Why Videogame Movies Have More Or Less Failed…

The other night my girlfriend and I sat down to watch a couple of films from my DVD collection. She picked out Rush Hour, which I’d not seen for quite some time but both of us had seen before (my memory of the film was fairly good, but my understanding is that Rush Hour 2 might actually be one of those films that is a better film than the original was). The other DVD was Silent Hill.

My recent completion of Silent Hill Homecoming on PS3 (which I’d put off for several months because frankly the game was fan wankery, mostly consisting of repeated scenes from earlier games combined with the film… thus…) made me actually want to see the film again since I had only seen it last when I brought it on DVD. Seeing as she had not seen it before it also helped. It helped as well I guess that until I told her, she actually had no idea the movie was based of a videogame and she had no idea I had the collection released thus far on my shelf.

Watching through the movie with someone who’d never seen the games gave me a new appreciation for quite why these films frequently… frequently is probably the wrong word…. for why these films always fail horribly as more credible fare.

Personally I believe, and probably lots of others, that Silent Hill is probably the most faithful of all videogame adaptions thus far. The art direction and camera work in particular draws exceptional parallels to the world created in the original games, and the story and environments pay several major homages to the titles well. Additionally Akira Yamaoka’s music from through the series is used appropriately during the film as well.

My girlfriend did not have issues with most of this in particular. She did feel that while there were constantly brilliantly crafted shots and sets, that it seemed to be at the cost of other things that may have been important. She also felt there was a particular brand of over-acting or over-dramatics about some of it, yet at the same time the main character didn’t in particular seem freaked out enough over some of the things that happened. In short it seemed to be at odds with itself on what it exactly wanted to be. Additionally no time it really spent on building a relationship with the characters at the start. But overall I think she felt the story just lacked not from key moments or momentum, but that it had no solid base.

I sat there on reflection at the end of the film and realized the story I saw was probably different from what she had seen… my history with the games gave more insight into why there are alternate worlds, who the guy with the pyramid head and the knife was, and so on and so forth. But that additionally she was correct. It’s not exceptionally long before the movie arrives in Silent Hill… and while the videogames didn’t need back story, the movie did. You learned as you went in the games. You read notes, you listed to dialog. You read the instruction manual and the back cover. You had plenty of time to understand. The movie did not allow this.

It started making me think of other films and then had to think over what had made other videogame films work or not work. This week a new one has opened with Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time, based on the old Jordan Mechner series which has was craftily reworked in 2003 and reinvented as a new series. As it’s still on release, I started to think about how much game movies have made and why they don’t do so well.  

So I looked into the top 10 grossing live action films based off games according to USA and Worldwide box office sales listed via IMDb and Box Office Mojo. Just to prove how sad I am, I’ve actually seen all 10 and I… as shamed as I am to admit this, own 7 out of 10 of them on DVD. This is the list from 10th to 1st ranked by US earnings.

10. Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997) – $35,927,406 / $51,376,861

Mortal Kombat II came out at a time where interest in the series had declined, but the intent was – much like the original film, which came out around the time MK3 was launched, to rekindle the series in the fans hearts. Sadly it didn’t work.

The tagline for it was ‘Destroy All Expectations’ – it certainly did. It ruined everything the first film managed in one complete go. The original film was a zany fast paced action flick, which quite passable effects at the time of it’s release. While a direct sequel (literally picking up where the end of the last movie was… recapping in a horrible voice over by the non-Christoper Lambert-James Remar), this film had no heart, humor (just lots of unintentional stuff), horrible script and dialogue, some of the worst effects ever in a major picture. It was a shallow empty husk of the series – much like the actual series itself as a game had become. The two best things about it is that Johnny Cage is killed in the first six mins – just to be replaced with new good characters at a whim, and the heeeeelirious mud-wrestling sequence with poor continuity to boot – when Sonya turns up in the next scene completely clean.  It’s better than the yellow car in Commando!

A few years back early production took place on a 3rd film, reportedly somehow Cage would be back from the dead and new characters would be added. But it hit production problems and never happened. Apparently there is discussion/talk of a 3rd film to happen, however it will likely be a reboot of the franchise and not be connected to the two earlier films if the rumors are be believed.

9. Hitman (2007) – $39,687,694 / $99,965,792

Hitman should have probably done better than it did on paper. Eidos’ (now a part of SquareEnix) series has quite a following, and while it was often rumored that Vin Diesel was interested in playing Agent 47, Timothy Olyphant seemed a better choice… on paper. I saw the ‘Uncut’ edition of Hitman on DVD, which was not really any longer than the original film by any major stretch.

The problems were many. The script attempted a balance of trying to keep somewhat towards the origins of the character, but put him in a situation a bit further beyond the games. It was slow too. Dialogue was forced.Olga Kurylenko tried her best and failed…. something she wouldn’t try again…And Olyphant’s version of the character got no development with audiences. You didn’t dislike him because he wasn’t horrible over the top and just did his job, but you couldn’t like him because of the job and the general air around the character.

The movie made a modest amount given it’s budget and a sequel is apparently due to happen.

8. Resident Evil (2002) – $40,119,709 / $102,441,078

Resident Evil is a bit of a sore point for me. A large fan of the series as games, the film was never going to be much other than a disappointment. The trilogy – thus far – has been Sony Screen Gem’s 2nd biggest release as far as profits go (behind the Spiderman films), and they and the makers – Constantine Films, Davis Films – are happy with that. I was very keen back in 1997/1998 when George A. Romero was attached to direct, however he was dropped and it took 3 more years before the movie happened. Resident Evil did do one thing however, which was put zombies back on the screen in a big way.

The film itself is much like all other Paul W.S. Anderson films… a bit hit or miss. The ideas are there, there are some key links to the series which spawned it, while becoming it’s own thing. Originally the casting call talked only of a homicidal supercomputer, although thankfully it wasn’t that bad. The best sequence is definently the laser hallway scene, which seems to be a homage to the movie Cube. Milla Jovovich’s casting was suspect, but she eventually got another husband out of it and some sequels. Can’t be all that bad for her. Since it’s release in early 2002, zombies have become one of the major horror movie attractions again and even George got to finally make a new zombie film in 2004. A forth sequel is due out this year, Resident Evil Afterlife.

7. Max Payne (2008) – $40,689,393 / $85,416,905

My car was broken into while I saw this terrible film. Perhaps not a way to start a critical point about this film… but to be honest I was surprised how much it made and that it ranked this high. The game is a dark drug related noir title which has a self-aware sense of humor. The movie however is a dark (visually) drug related bore title which has no sense of humor and some very very bad casting.

Much like Silent Hill the nice visuals overshadow the film, however unlike Silent Hill this doesn’t mean they have followed the game – more specifically they’ve just looked at how to shoot stuff in slow motion and use shadows to great effect. Mark Wahlberg chews scenery. And the plot. Because it’s a thin as a single sheet of paper. Learning she wasted energy for nothing in Hitman, Olga Kurylenko turns up for eye candy and nothing more.

Best thing about the whole movie (aside from the nice shot of the gun firing with snow on it) is probably the credits sequence which actually seems to get the idea of what the game is about. Shame the preceding 1 and a half hours or so couldn’t.

6. Silent Hill (2006) – $46,982,632 / $97,607,453

Not much to say here I haven’t said earlier above.

The art design was spectacular, the story and pacing not so much. Fans felt the crowds of cult/church people in limbo plus the barb wire thing was a little too beyond the games although I’m unsure how the general audience would gage this (my girlfriend didn’t find most of the movie that scary – aside from the bugs – mostly because early on they kinda avoid showing you a lot in much detail until around the time the janitor guy (shown to the right) crawls out across the floor.

And yet sadly everything else was so much of the games it limits the connections for people who’ve never played them. Probably one of the three listed films that does have a very heavy connection between it’s game counterpart but for non fans this works against it quite a bit.

A sequel is on the cards, but what form this will take and when is yet to be known.

5. Resident Evil Extinction (2007) – $50,648,679 / $147,717,833

The 3rd in the RE series took only just less in the US than the 2nd, but actually made more worldwide than the 2nd overall which is fairly great box office for third in a series.

After the sequel the third film had not been left with a lot of places it could go, and so it borders the crazy in numerous places. Okay, basically the whole thing.

Why is there sand everywhere? How could this happen worldwide in just a few months? Why doesn’t Alice use her powers better and more appropriately. Why do main characters that don’t die live, and ones that should live die?

The ending is one of those crazy over the top ones too, where you kinda think it’s better they leave it where it was.

But they aren’t.

Guess we’ll see what happens next later this year.

In 3D.


4. Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004) – $51,201,453 / $129,394,835

In retrospect the second film made me appreciate the original film a little more.

While everything is ramped up, like good sequels do, the scripting is a little loose, the dialogue is poor, the plot is silly, and the acting is crazy. In an attempt to make up for the lack of large connections in the original film, Anderson’s script (although he didn’t direct) tries to include numerous references and characters from the series into the films.

There are some good ideas in here, but they are overshadowed by the bad, stupid, and down right horrible.

I think most of all is the ‘guy in a suit’ Nemesis and the cardboard cut out bad guys.

Oh and Jared Harris as Dr Ashford. Please note for your acting in future: Just because your character is in a wheelchair does not make him mentally disabled. 

3. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003) – $65,660,196 / $156,505,388

I don’t remember much of the Tomb Raider sequel. I think this says a lot, because it was obviously very forgettable. It also has a stupidly stupid long stupid title. While it still made a good deal of money (mostly off the back of a few things, but I’ll get to that later) I personally believe it was the worse of the two films… however while critics in general basically disliked both Tomb Raider titles this one has better marks overall. Maybe it’s just because this film was directed by Jan De Bont I dislike it…. but I don’t know if it’s just that.

The film follows a course similar to later title in the game series, jumping from country to country on a single quest (to find Pandora’s Box, via way of a key in the titular item). Fish-Lips Jolie does a convincing acting job as the badly proportioned tomb raider… and it’s interesting to note that both Tomb Raider’s have cast a leading man that has become quite famous in recent years for action movies more than their traditional fare (Gerard Butler in this and Daniel Craig in the first film).

It’s also worth noting that the movie launched in 2003 with a PS2 game, Angel of Darkness, at the same time. Angel had deviated away from traditional earlier games which the movie was based on, which bad enough in and of itself. However the game as well was rushed in order to be released before the film. It was buggy and badly designed, and while the movie made a decent profit the game spelled the end of the current line of Tomb Raider games and almost one would believe almost killed the series entirely.

2. Mortal Kombat (1995) – $70,454,098 / $122,195,920

This might be a tall call but I honestly (personally) believe that Mortal Kombat is probably the only title to deserve this much money and I would also call it the most successful video game movie to date when it comes to critical response, fan response, and commercial take overall. Where Street Fighter and Double Dragon had both bombed fairly poorly just several months earlier, Mortal Kombat did exceptionally well.

Firstly it was one of the first movies to use the power of the internet. The official website provided lots of info, details, and video preview(!) of the film which created a lot of buzz.

Secondly the movie doesn’t take itself entirely seriously and frequently plays over the idea it’s a videogame or at least comes from a game background. It creates a story around it’s mythos with characters that the fans knew, and non fans could easily understand and follow. On that line it’s story is straight forward but doesn’t treat it’s audience like idiots.

There are many flaws with the film of course. The main one is… well for a bloody fighting game it’s lacking in blood. And lengthy fights. In fact the best fight in the movie isn’t the last. It’s the one between Liu Kang and Reptile. One almost believes however the blood content was left on the floor for a couple of reasons. First was the rating, because the core audience is probably aged 13 or 14, and if it got some sort of higher R rating well then thats the core audience gone. And secondly was due to the high exposure and contovercey into the game itself with the US Govt. (in particular Joe Lieberman) – well covered in the aptly titled Doco – “Moral Kombat.”

However it was filled with good effects for it’s time (perhaps TV sci-fi level these days really). It’s soundtrack complimented and extended the idea of it being a videogame (very electronic backed and of course, how catchy was that main theme song). It was cross-promoted and released along with an Arcade game release of Mortal Kombat 3, which unlike Tomb Raider in 2003, was completed properly…. and actually good. And quite simply overall it was a fun movie.

It is cheesy to watch it now (yup, this is one of the 7 I own) but it was a darn good generally entertaining movie back in 1995, but I still enjoy it as a guilty pleasure.

1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (aka. Tomb Raider) (2001) – $131,168,070 / $274,703,340

The only videogame to pass 100 million at the US domestic box office, and even then it made more in the US than Mortal Kombat made worldwide. Prince Of Persia will likely be the next videogame movie to hopefully eye this prize… but we’ll have to wait and see if it’ll have any chance.

So why this film above all others? Hype mostly you would say. It was exceptionally well promoted, promoted again, and cross-promoted to boot. In the years leading up the film, Lara Croft became a digital icon. She didn’t just appear in games…. she appeared in commercials, magazine covers, on the video wall for U2 (who in turn did work for the soundtrack), so it already had a great push. The games hadn’t entirely over sold themselves just yet. And Paramount put a lot of money into it’s marketing as well.

To top it off, Jolie being cast as the title character added it’s own hype. By 2000 she was a hype sensasion all by herself. People had already said she was the perfect choice for the role before she was signed on. They believed she had the look and the people making the film listened to everyone to confirm it. It was a combination that worked.

As with a lot of films, there are ones that make more money even when they are critically panned by most. Tomb Raider is one of these films. The plot is fairly straight forward. The direction is passable by Simon West, but really at the end of the day – the game was to control a female Indy Jones-style character and when you put that back on the screen it’s fairly 1 dimensional sadly. And yet it made mega bucks.

However saying that Tomb Raider (and to a degree also it’s sequel) get the concept right of putting that game on screen – the Tomb Raider movie could have quite easily been the plot of a Tomb Raider game, the characters have the same depth, there is a MacGuffin object to quest for, and the pacing feels like levels to a game… Still I didn’t find it that entertaining. And neither did most critics it seems.

Still to come this year officially: The King of Fighters, Tekken, and as mentioned Resident Evil Afterlife. Unofficially plenty of others. Plus we are yet to see what Prince Of Persia will make, but after 1 weekend so far it’s already technically now in 10th place. After all this because I’m sure people a curious, these are the other videogame movies (live action) ranked in best to worst US box office take… from 11 downwards. 

Street Fighter (1994) – $33,423,521 / $99,423,521

Doom (2005) – $28,212,337 / $55,987,321

Super Mario Bros. (1993) – $20,915,465 / n/a

Wing Commander (1999) – $11,578,059 / n/a
House of the Dead (2003) – $10,249,719 / $13,818,181

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009) – $8,742,261 / $12,707,250

Alone In The Dark (2005) – $5,178,569 / $10,442,808

In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) – $4,775,656 / $13,097,915 

BloodRayne (2005) – $2,405,420 / $3,650,275
Double Dragon (1994) – $2,341,309 / n/a

D.O.A. – Dead Or Alive (2006) – $480,813 / $7,500,497

Postal (2007) – n/a (Never Officially Released Wide in the US, 21 screens only) / $146,741

Far Cry – $0 (Never Officially Released in the US) / n/a

Unsurprisingly if people know their videogame movies well, there is one director on here more than anyone else – Uwe Boll (pictured right).

He has six films in that list with a seventh I couldn’t find any details on…. as it was released straight to DVD; BloodRayne 2.

Just in case people ask, the 3 movies I don’t own on DVD are:

Mortal Kombat Annihilation, Tomb Raider, and Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life. Yup… I own Max Payne. Don’t ask.

As for the girlfriend…. well next up, I will probably subject her to the first Resident Evil film and see what she says… 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *