Fans of video games have seen dozens of failed attempts at adapting a game into a movie. But a new challenger has entered the arena. The seemingly cursed Uncharted movie has finally started filming according to Tom Holland. But fans of the Naughty Dog franchise shouldn’t celebrate just yet, because I’m about to give you the reasons the movie will be a disappointment.
History of Video Game Movies
For nearly 30 years, Hollywood has been attempting to cash in on beloved video game franchises. The first swing was with the most famous video game franchise ever. Super Mario Bros. (the movie) came out in 1993 and starred Bob Hoskins as the world’s most famous plumber. Hoskins was a legitimate actor, but the movie would only make 35 million of its estimated 45 million dollar budget back in the box office. Fans and critics alike reviled the movie — for those who haven’t seen the film, here is a clip that summarizes the overall feel of the movie.
In 1994, the next two movies adapted from video games, Double Dragon and Street Fighter, hit theaters. Both were somehow worse than Super Mario Bros. but by some miracle, Street Fighter made almost 100 million in the box office. After execs saw how much money video game movies could make, there was no way they would stop.
The following year, 1995, what many believe to be the greatest video game movie of all-time hit theaters. Mortal Kombat succeeded as both a box office hit making 120 million, but unlike the other three installments, critics and fans actually kind-of-sort-of enjoyed it. It has a Metacritic score of 58 — which is terrible by regular movie standards, but is the only video game based film with a score higher than 53 to this day.
Was this a sign of things to come? Did studios crack the code on how to adapt a video game to a movie? No. Mortal Kombat’s sequel, the aptly named Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, made less than half the money of its predecessor and scored an 11 Metacritic score. Since then, many have attempted to solve the puzzle, but no one could make a film that we could all consider being an amazing movie.
The reason it’s never worked is this — when we play video games, we spend enough time with the characters, particularly the main one, that we become emotionally attached. And the connection grows further by controlling them and having an interest in their wellbeing. We feel pain or at least annoyance when Mario gets hit by a shell. We also feel a rush of dopamine when we get past a hard boss or find a new item. But in movies, there is less time to bond with the characters, and filmmakers waste a lot of that precious time with inside jokes for die-hard fans. Forcing bits in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie where Sonic nicknames Doctor Robotnik “Eggman” due to the shape of his robots doesn’t really add to the movie and makes people who don’t play video games dismiss them entirely.
To hammer the point home about how bad these movies are, I collected the average Metacritic and IMDB score of all the movies based on video games. Viewers enjoyed the movies at an average of 5.1 out of 10. The consensus of critics is even harsher, with a 23/100 score.
Who’s Steering This Ship?
You can’t have a great movie without a great director. It’s the most important job when making films. To say Uncharted has had a hard time finding its leader is an understatement. It has had seven directors tied to the project since it was first announced in 2008 (in that time, I graduated middle school, high school, and college for perspective). Anytime a film has to change directors once, it’s a red flag; seven means there is a radioactive issue lying beneath the surface.
The issue might be that the production company, Sony Pictures, wants the project to resemble the feel of the games. This makes sense at first glance since many consider Uncharted to have some of the best storytelling of any medium of the last decade. The problem is the premise of Uncharted borrowed heavily from the Indiana Jones franchise. A film trilogy that still holds up to this day (I don’t acknowledge the one with Even Stevens). Most directors are at least a tad egotistical and want audiences to remember them for creating great original pieces of art. Not copying someone else’s work.
Regardless of why it was so difficult to wrangle a director, the movie finally has its champion, and its …Ruben Fleischer! A director who has made one good movie — Zombie Land — and a slew of underwhelming movies — Venom, 30 Minutes or Less, Zombie Land: Double Tap, and Gangster Squad. Does it make sense that a guy who hasn’t made a solid film in over a decade will be the first to create a great movie in this genre?
At best, we have a question mark in the director’s chair, but what about the actors? Uncharted will be an action flick, which means the actors need to be movie stars. You need an actor who is charismatic and someone who you could see kicking ass. Especially for this role, Nathan Drake (the main character in the Uncharted Franchise) is one of the most charming protagonists ever. He fits the ‘women want to be with him and men want to be him’ archetype better than almost anyone.
Originally, the studio cast Mark Wahlberg to play Nathan Drake — which had me worried. Wahlberg is at his best when he is playing a prickly, angry man. Drake has a carefreeness to him and always has time for a joke even in dire most situations. Meanwhile, every time Mark Wahlberg is on the screen, he looks like he found a flaming turd on his porch.
I felt a sense of relief when the studio announced that Wahlberg was being replaced as the leading man…but then I found out he would play Drake’s mentor, Sully. Another character who’s known for being witty and likable. I know it seems like I’m being harsh on Marky Mark, but I just don’t think he’s a good actor. Some will point out the Oscar he won for his supporting role in The Departed. But I’ll counter with the Oscars are a crapshoot, and he probably threatened to beat the voters with a trash can if they didn’t vote for him. If you’re still not convinced, please watch the clip below.
I’m glad we settled that.
The Good News
Everything I’ve talked about points to this movie being a flop, but it has one thing going for it: Tom Holland. Going with a younger actor to portray Drake before the games take place has me genuinely curious. They could go in several directions, and whichever they choose should be better than trying to copy one of the game’s stories. And more importantly, Tom Holland has the chops to be a movie star. Like I mentioned before, they need to be charismatic and believable when they kick ass. Holland accomplished both every time he portrayed Spider-Man. Granted, this time he won’t have the MCU machine backing him up. It’s easier to make an excellent movie when you have the most talented people in Hollywood backing you.
If this movie has any chance of being the first great video game movie, it’s going to be on the back of Tom Holland, and as a fan of the Uncharted franchise, I’m praying he can pull it off.
Doing something for the first time is always the most difficult. Doctors believed the human heart would explode before a runner could complete a mile in under 4 minutes. Roger Bannister proved them wrong in 1954, and since then, over a thousand athletes have completed the challenge. A year before, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first human beings to climb Mount Everest. Another feat deemed impossible, but is so easy to accomplish now that you have to wait in line to climb it, like you’re waiting at the DMV. Once people see it’s possible, it becomes infinitely easier.
There may not be a great video game movie yet, but once someone conquers that obstacle, we will see more and more people follow in their footsteps. It may (and probably won’t be) Uncharted, but it will come eventually, and I can’t wait to see it.