Why video game movies rarely work
Dillon Begley | Tuesday, February 25, 2020
With “Sonic the Hedgehog” recently rolling into theaters, the debate about films inspired by video games has re-entered public conversation. Movies that attempt to adapt the stories of video games into films are, more often than not, poor in quality. Additionally, they typically do not make much of a profit at the box office. This generally brings forth the following questions: Why do video game movies almost always suck? And why do similar films based on comic books and superheroes tend to do so much better financially and critically?
Everyone, of course, has their own opinions on the matter. I believe, however, that Canadian YouTuber and film critic John Campea gives a great insight into the matter. In a particular episode of the John Campea Show, he and one of his frequent guests, actress Erin Cummings, delves into the topic particularly well.
In the clip, uploaded this past week, John begins by arguing the primary reason why comic book films far exceed video game movies in the two aforementioned areas is simply a result of the way the source material itself is structured. There are far more video game players today than comic book readers. Yet, the way comic books are written makes a good transition to the big screen more likely. In comic books, the reader engages in the visuals and story much more directly.
Campea suggests the problem with video game adaptations is that the main focus within video games is the gameplay. In fact, video games traditionally have not even focused on storytelling at all. And, while stories for games have significantly improved over the years, it is still very difficult to get a video game audience as invested in a film as the game it is based on. By design, video games just aren’t intended to be passively viewed in the way novels and comics are.
Cummings argues gamers are more interested in gaming itself than movie-going. Furthermore, she suggests a potential solution to this problem could be to add future video game movies to streaming services and structure them in a way where the viewer makes choices with their remote. This concept was introduced by the Netflix hit “Black Mirror” and it proved very successful in engaging the audience in a manner similar to video games.
The most recent video game movies like “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Pokemon Detective Pikachu,” “Rampage” and “Tomb Raider” have been much better received both critically and by audiences. Each film has made more profit than most of its poorly-thought-out predecessors. Will this trend continue and change the perception of video game-based films in the future? Who knows?