Video game movies don't need to suck

Nov 21st, 2007

To state that most movie adaptations of videogames thus far have been crap is akin to pointing out that napalm doesn’t make a very good sandwich filler. It just doesn't need to be said. People don't even try to defend Street Fighter: The Ultimate Battle and nor do Subway do a footlong Vietnam Special. But it didn’t have to be this way.

Not the napalm thing you understand. That stuff’s always been a bit too spicy. No, the fact of the matter is that in several cases brilliant movies could have been made from some of the videogame IPs we’ve seen dragged through the dirt of the Hollywood hills. Think back to before you got too cynical to care about these things. Go on. Go to your happy place and try to remember. You got excited about videogame movies once, before the years of cinematic horror took their toll on your poor, ravaged mind. And there was a reason for that.

You imagined your favourite games brought to life. The action sequences, the characters, the fights, the weapons, all ‘really’ happening, right in front of you. Who hasn’t wanted their own BFG9000 or wished they could see the effect of a real life dragon punch on someone’s face? We’ve lived in our favourite game worlds for years, so to see them unhindered by sprites or polygons would be a dream come true. What we’ve usually got though, is a cheap-looking, cobbled together nonsense with as much in common with its source material as The Incredible Hulk has with tapioca pudding. And it could have all been so different if the producers had just followed some simple rules.

Respect the source material

You bought the IP for a reason and it’s successful for a reason. Your audience is there, so take it seriously and they’ll come.  

Use the game’s strengths

Videogames, particularly modern ones, are dripping with mythology, atmosphere, memorable images, iconic characters and fantastic set-pieces. Most of your work is done for you. Just understand the important stuff and film it. Simple as.

Cast it properly, for the love of God!

Very important. Gamers love their characters. They spend upwards of twenty hours being their characters, so they have a close realationship with them and know exactly who they are. You’ll never get it exactly right for everyone, but at least try to get the physicality and personality of the charcaters close. Oh, and cast actors who can act. That helps.

Different directors direct differently

You’d think that people working in Hollywood would have worked this one out, but apparently not. Style and tone are as individual and unique in games are they are in any other selection of media, so pick a director who works in a fitting way. There is no generic videogame style, so hire someone who suits the IP. You wouldn’t get Tarantino to make The Hobbit, would you? And please, no more music video directors.


With those four rules followed it should be easy to make a successful movie that becomes critially and commercially successful, and avoids you having your effigy burned by gamers worldwide. Followed they usually aren’t of course, but come with us as we take a look at how good things could be if they were. Hollywood producers, please make notes. There may be a test later.

About the Author
David Houghton

Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-striking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.