Double the disappointment
Games based on movies are notoriously mediocre. Developers know it, publishers know it, you know it. That's why they're often released without fanfare or significant advertising: why waste money on something you're not 100% confident about? Modern games are expensive enough to make anyway...
Back in the '90s and early 2000s, video games cost less to make, which meant any movie with a sliver of potential could comfortably command an adaption. And this resulted in a curious situation, where some gaming tie-ins continued to enjoy success long after the film they were based on had been savaged by critics and spat out of cinemas. It seems gamers werent getting the message quick enough, and many kept buying the awful tie-ins long after dismissing the movie. Here are the titles Id--ahem--still very much like my money back from.
Hudson Hawk (1991)
It's pretty amazing how much sway Bruce Willis held in the early 90s. Sure, Die Hard and Moonlighting shot him to superstardom on the silver and small screen alike, but there were plenty of duds in Bruno's wake. Off-screen ventures like his blues albums were dreadful enough, but the Willis-led Hudson Hawk (the only movie Bruce has ever written) was a real money-sink, losing tens of millions of dollars at the box-office.
A game adaptation of Brunos next blockbuster probably seemed like a no-brainer, but the Hudson Hawk game gave Willis character a pitiful projectile, a weak punch, and a jump that even Sgt. Al Powell could top (he was the overweight cop who liked Twinkies, remember?). The cat-burglar adventure released on seven different platforms and even managed to land on the cover of EGM as it marched towards obscurity. He later starred in Apocalypse, a game that was mired in development hell for years before releasing to indifference. Though, on the bright side, the engine was later used to power Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, so at least one Hawk flew because of Bruce Willis.
Cool World (1992)
The live-action/animated hybrid Who Framed Roger Rabbit released to massive success in the late 80s, though most people probably understood that it was because it brought dozens of animated icons together in a single film. Paramount didn't get the memo, and brought Cool World to theaters, replacing the innovative animation and Steven Spielberg with low-budget production and raunchy animator Ralph Baskhi. Cool World's reception in theaters wasn't hot enough to recoup expenses.
This being the early 90s, there was a publisher willing to make a batch of games based on a movie that featured Gabriel Byrne trying to sleep with an animated Kim Basinger. The tie-in game maestros at Ocean commissioned three different versions of Cool World to land on seven different systems. Whether its tedious running and gunning on the NES, or underwhelming platforming on SNES, or awkward adventuring on computers, the game was anything but cool, regardless of platform. Additionally, as poorly as the movie performed at theaters, I have to imagine parents were even more unlikely to pick up a game with a leggy animated vixen front and center on the cover (at least one that didn't have a happy cartoon rabbit to disarm them).
Okay, the numbers don't lie; Waterworld wasn't the out-and-out failure history would make you believe--though with marketing and distribution costs added to its insane production costs, profitability is harder to prove. However, it was hardly the summer blockbuster Universal Studios expected it to be, and Kevin Costner's career was never the same again.
So if Waterworld wasn't a total bomb, why list it here? Taking a look at the game adaptations shows how publishers were scrambling in the wake of the movie's performance. Four different games were developed with plans to hit land on seven systems. When the wreckage hit shore, only four versions came to market, and of those, only two released in the US (where Waterworld really sunk on the silver screen). The two platforms that Americans were able to purchase Waterworld for? PC and The Virtual Boy--and the latter has been cited as one of the worst games on Nintendos failed portable, likely due to the fact that water is neither black nor red.
Cutthroat Island (1995)
How big of a box-office bomb was Cutthroat Island? The Guinness record-setting flop sank formerly successful film studio Carolco and kept live-action pirate movies docked for almost a decade. It was also pretty much the last time Matthew Modine or Geena Davis would ever have the opportunity to headline a big-budget movie.
For as much as Cutthroat Island was a disaster on the silver screen, the game release was surprisingly modest, as Acclaim only brought one version of the game to four systems. Still, the game's poor reception due to bungling the cant miss mix of sailing and swordplay likely led the oft-beleaguered publisher to stop making movie games within a year... Well, that and the fact that its next two adaptations were Space Jam and Dragonheart.
Blues Brothers 2000 (1998)
Sometimes, when financial failure seems inevitable, a publisher has to see the writing on the wall and cancel a game. Bringing a game to market two years after its movie counterpart crashed and burned should be one of those times, but there were not many publishers like Titus Software (of Superman 64 infamy).
Replacing the late John Belushi with John Goodman, a kid, and the dude who played the leader of Skynet in Terminator 2 wasn't the only bad move made with Blues Brothers 2000. Some two years and nine months after the movie disappointed audiences, a Nintendo 64 adaptation--replete with sloppy platforming and rhythm sequences paling in comparison to the likes of Parappa--released to even more indifference in November of 2000. Yes, a mere month after the PlayStation 2 and Majora's Mask hit shelves, a criminally-old game adaptation of a box-office bomb tried to squeeze out some space on store shelves. I guess that's why they call it the blues...
Some 14 years after Over the Top proved that Sylvester Stallone's sports cinema prowess was limited to the boxing ring, Sly tried to recapture Rocky's box-office success with Driven. It has all of the ingredients of a successful sports flick: young and hungry rookie, reluctant champion coming out of retirement, inexplicable come-from-behind victories. But guess what? Days of Thunder did it all a decade earlier, so nobody saw this.
With far more competitors on the racing genre track in the early 2000s, it's no surprise that the game adaptation for Driven fell behind the pack. While it promised a more cinematic interpretation of racing, it failed to actually make the racing... yknow... fun. In the fall of 2001 you could play the best-selling Gran Turismo ever (and arguably the PS2's first killer app) in the form of Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec, or you could celebrate the original Xbox's launch with the debut of the critically-acclaimed Project Gotham series. Heck, Ridge Racer was still performing strongly at this point. As much as gamers loved racing last decade, there likely wasn't much room in their garage for Driven.
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
As ill-conceived as some of the previously mentioned game adaptations were, at least they never spawned sequels. Somehow, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever's ineptitude stretched into two Game Boy Advance games. I have to assume publisher Bam! Entertaiment thought the movie would be so successful that people would only have time to play a portable version while waiting in the massive lines at the theater.
Even stranger that the money-hemorrhaging movie got two games is the fact that both ended up pretty good. The first, put into production when the long-in-development movie only had a script, was one of the portable's initial first-person shooter games, a formula that the publisher repeated upon release of the movie. Unfortunately, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever's complete failure at theaters meant that the public wouldn't get an unprecedented third game from a single movie.
Treasure Planet (2002)
The 1990s taught us that historically accurate live-action pirates were box-office poison thanks to Cutthroat Island. The early 2000s taught us that historically inaccurate animated pirates were almost as unpopular. One of the last traditionally animated features to hit theaters from Disney (before it shuffled standard cartoons to direct-to-DVD sequels as Pixar movies kept the company active on the big screen), Treasure Planet joined Titan AE in proving that animated sci-fi isnt as mainstream as some would think.
This being a tentpole Disney animated movie, it had big gaming plans on par with Aladdin and The Lion King. The tie-in is a boring platformer on Sony's consoles and a decent isometric adventure on GBA, but the real hubris shined on PC. In addition to a (space) naval combat game subtitled Battle at Procyon (that actually earned decent reviews for an innovative take on strategy), Disney commissioned a series of kid-friendly games. Kids tested their spacecraft in Treasure Racer, collect space booty in Etherium Rescue, or measure their firepower in Broadside Blast. If those three games were collected, then a fourth game (Ship Shape) would unlock. If you played all five Treasure Planet PC games in 2002, please tell us what mental asylum you currently live in.
Even at their creative heights, sometimes people make pretty big mistakes. In the early 2000s, Halle Berry followed up an Oscar-winning performance in Monster's Ball and box-office success in the first two X-Men movies with the film many agree is possibly the worst superhero film of all time: Catwoman.
Similarly, Electronic Arts was on a roll around the same time. EA Sports was making simulations of every game played with a ball, Need for Speed was accelerating fast, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, and The Sims were doing great. Heck, even movie adaptations were working out for EA, as the company was doing decent business with the likes of Harry Potter, James Bond, and Lord of the Rings. The Catwoman game, however, suffered from boring combat and awful camera angles that made it borderline unplayable, and few even noticed. Fortunately for EA, the success of its other products covered the financial and critical turd that was the action-platforming Catwoman game like so much kitty litter.
It's understandable to see why folks had high expectations for Zathura. Based on a book from the author of Jumanji, the fantasy concept probably had producers expecting another whimsical hit based on a board game with a weird name (the author also penned The Polar Express, but that's a straight-laced hit with a normal name). The spacey film was directed by Jon Favreau, whose Swingers and Elf proved he could appeal to adults and kids alike. Those expectations were not met, as the movie failed to capture an audience.
However, even in the early 2000s, game publishers probably realized that a game based on a movie about a board game would probably make a terrible transition to consoles. Lacking the experience (or rather, bad memories) of other publishers, 2K Games released a dull adventure game just in time to be ignored during the 2005 holiday season. 2K needed a few more failures to finally get the picture, releasing similarly forgettable adaptations for films like The Da Vinci Code, Ghost Rider, and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
Yes, we're still seeing awful game adaptations for movies that don't deserve it, but at least they're being done the right way. A decade or two earlier, an ill-conceived comic book adaptation like R.I.P.D would have been released on disc for every platform under the sun with three separate developers and two publishers to account for the differences in generations.
R.I.P.D. The Game may have been just as bad as the other movie adaptations on this list, but at least there's not a single disc bearing its name cluttering up landfills. Fortunately for the environment, this bland shooter (made worse with awful AI and buggy combat) was a download-only release for PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, and Steam. Tell that to all of the E.T. cartridges excavated from their burial site.
Two Thumbs Down
It's a rare that ideas fail as colossally as these, managing to disappoint critics and audiences in theaters and on consoles, but it's possible we may have blocked out a few similarly panned movies that somehow snuck onto a cartridge or disc. If you know one, tell us about it in the comments below?
Looking for slightly-brighter movie game fare? Check out The Top 7... Best movie games you probably never played, the 6 movies that seem like games (but aren't based on any) and 9 criminal wastes of great licenses in games.