Why movies based on games are still not working

Super Mario, Max Payne, Street Fighter, Far Cry, (thanks, Uwe Boll).

It’s an old chestnut, game movies don’t work, but they should. They are more cinematic these days, like interactive movies. There’s a whole section of movie goers who won’t witness Ezio jumping from the Pantheon onto an unsuspecting guard. They’ll never experience Nathan Drake gleefully finding a tank on a train just as a helicopter appears. These are iconic moments, one’s where we remember them vividly, and there-in lies the problem. “Game movies” often let us down. I think it’s because they completely ignore the established stories, set-pieces and sometimes characters, in favour of creating their own.

The Assassins Creed movie throws away Desmond, Altair and Ezio for some new protagonists and historical assassins, Callum and Aguilar. While I did enjoy it, it bombed at the box office. A sequel looks unlikely, now because unlike Desmond, Altair and Ezio, we never connected with the characters.

The plot of the first Assassins Creed game, while flimsy, still manages to engage the player. The various and different assassinations would certainly be enough to flesh out a movie. The finale is superb and would make a great movie finale too. However, the movie makers appear to know better, instead creating their own story based on tropes from the games.

While I understand these are two completely different media with different story mechanics, these games are now so cinematic. The transition should not be that difficult. Of course you can’t have Ezio spending 20 minutes creeping across rooftops, taking out sentries. There are other ways to keep the core story with room for maneuver.

This is why The Lord of The Rings didn’t just work as an adaptation but as a box office sensation. It took liberties, some massive ones, that really angered book purists. That said, it was still recognisable as the same story. A story beloved by many which then found a new audience because it kept the core story intact. Ironically we now have a new lease of life for Tolkien’s Cinematic Middle-Earth in the shape of Monolith’s Shadow of Mordor and Shadow of War games.

Even as an ardent Tolkien fan you have to divorce them from its source as apart from the visuals they bear very little resemblance to Tolkien lore. This doesn’t make them less enjoyable but they are not exactly canon. So even more ironically this is a series of games based on movies as they take the look of the movies and shape stories around that.

So does it actually work better the other way around? Maybe? Alien: Isolation is perhaps better than both Prometheus and Alien: Covenant as it manages to evoke the fear and helplessness of the original films.


Of course, they will still keep trying to makes movies out of games. There are several game movies in the works. The next up is the new Tomb Raider which seems to take elements of the excellent reboot and its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider. This has been done before of course, with the pulling power of Angelina Jolie. Two films that split critics and fans down the middle. Again choosing original storylines instead of playing up to the big established set pieces. Despite this, Jolie shone in the role and even if the stories weren’t as memorable she made the part her own. I do like both movies but again I’d like to see something iconic from the games.



This reboot seems to be doing that and I’m hopeful because it seems to want to be more faithful to its source. Alicia Vikander certainly looks the part but will the plot hold up? Will it be Yamatai? Will it have the supernatural elements? Trinity is definitely the main villains according to the trailer and the always watchable Walton Goggins is Mathias, but will it work? As I said, Hopefully. Since writing that I have seen several clips of the movie and they have answered some of those questions and now I am very hopeful.


I’m less hopeful about the Nathan Drake Uncharted movie. It seems to be taking its cues from the beginning of Uncharted 3 where Nate is younger and meets Sully. While Tom Holland is a cheeky, kind of actor and definitely has that Drake sparkle, do we really need an origin story? One that’s completely new from the story we know? Indiana Jones didn’t need an origin story, did it? In Raiders of the Lost Ark we are dropped right into it and we discover him through the film. In Drake’s Fortune we meet Nathan in the middle of the ocean, finding a sunken chest. He’s then suddenly attacked by pirates and off we go. We didn’t need the origin story. Again the movie makers think they know best.

There is one movie I am really excited about and that’s The Last of Us. Why does this differ? Well, the lead writer and creator Neil Druckmann is also writing the screenplay. So even if the story differs we have someone who understands the characters of Joel and Ellie and the dynamic between them. Although, I think it will be quite faithful.

There are many game movies in the works. Splinter Cell with Tom Hardy, The Division with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain, Watch Dogs with Mark Wahlberg (at least producing) etc… but where I think game adaptations might have more success on TV. We are now more accepting of complicated, multi-layered stories with lots of characters and multiple storylines. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Stranger Things; shows that would have a more cult following 20 years but have a mainstream viewing public today.

There are some promising developments though. There’s a Hitman series coming, which would work better; the films have been questionable to say the least although the first is slightly better than the latest attempt. There’s an Assassins Creed show too (although I have heard it will possibly be animated). There’s a Witcher series coming to Netflix but based on the books (which I’ve read) more than the games. That should be excellent. Yes, I think there’ll be more success in TV than there will be in movies, but still… they keep trying.

So are there any game movies or TV Series you are looking forward to or are you dismayed by the whole process and think it is waste of time? Are there any games you’d like to see adapted for movie or TV?

Personally I’d love to see a Horizon Zero Dawn TV series as I think the premise and story is absolutely fantastic. Who doesn’t want to see robotic dinosaurs taken down by primitive weapons and a story full of cultures, religions and so many revelations that it would make Lost look like Geordie Shore.

An Elder Scrolls series would also fill that Game of Thrones shaped hole. Perhaps Fallout once The Walking Dead has finished? We also need another Far Cry if only to get the Uwe Boll one out of our memories. Base it on Far Cry 3 and make sure you cast the same guy, Michael Mando as Vaas. Well, I can dream.

There has been some successes though, if not financially. Prince of Persia is probably the biggest success critically. Doom had a mixed response, Resident Evil spawned a franchise even if it deviated from the games and Silent Hill at least tried. In the main, though they have been poorly received.

Despite their shortcomings, however, Movies based on Games are here to stay, all they need to do is figure how to do it successfully.

What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

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