Upon Nintendo’s Twitter announcement that Shigeru Miyamoto and producer Avi Arad had been collaborating for years on a live-action adaptation of The Legend of Zelda, I felt a pang of unease. Not because I had just perused Arad’s production credits, which truly span the spectrum, but because I, like the majority of adults who enjoy video games, spent my childhood during the era of game films that were so abhorrent that I still occasionally have troubled thoughts while attempting to fall asleep.
The Dreaded Game Film Legacy
It was the time of Uwe Boll, Jean-Claude Van Damme in Street Fighter, and the 1993 Super Mario cyberpunk nightmare starring Bob Hoskins, which was a fascinatingly awful film. Like a dog that has been booted, I am inherently terrified.
Several of the most significant and critically acclaimed video games of all time have been inspired by the mute protagonist, Link, and the mythologies that have been retold and reimagined countless times regarding the royal family of the Kingdom of Hyrule. They are effectively narratively ambiguous and frequently quite surreal.
How does one transform that into a compelling film? Will they be providing Link with a voice? Ever since a 1990s animated series turned him into a sardonic wisecracking smartass, people have persistently mocked him for it.
Hollywood’s Gamble on Video Game Adaptations
Despite the apprehension of gamers, Hollywood seems to have completely set aside any prior reservations it may have had regarding the adaptation of video games into films. In just one year, filmmakers have completely dispelled The Curse of the Horrible Video Game Adaptation, to the point where film production companies seem to be embarking on a veritable gold stampede.
The era of tedious adaptations of Sonic the Hedgehog’s undesirable dentition and Tomb Raider has come to an end. Now is the time for Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik and Jack Black as Bowser. Anything is possible.
Recent Successes and the Changing Landscape
This year, the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation and Five Nights at Freddy’s have grossed phenomenal amounts at the box office. While they have yet to receive widespread critical acclaim, the reception from game enthusiasts has been considerably more favourable.
Despite Seth Rogen’s lacklustre performance as Donkey Kong, the Mario film is an entertaining piece of Mushroom Kingdom fan-fiction that embraces the spirit and aesthetic of the games despite being hardly a work of cinematic brilliance. The Sonic films are also performing exceptionally well. In the interim, HBO’s The Last of Us, a gruesomely effective video game adaptation that is both widely praised and viewed on television, is the first adaptation that is, in its own way, as excellent as the source material it adapts.
The Imperfect Journey
Not everything has been flawless: Tom Holland’s portrayal of Nathan Drake in 2022’s Uncharted was markedly forgettable, and the Resident Evil films, despite their moderate success, continue to be completely perplexing to me due to their peculiar separation from the games’ fiction. However, even the most dire video game films now appear to be profitable.
The Future of Video Game Films
It appears that the reversal commenced with the release of the 2016 film World of Warcraft, whose phenomenal box office performance (particularly in China) inspired confidence among studios and screenwriters. The very first occasion I recall leaving the theatre after viewing a video game film and thinking, “You know what, I didn’t hate that,” was after 2019’s Detective Pikachu, in which Ryan Reynolds portrayed the overly enthusiastic and humorous yellow mascot of Pokémon.
It is common knowledge that geek culture is enormous for Hollywood; since audiences are plainly growing weary of the expanding Marvel and Star Wars film universes, could video game films be the next? Mario has now become the third highest-grossing animated film of all time, trailing only Frozen 2 and, god, the live-action Lion King. Clearly, the audience is present. Last weekend, nearly 45 million individuals stopped by Fortnite for a special throwback event. Consider the potential impact that a halfway competent Fortnite film could have.
Expanding Video Game Universes through Film and TV
Additionally, Detective Pikachu and The Last of Us serve as noteworthy illustrations of how cinema and television can enhance the interactive fictional universes of video games, as opposed to merely translating them awkwardly. Similar to the majority of superheroes, the majority of video game characters are highly interpretive.
Filmmakers can either develop new characters and narratives within a recognisable setting or flesh out the thinner characters found in video games, where the focus must necessarily be on the action, by basing their films on linear storylines. Marvel and Star Wars have engaged in this practise for decades. Furthermore, only a limited number of fictional video game universes possess sufficient depth to endure content mining. However, Halo is not one of them; the series has essentially exhausted all possibilities for making Master Chief appear enigmatic and intriguing.
While older film franchises such as Ghostbusters and Star Wars have undoubtedly been drained by the relentless exploitation of geek culture, video game worlds offer a wealth of potential for narrative expansion – and a great deal of money. We can only hope that Hollywood, if it chooses to pursue this gold rush, will exercise greater restraint than Marvel has. I might rather lose the will if it means watching 47 distinct Minecraft or Elder Scrolls films and television programmes and playing the games for 100 hours in order to comprehend their lore.