When I first thought about writing on this subject, a lot of failure came to mind. My head became filled with films that were flops both critically and/or financially. To name but a few that sprang to mind; Super Mario Bros (we’ll come back to that later, urgh) Doom, Silent Hill and Prince of Persia. Interestingly though, once I had done a bit of digging, I had started to notice a few things, patterns and ideas that Hollywood have thought of to get me and you to the cinema. Want to know what I found? Well just carry on reading….
Lets start right back at the beginning with Super Mario Bros. Now, if you’re reading this, then you’re obviously a fan of both film and video games (me too!) so you don’t need me telling you how astronomically popular Mario was back in the 80’s and 90’s. Released in 1993, this marks the point that filmmakers decided to tap into the video game market and bring it to the big screen. However, making just over $20 million dollars and with a rating on Rotten Tomatoes of 16%, they hardly got off on the right foot and boy did the mediocrity continue.
Another early attempt was Mortal Combat, another hugely successful video game franchise. Released in 1995 it took over $122 million and the box office and fared a lot better than Super Mario Bros. Now it wasn’t going to win any Oscars, but I believe this marks the point when Hollywood realised that there was a successful market for this sort of film. Interestingly, this was one of the few video game films to actually get a sequel, something that after some research turns out is a very rare thing! It didn’t have the critical or commercial success that’s it predecessor had and ultimately killed the film franchise stone dead.
As we entered a new century, filmmakers tired another tactic, using a Hollywood big name. Angelina Jolie starred in two Tomb Raider films (the first eventually becoming the second most successful video game movie of all time) both achieved reasonable box office success along with further propelling her to become a mainstream Hollywood star. Although after these films were released, we didn’t see another successful Tom Raider game until 2013, proving that a bad film can kill a video game franchise. (A scary thought!)
Whilst on the subject of franchises, one that has managed to keep both its films and video games running side by side quite successfully is Resident Evil. They have been able to do this because the films are more loosely based on the video games, giving the films the opportunity for them to create their own path and storyline, appealing to not only new audiences but also fans of the video games themselves, as it would be something they haven’t seen before. If you don’t believe me, the numbers hardly lie, with Resident Evil being the most successful video game franchise based on a video game, grossing over $915 million worldwide.
On the topic of success, the top grossing film based on a video game was labeled by film executives to be “the next Pirates of the Caribbean”. Prince of Persia – Sands of Time had a lot of things going for it. Not only going for two Hollywood starts rather than one, in Jake Gyllenhaal but Ben Kingsley. But came off the back of a recently hugely popular video franchise, of the same name, which ran along side the film ahead of its release. Whilst it didn’t perform fantastically in the US, worldwide box office results more made up for it. As I said before, it seems that films based on video games can cause just as much harm to the future of the film franchise their trying to establish and the video game that has achieved success before it. (No sequel or new game looks to be on the horizon for this franchise either)Now I’ve talked about profits, sequels and franchises, and how elusive they have been to nearly every video game movie. But something huge skipped under my radar and when I say huge I mean HUGE. When doing my research and came across this franchise it seemed so obvious. Not only has it managed to keep a critically and commercially successful video game franchise run along side it, but its also managed to create 16, yes I’ll say that again, 16 movies. Pokémon has seemingly done the impossible and managed to keep this feat going for over 15 years now. It has covered both areas covered so well that the films and video games even promote each other. Obviously both are aimed at a much younger demographic, which I believe has contributed to its success.
But 20 years ago when Pokémon Red was released, kids my age became obsessed, even today I still love those games and I have no doubts I’m not the only one. Therefore, the longevity of this franchise is kept alive by the nostalgia and memories from years ago making many people still want to see those films or plays those games. This formula is something that many video game movies try to establish when they decide to create a cinematic version of a ‘retro’ video game. No prizes for guess how well that’s gone so far!
Looking to the future, in the age of reboots and sequels it seems that the video game franchise isn’t escape this ideology. I uncovered a few highlights coming up in near future, Hitman: Agent 47 (another reboot), Uncharted, Assassins Creed, Metal Gear Solid, The Last of Us, Mass Effect and the all fabled Halo movie. All of which are highly anticipated for. These are all ‘triple A’ titles, and that makes me slightly worried. Looking back at the patterns I’ve seen emerging and the mediocre success of everything that’s come before them, even if just one of these films turns out to be flop then we might not see the video game equivalent for a very long time.
But as we’ve seen the video game industry evolve so must the films if they want to carry their profitability. Mobile gaming has become huge in the last few years, opening the video game market to millions of casual gamers. You only have to look on the App Store to see how much some of these mobile games are making. Thus making the rumors of a Cut the Rope, Flappy Bird, Minecraft and On the Run film seem not such a crazy idea.
So there you have it, my humble opinion on a genre of films that has had a turbulent and debatable success over the past few years. Looking forward, I’m hugely excited and slightly apprehensive. Who knows, with the upcoming projects on the horizon, maybe video game movies will see a renaissance era that comic book movies have enjoyed over the last few years. Maybe it’s just me being cynical, but I think I have a right to be given the past performances of these films. But hopefully, as video games themselves become more cinematic, their silver screen cousins can take a leaf out of their book and ask for some pointers. One thing is for sure; it’s going to be an interesting few years….