Video Game

“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.

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: Sonic the Hedgehog Remains Unbeaten

Sonic the Hedgehog (voiced by Ben Schwartz) | Paramount Pictures

Coming into its second weekend, Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog ran right past the competition to remain atop the box office, beating out new comer and Harrison Ford led, The Call of the Wild. If you’re surprised by these results, either you haven’t seen the movie, or you don’t pay attention to box office numbers (I personally recommend you do both). Sonic the Hedgehog dropped 55% overall from its opening weekend debut, but still brought in $26.1 million. Its domestic box office total now exceeds $106 million…in just 10 days. This is already good for fourth all-time domestic box office gains for a video game adapted movie. Sonic the Hedgehog, based on the iconic SEGA video game character, added 31 new theaters to its domestic showing, proving just how popular our little blue speedster has become.

Harrison Ford appears in a scene of The Call of the Wild | 20th Century Studios

Acting legend, Harrison Ford, took on the role of John Thornton in 20th Century Studio’s remake of The Call of the Wild, which came in second its opening weekend. The movie brought in $24.8 million having debuted in 3,752 theaters across the U.S. These three day numbers were a promising sign for this well-known tale, as pre-ticket sales had indicated a smaller opening than the actual results. However, for a movie as expensive as The Call of the Wild, it will have an uphill battle as it continues to make up ground on its estimated $135 million production budget. The movie debuted in 40 international markets, and managed to gross $15.4 million, with France, the U.K. and Mexico being the top 3 international markets respectively. Reviews for the movie from audiences across the county have been glowing. CinemaScore handed the movie an A-, while the audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes currently sits at 90% with 3,648 reviews submitted.

20th Century Studios (formally named 20th Century Fox, now owned by Disney) is still rolling through it’s pre-Disney lineup of movies that began production before being sold to the Mouse with the money. Recent 20th Century Fox movies that were also taken on by Disney due to the acquisition: Ford v Ferrari, Ad Astra, and The Art of Racing in the Rain.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn | Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. (WB) Pictures’ Birds of Prey takes third place with adding $6.8 million domestically. Birds of Prey fell 60% from its second weekend, and lost 671 screens across the U.S. Don’t expect the movie to remain in theaters much longer, as WB will attempt to recuperate their losses with DVD and Blu-ray sales. The movie has made $173 million worldwide, which still has it dead last in box office gains for a DCEU movie. A spot previously held by 2019’s Shazam!, which made a total of $366 million globally.

Fourth place was Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, which continues to impress even in its sixth week in theaters. Bad Boys for Life earned $5.8 million, bringing its domestic total to over $191 million. Rounding out the Top 5 is Brahms: The Boy II. In its opening weekend, the movie debuted at $5.8 million; a sequel to the the 2016 film, The Boy (which grossed over $64 million) has its work cut out for itself in replicating those results. If I were the studio, I wouldn’t hold my breath…

Here’s a look at how other movies still in theaters are performing:

Fantasy Island$22.2 million domestically, $33.8 million worldwide total.

The Photograph$17.6 million domestically.

Downhill$7.4 million domestically.

The Gentlemen$33.6 million domestically, $87.5 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

BOX OFFICE BULLETIN: Sonic Zooms Past the Competition

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in Sonic the Hedgehog | Paramount Pictures

Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog just set the record for best opening weekend for a video game adapted movie, earning a whopping $58 million domestically, and $101 million total worldwide.  Our little blue speedster earned the number one spot for a video game adapted movie, supplanting last year’s Pokemon Detective Pikachu, which opened to a $54 million domestic box office over its initial three day weekend.  Including Monday’s totals, it is estimated that Sonic the Hedgehog will earn upwards of $70 million in the U.S. alone.  For a genre known for its massive flops, box office bombs, and low critical reception, Sonic’s achievements truly stand out.  The movie, based on the iconic SEGA video game character, has also earned an “A” from CinemaScore, and the highest audience score for any video game adapted movie at 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (with 8,052 respondents as of right now). This is an incredible achievement for Sonic the Hedgehog, and for its filmmakers. Considering the fan backlash for the original Sonic design which resulted in a three month delay so director Jeff Fowler and co. could go back and retool Sonic’s look, a successful opening weekend was not guaranteed. Hats off to the filmmakers and everyone who worked on this movie. You’ve earned this success.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey | Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Birds of Prey came in second, falling -48% in its second weekend in theaters, bringing in approximately $17 million over the three day weekend.  This brings the movie’s box office total to $59.4 million domestically, and $143 million total world wide  Without a doubt Birds of Prey continues to disappoint not meeting the studio’s expectations, becoming the lowest performing “DCEU” film to date.  Before Birds of Prey, last year’s Shazam! had the lowest opening three day weekend for a “DCEU” film, bringing in $53.5 million domestically.  Even with a B+ CinemaScore, and a favorable “FRESH” 79% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes, the Margot Robbie led Birds of Prey continues to struggle to find its footing with audiences worldwide.

Third and fourth place was a virtual tie, with Sony’s Fantasy Island bringing in an estimated $12.3 million, and Universal’s The Photograph earning $12.1 million domestically over their opening three day weekend.

Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Bad Boys for Life | Sony Pictures

Coming in fifth place was Sony Pictures Bad Boys for Life.  Now in its fifth weekend, the Will Smith starred film only dropped -6% from its fourth weekend, bringing in $11.3 million. For a sequel movie that’s 17 years removed from its predecessor, Bad Boys for Life is undoubtedly a smash hit for Sony Pictures.  The movie has earned $181 million at the domestic box office, with a total of $368 million world wide, and continues to attract audiences everywhere. 

Here’s a look at how other movies still showing in theaters are performing:

Downhill$4.6 million in its opening weekend.

Gretel & Hansel$13.3 million domestically, $16.5 million worldwide total.

The Gentlemen$31.2 million domestically, $74.6 million worldwide total.

The Turning$15 million domestically, $18 million worldwide total.

Dolittle$70.3 million domestically, $180.9 million worldwide total.

Just Mercy$34.9 million domestically, $42.1 million worldwide total.

*Note: All financial data is provided courtesy The Numbers, my favorite source for box office data.

REVIEW: Sonic the Hedgehog

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

The much maligned “video game” genre of movies just received a much needed breath of fresh air. Sonic the Hedgehog is the 37th (live-action) film based off of a video game or video game character. A genre that started back in May of 1993 with the release of Super Mario Bros., but is still struggling to find its legs and connect with general audiences domestically and globally. There were a few that did…well enough…at the box office to merit a thumbs up, at least when comparing their production budget to the total box office outcome.

Warcraft (2016): The top dog of “video game movies.” Warcraft made more money than any other video game movie before it and since. It had an estimated production budget of $160 million, and was able to pull in almost $439 million world wide. However, over $391 million of that was outside of the U.S.

Rampage (2018): A close second behind Warcraft in its box office totals, pulling in approximately $428 million. On a production budget of around $130 million the studio was able to turn a profit; notwithstanding, it did have the help of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, Dwayne Johson.

Pokémon, Detective Pikachu (2019): Until this movie, no other video game movie ever achieved the coveted “FRESH” score from Rotten Tomatoes, coming in at 69% (meaning, 69% of the 294 critics who reviewed the movie liked it). On a production budget of $150 million, and a box office haul of approximately $433 million, Detective Pikachu is widely considered the most successful video game movie ever made. Was it a turning point for this struggling genre? Or was the global appeal of Pokémon and that cute and cuddly Pikachu the reason for the movie’s success?

Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) in a scene from Sonic the Hedgehog. | Paramount Pictures

Enter Sonic the Hedgehog. One of the most iconic video game characters ever created. What Super Mario is to Nintendo, Sonic is to SEGA. If you were to make a list of the top 5 most iconic or well-known video game characters, Sonic would be on almost every list. (My list: Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Super Mario, Sonic, and Master Chief). But time and time again the video game genre have proven that popularity and iconic appeal do not automatically equate to financial and critical success.

I’m very happy to report that Sonic the Hedgehog has not followed the footsteps of its video game movie siblings. In spite of its shaky marketing start (see: Sonic design change), Sonic has sped his way into the hearts of audiences across the country. In its opening weekend, Sonic the Hedgehog has made more domestically ($58 million) than Warcraft made in its entire domestic run ($47.3 million)—and for good reason. Sonic the Hedgehog knows what it is and does not try to be anything else. The movie has timely self-deprecating moments that allow the audience to suspend belief and just enjoy the story being told. Most of the screen time is given to the little blue speedster and James Marsden’s character, Tom Wachowski. So the success of the movie is heavily dependent on the interactions of these two characters and how that translates on screen. Marsden does very well interacting with a 100% CGI created Sonic, and a genuine bond between the two characters is felt throughout.

Jim Carrey plays the villain, Dr. Ivo Robotnik. | Paramount Pictures

The most surprising performance of the film is given by Jim Carrey. I’ll admit I was very surprised to see Carrey take on a role that seemed more suited to the 1990’s Jim Carrey. As the villain, Dr. Ivo Robotnik, Carrey actually seems to care about his performance in this role. His lines are well delivered. His presence on screen is felt but without overshadowing the main characters, and if I’m being totally honest, I think Carrey’s talents were well utilized in this movie.

If you grew up playing the Sonic video games, or you have a family that wants to enjoy a family-friendly movie, Sonic the Hedgehog is the movie to see. I was overall pleased with the outcome, and feel that this (even more so than Detective Pikachu) is a great step in the right direction for video game movies.

Recommendation: GO SEE IT!

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