By Phil Contrino
It's easy to let a series of failures
cast a shadow over real potential.
That's exactly what has happened when
it comes to movie adaptations of popular video games. Our industry has been
burned too many times by critical and commercial disasters without enough
success stories to dull the pain. When it comes to video game films, no
approach seems to really click. The campy approach failed (see Super Mario Bros.), the serious approach
failed (see Silent Hill and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within), and
a heavy emphasis on action scenes hasn't been wildly successful either (see Max Payne and Need for Speed). Even Disney, the studio with the best track record
when it comes to launching billion-dollar properties, couldn't get Prince of Persia to work. Currently,
2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the
strongest domestic earner with a $131.2 million cume. Yet if video game
adaptations were truly living up to their potential, I believe we already would
have seen one of them hit $131 million during the opening weekend alone, just
like our best superhero films do.
It's not that crazy to compare the
potential of video game adaptations to superhero films. After all, both genres
have one big thing in common: they have massive established fan bases made up
of the same key demographics that can help a film deliver huge numbers
globally. It's also important to remember that superhero films only started to
become really common after 2000's X-Men.
Up until that point, the only truly successful characters were Batman and
Superman. Today the genre has gained so much mainstream appeal that Disney can
confidently launch lesser-known properties such as Ant-Man with great results. Why can't video game adaptations
connect in such a way?
2016 is poised to be a turning point
for the genre. There are some very high-profile adaptations that could turn
into blockbusters, starting a big rush to adapt more titles.
Could Turn Angry Birds into a Viable
It's easy to dismiss an adaptation of
such a mindless game, and many on the Internet have already done just that.
Perhaps the game's huge mobile presence makes it difficult for some to imagine
a leap to the big screen. Whatever the case may be, it's hard to be snarky when
you look at the sales figures: according to video game market research company
DFC Intelligence, the Angry Birds property
has amassed over 3 billion downloads worldwide across all titles and platforms.
Yes, that's billion, not million. If
Sony, the film's distributor, can hit even a small percentage of the game's
audience, then they'll be in great shape. The May 20, 2016, release date is a
clear vote of confidence on Sony's part.
Not to Be Underestimated
Universal is jumping into the world of
fantasy films on June 10, 2016, with Warcraft,
an adaptation of the popular World of
Warcraft role-playing game series. Over 100 million people have created WoW accounts since its launch in 2004.
While that may not be Angry Birds-level
big, it's certainly enough to make any studio exec drool.
WoW is in good hands. Universal's 2015
global tally will easily pass $6 billion-a mark no other studio has ever
hit-and a lot of that success is the result of a marketing team that's firing
on all cylinders. The campaigns for Fifty
Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect 2, Minions, Furious 7, Jurassic World, and Straight
Outta Compton helped those titles shatter expectations. There's no reason
to think that Universal won't use what they've learned in 2015 to help Warcraft maximize its potential.
Assassin's Creed Succeed in a Coveted
December Release Spot?
With over 80 million units sold, the Assassin's Creed franchise comes with
tons of potential, and 20th Century Fox is clearly taking the property
seriously. The studio hired the core team behind the 2015 adaptation of
Shakespeare's Macbeth-director Justin
Kurzel and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard-to tackle this crucial
project. With that kind of pedigree, it's likely that moviegoers who aren't
familiar with the games will give Assassin's
Creed a chance. There's no reason to be concerned about the film moving
from an August 7, 2016, release date to a December 21, 2016, release. Release
date changes are not always a kiss of death.
Is Only the Beginning ...
If Hollywood can finally crack the
formula to make successful video game adaptations, then the sky's the limit. If
properly executed, any of the films mentioned above can result in lucrative
franchises, and that will only scratch the surface when it comes to available
content. Here's hoping that 10 to 15 years from now the video game equivalent
of Ant-Man is released and greeted
with a strong reception at the global box office.