There are tons of films based on videogames. Straight adaptations, wild derailings, films about people playing videogames, films made to advertise videogames, documentaries, films where videogames cross into the real world, films about future videogames, and only a few choice films out of the many out there are actually successful. It’s a virtually young medium that’s been hard for Hollywood to adapt to.
But with the rise of adaptations over the last few years, videogame films have been getting the same kind of push that books (both standard and comic variety) get lately. While it’s going to take some time, 2016 is hopefully the year where videogame films gain a little more weight. And if videogames truly have the substance that their fans argue they do, then it shouldn’t be a problem to make them appeal to broader audiences.
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Before I get into the brunt of this, it’s better to explain where I’m coming from. Any film critic worth their mettle doesn’t form a complete opinion until they’ve seen a film in its entirety. We might have some early impressions going in, but we usually like to have an open mind each time we sit down to watch something. Not a single one of us wants to dislike a film, and that mentality is hard to wrap my head around. If a critic wanted to dislike every film they watched, they why even have the job? I’m lucky enough that folks want to read my opinions from time to time, and I figure no one would come to me if I immediately dismissed everything outright. I bring all of this up because last year I reviewed two big videogame films: Hitman Agent 47 and Pixels.
My time with the films ended up on the lesser side of decent, but the films were apparently terrible according to the rest of the Internet. There was an incredibly pervasive idea through the general comments that these films were automatically terrible because videogame movies as a whole have been less than stable. I understand. It’s a fandom that’s been burned too many times before. It’s the same fandom that went and saw Super Mario Bros, rented The House of the Dead one weekend, caught Tekken on TV for some reason, and remembers how great Mortal Kombat was before being annihilated by Annihilation. But that side of the web needs to remember that comic book fans were in that exact same boat not too long ago. Before comic book films were treated as a serious way to make money, we got two bad Superman films, a bad Hulk, and about a million Batman films. Now they’re all over the place and studios are hugely banking on their success. We’ve gotten so many that even a property like Deadpool, featuring a super killer with fourth wall breaking jokes, is getting a film version. Videogames are on this path too.
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But what’s the key to a great videogame film? It’s essentially the same thing that helped comic book films take off. Videogames lack the sorely needed legitimacy needed to grab the general public’s attention. Hollywood films really only care about money, so they’ll do everything they can to get someone interested in their film. That means they’ll attach big name actors and even bigger directors, so that means you’ll see people like Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Amy Adams and even directors like the Russo brothers working in superhero stuff. Cinema is obsessed with credible legacies through work, and videogame films are finally headed that route. What’s essentially the biggest videogame film of 2016, Assassin’s Creed, stars Michael Fassbender alongside the likes of Marion Cotillard, Michael K. Williams, and Jeremy Irons and is directed by the same man who did Macbeth, a well received film last year. Then you’ve got the Warcraft film, which looks to be a massive undertaking (even if first impressions weren’t great), directed by Duncan Jones, who once directed Moon, the best science fiction film in years. So the short of what I’m trying to say here is that things are finally looking up.
Videogame films aren’t doomed to fail or anything like that. In fact, there have been some legitimately good or entertaining ones. It’s just they’ve never crossed that threshold into “great” territory. But they’ll never truly be appreciated at the same level other genre films are unless we work to remove the stigma around them. It took decades to remove the nerdy stigma from comic book properties, and it’s going to take even longer to do the same for videogames. If you respect that medium, then don’t outright dismiss films spawned from its properties. We’re going to get a lot of them, like it or not, so it’s better not to fight each one. The more you dismiss, the more you add to the general stigma of videogame films belonging to a certain niche that no one really wants to be a part of. No one wants to identify as a “gamer” thanks to the now toxic culture surrounding it, and that’s carried over to the film side of things.
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I’m just saying there’s hope for videogame cinema as long as you want it. There’s so much potential for greatness even the throwaway films have some pedigree (Ratchet and Clank, while generic looking film wise, is handled by its parent company and The Angry Birds Movie, while maybe a cheap cash in, is stacked with great comedic actors). And there’s definitely room in theaters for a great videogame film. As comics continue to overflow in theaters, folks will be looking for something slightly different. Oh, so there’s a movie based on a game they once played? Hey that might be a great idea!
Could 2016 be the year we finally get a great videogame film? Maybe. The odds are certainly better for sure. Talk to me again at the end of the year and we’ll see how wrong or right I am. Until then, I’ll just keep watching Mortal Kombat and Prince of Persia.