From around 1998 onward I ran a highly successful fan site for Resident Evil for probably more years than I should have*. I was a fan of both zombies in general and the game franchise like no other. So when the info on the late 1997/early 1998 (and Japan specific) release commercial for the original PlayStation release of Biohazard 2 (Resident Evil 2) made by Zombie film legend George A. Romero started making its way online, it was simply amazing to me.
When you combined this along with the fact it was looking like he would write and direct the, then still recently announced, feature film based on the franchise I was nothing less than ecstatic. His 1978 film Dawn of the Dead was one of my favorite films of all time at this point, and the chances of him directing a feature of a game I loved so much and that was so heavily influenced by him in the first place was just simply amazing to me.
Of course we all know this didn’t happen in the end.
Romero was indeed hired by the production company with the rights to the game, German production house Constantin Films, and wrote some drafts along with his creative partner Peter Grunwald (of which I personally helped provide a version online in 2001). Then before you knew it, depending on which version of the story you’ve heard, he was either fired or actually never officially told that they’d moved away from him, and that was the end of it for Romero’s involvement.
Instead Paul W.S. Anderson, director of such films as Event Horizon and Mortal Kombat, went onto make a series of films which probably are the most successful ‘video game films’ in that they have made over 1 billion dollars worldwide - according to Sony and adjusted for inflation - since the film series started in early 2002 (the next, a sixth and supposedly final one in the series, has been filming recently and is currently due in early 2017).
Critically however none of them have fared overly well, although that is a trend common of all video game films, where according to most people no one seems to do the source material much justice.
I realize now there is a high chance more people have probably seen a Resident Evil film than ever played a game in the series at this point in time, just given the wide reach of movie releases to various other markets like TV, DVD and streaming. But still the general connection of “film to video game” is to be considered an automatic road to failure even in this case, if this franchise is the most successful of them all. Some people may not even know the movies are based on the video games if they ignored this in the opening credits.
A couple of years back I revisited the enter history of the Resident Evil movie franchise’s creation in a feature for fansite Biohaze.com, and I looked at the titles in the light of the idea of a video game film and came to the following conclusion on why they never do very well.
Simply, no one seems takes the original source material all that seriously.
Rather than looking at why the games themselves were potentially a suitable different medium or story, they’re translated only as cherry picked elements, often put across into another style and/or with an entirely different form than actually adapting the story they came from originally. They’re also often not actually adapted into a cinematic medium comfortably by cramming in gaming concepts without figuring out if they need to be included to sell the “video-gamey” background (see the FPS segment of the feature film “Doom” as just one good example of this). And in the end the movies become about the video-game idea, not an adaption.
Of course it’s not unique for this to happen in adaptations, it happens to other forms such as books to films, but the other part is that books can also get adapted in other much more straight forward ways. That is, books do often get a direct film adaption closer much to their source as well, and indeed this happens more of the time than not.
Games made into films have rarely got anything close to this. Arguments emerge that of course it’s harder to adapt an interactive medium, that no one wants to go see a film of the game they’ve just played, etc. etc. But if reading a book and seeing the same story on the big screen isn’t often an actual issue, why be it for gaming. Why can’t the general story of games, especially modern ones already closer to cinema than they were in the past, be translated across mediums. So simply isn’t it about time they tried to see if it will work for video games at the very least?
In the coming weeks Warcraft hits cinema screens around the world in what is destined probably to make major box office, but the critical response will be what counts for it’s on going success (and potential sequels). So will how much of an adaption that has to both resonate with the fans of the franchise as well as the general movie going audience with no gaming background. Indeed are some of the upcoming titles, such as the aforementioned Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed (due this December) films, going to finally put an end to this, or will we still have years of poor features that just don’t do well and are often the joke of the mainstream cinema?
Given also the current feeling towards video games to film it’s likely these titles will be releasing while probably avoiding as much of their heritage in most of their publicity. Ignoring this background rather than celebrating ‘being based on the best selling video game.’ Unlike how a movie based on a best selling novel or stage musical often would be when advertised.
Rather than just drawing a broad line through everything that has already been released, I want to look at this further.... has anyone really gotten close to something good? Are there clues in other films released that worked or didn’t work; what should people avoid doing? We’re obviously not all asking for award winning material, but rather at least how best is it to make at least a good and therefor possibly critically successful video game film. Everyone says they’re all terrible mostly, so what can we avoid and what did seem like good ideas?
Having looked over the live action video game films made, I have made a list of just over 30 titles with actual cinema releases somewhere in the world, providing a worldwide box office take. I figure the best way to do this is take the top 20 highest grossing video game films and pick each title apart to see what works and what doesn’t, and hopefully by the end have a good list of what could be a winning success. Or at the very least a list of things to avoid doing as well wouldn’t hurt if I’m correct about my current conclusion.
In order to do this properly and consistently, I have set myself the following rules:
1. The order will be dictated by the current box office listed for the titles on Box Office Mojo’s (www.boxofficemojo.com) lists as of May 1st 2016 going from least profitable to most profitable. The list will be ordered by worldwide takes, not adjusted for inflation, with domestic US taken only if no totals for worldwide are available (currently this seems to on impact one film, but likely would still be in the same place worldwide anyway).
This automatically nulls basically any specific direct to video titles (such as the recent Dead Rising: Watchtower release for one example) but in the face of making a critically and financially well received video game film the odds go down if the feature didn’t get a cinema release anyway, so this seems fair as a compromise.
2. As mentioned above, only “live action” films can be considered, no fully animated or CG films are allowed. For people asking why, animation and computers allow much more direct translation of the source material, and often tie into the games or games themes well (so no Dead Space, Pokemon, or Resident Evil CG animated films for example, nor the costly event that was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within either for example). I will come back to this later possibly to draw up some thoughts on my conclusions at the end however because they may draw a good counter point on direct adaptions or films with direct connections to video games.
3. Critical comment via aggregates and general public response to the films will be considered and commented on where possible, however older titles are often suspect for these scores because often they aren’t from time correct sources but rather retrospective reviews or home movie releases years after the fact. I know that is what I am doing here myself in most cases of course, but I’ll try to make my own comments first before relying on others who’ve said things already. But that doesn’t mean I won’t link or comment on relevant points.
4. The end of each look back needs to note what connections the film had to the source material and if it was enough to be considered an actual adaption or not.
5. The end of each look back needs to also provide some ideas of positive comment and negative comment on what best could make a decent film based on what that title provided.
I’ll try to do one look back per week, followed up by a conclusion post after all 20 are complete. The first film will be posted alongside this post, and the next one one week from then. For ease of access I’ll update a list at the bottom of this introduction.
So with these rules in place, we shall begin in the next post... with an early entry from one Dr. Uwe Boll, the only title of his to make more than more than 10 million at the box office.
#20 - House of the Dead (2003, Uwe Boll)
#19 - Super Mario Bros. (1993, Annabel Janke, Rocky Morton)
#18 - Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997, John R. Leonetti)
#17 - Silent Hill Revelation (2012, Michael J. Bassett)
#16 - Doom (2005, Andrzej Bartkowiak)
#15 - Hitman: Agent 47 (2015, Aleksander Bach)
#14 - Max Payne (2008, John Moore)
#13 - Silent Hill (2006, Christophe Ganz)
#12 - Street Fighter (2004, Stephen E. de Souza)
#11 - Hitman (2007, Xavier Genz)
#SP - Halfway Post & News
#10 - Resident Evil (2002, Paul W.S. Anderson)
* Originally Resident Evil: A New Blood, later merged with Resident Evil Fan in 2003. I wrote under the name “Rombie” which I still use in plenty of places. The site is still online at www.residentevilfan.com but has not been touched since sometime in 2012.
Movie fanatic, writer and publisher of numerous gaming and movie websites of the past, and former video game guide writer. Started making content in 1997 and ran or assisted with several successful sites, mostly in the realm of Horror and Survival Horror gaming through the early and mid 2000's. Includes sites such as ResidentEvilFan.com, Streets of Silent Hill, EvilGaming.net, SurvivalHorror.org, ShenmueDojo.com, VGN, Gamers Alliance, GamersLounge.com, and BHXnet/BIOHAZARDextreme among others. Usually under the name Rombie. Still occasionally appears around on old video game and Resident Evil forums and semi-frequently appears on the ProjectUmbrella.net Resident Evil podcast.
All images copyright to respective studio/photography owners. Used under fair use for critical comment on video game feature films only.