Should We Support Live-Action Video Game Adaptations?

Hollywood has tried to produce many films adapted from successful video game franchises. Unfortunately, they do not always work out. Now, with more and more adaptations being released, let's do a little dive into what has made these films fail and what audiences should expect in the future.

It is safe to say that Hollywood and video game publishers have never shied away from producing video games into live-action mediums. As a matter of fact, one of the first gaming publishers to pursue this idea was Nintendo. Back in 1993, Nintendo produced the film Super Mario Bros., which is based on the video game franchise of the same name. Back then, fans of the franchise were excited to support this live-action video game adaptation. However, upon release, the film became a critical and financial failure. But this trend does not stop there, because many more films will become adapted from video games. 

Assassin’s Creed, Ratchet and Clank, Need for Speed, and Monster Hunter are just some of the many video games that have become Hollywood-produced films. However, even though only a select few have been even remotely successful, their film counterparts have failed to become a successful extension to the video game. 

It certainly makes us wonder why these live-action video game adaptations can’t seem to be nailed by Hollywood. What could they be doing wrong? How can they improve in the future? Should the audience continue to support live-action video game adaptations? Let’s do a little dive into some past titles for more insight. 

LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER — SENSELESS PLOTS

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is an interesting one because it encompasses the main issue that most people tend to have with live-action video game adaptation. To be frank, the plots are often senseless. While it was a financial success, it is important to keep in mind that this was one of the earlier film adaptations of a video game. So, there was a fanbase already in place before the film was released. Fans of the franchise were not sure what to expect for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. So, it became a launching pad that critics would use as a reference for later film adaptations of video games. 

Angelina Joline in the live-action video game adaptation of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Promotional image in the live-action video game adaptation “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”

Generally, critics have pointed out how film adaptations often struggle with making the story their own. In general, adaptations are intended to offer a new take or interpretation of the story. Rather, it should not focus too much on what the story was in the video game. 

One way to look at this is to examine how other film adaptations have been based on other media products. For instance, Marvel has developed an entire superhero genre based on comics. However, their filmmakers developed a thorough understanding of the base material. This is where part of the critical praise stems from. 

Also, this shows how video games are not often seen in the same light as other mediums. The narrative that video games have the capacity to achieve is often met with skepticism. This implies why these films are lauded by even their fanbase. 

ASSASSIN’S CREED — SOME GAMES ARE MEANT TO BE JUST GAMES

Unfortunately, even when these films re-create their own version of the game, they still often fail. Even though Assassin’s Creed is considered an improvement of past film adaptations of video games, it was perceived as less thrilling as a spectator than as a player. 

Admittedly, there are some elements of the film that accurately represented parts of the game that fans enjoyed. For instance, the film incorporates the games’ infamous “Leap of Faith” jump. Still, an action-adventure game can be hard to portray in a film. That is because, in a game, players can control almost all aspects of the story. This means that players are accountable for their own experiences.

An image from the live-action video game adaptation Assassin's Creed

An image from the live-action video game adaptation “Assassin’s Creed”

A game like Assassin’s Creed is filled with combat, action, and trail missions, so we get to control the protagonist along the way. Additionally, we get to pick and choose quests as we craft our own journey. Players can become completely immersed in the gaming experience. But, translating that experience into a movie is tricky. If all we get is a CGI-fueled end result… it’s going to be a letdown. 

So, despite the money that the film garnered, it was not enough to get a sequel greenlit. 

It does beg the question of whether some games are meant to stay game. Also, if audiences should continue to support these live-action video game adaptations. Video games are often only intended to be played with rather than watch. This can ring true for fans that have extensively interacted with the franchise as opposed to simply watching it. 

So, what can be done about this going forward? 

DETECTIVE PIKACHU — NEW VS. OLD AUDIENCE

If there is one thing that Detective Pikachu got right, it had a clear understanding of what a variety of audience members want. This explains why it had the biggest US opening for a video game movie.

More specifically, while it was adapted from the Pokémon franchise that has a 2016 video game of the same name, the film anchored itself with a solid narrative. The trailer below showed a glimpse into how the story branched out from the video game.

POKÉMON Detective Pikachu - Official Trailer #1

This allowed audiences to become invested in a film without the narrative feeling too much like recycled material. The film showed that it could stand on its two legs. Detective Pikachu did not hold itself back because it tried to steer away from being associated with its video game counterpart. 

Instead, what we get are pieces of a universe that fans have loved over the course of several years. More so, this can draw in new audience members that are eager to dip their toes into a video game franchise. Also, we get to see a different perspective on Detective Pikachu, which cements itself as a film as opposed to a video game that got adapted into a film.

SHOULD AUDIENCES COME BACK? 

With more AAA studio titles like The Last of Us and Assassin’s Creed being adapted into a TV series, the future for live-action video game adaptations is not over yet. These adaptations make a good chunk of money even when they are heavily criticized by critics. However, this shows that games are having more and more of an effect on how stories are often portrayed.

The 2013 game

The 2013 game “The Last of Us” is currently in development to be a live-action TV series on HBO

Overall, I think that people should continue to support these live-action adaptations if it is created with a deep understanding of the source. It cannot focus on what has already been churned out in the game. Therefore, there needs to be something fresh, new, and exciting for all audience members. 

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