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“CONTINUE?” A Look at the History of Video Game Movies

John Leguizamo (left) and Bob Hoskins (right) in Super Mario Bros. (1993) | Buena Vista Pictures

The concept of turning video games into film adaptations is a great idea on paper. After all, a video game in essence is a playable movie—there are characters, a story, writing, direction, and in some cases even editing that all coalesce into a playable adventure. However, over the years video game film adaptations have historically ranged from mediocre to downright terrible. As a gamer myself who has put hundreds upon hundreds of hours into different games, this is something I would love to see succeed. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog this month, I thought it would be worthwhile looking into how far we’ve come with video game films and where I hope they can go.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Buena Vista Pictures (Disney)
Rated: PG
Run Time: 104 minutes
Director: Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel

Ahh yes. The one that started it all. When the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released alongside “Super Mario Bros.” it turned a goofy little plumber named Mario into a multimillion dollar franchise. With such a strong market behind it, Hollywood Pictures (a division of Walt Disney Studios at the time) obtained the rights to make a feature-length film based mostly on the Super Nintendo’s Super Mario World. The film is a strange one to say the least. While Mario games are often remembered for their bright settings, goofy creatures, and upbeat music, the Super Mario Bros. movie is a dark, dour, and abrasive take on a very bright franchise. The biggest problem with this movie is its ultra realistic and grounded take on the Mario franchise. It is an absolute train wreck of a film but there were some things I actually really enjoyed. The special effects are very unique and I even like Dennis Hopper hamming it up as King Koopa, who I guess is supposed to be Bowser? Given the ultra thin source material that the game provides, it’s hard to actually be mad at this movie. They did the best they could with what they had and the result is a total bob-omb.

Street Fighter (1994)

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 102 minutes
Director: Steven E. da Souza

Growing up I absolutely loved “Street Fighter 2.” I remember going to the arcade, putting a quarter in the machine, and getting absolutely pummeled by some kid twice my age. It was awesome. The concept of “Street Fighter” is simple: you pick one character from the multinational cast and you duke it out against another in a Best of 3 match where first character to lose all of their life is knocked out. Each character has their own individual moves such as Ryu’s iconic “Hadoken” fireball and Ken’s flaming “Shoryuken” uppercut. In fact this game was so popular it’s estimated that the revenue for it is roughly $10.61 billion—which brings us to the film. Made in 1994 and starring action movie super star John Claude Van Damme as Guile, the film was actually a commercial success grossing $99 million against a $35 million budget. Critically, however, the movie was not well-received. After re-watching the movie, it’s not hard to see why. It is another mess of a film: given its flimsy source material, the dialogue is hilariously bad, the plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and our lead actors are really never given much to work with. Van Damme is mostly fine but he isn’t ever given the chance to show off much of his martial arts skills. Also how can you be Guile without that crazy broom hair? Just go ahead and skip this movie, I would rather get pummeled in the arcade all over again than have to watch this crap.

Warcraft (2016)

Universal Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 123 minutes
Director: Duncan Jones

Let’s fast forward now to 2016 as I couldn’t bring myself to watch another 90’s video game movie, or early 2000’s video game movie for that matter. When I was in high school, I started playing “World of Warcraft” (“WoW”): an massively multiplayer online (MMO) role-playing game (RPG) that takes place within the setting of Blizzard’s Warcraft series. In its heyday, “WoW” boasted a player base of 10 million active players all over the world. It became a huge phenomenon that has greatly affected pop culture—from episodes of South Park to hit Internet memes such as LEEROOOOOY JENKINSSSSS (I had to). So with such a rabid fanbase, a movie had to be made for it. Well, after years and years of development issues, we finally got Warcraft in 2016. The movie is actually based on the first “Warcraft” game created in 1996 and tells the story of the first encounters between the humans and orcs as they go to war. Directed by the awesome Duncan Jones, this movie was panned critically and was actually considered a critical disappointment in the box office grossing only $47.4 million here in the United States and $439 million worldwide; regardless of that, I absolutely love this movie. It is absolutely flawed with some very questionable writing, bad character development, and some truly terrible editing but there is something about it that I just enjoy. Maybe it’s the little winks and nods to the fans, or seeing the size and scale of the Orcs in live action with some incredible computer graphic images (CGI). My fanboy bias is totally winning me over but whatever—I think it’s totally worth a watch and I really hope we get a sequel.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Paramount Pictures
Rated: PG
Run Time: 99 minutes
Director: Jeff Fowler

Growing up, I was always more of a Sonic fan. Back in the good ol’ days of the 90s, you were either a Nintendo kid or a Sega kid (I was spoiled and had both), so you were also either a Mario kid or a Sonic kid. Sonic was one of the coolest characters I had ever seen. He had so much personality packed into his little character that really spoke to me—he would tap his feet if he didn’t move; when he reached max speed, his character pose would change; and when he got smacked around, he had a hilarious dizzy expression. I kept playing Sonic games as I grew up, and he is one of my favorite video game characters of all time—a true pop culture icon! Last year when they revealed how he would look in the live action adaptation I was truly horrified, and many shared the same sentiment. His weird humanoid body and super creepy teeth made me want to burn this movie in the hottest fires imaginable and never see it again. However, in a rare turn of events, Paramount Studios actually listened to the fans and decided to delay the film so that they could redo all of the CGI for Sonic. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I saw this film a few weeks ago and I’m happy to say that it wasn’t the total dumpster fire that we were all expecting from the first trailer. Ben Schwartz is great as Sonic and Jim Carrey is absolutely hilarious as Dr. Robotnik. The story is pretty run-of-the mill and predictable, but I still laughed and smiled and didn’t leave the theater with the haunting image of Sonic’s ultra realistic teeth.

Super Mario Bros. (1993) | Buena Vista Pictures

Frankly, I see the future of video game movies as something that can continue to get better over time. The biggest key is for these film studios to respect the source material. Just like how Marvel has succeeded with their franchises, I believe that studios can propel video game movies to greater heights—as long as they trust in what the fans want and pay respect to the properties we love and adore.

About the Author
I love all things geek. Gaming, comics, anime, movies are things I consume on a regular basis. I enjoy writing reviews on the latest releases, and digging in on the latest and greatest. The masses deserve to know what’s good!

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