5 Reasons Why Movies Based on Video Games Fail

Looking at why video game movies always fail.

Looks like Mr. 47 is returning to theaters as fans got a chance to see the first trailer for Hitman: Agent 47 which premiered online on Friday. Like its predecessor, it’s going to be an action thriller and another forgettable flop.

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While video games have made efforts to recreate or continue some of the greatest works of the cinematic arts, Hollywood has failed to show the same kind of professional curtsy. 

It’s not that making an adaptation of a video game is difficult – the process requires the same guidelines used to adapt popular books and comics. Yet, Hollywood has failed to learn these lessons in trying to bring an iconic video game story to the big screen.

Here are the five reasons why movies based on video games are always a disappointment. 

5. Hollywood doesn’t respect video games

This is not a blanket statement because it’s obvious that Steven Spielberg respects video games as an art (having created the military shooter genre with Medal of Honor). The same could not be said about a studio executive who see gaming as a fad to tap into.

To be fair, most studio executives operate in a shell while only focused on the studio’s bottom line. It’s understandable that they need to focus on profits to stay in business, but it also gives them a warped perception. In the end, it’s all about what sells and if they can’t understand it then it must not sell (this also is why Community has had a turbulent run). 

4. Hollywood also doesn’t understand video games

Since many in Hollywood have failed to respect video games as an art, they have also failed to understand it as a medium. For example: people who don’t understand gaming will look at Grand Theft Auto V as a cop and hooker killer simulator rather than a story of three friends seeking the American Dream in a post-2008 Crash society.

It’s easy to overlook that video games didn’t become a storytelling medium until the late ’80s while also having to break from the traditional standards set by cinema and theater.

The issue is that a lot of screenwriters and directors will look at a video game as if it was an action movie. The action is a gameplay mechanic that allows the player to function in the context of the environment, not drive the story. In doing so, they have overlooked the story and robbed it of any content that fans enjoy.

Case in point would be how the John Moore adaptation of Max Payne failed to properly recreate one of the greatest works of neo-noir since Pulp Fiction. The key word being “neo-noir,” as in a gritty crime drama within the context of a modern society and not an action/supernatural film.

3. Failure to bring the character to life

One of the biggest issues with these adaptations is that the acting is going to be mediocre at best. Most actors who have been in a video game movie are not that memorable or were just the poor choice for the role. Case in point would be Timothy Olyphant’s portrayal of Mr. 47 in the first Hitman movie.

Full disclosure: Justified is one of my favorite shows to the point that I go out of my way to watch it every Tuesday while owning the entire series on DVD. While he has played several memorable roles, Timothy Olyphant has cemented his legacy with the character of Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens.

With all that said, Olyphant was not the best choice to play Mr. 47. His portrayal lacked the sophistication and shallow charm that has been associated with the character. It’s not that he is a bad actor, he was just not the right actor to bring the character to life.

Yet that pales compared to the so many poor performances that have earned infamy. Tara Reid earned herself a Razzie award for her performance in Alone in the Dark while Mark Wahlberg earned a nominee for his role in Max Payne. Meanwhile the late Bob Hoskins and Dennis Hopper wish everyone forgot about their performance in Super Mario Bros

2. Lack of respect for the source material 

If the creative team doesn’t understand the medium then they are likely to break away from the source material.

Too often when such a film is announced, fans get excited in the hopes of seeing a cinematic adoption of their favorite video game. A few months later they are shocked to discover that the story and characters are not based on the source material.

The film adaptations of DoomHitman, and House of the Dead are just a few examples to note. The most well-known example to look at would be the turbulent production that Resident Evil had to undergo.

When a Resident Evil movie was first being developed, Capcom and Sony originally tapped horror iconic George A. Romero. Unfamiliar with video games; he attempted to understand the source material by having his secretary play the game over eight times while being recorded.

Romero would study the videos and take notes so that he may create a screenplay that was faithful to the story. However, Sony rejected his vision and put the project on hold until Paul W. S. Anderson submitted his screenplay.

That is correct, Resident Evil was originally supposed to be directed by one of the most influential horror film directors and Sony rejected him in favor of some hack.

This brings up the final point…

1. Unqualified directors

Finally, when it comes down to it, the majority of movies based on a video game have been created by directors who obviously lack any kind of creative talent. A lot of directors who have made movies based on video games are either inexperienced or just notoriously terrible.

Taking lessons learned from the success of comic book films, there could only be a good film based on a video game if the director understands and respects the medium. Not too long ago comic book movies were seen as box office poison until Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan redefined the genre.

Video game movies could also have the same kind of success if only the right talent is leading the project. One needs to realize that there is a big difference between the works of Paul W. S. Anderson and Uwe Boll compared to Joss Whedon and Sam Raimi.

Credibility

Directors like Whedon, Raimi along with Peter Jackson are the kind of directors who have the utmost appreciation for the source material. These artists were raised within the source culture and they have made their vision a mission to properly recreate or retell these stories through the cinematic arts.

Also important to note is that they all had previous experience in filmmaking that helped build the needed credibility among the studios to greenlight their dream projects. Raimi had established himself with the Evil Dead-trilogy, Sir Kenneth Branagh was already recognized for his cinematic adaptations of William Shakespeare before directing Thor, and the successful re-make of Dawn of the Dead helped launch Snyder’s career.

Meanwhile the majority of movies based on video games have been directed by individuals who are either inexperienced or are known for making bad films. The best film John Moore (Max Payne) directed, Flight of the Phoenix, has a 37% on Rotten Tomato while Andrzej Bartkowiak (Doom and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) sorry excuse of a filmography is no different and Uwe Boll (House of the Dead and Bloodrayne) can’t direct a film for s***.

The difference could be obviously seen with Halo: Nightfall, a successful adaptation that was produced by Sir Ridley Scott. Meanwhile another highly anticipated Halo adaptation is being developed by Steven Spielberg. 

The only way a movie based on a video game will ever be successful if it’s directed by a gamer with experience while the screenplay is a faithful adaptation of the source material.

So in other words… Sony, please dump Jordan Vogt-Roberts in favor of Joss Whedon for the Metal Gear Solid movie. 


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Image of Stan Rezaee
Stan Rezaee
Stan Rezaee is a gamer from the Bay Area who has been writing about the medium for over five years. He is an old school gamer who still plays with his N64, PlayStation 2 and GameCube. When on his PC, he could still be found playing classic Counter-Strike with friends.