Could Assassin's Creed and Warcraft Become the First Great Video Game Movies?

It's safe to say that Hollywood is running out of ideas. Uninspired reboots like Total Recall, The Amazing Spider-Man, and the upcoming Robocop film highlight how little special effects can improve upon an older idea.

However, in our current quagmire of young adult, comic book, TV show, and board game movie adapations, there's one type of movie that has never achieved critical success -- the video game movie adaptation.

For years, studios have tried to adapt movies from popular video games. In the early days, this was tougher since video games had much simpler plots -- Super Mario Bros. (1993), Double Dragon (1994), and Street Fighter: The Movie (1994) tried to add more realistic backstories to the relatively simple games, which resulted in jarring productions that insulted gamers and movie watchers alike.

"One day, I will do splits on two reversing trucks to redeem myself for this awful portrayal of Guile."-Street Fighter: The Movie. Source:

A rapidly growing cinematic genre

Despite those critical failures, the movie industry still hasn't given up on making film versions of popular video games. Over the past decade, some lackluster movies continued the trend of mediocrity set by Super Mario Bros. -- such as the endless Resident Evil series, the short-lived Tomb Raider franchise, and oddball titles like Silent Hill, Doom, Dead or Alive, and Max Payne.

However, it appears that we are only at the dawn of the age of video game adaptations -- Ubisoft recently announced accelerated plans to release its Assassin's Creed film, and Activision Blizzard has stated that it plans to release a live-action Warcraft fim by 2015. A live action version of Electronic Arts' space opera trilogy Mass Effect has also been considered.

People will still pay to see bad movies

Why do the movie and gaming industries still want to push ahead and marry these two forms of entertainment, in the face of so much on-screen mediocrity?

The answer is simple -- the public still pays to watch terrible movies. Simply take a look at this chart of the box office numbers and reviews of some major video game films from the past two decades.

Film (Year)

Production Budget

Box Office

Rotten Tomatoes Score

Street Fighter: The Movie (1994)

$35 million

$94 million


Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

$115 million

$275 million


Resident Evil (2002)

$33 million

$102 million


Silent Hill (2006)

$50 million

$98 million


Max Payne (2008)

$35 million

$85 million


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

$200 million

$336 million


Sources: Boxofficemojo, Rotten Tomatoes

These contradictory numbers indicate that video game films exploit thin plots with big special effects, the worst aspects of summer blockbusters, to generate high ticket sales, despite the overall lack of quality on the movie screen.

Sadly, these past successes set a terrible example for movie makers, who appear to believe that gamers and mainstream audiences will always continue paying to watch shallow, disposable films.

Why have video game movies been so terrible?

To understand why video game movies have missed the mark more frequently than comic book adaptations, we need to consider their source material.

As the plots of video games became more complex than Super Mario Bros. or Double Dragon, filmmakers realized that there were two options -- either base the film entirely on the plot of the game, as seen in Max Payne, or introduce a side story that fits in with the game's established mythos, as the Resident Evil series did.

To date, there have been five Resident Evil films -- and none of them have a Rotten Tomatoes score topping 34%. Source:

Neither approach has worked well. Movies and games are very different art forms -- the former is passive while the latter is active. When a player plays a video game, glaring plot holes can often be ignored as fun gameplay takes precedence over realism.

Even the best story-driven games can appear vapid and silly after the core gameplay has been removed. Silent Hill was a frightening game to play, due to the omnipresent, dream-like fog that engulfs the player, but the film version, which featured the same qualities, was bland and confusing to watch. Max Payne, a game celebrated for its graphic novel, film noir style, turned into a bad film because after the game's stylish slow motion gunplay was stripped out, the plot of an ex-cop going on a rampage after the murders of his wife and daughter was simply Death Wish redux.

Resident Evil attempted to merge games with films by recreating cutscenes that only gamers will recognize -- such as Wesker throwing his sunglasses in Resident Evil: Afterlife, a cheesy scene recreated directly from an equally cheesy cutscene from Resident Evil 5. The end result was a poor Matrix parody that made the live-action film look absurd.

How can video game adapations improve?

However, I don't believe that video game adaptations are doomed to mediocrity. Movie makers simply aren't looking in the right places for inspiration.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, comic book films were stuck where video game films are today -- campy, silly, and poorly received but moderately successful at the box office. Much of that blame falls on Sidney Furie's Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and Joel Schumacher's Batman: Forever and Batman & Robin -- films that emphasized the campy, unrealistic nature of the comic books over the more realistic, universal themes.

Fortunately, directors like Bryan Singer and Christopher Nolan eventually showed the industry how comic book adaptations should be made with X-Men (2000) and Batman Begins (2005), respectively.

Their films emphasized the core themes of the comics -- such as racial discrimination in X-Men and the use of psychological terror over violence in Batman -- while toning down the campier elements of the comic books -- such as Wolverine's yellow spandex costume and Batman's polarizing sidekick, Robin.

Singer and Nolan were also well-known for their storytelling skills in independent films, such as The Usual Suspects and Memento, respectively -- which made them solid choices for building up a solid story before piling on the special effects.

Therefore, video game adaptations can succeed if placed in the right hands. Assassin's Creed, Warcraft, and Mass Effect are three franchises that could be made into excellent films with the right creative teams. Assassin's Creed could be an incredible opportunity to showcase some real Parkour while exploring some fascinating historical events. Warcraft could be the next-generation Lord of the Rings, while Mass Effect has such a rich mythology that it could very well be the next Star Wars.

Ubisoft recently stated that the Assassin's Creed film will be a fresh new adventure starring Michael Fassbender, and Blizzard has declared that Warcraft will be a unique blend of Avatar and Game of Thrones -- signifying that game studios are taking the cinematic adaptations of their prized franchises much more seriously than before.

A final thought

Not every game will be a great movie, but talented filmmakers can make the most out of any franchise -- simply recall how Gore Verbinski managed to turn an aging amusement park ride into Disney's blockbuster franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean.

The next few years will be interesting for video game movies -- will they continue wallowing in mediocrity, or will they become a new genre matching the quality of current comic book adaptations? Let me know your opinions in the comments section below!

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