Video Games Have Become A Force In Hollywood

It was only 30 years ago, but it feels like the 1993 Super Mario Bros movie came from not just a different era, but maybe an alternative universe where Hollywood had no idea how to market cross-generational content. At the time it did not. And the results were pretty disastrous. To be fair though, the game was not a cross-generational hit yet. We had to get old first.

Whether it was comic books with 50 or more years of publishing history (aside from Superman 1978 and Batman 1989) or a popular video game, studios, directors and even actors just seemed to have no idea how to pull it off. The projects were approached as though they were original ideas with no existing IP to build from. Studios just said, hey here is this thing that a lot of people like. Let’s get the rights, and put the title on whatever direct-to-video quality garbage we have ready to roll out.

For instance, while the current top movie in the US, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, is a digitally animated humorous take on the characters who now have 40 years of pop culture history, the first attempt set up a live-action dystopian world where dinosaurs somehow evolved into people. Mario and Luigi were vulgar, rude Italian stereotypes who bungled into an adventure that had nothing to do with the actual game. John Leguizamo, who is begging for headlines at the moment, said that the plans for the movie were to make it even darker than it turned out. Ok.

A year later another huge video game, Street Fighter 2 got an onscreen adaptation that got it all dreadfully wrong again. The film took a game about an underground fighting tournament, a concept that was ironically pulled together a few years earlier by Street Fighter star Jean-Claude Van Damme via Blood Sport, and instead constructed some poorly constructed geopolitical shlock. I mean I would have sworn Street Fighter was based on Bloodsport. Bloodsport though actually spawned another iconic game from the era, Mortal Kombat. Do I need to mention that it also didn’t make it?

It was not until Tomb Raider hit the screens with its Indiana Jones vibes until studios had faith in making movies based on video game properties which led to a slew of other attempts that went mostly nowhere including Prince of Persia, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. Modern video games should be very easy to make into movies and TV shows. They are essentially interactive films at this point. Want to know what will happen going forward on HBO’s The Last Of Us? You can watch it unfold through cut-scenes from the video game the show is based on. The game itself is so cinematic that actors from the game have played major parts in the TV series. Videogames are fully fleshed-out stories these days.  While not literature, they build a hero’s journey, often present dynamic characters and have all the world-building done ahead of time. HBO took a post apocalyptic game and just reshot it and got a hit.

The number of failures in the past caused critics and commentators to essentially declare video game adaptation movies as a waste of time. But something interesting happened over the past 5 years. Directors have begun to take note that storylines and characters already have developed stories and personalities. And they are using that material to make movies and TV shows that fans of the original source can appreciate. A quick look at a list compiled by gives us a glimpse of the top video game-based TV shows and movies with Uncharted another video game film from a game admittedly inspired by Indiana Jones at the top of the list.

Videogames are not literature, but they are becoming an art form. And as more interpretations become hits more filmmakers will find a way to make them into franchises on screen. Just don’t be surprised if you see a cash grab for video game titles that produces another slate of disappointing movies.