Why Can’t Video Game Movies Get it Right?

Examining Hollywood’s unwavering dedication to making a successful video game movie.

By Jacoby Bancroft, University of Nevada at Reno


Given the world we live in today, movies based on video games should be mega-successful.

In an age where comic book movies rake in billions upon billions of dollars every year, and gamer pride continues to skyrocket thanks to the release of amazingly advanced game consoles, video game adaptations should be cash grabs.

It sounds like such an easy process. Take a game that’s praised for its captivating storyline, create a live action version of that game’s world with cutting edge CGI, hire professional writers to beef up the script (as video game dialogue is often the weakest part of a game) and you should have yourself a winning formula.

Mario Brothers MovieFor some baffling reason though, pretty much every video game adaption sucks, and the ones that don’t suck have serious flaws that prohibit them from ever being considered good. Given how many of them exist, it’s amazing that Hollywood hasn’t been able to figure out how to successfully transition video games into films.

Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Lara Croft, Resident Evil (and the thousand sequels it spawned), Doom, Silent Hill, Hitman, Max Payne, Prince of Persia and Need for Speed among many others all received endless praise and accolades in video game form, yet all faced a major critical and commercial beating when it came to their feature film adaptations.

Why is it so difficult? There must be too much of a challenge crafting a film that honors the source material and creates a story that fit the confines of a film’s runtime. It’s been proven time and again that these types of movies fail spectacularly at the box office, yet Hollywood keeps trying to push them out to the general public. What’s the definition of insanity? When one does the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result? Hollywood, apparently, is insane.

It feels like they want just one successful adaption, and then they think everything’ll change. The barrier will be broken and a winning formula will be passed around Hollywood so other video game movie adaptions can follow suit. That must be why they felt the need to bring the world a SECOND Hitman adaption. Maybe they thought that after failing eight years ago with the first one, they could learn from their mistakes and finally give the world a good video game movie it apparently keeps asking for.

Unfortunately Hitman: Agent 47 will join the ranks of other failed video game adaptions by bungling their source material and delivering an incoherent, lazy excuse for an action movie.

If Hollywood really wants to tap into some of the rich, deeply thematic plot that recent video games are known for, it shouldn’t have adapted a game where the only point is to sneak into populated areas and assassinate people. The producers probably thought that adapting a game with a simple plot would give them a chance to build their own story out of the Hitman mythology, bypassing the obligation to follow the original source material. The thing is, that would only work if the story they came up with was exciting and original, which is the last thing anyone would say about the plot of Agent 47.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. A scared, sheltered woman is suddenly attacked by a vicious, machine-like assassin who seems to express no emotion and can’t be stopped. Another strange man saves her from the assassin, tells her he was sent to help her and the two take refuge with local authorities. The woman tells the people in charge that this machine-like man is after her, but they don’t believe her story.

While this is happening the machine-like man attacks their supposedly safe place, taking out everyone in his way, and forcing the woman and the strange man to flee for a second time. It’s how the first twenty-five minutes of Agent 47 plays out, but it’s also the exact plot of The Terminator. The crazy thing about it is that it paints Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) as the Terminator/Bad Guy for these first twenty-five minutes. It makes no sense because anyone seeing the movie should know that Agent 47 is the protagonist, so the first third of the movie leaves the audience wondering when the actual story will kick in.

Once it does finally get going, Agent 47 proceeds to rip off other movies, especially Limitless and Wanted. The flimsy plot of the movie revolves around Agent 47 helping the woman, Katia van Dees (Hannah Ware), unlock her true potential for being an assassin by tapping into her brain power or something, while the two hunt for her father. And the whole time they’re being chased by genetically modified John Smith (Zachary Quinto).

Once it stops copying other movies, Agent 47 completely gives up on trying anything original and instead delivers a slew of stylish-yet-empty action sequences. So basically the entire movie can be broken down like this: One part Terminator, one part Limitless, one part Wanted, one part extended Audi commercial, and three parts Zachary Quinto’s glorious eyebrows. It’s a bad movie, but that’s not surprising given that it’s a video game adaption.

Zach Quinto's eyebrows

Even with this massive failure, Hollywood still appears committed to finding a video game they can successfully adapt. Next year is probably the most important year for video game adaptions ever, with not one, but two major projects that studios are banking hard on.

June 10, 2016 brings the long awaited Warcraft movie to theaters, which is of course based on the popular video game franchise of the same name. Universal studios produced the film and invested a lot of money in it. At best it becomes the next big fantasy franchise the world goes crazy about. At worst, it’s a huge flop that makes it hard for any fantasy-based film that comes after it to get a green light.

Bigger than that though is Michael Fassbender’s Assassin’s Creed project scheduled for release December 21, 2016. It appears to have all the right elements needed for a success: a fantastic mythology, a captivating world and a tremendously talented actor. Everything appears in place for a swashbuckling adventure that can both honor the game and deliver a satisfying movie experience. It needs to be a hit because Hollywood’s insistence on making video game movie adaptions won’t last forever. There will come a point where the industry says enough is enough and quits trying, which would be a shame because video game movie adaptions are doable, they just have to be done right.