Ah, tie-in movies, one of my guilty pleasures. In the best case scenario they’re a mixed blessing, a downright curse for most fans.
In the nineties as soon as movie production companies found out that people would gladly pay money to see a movie about Super Mario Bros or Double Dragon, every videogame series became a potential target for a cinematic venture.
Some of the choices made in adapting them are still downright fascinating, so join me in doing a quick catch-up to all the ones I’ve seen, to find out if any of them were at least decent adaptations.
Before 1993 there wasn’t really a market for videogame movies. There were several “inspirations” like, most famously, Tron (1982) and The Last Starfighter (1984) that featured a “gamer” male protagonist.
Of course, all of that was leading up to that sweet powergloved nostalgia sting that is The Wizard (1989). The movie with Christian Slater, Fred Savage and Jenny Lewis (yes, the singer) is basically one big Nintendo commercial, its main objective trying to build up hype for the release of Super Mario Bros 3. Seeing it today is a weird experience, to say the least, but I really can’t bring myself to despise it. Coming from a country (Italy) that never had much love for videogames, it was my dream to someday be in a videogame tournament… To think that would turn into e-sports in 25 years!
Also I think I had a crush on Jenny Lewis… but anyway!
Let’s not get sidetracked and jump right to…
Super Mario Bros – game over, man
Let’s start off with the weirdest out of the whole bunch. Taking the most famous family friendly platform game of all time and turning it into a murky sci-fi pastiche more depressing than fun, left many viewers flabbergasted. Bob Hoskins as Mario is indeed the right casting choice, while Leguizamo for Luigi is a tad more weird. Still, king of the weird is Dennis Hopper playing Koopa, who looks like the only actor having fun with the material, even though history tells us otherwise. At one point he actually tries to seduce with a sort of sexy “lizard tongue”, Princess Daisy. Then Yoshi gets stabbed, Mario dances seductively with Big Bertha, who is not a fish but an obese black lady… You get the drift, since there was no videogame movie precedent, terribly weird choices were made. The whole “making of” of the movie is a fascinating piece of cinematic history; while it can be a slice of cheesy fun and there have been attemps at revaluating it, as far as a “good videogame movie” this is surely one of the most disappointing out there.
Super Mario Bros Movie trailer
Mortal Kombat – toasty enough
Remembered by many as “the one videogame movie that is better than the source material“, the Midway gory fighting title had an easy time being adapted since it barely has (or, should I say “had) any plot. Still, everyone was a bit disappointed that there’s no blood or gore at all in the movie, in hopes of keeping its PG-13 rating. Also the most famous character from the game, Sub Zero, barely gets any screen time, but then again he hadn’t yet clearly emerged as everyone’s favorite. I was more partial to Scorpion, frankly. Anyway it’s a pretty fun romp, I guess no one is expecting cinematic brilliance from a Mortal Kombat movie, right? Also I can’t express how right it feels to see Christopher Lambert as Raiden, it’s the one character he was born to play. The sequel… well, let’s just say that two miracles would be one too many.
Double Dragon – the medallion stone
Another 90’s movie through and through, released hot on the heels of Super Mario Bros while largely ignoring the adaptation issues that plagued the Nintendo movie. Here we have Jason Patrick as a bleached hair evil business mogul and… Alyssa Milano? They were really banking on the cast to bring people into theaters huh? The two Lee brothers are not fighting to get back their girlfriend but instead to prevent the bad guy from exploiting underage workers and get back a medallion which gives superpowers to its owner. Something like that. With a large amount of salt, it can be enjoyed, still it doesn’t really follow the game. There’s very little fighting and violence is toned down, since this is especially targeted towards teenagers. Let’s just say that it hasn’t really aged like a fine wine, more like vinegar.
Double Dragon trailer
Tomb Raider – the angel of blandness
To think, it would have been so easy! You had Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, which was a stroke of genius, just make a turgid Indiana Jones flick with a sexy female protagonist and… that’s basically it! But no, even with the second movie they never managed to present Lara Croft as a credible heroine, not even Jan de Bont (Speed) in the director’s chair was enough. It’s also fair to say that by 2001 Lara had largely worn out her welcome and the games were getting worse too. Between Tomb Raider 2 and 3, the movie would have attracted large crowds to the cinema, but in 2001? Too late. Two mediocre outings that leave little to be remembered by after they’re over. The third one is an interesting reboot, released in 2018, but it’s a different beast altogether, with Alicia Vikander playing the role as the “new” Lara, a rugged muscular heroine.
Tomb Raider trailer
Resident Evil – horror in white
The one horror videogame movie that actually got a decent budget and cast. Since Paul W.S. Anderson proved to be the right choice for Mortal Kombat, why not let him direct this one too? As with Double Dragon, this is also a typical product of its time, the post-Matrix era where it was mandatory to have a slo-mo fighting scene, an out-of-nowhere heroine who spouts one-liners while doing little else and an abundance of random industrial/metal songs on the soundtrack. Still, while I maintain it’s a semi-decent action horror movie, it veers far from the original “horror mansion” setting of the first Biohazard title. Since almost none of the series’ characters make an appearance, this is, again, a videogame movie in name only. There’s a serious lack of scary atmospheres since the movie is mostly set in labs and sewers. Apparently, Milla Jovovich really loves her character so her husband made her star in all the FIVE sequels, each one of them having nothing to do with the games.
Resident Evil trailer
Max Payne – definitely too much payne
Oh Lord, why? This is the perfect example of why videogame movies don’t work: because writers and producers feel this uncontrollable urge to make up a mediocre story when they’ve got a perfectly serviceable plot already! The first Max Payne game is a modern noir with a tragic badass protagonist out for revenge in a city going straight to hell. In the movie we have Mark Wahlberg, the obvious choice for a badass protagonist,along with Mila Kunis playing the tragic heroine. The plot is a mess in trying to jumble up the plot of the first two games, while doing a disservice to both, the action is poor and the directing mediocre. Really one of the worst messes that was made out of an easily adaptable game. I wasn’t expecting much out of Mortal Kombat, but out of Max Payne? Well, at least something decent!
Max Payne movie
The Uwe Boll curse
Often dubbed “the worst director alive” (he’s not), I’m not gonna bother to individually list every videogame inspired movie directed by our German friend, cause it’s not worth the time, yours and mine. But hey, if he wants to have a boxing match with me, I’m available! In a span of five years (2004-2009), as a way of avoiding paying taxes in his homecountry, he directed:
- House of the Dead – a mediocre zombie movie with an awful cast and random sequences from the videogame spliced in. There is also a sequel – strangely enough not directed by Uwe – which has even less to do with the game series. I didn’t bother to see it.
- Alone in the Dark – Christian Slater (a veteran of the genre) starring as a paranormal investigator who would act in anything for a paycheck. Rather than bringing up anything from the original game, it’s a useless thriller that desperately wants to waste time trying to mimic the 90s Silence of the Lambs style, ending up being unbearable to watch.
- In the Name of the King – supposedly a tie-in with the Dungeon Siege RPG but, naturally, has nothing to do with the game. Awful cast, boring plot.
- Bloodrayne – a confusing mess of vampiric sequences who, at least, tried to have something to do with the original material. Along with the usual Udo Kier, there’s Ben “paycheck please” Kinglsey and Meat Loaf. That should tell you all you need to know. I also found out Uwe directed TWO sequels, so there’s more movies than actual games. Sorry man, don’t count me in to watch them, tut mir leid.
- Postal – a mess of offensive jokes and boring sequences. Like the game you mean? Nah, come on. Postal 2 was fun.
- Far Cry – his final videogame outing and… of course, it’s boring and awful like the others. Udo Kier should definitely try to find something better to do with his life than star in this crap.
House of the Dead trailer
Doom – Hurt me plenty
While it was not entirely unreasonable to hope a Doom movie could come out being a faithful adaptation of the game, the end product is unfortunately not. Now, had they just made an action horror movie without any connection to ID software iconic FPS, then this could have been acceptable as a b-movie. Ignore the title and enjoy it, otherwise there’s very little reason to see it. There’s no Cacodemons, no Cyberdemons, no BFG, no badass marine, nothing. But, I hear you say, there is a brief scene where the protagonist kills demons in a first person view! Sure, it’s also set on Mars. It would be easy to think “why didn’t they make the whole movie like that?” but trust me, you wouldn’t have watched it. As a horror b-movie it’s not bad, as a game adaptation there’s almost nothing worth of note.
Doom movie trailer
Prince of Persia – the sands of why
Up until 2010 Gyllenhaal had enough star power to proudly boast he had never acted in a bad movie. Apparently Prince of Persia was the “get out of jail” free card he needed to star in a few duds, at least I hope he wasn’t blackmailed that much to star in this. It’s a mess of an action movie with a plot that should have followed the first game (of the reboot) but instead does its own thing with baffling results. Still, the worst thing about it is how it transforms an exciting and tragic hero of Persia into a boring two hour movie that just makes you want to skip the whole franchise entirely. Also, say hello to fake british accents and white actors spray tanned to look like they’re arabic… this is one better off left behind.
Prince of Persia movie trailer
Warcraft – too much lore will kill you
You’ve seen me mention again and again how these movies “stray from the original game they were based on” as a bad thing, right? Well, Duncan Jones’ movie has the opposite conundrum: it is actually too faithful! Going in without a deep enough knowledge of Warcraft lore would mean spending the whole movie going “huh?” “who is that?” “Gul’who?”. Also, writing the story as the first movie out of a trilogy is always a bad idea, since there’s no meaningful conclusion to the narrative arc and that brings even more confusion to the table. Still… it’s not THAT bad. Naturally, most Warcraft 3 cutscenes were better acted and shot but, as a Warcraft movie, it’s competent enough. Should you judge it on its own merits, then you would have to say it’s a pretty forgettable and confusing action fantasy movie. I guess… you can’t have both?
Warcraft movie trailer
Ace Attorney – The perfect adaptation?
If you’ve played an Ace Attorney game, you know that they play like visual novels with some graphic adventure elements thrown in. Lots of talking, little action. An adaptation made in Hollywood would probably be an action thriller starring Elijah Wood or something like that. Luckily, this was directed by Takashi Miike who, while not a director with a perfect rep, is very competent and knows how to deliver a good product. This is a perfect movie for fans of the game and… well, not many other people. The story is taken straight out of a couple of episodes from the first game, very little was changed except the “weird factor” was toned down. Maybe as an adaption it could be considered a bit too straightforward but, thinking back to all the awful messes that came before this one, I think it’s fair to nominate Ace Attorney as “the best videogame movie of all time”. My only problem is that there weren’t enough songs from the game’ soundtrack. Well, too bad nobody saw it.
Ace Attorney trailer with english subs
That’s all folks, that’s the extent of my videogame movie experience. I’m missing a vital few like Wing Commander or Hitman, but frankly they have such an awful reputation that I’d rather not persevere. The recently released Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedeghog successes at the box office seem like clear signs that the videogame movie is coming back. Now, let’s just hope we don’t get another DC/Marvel universe series of movies cause that would be too much for my poor heart…