Game to Film Adaptations Fail

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Gaming is a multibillion-dollar industry. Film making is a multibillion-dollar industry. Why then can’t these two industries get along? Whether we look at film-to-game adaptations or game-to-film adaptations, it would seem that they are rarely able to bring about a game or a film that is a financial success, critically applauded and appeases fans. Such an anomaly doesn’t seem to exist.

Quite frankly, its bazaar. We live in a world where books, plays, comics, toys, TV series and cartoons have managed to successfully make the jump from their original medium onto the big screen. Games, on the other hand, have got the big screen treatment, yet they manage to be complete failures more often than not.

There hasn’t been one game to film adaptation that has received a “fresh” rating

In fact, based on Rotten Tomatoes ratings, there hasn’t been one game to film adaptation that has received a “fresh” rating (60% aggregate approval rating by critics), which speaks volumes of just how bad these films really are.

With such properties like Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Assassins Creed, Metal Gear Solid, God of War, Need for Speed, Hitman and Tomb Raider all getting prepped for the silver screen, I decided to look at some reasons why these game to film adaptations are failing us.

doom game to film adaptations

Gameplay vs. Storyline

Firstly, it has to be noted that games and films have similar yet different purposes in terms of our entertainment of the medium.

Both films and games can be seen as an escape from the natural world; films allow us to sit back, relax and to lose ourselves in stories that are made to inspire, intrigue, entertain, horrify – i.e. invoke an emotional response or attachment. While games, being interactive, force us to concentrate on a given task, using our sensory functions to accomplish it, while fostering an innate awareness that we all have for success.

In other words, a film is all about story, while a game is all about gameplay. Yes, there are games that have quite the intriguing narrative, yet I can guarantee you that if the gameplay were below standard, most would not bother with it.

Now there are games that have a good storyline. However, sometimes fans assume the game has good storylines when in fact the storyline is actually generic and only enhanced by the interactive nature of a game, as opposed to a film where one isn’t fully consumed in. This interactive nature of a game can cause fans to have a subjective view of the game’s story, as they are judged based on the overall gameplay and not necessarily the story alone. Perfect example of this could be the WWE wrestling games or Need for Speed.

There are some gaming fans that love playing the SmackDown games. They love the story their character might find themselves in and just love beating Miz with a chair! Yet, they might not be tuning into Wrestling on a weekly basis. Need for Speed on the other hand, has been a franchise that has been built up over almost two decades. We love these games for the cars, having the ability to tune them up, race against our friends and the different locations. In recent years we’ve seen these games introduce a storyline. However, I can guarantee that there isn’t one fan of the game that waits patiently for the next game to release based on the storyline.

This can be a difficult conundrum when making a film and trying to extract a good storyline. It becomes clear that the reason why the game is loved is because of its awesome gameplay as opposed to its generic storyline. Filmmakers might then try to create their own storyline based on the game and that could turn out to be worse than the games actual storyline, i.e. Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider film.

If this is the case, the writer should aim at extracting all the good elements out of the story, and expanding on those elements and not necessarily configuring a new story.

resident-evil game to film adaptations

A movie is not a game

A movie is not a game. Most filmmakers forget this for some reason and decide the best way to show its audience that this film is based on a game is to try to recreate some gameplay elements. For example, Doom (2005 film). It was just horrible.

I honestly feel that a movie should be a movie and a game should be a game. Directors should not be looking for ways to recreate gameplay. Instead they should be focusing on creating a solid story that will compliment the game. Whether that’s an original story, the game’s storyline or a prequel or sequel story to the game, the film should feel grounded.

Just imagine if Call of Duty was to be adapted into a film, and the film that we got was Black Hawk Down. That’s how I imagine Game-to-Film adaptations to be handled. Allow the game to be a game and write a story worthy of a movie for a movie.

Now I know I said that most game storylines are generic, but there are many games that have intriguing stories that are worthy of a film. Filmmakers shouldn’t be afraid to tackle the same storyline in film. For some reason they think they have to completely change the story. Think back to Max Payne.

Another error that I see occurs time and again is that when it comes to a franchise game… oh let’s say something like Prince of Persia or Tekken… filmmakers decide to create their own original story and completely negate the games narrative, instead of going back to the first game, taking elements of that story and growing the movie franchise in a similar way.

Not following a game’s history is an annoyance that many gamers have with these film adaptations. This certainly proves to be one of the key elements to their failure.

mario bros game to film adaptations

Modern vs. Classic Games

Up until this point I think I did a pretty good job on emphasizing the importance of storyline, avoiding gameplay recreation and going back to the game’s origins.

Now for some reason when it comes to games, there is a trend to use games that are a hot property at that particular point in time. While TV shows, toy and comic book adaptations use characters that may have been popular a few years back, their films instill a sense of nostalgia to old fans while introducing themselves to potential new fans. All the while they increase these properties popularity beyond its past illustriousness.

On the other hand when it comes to games, the fad is to adapt Modern games. Modern games have become more cinematic, which means they have story that fans grow fond of, with an interactive element and gameplay which anchors gamers addiction.

When it comes to Classic, we all love them for their simplicity and difficulty. Most classic games have a very thin storyline, which gives a player an objective to accomplish. Most of the time the game just has two action buttons and its directional buttons, making it incredibly easy to understand and play, yet it’s hard enough that it requires hours and hours of strenuous effort to try to complete the game.

Adapting classic games makes the most sense to me. It gives the studio and the director the onus to create a story and not have to worry about any gameplay elements. Directors could focus on making a film, a pure film, with a character driven story that will bring that world to life, instead of trying to replicate the experience on-screen. The film wouldn’t have to compete with the game’s storyline and it could potentially draw upon the nostalgia of an entire generation’s childhood.

I really hope that game adaptations will find its feet on how best to bring their characters to the bring screen. If you asked me, I’ll take an EarthWorm Jim or Metal Slug film over any current game-to-film adaptation.

A list of films based on games:
Super Mario Bros.
Double Dragon
Street Fighter
Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
Wing Commander
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Resident Evil
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
House of the Dead
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Alone in the Dark
Silent Hill
DOA: Dead or Alive
Resident Evil: Extinction
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Far Cry
Max Payne
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Retribution
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D

What do you think is the problem with Game-to-Film adaptations and what games would you like to see on the big screen?

Lara Croft

1 Comment

  1. Brendon Bosch

    Brilliant Article and i have to agree. Make an Earthworm Jim movie. Funy character with lots of humour and pointless violence that just needs alot of funny lines. It can work if they stick to the game and animated series formula

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