.
But how — and more importantly, why — has a zombie-slaying badass done something which no other video game movie can replicate? How has #ResidentEvil managed to become the most successful video game movie franchise of all time, when so many of Hollywood's attempts have fallen completely flat?
A Good Game Rarely Equals A Good Movie
This tends to be the problem when Hollywood decides to adapt a popular video game — what works as a 20+ hour third-person action-adventure does not necessarily translate well onto the big screen. Much of the criticism directed at the critically panned #AssassinsCreed was its overly complicated and long-winded plot — something which the Assassin's Creed games had over 10 years to map out. Resident Evil never had this problem. The games are plot-driven, yes, but have built a world in the last 20 years which provides a rich canvas to plot new characters, storylines and gameplay without sticking to stringent linear events.
A large contributing factor to the success of the movie's is Paul W. S. Anderson's passion for the games. The writer and director told Deadline that he spent two weeks playing the first three games back-to-back, which ultimately fueled his desire to adapt them into movies:
"I was in my apartment, just down from the Chateau Marmont, playing the first three Resident Evil games back to back. I emerged with stubble and red rimmed eyes from not having slept, see Jeremy and say, we have to turn this into a movie. I loved the games but also I loved what they were based on."
Anderson, who also directed the semi-well received adaption of Mortal Kombat, was asked why he thinks Resident Evil has stood the test of time, when so many other franchises haven't:
"I think it’s a combination of passion and experience. [...] I learned an awful lot about what fans like from adaptations and what they don’t. I had a real passion both for the Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil games, and that was the reason we made those movies. I played Mortal Kombat in the arcades in London, and knew all the characters and backstory. While some saw Mortal Kombat as people punching one another and ripping their spines out, I knew there was a mythology there."
Rather than finding an acclaimed video game to adapt, Anderson adapted a game he loved — and with it spawned legions of devoted fans like myself, who are totally onboard with his re-imagination of the iconic games.
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Critically Panned, But Who Cares?
Since day one, the film series has been slammed by critics. 2002's Resident Evil was the most well received (if you can call it that), with a dismal 34% on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it "loud, cheesy and formulaic." Further sequels have faired even worse. Resident Evil: Extinction earned a meagre 21%, and the rest hover somewhere in between.
Usually, a panning of this magnitude leads to a swift axing of further sequels — but money talks. From its initial budget of $35 million, the first movie has earned over $100 million, while Apocalypse, Extinction, Afterlife all made similar bank. 2012's Retribution earned the most dollar, making over $240 million from a $65 million budget.
Resident Evil is shamelessly entertaining, and that's what's getting butts in seats. It hasn't tried to be anything other than a ferociously badass zombie-slaying joyride from the very start, and that has been integral to its success. Sometimes, you just wanna see a kickass chick single-handedly take down the zombie horde while simultaneously destroying the world's most powerful corporation — and it doesn't matter if that makes it a "critically worthy" movie or not.
All Action, All Awesome, All Alice
Arguably the driving force behind the movies' success is #MillaJovovich's Alice, a character who does not exist in the games. We experience the collapse of humanity through Alice's eyes, as she crusades against the omnipotent Umbrella Corp who are relentlessly trying to come up with new ways to kill her. Milla has stuck around for all six movies; this might have something to do with who she's married to, but are we complaining? Hell no, because the consistency of Alice's struggle to overcome this enormous corporation has been central to the success of the series.
Not only that, but Alice's companions along the way have also struck a chord with audiences. Her relationships with Rain Ocampo (Michelle Rodriguez), K-Mart (Spencer Locke) and romance with Carlos (Oded Fehr) exposed her humanity, while characters from the game were successfully brought to life in Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory), Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller). While we love watching Alice rip apart the horde, her relationships with the last smattering of humanity are just as key to the story.
Milla has stated on several occasions that The Final Chapter will be her last outing as the character, but rumors have been circulating that the series may carry on without her. Depending on how The Final Chapter plays out, this could be a possibility, but I doubt it could achieve the same level of success without the power couple of Jovovich and Anderson.
As the Resident Evil movie franchise draws to its bloody conclusion, here's what possible future video game adaptions can learn from this billion dollar success story: DO be a fan — have passion and pride in the movie you're making. DO think about your audience, but DON'T assume everyone has played the game. Make a movie that you'd want to watch, something that's downright entertaining — people play video games because they're fun, and sometimes that's all an adaption needs to be.
With Uncharted, The Last of Us and another Tomb Raider adaption all currently in the works (or development hell), Hollywood are nowhere near done with video game adaptions. And if you're hankering for more RE, the seventh instalment of the #videogame series — Resident Evil: Biohazard — will also be released on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this month.