2016, on paper, is a renaissance of sorts for video game movies, with Ratchet & Clank, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed all releasing this year. Yet video game movies have rarely come to life successfully on the big screen. If studios fail again, someone will have to say enough is enough – stop ruining my nostalgic memories of favourite games. There certainly is a broken formula right now that studios should be able to identify, but they keep giving me movies like Need for Speed, Hitman, and an endless amount of Resident Evil movies. As a fan of both mediums it’s easy to see what’s wrong, and that’s the worst thing about it.
Easily the biggest flaw of all video game movies is an inability to balance appealing to gaming audiences and appealing to general audiences. Take the recently released Ratchet & Clank film, for instance: one of the biggest criticisms of the movie was the fact that the (unproven) director tried to shoehorn in a load of references and nods to classic films, but that’s not what the majority of the audience wants. This film should have been referring back to the humour and content of the original titles for the PlayStation 2, as I wholeheartedly believe those who went to see Ratchet & Clank were the ones who grew up playing the games. On the other side of the spectrum is Warcraft, which became so bogged down in its own lore that it went completely over the heads of the general public, and this was reflected in the box office. Duncan Jones is a director of high standards (watch Moon or Source Code, both brilliant – two of the few movies I have on my sparse DVD shelf), but even he fell on the sword as he couldn’t blend what it took to be a coherent movie for the public, and an appealing one for fans.
Budget sizes and studio confidence have destroyed video game movies on multiple occasions. If we look at the likes of the newest Hitman movie, ‘Hitman: Agent 47’, it was built on a relatively small budget of $35 million (considering it was a movie going on worldwide release). The budget and blandness of the movie were an attempt not to satisfy anyone who may have played the games, but an effort at making money with big explosions and ‘class fighting, lads’. It achieved this, making around $80 million on the box office, but you have to wonder how it must feel as a director, or as a person on a set where there isn’t that much creative control. Video game movies typically fall into a clique where they are not made to be good, but made to make money. Famous titles that a large amount of people recognise can mean high numbers at the box office, whether it’s Resident Evil or Angry Birds. The addition of video games to the film industry brings an already-established reputation that easily translates into high box office returns.
At the end of the day, films aren’t about the cinematography, the set design, or the costume design – making money for studios is where the root will always lie with big budget filmmaking, as much as I adore the quirky characteristics of some movies. When it comes to video game franchises and their adaption onto the big screen, there is always too much at stake, and that is the issue: when there are massive losses to be made if a video game movie flops at the box office, maximising revenue is the number one priority, and that’s a sad state of affairs. Video game movies usually result in nothing more than a cash grab, and that’s a very bitter pill to swallow (unless you’re watching the 1993 Super Mario Movie – do yourself a favour, and watch that glorious comedy).