Game Over or Continue? Video Games at the movies

Is it time to unplug?

Originally posted by Dan Allanson

With the release of ‘Warcraft’ and ‘The Angry Birds Movie’ this week and the upcoming ‘Assassin’s Creed’ movie release on the agenda video games on the silver screen are a hot topic. The transition from the small screen to the big screen has been notoriously chequered for Hollywood film studios, the films often deemed commercial and critical failures. In fact it has become more an exception than a rule for a video game film to prove a success both for the money men and more importantly the fans themselves. Probably two of the most successful and beloved examples of the video game film were two of the first. With the 1980’s ushering in the Arcade era ‘Tron’ and ‘Wargames’ blended gaming sensibilities with smart storytelling and compelling central characters. ‘Tron’ in particular replicated the arcade game visuals considered cutting edge for the time. Although a commercial flop ‘Tron’ has gone on to garner cult status amongst film fans and spawned an impressive and underrated sequel ‘Tron:Legacy’ in 2010.





In the 1990’s the arcade made way for the console and the big screen reflected the change. The early 90’s saw the film incarnations of ‘Super Mario Bros’, ‘Mortal Kombat’ and ‘Street Fighter’. ‘Super Mario Bros’ remains the most notorious example of failure. The premise of the popular platformer was simple, colourful and beloved. The filmmakers took this template, tossed it aside and reconfigured the gaming franchise. Gone were the bright and colourful worlds which Mario bounded through (to the right) replaced with a dark and decidedly adult dystopian cityscape ruled by a despotic Dennis Hopper. The simple story of a leaping plumber rescuing a fairytale princess was jettisoned for a complicated story involving fungus, meteors and different dimensions. What appeared to be a home run from the outset crumbled into a colossal failure. ‘Street Fighter’ and ‘Mortal Kombat’ fared little better. Again the studios appeared to misunderstand what had made the properties so popular with gaming fans in the first place. ‘Street Fighter’ was a Van Damme vehicle which is notable for Kylie Minogue as Cammie and an interesting turn from the late Raul Julia as Bison.





Perhaps the most successful of the video game to film conversions is the ‘Resident Evil’ franchise. Although certainly not perfect (and the multitude of sequels less so) the film did stay loyal to the games roots providing a cohesive plot, characters from the game featured properly and a strong central performance from Mila Jovovich. ‘Doom’ and ‘Silent Hill’ followed suit perhaps proving that the horror game provided the best opportunity for a successful game to movie transition. Ironically the best video game films haven’t been based on video games at all. Disney’s ‘Wreck-it-Ralph’ cleverly blended recognisable video game characters with a fun and compelling story for adults and children alike. ‘Scott Pilgrim vs The World’ featured several video game tropes and under the stewardship of the excellent Edgar Wright was a witty trip down memory lane for nostalgic gaming aficionado’s. The superb documentary ‘King of Kong’ took the audience back into the arcade and is certainly worth seeking out for those who haven’t already done so.




Unfortunately despite high hopes ‘Warcraft’ promised much but ultimately joins the long list of video game to film failures though ‘The Angry Birds Movie’ has proved a commercial success in the face of its critical maligning. It is up to ‘Assassin’s Creed’ to insert another coin into the arcade machine of film though will it be Continue or Game Over?


What do you think? Spot on or completely wrong? Please leave a comment below or follow me on Twitter via @danwhofell. I also have a blog full of movie related ramblings like the ones above at

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