The curse of video game movies. Why are they so lame?

Michael Forest
4 min readApr 22, 2019

Films and video games just can’t seem to get along together. Unlike books or comics, whose marriages with the silver screen proved to be quite fruitful. You can almost wonder — is there some sort of curse looming over film adaptations of popular video games?

The truth really hurts
Perfect video game adaptations just don’t exist — let’s start with this simple, yet sad message. There is no way around it. We have a few good titles, some more bearable, and many that suck. And I mean really suck.

Super Mario Bros. (1993) movie poster

Do you remember famous “Super Mario Bros.” movie from 1993, in which late Bob Hoskins played the famous whiskered plumber from Nintendo consoles? The actor later admitted: “The whole experience was a nightmare”. And he meant it.

Or maybe let’s remind ourselves of a schlocky horror movie “Alone in the dark” from the infamous director Uwe Boll. Somehow even with Christian Slater on board, he managed to screw that one up.
Should I mention more examples? “Double Dragon” (1994), “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” (1997), “Wing Commander” (1999). I can ensure there is enough film crap in this department for everyone, even if we consider some of it “guilty pleasure” material to watch with the cold beer on the side.
Let’s just ask ourselves, what’s wrong with those video game adaptations?

Two separate worlds
Will Wright („The Sims” creator) once said that the viewers and players associate different palettes of emotions. He may have touched a very important truth here. In video games, we decide what happens on screen, while in movie theater we indulge ourselves in someone else storytelling. It sounds simple, but somehow film directors and screenwriters remain unable to merge those two perspectives into a coherent plot.

Street Fighter (1994) movie poster

30 years ago, when video games started to evolve into an independent media, filmmakers tended to treat them with little regard. When writing a screenplay for adaptation, they usually changed many details of the game stories and characters, creating something so different from the original, that gamers usually couldn’t recognize their favorite titles. Let’s just look on the “Street Fighter” (1994)film with Jean Claude Van Damme in the main role. Director and writer Steven E. de Souza somehow succeeded in making a goofy beat’em up game story look even more ridiculous. Adding this with Van Damme terrible Belgian accent made this movie almost unbearable.

The same could be told about “Super Mario Bros.” we mentioned earlier, although here we must remember about a true development hell the movie went through in Hollywood studio. OK, let’s even mention a few Uwe Boll films — “Bloodrayne” or “Dungeon Siege: In the Name of the King” to add salt to injury. Those titles still haunt gamer nightmares from time to time…

Just entertain us, OK?
Looking from the bright side, we must mention Paul W. S. Andersons “Mortal Kombat” movie from 1995. This adaptation of the bloody arcade game made by Midway company was even quite entertaining. Maybe it’s because the director decided not to do many changes from the original source material? Too bad in his next video game movies — “Resident Evil” (2002)and “Alien vs Predator” (2004, this one was also a comic book adaptation, but still counts in my opinion) showed that he strayed from the right path.

Tomb Raider (2001) movie poster

Like „Mortal Kombat”, also “Tomb Raider” (2001), a film about the famous digital archaeologist — Lara Croft, started from the right foot. Thanks to Angelina Jolie in the main role, and Simon West as the director, this movie fared well in cinemas around the world. Unfortunately, the mediocre sequel (just like in “Mortal Kombat” case) stopped the development of this film franchise. At least for another 15 years. New „Tomb Raider” from 2018 (this time starring Alicia Vikander) was only slightly better.

Speaking of which, as the XXI century progressed video game market became more and more profitable, and filmmakers (by that time many of them were gamers themselves) had to take it more seriously. That started a new wave of adaptations, like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (2010), “Warcraft” (2016) or “Assasin’s Creed” (2016). They were fairly well made, by competent directors, but at the same time were… boring. That’s because when you make an ideal copy of the game storyline, you have to ask yourself, why even bother? Why create a copy when the original is good?

This place is clear!
OK, so can we expect some miracle in the Hollywood and video games shared business? Will somebody lift the curse finally? Maybe there still is hope. Just look at the franchises like “The Witcher” and “Metro 2033” — two titles that enjoyed huge successes first as books, then as video games, and now are awaiting film versions. If the whole process can work this way, we can hope to turn the whole adaptation current one day.