It’s common knowledge that video game based movie adaptations always fall victim to the tropes and goofiness of bad films. While a few popular films based on games like Super Mario Bros. and Mortal Kombat managed to garner a cult following over time, the majority of other movies based on games don’t fare as well. This is due to a few key points that Hollywood frequently misses when trying to adapt a popular game into a movie. They seldom respect the source material, take too many creative liberties, and never try to be viewed alongside the games they’re based on. If Hollywood directors could take the extra time to understand and study why these things are so important, we’d have better quality movies to watch based on our favorite video games.
Respecting the source material of any adaptation is super important. By respect, we mean analyzing the story and/or characters enough to make a story that would be faithful to them. Though this isn’t always followed exactly in other types of adaptations, like comic book stories, its key to making a good adaptation between two kinds of mediums like films and video games. Too many times we’ve seen movies take characters from games and throw them into a completely “out of nowhere” story that hardly has anything to do with the games they come from. The worst examples of this are movies like Street Fighter with Jean- Claude Van Damme, the BloodRayne films created by Uwe Boll, and even the recently released Tomb Raider reboot film with Alicia Vikander. These films have our favorite characters from the games, but not much else from the games that made us love them in the first place.
All of this goes hand in hand with how movies take way too many creative liberties with the content of the games. Whether it’s to compensate for the casting or compromise how things are filmed, liberties taken in a movie can get far away from what makes the content of the games so interesting. Super Mario Bros. the game takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom, a whimsical fantasy land with magic and humor that is iconic to many people. And yet the film adaptation for Super Mario Bros. finds itself in an alternate dystopian world lead by dinosaurs and gritty technology, with two plumbers that have Mario in their last name.
It’s a confusingly different take on something everybody knows, one that probably would’ve been interesting had it not been called Super Mario Bros. at all. Another example is the critical bomb known as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, which completely changed some characters to make things appear more modern and edgy for audiences. Creative liberties taken can be a helpful thing at times, but when you deviate so far from the essence of the story or characters, you lose out on everything we loved about them. You create something completely different that isn’t what we know.
Yet the absolute worst offense that some movies based on games try to do is be viewed far differently than the games themselves. The live action Resident Evil films are constantly presented like this, despite using characters and locations from the games. They try very hard to create their own universe of Resident Evil lore and are often discussed like a separate entity altogether, which can often get very confusing and sad for fans who have played many of the games. Though the storylines are original with the direction they take, they often are very shallow and lack depth in both their plots and characters, making them feel subpar compared to the games. Other films have done similar things, including the BloodRayne films by Uwe Boll and the live-action Tekken movies, that try too hard to establish themselves as separate from the games they’re based on, rather than embrace what the games have already established before.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t good movie adaptations of video games out there, but there could always be more to enjoy watching. Fans of these games love the idea of seeing their favorite characters come to life in a new way, but are clever enough to spot when something is trying cashing in on a name they know. If Hollywood wants to really tap into the fandom of video games moving forward, it needs to better understand we want to see more than surface level adaptation. People want to see these characters and their stories given a fair shot, not shoved into a mediocre film. We want these films to be good.