For some publishers, just making games more cinematic isn't enough. It's a word that's been bandied about in developer interviews, conference speeches, and a few reviews, much to gamers' chagrin.
Publishers increasingly want their game properties to become films, despite prior game adaptations being less than successful. Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Alone in the Dark, House of the Dead, DOA: Dead or Alive, Double Dragon, Street Fighter, and Doom were box office bombs. There's the financial successes, but critical misfires of Silent Hill, Max Payne, Hitman, Prince of Persia, all five Resident Evil films, Need for Speed, Mortal Kombat, and both Tomb Raider films. Sure we may love some of those films, but as an industry have yet to see a live-action adaptation of a video game that you could say stands on its own as a great film.
Let's put it this way, the highest-rated game-related film I could find on Rotten Tomatoes was Disney's Wreck-It-Ralph (pictured above).
There's been a general push over the past few years, probably due to Marvel's runaway success with adapting its comic properties to the big screen. A successful movie has additional benefits outside of just doing good box-office business. There's potentially huge merchandise sales to consider and the vain hope that a great film will draw consumers back to the original product. (The latter hasn't really worked out in Marvel's case.) The strength of Marvel Studios' slate has awoken Hollywood; Hollywood executives and producers are now reaching out to games, comics, and old cartoons for anything they can easily adapt into their next big blockbuster.
Two stories released yesterday illustrate the trend. Variety is reporting that Sega has hired former Break Media executive Evan Cholfin to run Stories International, a new multimedia production company. As a joint production with Sega, Stories has the rights to adapt most of the publisher's considerable line-up. It's already moving forward on films, television shows, and animated works for Streets of Rage, Altered Beast, Shinobi, Crazy Taxi, and Rise of Nightmares. The sad part is we can't reasonably expect new games in those franchises, but we can possibly look forward to films. Sega sees value in those brands, but not in their original form.
Buzzfeed also reported that producer Avi Arad had closed a deal to bring the film rights for Nintendo's Super Mario Bros to Sony Pictures. The information came from leaked emails taken in the Sony Pictures server hack. Arad later denied that the deal was final, noting that negotiations were "just the beginning."
If Arad closes on the Super Mario Bros film rights, that would only be one of the many plates the producer has spinning. Arad was one the people who was instrumental in getting the Spider-Man film rights to Sony Pictures. He later co-founded Marvel Studios and was the chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment before leaving the company in 2006. He's currently working on adaptations of Uncharted, Infamous, Mass Effect, and Metal Gear Solid.
Arad has previously admitted that game-to-movie adaptations haven't worked out yet.
"Converting games to film hasn't been done yet successfully, though Resident Evil did very well-it was actually a great series," Arad told Kotaku East last year. "I think that film studios are bankers and filmmakers are risk takers and somewhere in between we meet on the battlefield. And the moment one video game movie goes through the roof, it's the same thing that I've been through with comic books."
But wait, there's more game movies coming in the next two years! Another try at the Square Enix's Hitman is coming August 2015, starring Homeland's Rupert Friend in the title role. Director Duncan Jones has finished filming on the Warcraft film, slated to open on March 11, 2016. Ubisoft started up its own production company, Ubisoft Motion Pictures, and it currently has Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell films in the pipeline. Assassin's Creed will be starring Michael Fassbender, while Splinter Cell (2015) is starring Tom Hardy and directed by Edge of Tomorrow helmer Doug Liman. The upcoming Rachet & Clank film actually pulled original Insomniac Games writer TJ Fixman away from the studio to work on the feature film. And there's a sixth Resident Evil film coming from director Paul W.S. Anderson, subtitled The Final Chapter.
And that's that's just in the next two years. Beyond that you have Just Cause, Devil May Cry, Gears of War, God of War, Gran Turismo, Halo, and Minecraft shuffling around development hell; Deus Ex: Human Revolution on hold as its director moves to Marvel's Doctor Strange; a Mortal Kombat reboot by Legacy series director Kevin Tancharoen; and an Angry Birds film planned for 2016.
In the midst of all this movie magic, it does feel like the games are floundering a bit. 2014 was not a good year for complete, functional game launches. Many of our biggest studios and franchises lie dormant, even as executives scramble to make films.
There's a Splinter Cell film coming next year, but will there be another game after the amazing Blacklist? How can you fathom a Devil May Cry movie while the franchise fans clamor for more? I certainly have no problem with adaptations - that's part of the fun of being a fan - but you can't forget where you came from. So Sega, before you kick oout an Altered Beast or Streets of Rage film, remember the reason those franchises are worthwhile in the first place. It's because we bought the games. We'll do so again if you give us something great.