Why Video Game Adaptations Into Movies (Almost Always) Don’t Work

Some things are not meant to be, however tantalizing the prospect. Since people discovered the art of actually making video game gameplay make sense through story, a brave few have managed to establish their presence even better than the top blockbusters. In short, video game movies have always had investors salivating.

So, I like stories. And I like video games. I like story video games, and Shooters, and RPGs, and MMORPGs, ARPGs, SRPGS, TBJRPGs, RTSs, Soulslikes, Platformers, TPSs, Action Games, Horror Games, and (some) mobile games. My wide variety of tastes in video games have allowed me to experience quite a few good stories. It’s only natural that the next thought is, “How long until they adapt this for the big screen?”

Though I didn’t know about it at the time, the correct answer is “hopefully never”.

You see, ever since the nutty monetary success of Halo 2, video games have been considered an extremely high source of profit, especially when said video games come attached with a large fanbase. Just like movies, video games spawned their own action figures, posters, fan conventions, reddit threads, T-shirts, and advertising deals. But what if video games spawned movies?

After all, if the fan will buy a Mario T-shirt, a Mario action figure, a Mario poster, and a ticket to a Nintendo fan convention, then they’ll go to see the movie, right? All you need to do is slap the name “Super Mario Bros.” on it, hype up the advertising, stuff in half a dozen or so easter eggs, and release it to a loving fanbase! What could go wrong?

Well, as the 1993 live-action film Super Mario Bros. established, many things could indeed go sideways. Horribly sideways. As of this writing, the movie sits at a trim-and-tidy 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, and if you watch the movie, it’s actually not at all hard to see why.

But whatever the reception, this more or less opened the floodgates for even more video game movie adaptations: Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, and…wait, Double Dragon? Hey, I never even knew that existed, and I had that game as a kid! I’ll add that to the list of movies I definitely won’t watch, like ever.

Suffice to say, these movies were some of the earliest examples of cashing in on nostalgia. You loved Mario as a kid, right? Now don’t you want to see the plumber and his brother back in action? Hey, I heard you were quite the button masher in Mortal Kombat back in the day. Wanna see the movie and relive your childhood?

But even if these video game adaptations sucked harder than the vacuum of space, they made money. The Silent Hill movie made 100,000,000$ off theaters and another 21 mil off DVDs. (Remember those?) And that was back in 2006. But the movie has an average rating of 4.8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes. No one has fond memories of that movie.

And let’s not even get into the history Resident Evil has had on TV. For a video game that mainly takes its cues from B-movie horror tropes, it has been a nightmare (pun intended) to get the beloved games franchise up-and-coming as a cinematic franchise. And they’ve tried so. Many. Times.

But what about the up-and-coming ones? Anyone excited for the Days Gone movie? What about the Death Stranding Movie? (aka the movie that will be better than the video game) And…wait, Duke Nukem? You were gonna make a freaking DUKE NUKEM movie? What do you think this is, the era of 80s action flicks?

So, I say all that to say…why don’t they work? It seems like adaptations of video games, especially popular or story-driven ones, are a good way to introduce non-gamers to the fantastical stories created within. So what goes wrong?

My friend, I’ve got a single word for you: money.

As long as video game movies are perceived only as opportunities to make money, they will have less attention devoted to actually making them solid pieces of art. And every time moviegoers and video game fans are burned by another disasterpiece, they discourage the video game to movie market. Video game movies have been–and part of me thinks always will be–merely a means to an end. And that end is money.

Maybe the new Super Mario Bros. movie will be good. We’ll see.

That’s all.


Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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