Relive the highs and lows of Video Game Movie history. Mostly the lows.
When it comes to pop culture, it’s clear that nerds have won the war. Video games have more mass market appeal than ever, space operas like Star Wars continue to dominate the world, and comic book heroes are the biggest stars of modern cinema. Yet when it comes to video game movies, things are kind of… well…
Let’s be frank, the history of video game movies isn’t as illustrious as it should be. In fact, “video game movie” is borderline slang for “bad” among movie critics and gamers alike. Yet despite this stigma, many fans are fascinated by video game movies. How did video game movies get to where they are today, and are there any flicks you should actually consider watching? Let’s reveal a treasure trove of easter eggs and hidden castles in our abridged history of video game movies.
The Bomb That Started Them All
If there was ever a movie that dictated the course of the entire subgenre it started, it would be the Super Mario Bros. movie.
Released in 1993 with a considerable amount of hype behind it, Super Mario Bros. was a film billed to revolutionize video games and cinema alike. However, the Super Mario Bros. movie was plagued with a development hell that is so convoluted that there are bonafide documentaries about it. The film was launched to widespread negative reviews, and its promo spot on the cover of Nintendo Power couldn’t save it. Even the biggest video game fans were baffled by the movie’s crazy interpretations of the Mario Bros. universe.
Though Super Mario Bros. is enjoyed as a “so bad it’s good” film today, modern fans are fascinated with the genuinely crazy and inventive concepts that were originally planned for the flick. And if you’re into drama, the behind-the-scenes stories of Super Mario Bros. are as over-the-top as a season of reality TV.
Unfortunately, video game movies wouldn’t get much better through the 90s. Street Fighter: The Movie was commercially successful, yet critically forgettable in the long run. And Mortal Kombat would wind up being the “best” movie of this era with an incredible 38% score on Rotten Tomatoes. To the movie’s credit, it did give us a classic techno song.
I’ve neglected to mention The Wizard in this write up, since it’s merely about video games and not based on a video game. But trust me, aside from starting great memes about the power glove, it doesn’t elevate the genre.
It Gets “Better”
Video game movies wouldn’t exactly get “good” in the early 2000s, but people started to like them a lot more.
2001’s Tomb Raider – starring knife-aficionado Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft – was a box office success that no video game movie would match for nearly a decade. Though the film didn’t fare much better than Mortal Kombat critically, Jolie’s portrayal of Croft was considered iconic. It was a rare film that even found success with non-gaming audiences. A direct sequel to the movie was released two years later.
Meanwhile, Resident Evil infected silver screens in 2002’s Resident Evil movie. Starring Milla Jovovich as original-character-do-not-steal Alice, Resident Evil fared roughly as well as Mortal Kombat did at box offices. Fitting when you consider both films had the same director, but that’s neither here nor there. Regardless, the Resident Evil movie wound up getting five direct sequels, with the final chapter of the story releasing in 2016. Some say these movies are bad. Others appreciate Resident Evil for being borderline experimental.
Though not a live action film, I’d be remiss to not mention 2001’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. The work was groundbreaking for its stunning graphics, but fans were disappointed that this installment of the Final Fantasy universe didn’t contain any of the charm or familiar elements that made gamers fall in love with the original games. Some say this continues to describe the Final Fantasy franchise to this day.
The Uwe Boll Era
Just as video games movies were starting to gain traction, we entered a dark era that threatened to plunge video game movies into darkness for eternity.
Enter Uwe Boll. This German-born director might not have gained any notoriety in another life, but in this life, he directed eight different movies based on video games. And that’s not even counting the video game movies in which he either acted or produced. With such a high volume of films under his belt, you’d think one of them would be okay. Unfortunately, you’d be mistaken.
His first video game movie, Alone In The Dark, was so bad that it makes Super Mario Bros. the movie look like Super Mario Bros. the game. At a shocking 1% on Rotten Tomatoes, you’d think his career could only get better. But not a single one of his movies would exceed 10% on the recognized review aggregator. Heck, in his House of the Dead adaptation, you can literally see the camera crew on the sides of certain shots. And that’s somehow not even as egregious as the way the film literally uses footage of the games during action sequences.
Needless to say, the guy’s work provides more than enough explanation for why he’s considered “the most hated man in Hollywood.” His off-screen antics, which includes antagonizing Michael Bay and literally boxing his critics, certainly didn’t help his reputation. To be clear, even if he was the most hated man in Hollywood, you shouldn’t harass the guy because he made bad movies. But for gamers whose favorite franchises were being butchered so thoroughly by these films, it’s easy to see why their reactions were visceral.
The End OF The Uwe Boll Era
So how did this guy keep getting work despite putting out critical flop after flop? After all, he wasn’t making waves at the box office. His most successful film was In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Seige Tale, which barely earned over $13,000,000 (for reference, Tomb Raider pulled in nearly $275,000,000).
One popular theory proposes that Uwe Boll exploited the German Government’s tax codes. The full thing’s way too complicated to summarize here, but in short, Boll was practically guaranteed to make money even if his movies totally flopped. Others say he just swooped in to save stalled projects that went into production but never went anywhere. Either way, modern movie goers will never have to worry about seeing another Boll film again, as he retired in 2016 to run an actually successful German restaurant in Vancouver, Canada. In his own, literal words: “I had to open up a restaurant to get good reviews.”