It’s no secret that the history of video games movies is, well, haunting. The hype surrounding Super Mario Bros. (1993) and Jean Claude Van-Damme’s Street Fighter (1994) indicated the birth of an exciting new genre. They were to usher in a new age, finally combining two mediums which, in theory, should be natural allies. Of course video games inspired by films were nothing new in the 1990s as Star Wars dominated the market with adapted games spanning all available consoles from 1983. With the implied expanded universe of great movies capturing the imagination of gamers, it was only natural that movie based video games would be in high demand. When the format inversed, and studios tried to go the other way and make movies of video games, something demonic was spawned.
The damage done to western civilisation by Super Mario Bros. was nothing short of apocalyptic, but yet studios persevered, producing cinematic adaptations of video games at an exponential rate; two Mortal Kombat films were released in 1995 and 1997, with a combined Rotten Tomato score of 36%. It was not all doom and gloom though, as the early 2000s saw what could be described as the high point of the genre, the incredibly successful Tomb Raider (2001) and Resident Evil (2002) grossed over $100 million respectively, the latter of which led on to a popular five film franchise.
The genre however never reached the heights of Hollywood potential, constantly overshadowed by original sci-fi franchises and the emergence of the dominant, all powerful ‘comic-book’ genre in the 2010s. The video game franchise seemed to die quietly in a corner. Such was its demise that two, aggressively contrasting films were produced almost mocking the genre’s short life, the fabulous and understated Wreck it Ralph (2012) and the abomination that was Pixels (2015). Thus it has led many to believe that video games should be kept to the small screen, worlds within worlds that could never truly be done justice in a mere two hours of film. The people who believe this are, quite simply, and with all due respect, talking out of their arse.
The problem with the genre was not the incompatibility of games and movies, but a clear lack of respect for gamers by the cinema industry. In the short life span of the genre, studios would prioritise their own, profit driven ideas about what the genre should be, ignoring the incredibly rich goldmine of beloved lore, and replacing it with inferior, nonsensical plots aimed at hitting generic target audiences. Therefore they were dooming a genre by disappointing and infuriating the very people who loved the games they have played all their lives. All this changed on 2nd May 2008.
The release of Iron Man (2008) and the game changing, world dominating, imperial emergence of Marvel Studios saw a new cinematic philosophy develop. Much like Leninism in 1917, the Marvel mentality exploded into popular consciousness. The days when studios would consider a movie a success if they simply made a profit are being ushered out, to be replaced with a philosophy of fan service, and love of source material. The hiring of comic book author Joss Whedon to direct Avengers Assemble (2012) led to chants of ‘One of Us!’ heard around the world, and saw the movie gross $1.5 billion in the box office.
Studios are now aware that focusing on source material can lead to extravagant success, and I believe now is the time when video games will get a second chance. Angry Birds (2016) seeks to be the forerunner of this renaissance, a mild film based on a viral game seems a relatively safe bet for Hollywood, focusing primarily on children and willing parents, it is unlikely to set the world alight. The biggest tests lie ahead, the future of the genre will be decided on the success or failure of two films: Warcraft (2016), based on the most popular game of all time, World of Warcraft, and Assassins Creed (2016), with Michael Fassbender as the lead. If these two films perform well, the genre will rise triumphantly. If they fail, the genre will die, buried under the weight of expectation, with ‘GAME OVER’ scrawled with my own disappointed tears on its tombstone.