There is a famous line in the book and film “Jurassic Park” that perfectly encapsulates greed in any form. As the park is falling into chaos, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) tells the park’s owner “You were so occupied with whether you could, you didn’t stop to consider if you should.”
That simple lesson could and should be applied to many different industries and initiatives today, but everyone involved in video game movies should stop and look themselves in the mirror.
Studios have failed to produce anything reputable, and audiences have allowed this vicious cycle of bad movies and wasted resources by flocking to theaters when the latest iteration of a beloved intellectual property rendered for film hits the big screen.
Recent movies based on video games have not been good by any stretch of the imagination.
Movie studios have been trying to capitalize on the popularity of video game characters since “Super Mario Bros,” and the 1993 film’s awful performance both commercially and critically did not scare studios away. But, it unquestionably should have.
Only two movies based on video games scored higher than 40 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and “The Angry Birds Movie” was the only of the two to get a North American release. In 2016, movies based on the World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed intellectual properties were released with cautious optimism, given that both films had received substantial budgets and the early trailers provided some material to get excited about. Both films went on to score below 30 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The failure of each new video game movie has proven to be as reliable as the changing of the seasons. And yet, studios are still throwing hundreds of millions of dollars at these types of movies.
In the coming years, there are plans for new films based on “Tomb Raider,” “Minecraft,” and even “Sonic the Hedgehog” despite the trail of uninspiring works that came before them.
The trailer for Dwayne Johnson’s newest movie “Rampage” has been out on the internet since Nov. 16, and the clip itself has done nothing to inspire belief that we might maybe have a video game movie that might be critically successful. Rather, it seems like a movie that has no shame in trying to capitalize off of a wonderfully nostalgic video game that does not belong in the film medium. The movie seems as if it is trying to inject some story into an intellectual property that was designed to be deep enough for a quarter arcade game and nothing else.
So why do we keep getting bad movies based on video games?
The answer is in the audience. Studios will keep funding these movies because of titles like “Rampage” that capitalize off an already established franchise. There is little to no intent to make a good movie at this point. Audiences have proven that they are willing to spend their money on a bad movie time and time again, and the phenomenon is remarkably present internationally.
“Assassin’s Creed” made only $54.6 million in the United States and Canada, which would normally mark it as a major failure with a $125 million budget. However, the film made more than $180 million elsewhere. “Warcraft” is an even better example, making only $47.4 million in the United States but finishing with a worldwide total of over $430 million. It is one of only two films to have made less than $100 million stateside while still crossing the $400 million threshold worldwide.
As much as I love Dwayne Johnson, I have no faith that anyone can make video game movies great. The way in which video games tell a story is entirely unique and rigid to that medium, and some, like “Rampage,” simply don’t have a story that needs told.
Movie studios will continue to make bad movies as long as people keep flocking to their releases. That is just simple business sense. However, more than two decades of these movies have taught us that compressing the huge stories told in video games for movie adaptations quite simply does not work. Audiences and studios need to recognize that fact together so that both can spend their time and resources on better things. Studios know that they could make a successful video game movie. It is up to audiences to reject these perennially bad works and prove to those studios that they shouldn’t.
Jonah Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jonahpbaker