Games in Film: A Tradition of Crap

The process of adaptation has been used to transform one form of media into another.  This act allows a familiar story to gain new context and ways to express itself.  From books made into films, to comics made into cartoon series, and board games made into films (Battleship), these adaptations, for better or worse, add new dimensions to the source material.  Fort this entry I’m going to focus on video game to film adaptations.

Out of all the different ways that one form of media has been adapted into another, the most unsuccessful has to be that of adapting video games to film.  Although some films have seen financial success, the overall critical response has been very negative.  To help understand this, I’ve created a chart of the top 10 highest grossing films based on video games.  I’ve subsequently added their rotten tomatoes scores for both critics and viewers.




Rank Film Gross RT Critic Score RT Viewer Score
1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider $131,168,070 24% 60%
2 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time $90,759,676 35% 71%
3 Pokemon: The First Movie $85,744,662 14% 57%
4 Mortal Kombat $70,454,098 34% 55%
5 Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life $65,660,196 19% 60%
6 Resident Evil: Afterlife $51,201,453 23% 51%
7 Resident Evil: Apocalypse $51,201,453 21% 70%
8 Resident Evil: Extinction $50,648,679 22% 63%
9 Silent Hill $46,982,632 29% 65%
10 Pokemon: The Movie 2000 $43,758,684 15% 53%






The thing that immediately stands out is the large gap between critics who enjoyed each film and regular viewers who enjoyed each film, with every film receiving less than a 40% approval rating from critics as well as a more than 50% approval rating from regular viewers.  The biggest difference in approval was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life which received ratings of 19% and 60% respectively.  So why the large gap?  For one, you have to consider whom the films target audiences are.  It would be safe to assume that the makers of a film in the Resident Evil series are largely relying on fans of the game series to show up to screenings.  These fans are going into the film probably aware of the negative receptions that game to film adaptations have received, but are still excited to silent hillsee many of their favorite characters come to life.  On the other hand the film critic, for the most part, is viewing the film at face value, with no prior connection to the game leaving them only with the thought that the film will suck even before the opening credits.  Furthermore, if one subscribes to the opinions of critics such as Roger Ebert, that is that games are not art, then they would possess a bias that a non-art form could translate into an art form such as film.Prince_of_Persia_poster

So, despite the majority of viewers saying they enjoyed these films, why do film adaptations of games get such a bad wrap?  Well for one, most people don’t submit reviews to sites such as Rotten Tomatoes.  I would assume that only those who felt passionately about the film, i.e. fans of the game, would feel motivated to give their critical analysis.  As I stated before, having had a higher degree of excitement towards the film due to their connection to the game gives them a bias towards its quality.  This suggests to me that the negative perception is largely rooted in the opinions of casual viewers both gamers and non-gamers alike.

Having discussed where the perceptions as to the quality of these films come from, I’d like to briefly look at why these adaptations have been so unsuccessful.  When looking at what a game is, one debate involves those who subscribe to ludology and those who subscribe to narratology. Ludists believe that a game is defined by its rules and functions whereas narrists that games are rooted in their story telling.  It would make sense that if video games were strong in character depth and narration then it would be easy to translate that into film.  However, we rarely see a film even attempt to mimic the source material.  For example, the Resident Evil film series uses no plot elements from the games in the creation of its films.  You could easily change to names of the characters and the film title and no one would ever know that had any connection to the games.  In Prince of Persia, well….they use a white guy.  If these games had better narrative structures and characters with depth then perhaps it would give a better framework for film adaptations.  However, with the narrative structure being so loose, it should give the filmmaker the freedom to be creative and put their spin on a popular story.

Perhaps though it’s just plain laziness.  Knowing that no matter how good or bad your film is there will always be people willing to see it just because of the title is enough for many filmmakers to coast on.  Uwe Boll is widely regarded as one of the worst directors of all time having made game to film adaptations such as: Alone in the Dark, Far Cry, and House of the Dead.  Having grown tired of the negative backlash towards his films he decided to really dedicate himself to his craft and make a truly great movie.  That’s a lie, he actually just challenged a bunch of bloggers to box him and subsequently beat them up.



  4 comments for “Games in Film: A Tradition of Crap

  1. Anthony Seippel
    April 18, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    So I just wrote an entire comment, well worded and everything, and then the computer didn’t let it submit, so what I am about to say is on the same lines but isn’t going to sound as good.

    People watch these movies despite the knowledge that they are going to be terrible. How do we know this? Because what makes a game fun is the fact that you can interact with it, and a movie takes that aspect out and forces you to watch. It’s like watching someone else play. It just isn’t as fun. It gives a new perspective, which is cool and part of my reasoning for watching 4 out of 5 of the god-awful Resident Evil series, which I hate myself for doing but can’t stop wanting to see the last one. Why do I do this to myself? I dunno… I just want to see more of the zombies. And less of the super cheesy action sequences. Who the fuck kickboxes zombies anyway? But watching them instead of playing the game is like watching porn when you could be having amazing sex. You might get to see something different, but it isn’t as fun.

  2. jblocky
    January 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

    I agree with Anthony’s comment. People will watch these films even with the knowledge that they’re going to be a letdown. One of the reasons people play video game is to become fully immersed in the world that the game creates, whether it is a card game or a fantasy game. This is done through interaction, and when games are adapted on screen, all interaction is lost. It’s like a puzzle, with a crucial piece missing, so when you look at it, all you see is what’s missing. It’s hard to appreciate the film as a whole if you know it’s missing a lot of crucial elements that made the game so good. As standalone films, they could have been more successful, but as adaptations, they simply cannot live up to their predecessors.

  3. quigles
    January 29, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Very well-written article. I also see another reason why movies like this fall short, at least in my opinion. Look at the appeal, no not age and gender, but rather who will definitely see this movie. Obviously they are made with the fan base in mind. Releasing a movie based on a video game is more or less like releasing a movie based on a book. How many people who read The Hunger Games actually went to go see it in the movies? Most, if not all. Who would be more likely to see the upcoming Sly Cooper movie: someone who has already played the game or someone who never did and never will? Clearly the former over the latter. Make a movie for the fans, then the fan base better be huge (say, as huge as the Harry Potter or Hunger Games fan base) and they better like it. The fans really are the saving grace for these movies because they will be expecting the movie to be accurate towards the game, and if it is not then word will go around that the movie is not loyal to the game and then the negative reviews will start rolling in. Not to mention, people who did not play the games beforehand probably will not watch a movie about it. Using myself as an example, I have never played a Resident Evil game, so I am not loyal to the series so naturally I have never seen a single Resident Evil movie. If I played any of the games and knew more about them, I would be more inclined to see it.

    -Mark Quigley

  4. aicee
    January 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    I really enjoyed this post; it brought up some really good points I think. I was really surprised to see how poorly the Pokemon movies did, actually (but in retrospect, I wonder why I was surprised). Sure, they were no cinematic masterpiece by any means but to my young and impressionable mind at the time, the first one was amazing and scary (weird way to feel about a Pokemon movie, right? But I was young) and above all else WONDERFUL.

    I think a lot of movie adaptions from video games are either labors of love or vanity projects. The precedent for bad adaptions is well known, but there will always be one director or producer that loves the original so much they have to try… or that one guy that wants to revolutionize movie adaptions and change the world. Personally as a fan of both medias I hope some director will eventually succeed, however I think there needs to be a certain balance between “yeah, this is a remake. It already exists and I’m just writing it for the big screen” and “WOOHOO this is basically a godless world I can rule over and TWEEK!!!”. Whoever figures out the balance, I hope they love the game they are adapting as much as the creators themselves did.

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