The Curse of the Video Game Movie

There has recently been another attempt at bringing video games to the silver screen: Assassin’s Creed, starring Michael Fassbender. The fact that it received 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, and was called a “humourless bore” and “disorientating” shows how well-received it was.

The question remains: what makes movies based on video games fail? How do you make a good one?

So why do these movies always seem to fail, completely pan commercially, and continue to be received as mediocre movies? One of the reasons is the transference of game mechanics into movies to make them similar to their source material. This has taken the form of Warcraft’s top down perspective and Assassins Creed’s leap of faith in recent years. These features may make good games, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can make good movies. Games are a different medium; they need a person’s interaction to be appreciated. Moving those interactions to film, where you watch someone else command an army of orcs or jump from a cathedral, isn’t as interesting or fun.

It also seems like movie studios only look at video game movies as a means of making cash. They put in big name actors, like Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, using that as part of the marketing to bring people in, seeming to care less about the movie itself. This doesn’t always apply though, as Duncan Jones, director of Warcraft, had a great appreciation for the franchise. However, he struggled to bring a very rich lore to newcomers, making that movie a confusing mess.

For me personally, making a videogame movie good isn’t about simply incorporating mechanics or certain characters, you need to take things that people like about those games, such the lore, or game-specific features, such as the hidden blade in Assassin’s Creed, and do them appropriate justice for movies. This also brings up questions like ‘should some video games even get movies?’ Taking recent attempts into account, the answer is ‘probably not’. Since big triple-A titles have engaging stories and lore in their games, they don’t need a movie to tell the story, it’s already told (Here’s looking at you, plans for Uncharted and The Last of Us movies).

Then again, why does it seem so difficult to transfer the stories across mediums? Most comic book movies are solid, so are most book series made into movies. Comic movies don’t necessarily follow an already-made story; they take popular arcs, and what’s great about them and muddle them and characters together until they come up with an engaging original story, and book movies. They thrive off bringing the world to the page and following successful stories. With video game movies, we already know what games look like, we play them. They also have many stories to choose from, but their movies just turn them into mundane “look it’s the thing you fans like!” Easter egg-fests.

Will there come a time when a palatable video game movie will come along? Hopefully. But let’s not hold our breath.


William Nelson

Image Credit: IGN

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