Historical performance of video game movies
To date, the most successful film franchises based on video games are “Tomb Raider,” starring Angelina Jolie, and “Resident Evil,” starring Milla Jovovich, with the former franchise grossing over $200 million at the box office and the latter pulling in nearly $250 million. These are decent movies for what they are – simplistic adventures featuring attractive women kicking ass – but no one in their right mind would hold them up as masterpieces of the cinematic medium.
The other major video game film success story is 2010’s “Prince of Persia” adaptation. While this film was a success, it had its issues. To start, the Persian prince was played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Mr. Gyllenhaal is a fine actor, but he’s about as far from Persian as you can possibly get.
So while a few films based on games have been financially successful, none have proven their worth as artistic endeavors.
Perhaps this is because story has often been an afterthought in video games. It’s only in the last few years that people have started to take video games seriously as an artistic medium. It’s hard to make a good video game movie when a lot of the video games didn’t have much story to start with.
But times are changing. Video games are now mainstream, and many developers are working hard to deliver powerful stories as well as fun gameplay. There is now a much better selection of source material for film adaptations of games.
And that leads to two of the best hopes for quality video game movies to date.
On the surface, the “Warcraft” franchise – a high fantasy epic about disparate races struggling against both each other and the demonic Burning Legion – seems like it has the potential to be a fun action movie, but little else.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you start to see that it’s shaping up to be more than a spree of brutal action sequences and pretty special effects.
For one thing, Blizzard Entertainment, the developer behind “Warcraft,” is infamous for its perfectionism. They would not do a movie if they didn’t think they could do a good job. Importantly, Legendary Pictures, the studio behind such hits as “Inception,” “300,” and the Christopher Nolan “Batman” films, is making the movie and this story is built for a Legendary interpretation.
Second, “Warcraft” is a series with some surprising depth to it. “Warcraft” games can have a level of subtle subversion to them. On the surface, they seem to glorify war, but at their heart, they’re about how destructive and pointless war truly is. They also deal with intense issues like culturally ingrained racism that could serve as the basis for a powerful film.
If nothing else, “Warcraft” is a rich fantasy setting with enough depth and history to rival greats like “Narnia” or “The Lord of the Rings.”
Then there’s the director, Duncan Jones – son of rock legend David Bowie. Jones doesn’t come across as the sort of person you’d expect to direct a “Warcraft” film. He’s mainly known as the director of “Moon” and “Source Code” – both thoughtful, intelligent sci-fi films. “Moon,” in particular, received widespread critical acclaim and a number of awards.
This choice of director seems to indicate Legendary / Blizzard is serious about telling a smart, compelling story with the “Warcraft” movie.
Also in Jones’ favor is the fact that he is an avid “Warcraft” fan who has played every game since the first way back in the mid-90s. Reportedly, he literally squealed with joy over directing the movie during a panel at the last San Diego Comic-Con.
He’s also said to have altered the script to present a more balanced view of “Warcraft”’s main factions, the Alliance and the Horde, such that the new plot is described as being less “good versus evil” and more “red versus blue.” Again, this seems to indicate a fairly mature and intelligent plot.
When people think about the best video game stories, “Mass Effect” is one of the first that comes to mind. The trilogy of sci-fi RPGs shattered the simple-minded stereotype of video games with its complex storyline that was as much about human drama as it was about fighting to save the galaxy from the alien Reapers.
“Mass Effect” already feels more like a movie than a game in a lot of ways. The gameplay is relatively thin. The meat of the game is in its character development and ethically weighty story. Most of its truly epic moments are told through cinematics that could easily be found on a theater screen.
Translating “Mass Effect” to a film therefore feels like a natural evolution. It’s hard to imagine the film not being both an artistic and financial success. All the elements are already there: a strong setting, epic action, and a rich cast of characters. “Mass Effect” will also get the Legendary Pictures treatment which means it is in safe hands.
There are still some potential stumbling blocks, though. One of the things that made the “Mass Effect” games so compelling was the way they allowed the player to make meaningful decisions to steer the plot. It gave the player a much greater personal investment in the story.
That obviously can’t be the case in a film. Viewers will just be along for the ride, with no say in how things play out. Some of the more devout fans of the game may not be happy if the film takes the story down paths they neglected.
But still, even with these concerns, the fact remains that a “Mass Effect” film has massive potential. The groundwork for an amazing movie has already been laid. All that’s left is for the producers, writer, director, and actors to do their parts.