Is there a genre with a worse track record than the video game movie adaptation? There have been good movies about games (Wreck-It Ralph) and inspired by the style of games (Scott Pilgrim), but when it comes to actual adaptations, it’s basically all garbage. Okay, there have been some decent anime based on games and that Japanese live-action Neko Atsume movie looks adorable, but if we stick with Hollywood, nobody seems to know how to do video game movies right. It’s not just Uwe Boll-level hacks who’ve failed; even a director as passionate and talented as Duncan Jones couldn’t make Warcraft work on the big screen! But that history of failure isn’t stopping Hollywood from trying.
These 15 movies, some coming soon, others early in development, hope to reverse the video game movie curse. Some look like they might actually stand a chance. If history has taught video game fans anything, though, it’s that such optimism about movie adaptations is futile. It would be AMAZING if any of these movies blows audiences away and proves such cynicism wrong. For now, though, prepare to dash all your hopes. Here’s how these movies will attempt to break the curse, and why they will fail.
15. TOMB RAIDER
How it could be good: Tomb Raider, coming to theaters March 16, has a great cast working in its favor. Alicia Vikander, so amazing in Ex Machina, is playing Lara Croft, while the rest of the cast includes such actors as Kristin Scott Thomas, Walton Goggins and Nick Frost. The new adaptation is taking inspiration from the excellent 2013 Tomb Raider game. Norwegian director Roar Uthaug’s last film, The Wave, was a well-reviewed disaster thriller.
How it will fail: The last two times Hollywood adapted Tomb Raider didn’t exactly light the world on fire. The third time could be the charm, but the marketing really hasn’t inspired confidence. The trailers look generic, with an over-reliance on CGI. Also, between that slowed down Destiny’s Child cover in the second trailer and that awful broken-neck poster, it’s already providing a lot of unintentional comedy.
How it could be good: It knows it’s stupid. As such, there’s a possibility it will be the fun kind of stupid. Based on the old arcade game, Rampage stars the universally beloved Dwayne Johnson as the human caretaker of a gorilla that turns giant through genetic experimentation. The giant gorilla fights a giant wolf and a giant crocodile. The movie comes out on 4/20, which gives you the sense Warner Bros. knows exactly what they’re doing with this.
How it will fail: It’s still stupid, and even if it’s knowing-stupid it’s hard to guarantee it will be fun-stupid. Dwayne Johnson might be awesome, but the movies he stars in often aren’t. This one comes from director Brad Peyton, best known for the mediocre Johnson vehicle San Andreas.
13. DETECTIVE PIKACHU
How it could be good: Pokemon has proven popular, if not necessarily high-quality, in animation. Director Rob Letterman is coming off a surprise hit in the form of Goosebumps. What’s really exciting about this live-action/CG hybrid film is the screenwriting team. The script is being written by Alex Hirsch, the creator of Gravity Falls, and Nicole Perlman, co-writer of Guardians of the Galaxy and the upcoming Captain Marvel. Honestly, of all of these movies, this one might have the highest odds of being decent.
How it will fail: They didn’t cast Danny DeVito as Detective Pikachu. Ryan Reynolds? Sure, he’s fine, but he’s not Danny DeVito! Watch this video to get a sense of what we’re missing. If Danny DeVito isn’t Detective Pikachu, how can anyone trust anything to be right in this world?
How it could be good: The Minecraft movie’s secret weapon might just be director Rob McElhenney. McElhenney’s the creator and star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and if he can somehow translate that show’s outrageous sensibility to a PG-rated family movie, the May 24, 2019 release could be special. Maybe he ropes Danny DeVito into the cast to make up for the severe lack of DeVito Pikachu in our lives?
How it will fail: Screenwriter Jason Fuchs’ only other writing credits are for the fourth Ice Age movie and the mega-flop Pan (he shares a story credit on Wonder Woman but didn’t write the script). The idea of a Minecraft movie is an odd one. It seems like an attempt to cash in on the goodwill from The Lego Movie. It’s rumored to be live-action, which is strange, given one of the game’s big hooks is the art style.
11. SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
How it could be good: Sonic the Hedgehog has actually had some success with adaptations in the past; the comics and the SatAM cartoon maintain a loyal following. Tim Miller, the director of Deadpool, is executive producing the movie, set for release sometime in 2019. While the actual power wielded by executive producers varies, he’s trusted the directing gig to Jeff Fowler, whose animated short Gopher Broke received an Oscar nomination.
How it will fail: What even IS Sonic these days? The game series has, for the most part, been a mess since at least the Dreamcast days, and at this point is best known for its memes and the at times disturbing extremes of its fanbase. Maybe Fowler and Miller can find the right balance of irony and sincerity to make this questionable project work, but SEGA simply can’t be trusted.
10. FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY’S
How it could be good: The successful indie game series offers a great hook for a horror movie: what if Chuck E. Cheese was evil? Production company Blumhouse knows its way around the horror movie business, with films like Paranormal Activity, Insidious and the Oscar-nominated Get Out under its belt. The games’ creator Scott Cawthon is involved in the movie production process.
How it will fail: Will anyone care about Five Nights at Freddy’s by the time this movie gets made? FNAF was all the rage when it released in 2014, but four years and seven games later, all but the most hardcore fans are getting exhausted with it. If this movie is actually fresh and scary, it could reinvigorate the franchise, but it could just as easily be an also-ran.
9. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2
How it could be good: Sometimes sequels are better than the original? The Angry Birds Movie is technically the highest rated movie based on a video game according to Rotten Tomatoes, not that that’s saying much. It also made money, which explains why this sequel is arriving on September 20, 2019.
How it will fail: It’s The Angry Birds Movie 2. Does anyone really need this explained? It’s an adaptation of a game no one’s actually cared about in years that barely has a plot to speak of. The attempt to develop said barebones plot into a feature length film was so misguided, it inadvertently appeared to endorse racism and got praised by neo-Nazis! Maybe it’ll squeak by making money again, but odds are this sequel won’t be any good.
8. SUPER MARIO BROTHERS
How it could be good: After years of avoiding Hollywood in response to the dreadful 1993 Super Mario Brothers live-action movie, Nintendo is finally back in the filmmaking game. The iconic brothers are returning to the big screen in 2020, this time in animation, which theoretically should be a lot easier to make work than live-action for this property. With its major Nintendo theme park deal, Universal is betting big on Nintendo movies.
How it will fail: It’s being made by Illumination, which guarantees it’ll be absolutely middle-of-the-road. Are the Goombas gonna be the next forced attempt to replicate the Minions? Is there going to be a cutesy hipster Waluigi that teenagers will swoon over and we get the second coming of the Once-ler fandom? Nintendo might be making sure this isn’t a disaster like the old movie, but it’s unlikely to be the inventive animation masterpiece these characters deserve.
7. DRAGON’S LAIR: THE MOVIE
How it could be good: The game was more or less a movie to begin with, wasn’t it? The gameplay mattered a lot less than the gorgeous hand-drawn animation. Considering the dearth of traditionally animated films in American theaters, this adaptation from original co-creator Don Bluth is fulfilling a niche with a lot of demand. 7,678 backers pledged a combined total of $727,382 for the film on Indiegogo, so fans have a lot riding on this.
How it will fail: Don Bluth hasn’t directed a film in 18 years. It’s been even longer since he made a good one. This could be a grand comeback from the once celebrated animator, but it could just as easily be a failed vanity project with nothing to offer except callbacks to the good old days.
How it could be good: The Uncharted games are often described as cinematic, so coming up with an acceptable adaptation should be easier than with some other games. Tom Holland, hot off Spider-Man: Homecoming, is playing the young Nathan Drake. Director Shawn Levy has also emphasized in interviews that he wants particularly nuanced characterization in this prequel film, which is a good sign.
How it will fail: Ironically, the Uncharted games’ heavy cinematic influences could make the movie version redundant and generic. It’s one thing to play through what’s essentially an interactive Indiana Jones movie, another to just watch an Indiana Jones rip-off. Being a prequel to games means there will at least be a new story for the longtime fans, but how many worthwhile prequels can you actually name? Not many.
5. MONSTER HUNTER
How it could be good: As a special effects showcase, the potential here is high. While the Monster Hunter games don’t have much in the way of memorable plot, the world and the monsters that inhabit it could be genuinely breathtaking on the big screen. Director Paul W.S. Anderson describes the project as being “on the level of like a Star Wars movie, in terms of world creation.”
How it will fail: It seems unlikely Paul W.S. Anderson, the “auteur” behind the Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil movies, is going to be the one to reverse the trend of mediocre video game movies. Even if he gets a better effects team than his past productions, can he actually tell a story worth audiences’ attention? Even if it’s his Star Wars, that could just as easily mean The Phantom Menace.
4. MORTAL KOMBAT
How it could be good: The first Mortal Kombat, if not exactly a “good” movie, is deemed by many to be one of the most watchable of the video game movies made thus far. The planned reboot has at least one clear advantage over its predecessor: it will go for an R rating and capture the games’ beloved ultra-violence. Producer James Wan has shown solid instincts with blockbusters, and the current webseries is actually really well-liked.
How it will fail: The director, Simon McQuoid, has only done commercials thus far. Maybe he’ll prove himself as a feature director, but he could just as easily stumble. There’s also the question of how to navigate all the backstory. Ignore it and you upset the hardcore fans, but go too deep into the confusing continuity and casual viewers will be baffled and bored.
3. CALL OF DUTY
How it could be good: Making a Call of Duty movie is essentially just making a war movie, and there have been many great war movies. The big question, then, is what makes a Call of Duty movie stand out from the pack besides a brand name? Consider the idea, proposed by Bob Chipman from ScreenRant, that they actually make this movie from a first person perspective. You get an instant connection to the game, a distinctive style and, if done right, a chance for a unique sort of emotional connection.
How it will fail: Two words: extended universe. Activision is planning not just one Call of Duty movie but a whole “extended universe” of Call of Duty movies and TV shows. Never mind that literally no one is demanding a Call of Duty “universe,” Activision wants it to be the next Marvel! More likely, it’s the next Dark Universe.
2. THE DIVISION
How it could be good: This is about as prestigious a cast and crew as these video games movies get. Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain are attached to be the stars of this action RPG. The film’s director, Stephen Gaghan, won an Oscar for his screenplay for Traffic. Gaghan knows his way around video games, having also written the script for the game Call of Duty: Ghosts.
How it will fail: It’s a political minefield. While Tom Clancy’s The Division recieved praise for the quality of its gameplay, the story is controversial, to say the least. It’s a game where you play as a government agent shooting down poor looters after the apocalypse. Maybe Gaghan will bring nuance and tragedy to this scenario, but if the film replicates the game’s black-and-white authoritarian ideology, expect many an angry thinkpiece.
1. THE TETRIS MOVIE TRILOGY
How it could be good: With Rifftrax? In all honesty, the best case scenario for this movie is that it doesn’t get made. Maybe it’s just a money laundering front for organized crime? The cover story for a secret CIA operation? An excuse to arrange the specific array of Tetris blocks that will summon Satan/aliens/the end of the world? All of these are better ideas than someone actually wanting to make a Tetris movie trilogy.
How it will fail: Even if you argue that any idea, no matter how inane-sounding, can theoretically be turned into a good movie, consider who’s making this. This proposed series of movies is the brainchild of Lawrence Kasanoff, the guy who wasted 12 years and $60 million on Foodfight!, maybe the worst animated film ever made! If this comes to fruition, any critics forced to sit through THREE of these things deserves your utmost respect.
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