Big-screen video game adaptations a hot commodity

Les adaptations de jeux vidéo sur grand écran, une denrée populaire

NEW YORK – Is there a film genre more unfortunate than the video game adaptation? Here is the pantheon of “Max Payne”, “Wing Commander” and “Assassin’s Creed”. In the 27 years since the first video game movie, ‘Super Mario Bros.’, these adaptations have been so regularly ridiculed you’d think the genre was – like a flickering fighter in ‘Mortal Kombat’ surrounded by chants of “End it! ” – on his last legs.

And yet, Hollywood increasingly sees video games as one of the richest and richest veins of intellectual property outside of comic books. Even though much film activity has slowed over the past year, the search for the kind of intellectual property that has powered an overwhelming share of box office ticket sales around the world has continued unabated. .

The video game movie is not finished. It can even be just by pressing “Start”.

On Friday, Warner Bros. will release a new “Mortal Kombat” rebooted 26 years after the martial arts fighter was first adapted. It was then only the fourth video game film, in the wake of “Double Dragon” and “Street Fighter”, with Jean-Claude Van Damme. That was long before the IP rush began with Marvel’s success over a decade later. “Apollo 13” was the second box office movie in 1995.

Now, a bloodier, R-rated “Mortal Kombat” signals a new cycle for video game adaptations. After years of misfires and meltdowns, it seems a new level has been unlocked for one of the most derided genres in movies. In 2019, “Detective Pikachu”, based on the Nintendo game, grossed over $400 million worldwide for Warner Bros. Last year, “Sonic the Hedgehog” became the genre’s biggest hit; a sequel is already in the works. Netflix, which on Wednesday suggested it might invest more deeply in games, found one of its biggest hits – the streamer’s answer to “Game of Thrones” – in “The Witcher.” The Henry Cavill-directed series is based on a fantasy novel series that found fame as a popular video game.

No one is carving Oscars or Emmys yet. But video game adaptations may not be cursed after all. They were just going through growing pains.

“Comic book intellectual property is the biggest intellectual property in the world right now and yet it took 40 years to really be in the spotlight and 50 years to become the biggest thing,” says venture capitalist and former lead Matthew Ball. planning strategy for Amazon Studios. “Video game adaptations have been happening since the early 90s, but we see a lot of evidence that people are learning – they are practicing. At some point in the near future, I’d be shocked if we didn’t have one of the biggest movies and TV series of the year from video games on a recurring basis. »

Hollywood’s IP hunt with embedded global fanbases has found more dead ends over the past decade than new directions. But the game is unique in its scope and growth. Last year, the gaming industry was worth over $150 billion. By 2023, revenues will reach $200 billion, according to Juniper Research, surpassing the size of the film industry. A study published this week by consulting firm Deloitte found that the main entertainment activity of Generation Z – 14 to 24 year olds – is playing video games, ranking over movies or music from far.

“There is an appetite and a desire to create things that might have seemed more niche at one point,” says “Mortal Kombat” filmmaker Simon McQuoid, an in-demand director of commercials who has worked on ad campaigns before. for Sony’s PlayStation and “Halo.” “I feel like people are okay with pushing this forward and being a bit mainstream with things.

Many video game adaptations have gone through protracted, even tortuous development, suggesting that the industry is still looking to tackle these properties. “Mortal Kombat” had been in development for a decade. Infamously, “Sonic the Hedgehog” was forced to redesign its animated protagonist after an outcry from fans. There are reasons why video game movies are ranked from “least bad to absolute worst.”

Some have suggested that mediums are inherently distinct. The late Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert argued that video games are not art and “by their nature require player choice, which is the opposite of game strategy.” cinema and serious literature, which requires the control of the author”.

But someone, eventually, can crack the video game movie code. In the years since Ebert wrote that in 2015, the games have grown in atmosphere, storytelling, and character. They are more cinematic. More and more filmmakers are gamers, themselves, and they are interested in plumbing virtual worlds while remaining true to the spirit of a game.

“The importance of source material became something that people didn’t really care about 20 years ago. They nodded,” says Johannes Roberts (“47 Meters Down”), director of the upcoming “Resident Evil” reboot, “Welcome to Racoon City.” “There is definitely a real understanding that you have to believe in and love. I think studio heads understand that’s an important thing, that you can’t just take the name and run with it. “

Roberts’ film, currently in post-production, follows six “Resident Evil” films, the longest-running video game movie franchise. It will be released in November from Sony Pictures, which next February will unveil a long-awaited adaptation of director Ruben Fleischer’s “Uncharted” game (“Venom,” “Zombieland”), starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg.

Pipelines are getting more and more congested. A longtime Steven Spielberg-produced “Halo” series is slated for release early next year on Paramount+. Netflix will premiere a “Resident Evil” series in June; the streamer also has an “Assassin’s Creed” series in the works. Last month, Sony and PlayStation Productions announced that they would be producing an adaptation of the hugely popular “Ghost of Tsushima” game with “John Wick” director Chad Stahelski.

Launched in 2019, Sony’s PlayStation Productions is uniquely positioned between filmmaking and video games. The production company is also making an HBO series of “The Last of Us,” a famous third-person post-apocalyptic adventure game. The fact that the project attracted “Chernobyl” creator Craig Mazin is a sign for many observers of a rise in video game adaptations.

“I’ve noticed over the last year there’s this realization that they’re sitting on something that’s quite interesting and not as undermined as it should be or could be,” says Roberts, who says he approaches “Resident Evil” as he would a Stephen King novel. “I’m curious to see how all the other movies tackle it. It’s a fascinating time for sure. »

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