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Article – Are Game Adaptations Successful?


Posted April 28, 2014 by

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Are Game Adaptations Successful?

With Need For Speed making an embarrassing $40 million at the domestic box office and a weak $144 million internationally (but a nice $66 million coming from China) two things caught my attention: yet another film made more in China than in the US and yet another film based on a video-game did not work. As you will see in this article, the latter is not that surprising.

Let me get this out of the way right at the start: film adaptations of video games do not work at the box office. Of course, as with everything, there are 2-3 exceptions that were minor successes, but in general the genre has been suffering. For now.

I have looked at 20 titles released in the past 20 years, the World-wide average is at a poor $146 million – a number inflated by the Asian territories (and the Russian market), where the video-game culture has its roots. The lack of success is down to various reasons. First and foremost, a successful game does not guarantee a successful film adaptation. Arcade style fighting games are a cherished memory of everyone who was a child in the late 80s, early 90s. On the other hand, martial arts films are a very niche genre. That might excuse Street Fighter (1994), Mortal Kombat (1995) and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997).

Another factor is the rating of the video-game adaptation. Often the films are R-rated, which again affects box office. The Resident Evil franchise (5 films), Doom or Silent Hill were all R-rated. That did not stop 2010’s Resident Evil: Afterlife from taking home $296 million globally (Russia, Japan, China covered 33% of that). Considering the rating, it’s pretty impressive.

The Tomb Raider franchise had the most potential to become a huge hit: Angelina Jolie as the star (at the time considered a global sex symbol), the ‘Indiana Jones-like’ premise and a big budget production. $275 million worldwide was an encouraging start to the franchise, however the sequel grossed only $157 million, forcing Paramount to shelve the franchise. The game has been recently rebooted, and I am expecting Lara Croft’s return to the silver screen as well.

I haven’t mentioned the most important factor behind the failure of these films, and it’s the most obvious one. They all suck! If you’ve seen Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme or Max Payne (2008) with Mark Wahlberg, you know what I mean. None of these films scored more than 50% on Rotten Tomatoes (Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is ranked #1 with 44%).

Here’s a list of the top 20 film adaptations of video-games:

Title Year World Wide Gross
Street Fighter 1994 $99,423,521
Mortal Kombat 1995 $122,195,920
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation 1997 $51,376,861
Pokemon: The First Movie 1999 $163,644,662
Pokemon: The Movie 2000 2000 $133,949,270
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2001 $274,703,340
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 2001 $85,131,830
Pokemon 3: The Movie 2001 $68,411,275
Resident Evil 2002 $102,441,078
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life 2003 $156,505,388
Resident Evil: Apocalypse 2004 $129,394,835
Doom 2005 $55,987,321
Silent Hill 2006 $97,607,453
Resident Evil: Extinction 2007 $147,717,833
Hitman 2007 $99,965,792
Max Payne 2008 $85,416,905
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time 2010 $336,365,676
Resident Evil: Afterlife 2010 $296,221,663
Resident Evil: Retribution 2012 $240,159,255
Need for Speed 2014 $186,348,942

The lack of a major hit did not put Hollywood off and they continue to look for inspiration in the gaming world. And they should! Story-wise, games are far more interesting than films nowadays, in my opinion. And if you get it right, you have a franchise on your hands. Don’t forget there was a time, not too long ago, when people thought superhero movies aren’t bankable… Future releases like Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft have the potential to do well, even REALLY well. I do have 3 suggestions for the film-makers though:

1) – Pick the right game to adapt. Look at what would make sense as a film – just because a game is popular, it doesn’t mean the film will work too (see Need For Speed).

2) – Focus on the story. Pick a good writer (games like Halo, Mass Effect or The Last Of Us have amazing stories)

3) – Pick credible talent (Michael Fassbender starring in Assassin’s Creed, Duncan Jones directing Warcraft)

Is there a video-game adaptation you love? What game do you think should be made into a film? Let us know in the comments!


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Imo Babics
Freelance Contributor

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