Why Are Most Video Game Movies So Bad?
There’s a certain sub-genre of films that almost always achieves single digit percentages on Rotten Tomatoes. And for good reason; - most video game adaptions are truly terrible films. They do make great drinking movies though. That might be a blog for another time. Don’t get me wrong, there are some low scoring films on Rotten Tomatoes that I adore and think that critics were too harsh on, but I think we can all agree that video game adaptions are usually awful. And that was before Uwe Boll was involved.
Imagine a world where movie studios approach video game source material like Marvel/Disney does with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There would actually be quality adaptions out there. Come to think of it, I can only think of 3 video game adaptions that I like. Keep in mind I’m not going to be going into the financial success of a film, I’m only going to be looking at the general critical consensus, which Rotten Tomatoes is great for. The best adaption to this day is 1995’s Mortal Kombat (34%). Not an easy task considering the game had very R-rated source material and the movie came out phenomenally well with a more audience-friendly PG-13 rating. The other two are Silent Hill (30%) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (20%). As you can see, the video game adaptions that I deem ‘good’ aren’t even cracking 40% on the Tomatoemeter. Based on some quick research, it appears the highest-rated video game adaption on Rotten Tomatoes is 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which comes in at 44%. And that movie literally had nothing to do with any of the video games. It really isn’t even an ‘adaption.’ Think about it, a video game adaption film hasn’t even cracked the ‘fresh’ 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Why is that?
I honestly think it comes down to typical studio intervention coupled with studio executives that haven’t picked up a video game since 1985’s Super Mario Bros. When a producer is passionate and knows a lot about the source material, it can help the film critically and financially. Kevin Feige, the man responsible for the MCU, is apparently a walking encyclopedia of comic books and deeply loves them. That seemed to work out in the studios favor (Kevin Feige is currently ranked 2nd in the list of top grossing movies as a producer. Kathleen Kennedy is above him by less than $200,000,000. She also happens to be another passionate producer who knows her source material).
I believe things will get better over time. There were some pretty terrible comic book adaptions in the 70’s and 80’s and it really wasn’t until 2000’s X-Men (81%) where comic book adaptions started to be taken seriously. There are some incredible stories in video games out there that would make for breathtaking cinema if done correctly. For instance, the Hitman games are artistic, have great tense moments, and deal with wonderful existential themes. It is beyond my comprehension how terrible those films came out. I don’t blame the directors, actors, or writers. I think it all comes back to clueless studio executives who don’t have their fingers on the pulse.