Whoever said that video games cannot tell good stories either hasn’t played video games, or hasn’t played the right ones. At times, they can be the most powerful storytelling medium, since they offer a visual backdrop, as films do, but also heighten personal immersion, much like books do, while also leaving space for decision-making. Thus, it’s easy to see why the idea of translating a game into a film counterpart may seem to be an avenue worth pursuing – and, after all, games sometimes have huge fan bases, making it easy to sell the final product to audiences.
Results, especially in terms of quality, have been mixed at best, with Metacritic scores averaging in the high 30s/low 40s, and very rarely surpassing the 50 mark. Box office revenues, by contrast, almost always hop over $100 million. We handpicked seven well-known films or film series that would have not existed if nobody had played the games they were inspired by.
1. Resident Evil series
Inspired by the famous survival horror games of Japanese developer Capcom, Resident Evil’s foray into films has by far been the most successful one to date. It has spanned over 15 years, with the final installment coming in 2017, and produced six films, that combined have grossed well over $1 billion. Quality has been largely above average, and the films are entertaining action flicks that fans of the series and newcomers have enjoyed. The revenue increased with every new installment until a drop was observed for the fifth title, which paved the way for one final project used as a cash cow to round up a fantastic business decision.
2. The Hitman films
Hitman is also a well-known stealth-based game series that has attracted a lot of success over the years. Two unrelated attempts have been made at replicating this fame: one in 2008 and another in 2015. However, questionable casting choices, uninteresting plots and a departure from what made the video games great spelled failure for the two projects, as they struggled to hit the 100 million box office mark and hold abysmal ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.
3. Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time
Based on the fantasy games rooted in ancient Persia, this film borrowed the name of arguably the best installment in the series. And, in terms of quality, it is a step up from most other titles on the list, holding a higher Metacritic rating than all of them. Despite criticism mainly aimed at casting white actors in the role of Persian characters, it was praised for its gorgeous visuals and grossed a healthy $336 million at the box office.
4. Assassins Creed
A top notch cast was chosen for this project, including Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremy Irons. What could go wrong in this case? Well, everything else apparently – the plot was a mess, the switches between the present setting and 15th century Spain were a nuisance, and even the technical realisation left much to be desired, despite all the money spent.
5. Tomb Raider series
Here we’ve got two different periods to talk about, which are reflected in the progression of both the game series and its cinematographic counterpart. 2001 and 2003 brought us two Tomb Raider films, with Angelina Jolie playing Lara Croft, the adventurous explorer and archaeologist. These were corny action flicks that fit extremely well into what the series was doing at the time. Since then, the games have matured and started taking themselves more seriously, and so has the new installment, a reboot starring Alicia Vikander. It might have stopped just a million short of the first film’s total gross, but still managed to get an impressive $273 million in its pockets.
With a name as simple as popular as Warcraft, it is no surprise that the film adaptation is the highest-grossing film based on a video game, ever: $433 million. The reception has been mixed, however – while the film certainly does its best to tap into the series’ subtleties in order to please hardcore fans, and does very well in the technical area, its plot is as standard and predictable as it gets, and this has really dragged the quality down significantly.
7. Need for Speed
I could never imagine how Need for Speed would look as a video game, with an actual story. Well, someone was really keen to try their hand at it, because a movie adaptation came to life in 2014, with Aaron Paul experimenting with life after Breaking Bad and getting the main role. The result was actually a half decent action flick that, apart from cars, had nothing to do whatsoever with Need for Speed. However, since it was the name that brought about the overwhelming majority of the earnings, it absolutely made sense from a marketing perspective.