Late film critic Roger Ebert once argued his belief that, unlike films, video games could never be considered art. Whether or not you agree with this sentiment is purely objective. However, I do believe we can flip the script a bit to make a statement we all agree with– video game movies can never be considered art. Okay, maybe “never” is a bit too definitive, but to date there has not been a single video game turned movie that has legitimized the adaptation as anything more than a blatant cash-in (no, Mortal Kombat doesn’t count.) By their very definition, video game adaptations are inferior films, ones who take an interactive story and remake it as a passive story (thus robbing a game narrative of what made it dynamic in the first place). No matter how you slice it, the video game adaptation is a nut Hollywood just can’t seem to cr-ack. For proof of Hollywood’s myriad of failures in relation to the subgenre, here are 15 movies that prove Tinseltown needs to stop trying to make video game movies work.
Super Mario Bros.
Super Marios Bros. is probably the first thing that comes to mind when audiences think of video games—the property first appeared on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1986 and was an instant phenomenon. The premise was simple, if surreal—a plumber named Mario and his brother, Luigi, must rescue a princess from a fire breathing dragon with the help of magical mushrooms (no, not those sorts of mushrooms). After three hit games, Hollywood Pictures and Buena Vista Films bought the rights to a Mario video game adaptation in 1993. The resulting film, which starred Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the title characters, took the fairy tale story of the games and cross-pollinated it with a futuristic dystopian world ala Blade Runner. The producers cast Dennis Hopper as the story’s dragon protagonist (who’s a half-dinosaur albino crime boss in the movie) and literalized the Mario universe within a sci-fi context. The resulting movie is one of the weirdest would-be blockbusters ever to tank, effectively ruining the careers of directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel after its release.
Though the Resident Evil series is more popular, the Silent Hill video game series represents horror video gaming at its most eerie and thematically complex. The games all share a common setting– the titular fog drenched town which occupied by nightmarish monsters evocative of the worst traits of human nature. Pulp Fiction co-creator Roger Avery was hired to adapt the video game series into a feature film in 2005. Drawing on the series mythology, Avery designed a story around a mother (Radha Mitchell) who loses her daughter in the town and must save her from monsters, religious zealots and herself. The film was praised by fans but, thanks to clunky expository dialogue and an ambiguous narrative, felt too much like watching someone else play a video game. Silent Hill: Revelation was released last year and attempted to make the series a bit more mainstream. Writer/director Michael J. Bassett attempted to explain everything about the troubled first film in his sequel while opening the series up to new fans, but the result was just as cluttered and poorly written as the first. It bombed in the box office, effectively putting the film series away for good.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil movie series is the only video game adaptation to truly last the test of time. There have been six entries in the series to date with a seventh green-lit for next year. All of them star Milla Jovovich as a Alice, a one-time corporate spy turned genetically enhanced, zombie fighting uber-woman. The films are filled with gooey CGI monsters and a lot of sex appeal from Jovovich. The only problem is that they have very little to do with the actual Resident Evil video game series. Jovovich’s character was fabricated for the first movie and has never made an appearance in the game series. Despite this fact, the first film was a by-the-numbers mercenaries-versus-zombies flick that acted as a prequel to the first video game. That didn’t make it good, but it was passable for some fans and made a lot of money. Then came Resident Evil: Apocalypse, a film that more literally adapted the second and third games (which reset the zombie action from a contained mansion to a city), though the focus remained on the superheroic Jovovich. By the time the third film, Resident Evil: Extinction, rolled around, Anderson had reset the action into a post-apocalyptic desert setting, essentially making a zombie riff on The Road Warrior. Yet, for all the bluster of this list, Anderson’s films keep making money, retain a core fanbase and do entertain. It’s just too bad they cannot please actual fans of the games while they’re at it.
Doom should have been a slam-dunk—the original first person shooter was a Mars-bound hodgepodge of every horror/sci-fi movie cliche imaginable. The story was too simple to screw up—a space marine battles the legions of hell with futuristic weaponry on the surface of Mars. The film should have been Aliens meets Evil Dead, but Universal Pictures and director Andrzej Bartkowiak decided that the bare bones narrative needed to be more sophisticated. The finished film turned the “hell” into a metaphor for humanity’s capacity for good and evil. In the process, it turned what should have been a brainless exercise in action and horror into a brainless meditation on war and corporate corruption. While casting lead Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a red herring hero helped put butts in seats, fans soon turned on this over-intellectualized adaptation.
Prince of Persia
The Prince of Persia game series took the Mario formula (a hero with magical powers is tasked with saving a princess) and combined it with the trappings of a One Thousand and One Arabian Nights-style tale. The game series, which relied on platform-based physics, was a breath of fresh air as you controlled the game’s titular character in a sword-swinging, high-flying adventure. While the Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, retained much of the game series’ action, it also took a white bread approach to the story. We mean that literally—the predominately Caucasian (re: not Persian) cast brought no sense of believability to the film, while the film’s script was little more than an excuse to string together elaborate effects sequences. Though the film was a financial success (the biggest of any video game movie adaptation to date), it still underperformed in the box office.
The Street Fighter series is a game franchise created in 1987 with a story that could best be summarized as “You’re a street fighter who fights other fighters.” The martial arts game wasn’t a phenomenon until the sequel, Street Fighter II, came along. That game allowed the player to take control of a wide ensemble of colorful characters, all with unique sets of moves, and fight them against one another. It became an all-out phenomenon that inspired Hollywood to tackle a movie adaptation. Universal hired Steve de Souza (co-writer of Die Hard) to write and direct the film. Unfortunately, they didn’t bet on the writer turning a simple premise into a James Bond-style vehicle for Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia. The finished film featured all the favorite fan characters (including Kylie Minogue as Cammy, above), mostly done in a comical style, while the action centered on a struggle between a commando (Van Damme as Guile) and a cartoonish dictator (Julia). The film tanked, fans hated it, and worst of all, there was nary a street fight in the entire movie.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li
Andrzej Bartkowiak (the Doom director) struck again, this time for the second live-action version of a Street Fighter movie. This time the film centered on Chun-Li (Kristin Kreuk, above), a concert pianist (um, not in the video game) turned martial arts master intent on avenging her family from the evil industrialist M. Bison (played by Raul Julia in the last film, cast as Neal McDonaugh here). Much like Street Fighter, Legend of Chun Li attempted to use the characters of the video game in an all-new genre and the resulting picture was a mess. Say what you will about De Souza’s version—he at least retained the look of each character. The movie simply had nothing to do with the games, causing fans to disown it and critics to dismiss it. The film has, however, garnered a cult following in part thanks to an over-the-top performance from Chris Klein as an Interpol Agent.
In The Name of the King
The name Uwe Boll continues to be associated with bad video game movie adaptations. The German director has become infamous for directing such turkeys as House of the Dead, Alone In The Dark, and BloodRayne—three horror video game adaptations guilty of every bad movie sin imaginable. For the sake of freshness, we’d like to highlight Boll’s later efforts like In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. The film, based off the Dungeon Siege fantasy RPG games, was Boll’s first big shot at the A-list. The film’s ensemble cast was very impressive—as led Jason Statham, the film sported appearances from Ray Liotta, Mattew Lillard, Kristanna Loken, Leelee Sobieski, Claire Forlani, Ron Perlman and Burt Reynolds. It was truly meant to be Boll’s Lord of the Rings, so what happened? Well, aside from bad writing and choppy directing, we believe this was a case of the Dungeon Siege game series not being high-profile enough to intrigue audiences. It’s as if Boll selected a game series from out of a hat and decided he would use the name to make his own fantasy epic. He should have chosen more wisely—the film failed to cr-ack the box office top ten in its first weekend and was panned by critics universally.
Boll’s last video game movie adaptation to date was Far Cry. Ironically, the film may be the least offensive of Boll’s video game work. The director took the game’s silly premise—a reworking of The Most Dangerous Game about a former special ops soldier squaring off against a mad scientist and his super soldiers—and did what he could with a $30 million budget. Despite the inspired casting of Till Schweiger as the film’s hero and a story very faithful to the original game, fans rejected it outright due to the film’s writing. Admittedly, the film was designed mostly for German audiences, which might explain the stiff dialogue and casting of a German guy (Schweiger) as an American soldier. Though far from the worst adaptation in Boll’s filmography, Far Cry is proof that the audience video game movies are being made for is casting the net of appeal too wide. The German oriented production resulted in a bad, mostly forgotten B-movie version of a current cash cow video game franchise.
Mark Wahlberg starred in Max Payne in 2008. The film was an adaptation of the film noir influenced shooter by Rockstar Games. Under the direction of yeomen filmmaker John Moore, the movie did not live up to the high standards of the critically acclaimed game. Though it retained the same basic premise of the property—a cop whose family is murdered seeks revenge against the thugs responsible—the movie was jam packed with weird, totally incoherent choices. The film performed well enough in the box office but was dismissed by fans and critics alike. It remains a mostly forgotten film in Mark Wahlberg’s oeuvre.
Final Fantasy: Advent Children
The Final Fantasy series is admittedly a strange one for the uninitiated—each entry in the franchise is a stand-alone fantasy tale, albeit with similar themes running throughout each game. The most popular entry in the series thus far has been Final Fantasy VII. Its Playstation game was so popular, in fact, that the company who made it (Square Enix) produced a CGI film sequel to the game. Final Fantasy: Advent Children (directed by Tetsuya Nomura, above) was a surprising success when released straight-to-DVD in North America. This was despite the fact that most people, including those who played the game, had no idea what was going on in the film’s story. The game featured a band of freedom fighters battling an evil military corporation-state, while the sequel seemed to be about a mysterious disease that killed off children in the future or… something. Either way, it didn’t make a lick of sense, though the CGI’s stellar quality made it a film to own for home theater junkies.
Tomb Raider just received a gritty new video game reboot that has probably made everyone forget about the ill-advised Angelina Jolie vehicles that were released in the early 2000s. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Temple of Life (yes, that’s two colons being used) took the popular adventure game series and cast Jolie as the title character. While the actress acquitted herself reasonably well as a gun-toting action heroine, the films emerged as little more than bad Indiana Jones knockoffs. Gone was the sense of peril maintained by the games, replaced instead with over-the-top James Bond-style stunts and a plethora of bad CGI effects. While the first film was a success, the second film was a box office bomb, effectively killing the series (including the games, which struggled to find an audience before the recent reboot).
D.O.A: Dead Or Alive
The Dead or Alive video games are fighters that emphasize a counter-based system of combat. Oh, and they’re also incredibly misogynist works that emphasize balloon-breasted beauties who fight in scantly clad wardrobes made more titillating to male audiences by a system of exaggerated physics (use your imagination for the description). We won’t go into the plot, as that’s not really what the games are about and, for that matter, there’s barely one to begin with. Hence the problem with adapting the series into a movie. Yet Paul W.S. Anderson did so anyway, with Hong Kong director Cory Yuen directing. The finished film that featured Jamie Pressly and Eric Roberts in lead roles (a clear sign of quality) is just as cheesy and classy as you would probably imagine. At best, the film was a bad excuse for girls in bikinis to perform wire-assisted kung fu. The movie encapsulates everything bad about video games and, even worse, veered it toward teenage boys with a PG-13 rating. They didn’t take the bait and the film was quickly retired to DVD.
Hitman is, of course, an adaptation of the popular stealth gaming series. Timothy Olyphant shaved his head to portray the title character, a cloned assassin employed by a mysterious contractor known only as The Agency. Though the game series has been wildly popular, it did not help the movie which struggled with studio interference, awful scripting and a very miscast Olyphant as the franchise’s cold-blooded killer. Though the film was a mild success financially, director Xavier Gens disowned the film after 20th Century Fox reshot and recut much of his finished film into a muddled, disjointed mess that barely resembled his vision for the adaptation. Critics and fans felt the same—the latest entry in the series, Hitman: Absolution, has distanced itself considerably from any ties to the disastrous movie. Meanwhile 20th Century Fox is currently prepping a reboot which is set to star Paul Walker.
Photo: Chris Connor/WENN.com
Not many people remember the Double Dragon games. To kids who grew up in the twilight of Nintendo or 1980s arcades, the brawling action games were hard to ignore. The plot was simple—two twin brothers battle a group of ninja biker guys to rescue Marion, their mutual lady love interest. It could be the plotline to any silly action movie, but Hollywood decided to up the ante for the video game movie adaptation. Like the Mario movie, Double Dragon resets its loose storyline to a post-apocalyptic future. Mark Dascascoes and Scott Wolf play the brothers, only this time they’re battling a crime lord (Robert Patrick) who wants control of a magical medallion that could help him rule the world (or something). Alyssa Milano (pictured in her Dragon heyday above) takes an early adult role as Marion, leader of a resistance group called the Power Corps (we’re not making this up.) Somewhere along the way there are mutants, martial arts and a lot of bad celebrity cameos. While not the worst film on this list, it certainly qualifies as the first major example of how Hollywood will screw up a video game adaptation almost inevitably. The film remains out of print on home video and that’s probably a good thing.