Opinion: Too Many Games Are Getting Movies

One of the most regular pieces of news that seems to crop up is some game being given a movie deal by some studio. We saw this just yesterday, with a collaboration between J.J. Abrams and Valve announced that could point to a Portal or Half-life movie being made, with a collaboration between the filmmaker and the developer a powerful one.

In many ways I suppose this is a reflection of just how far gaming has come since the days it was pushed to the side and almost entirely ostracised by society. The situation now is hardly amazing, we still get politicians and the media rallying against violent games and linking them to just about every piece of real world violence, but there’s certainly a more broad acceptance of gaming as a whole, even if certain elements are still left out in the cold.

[drop2]You could also see it as Hollywood complimenting the writing in games, that their characters and stories are good enough to be seen on the silver screen as well as in your home.

Of course, given the number of changes that movies often make to the games they’re based on, perhaps it’s not the writing as a whole that’s improved but simply the core ideas.

What’s really improved though is one simple thing, brand recognition. Games now make enough money that they’re impossible for movie makers to ignore, they frequently make the box office take look pathetic by comparison.

There is, of course, the huge gap in price between a ticket to the cinema and a brand new game (although with the rising price of tickets the gap’s closing), but there’s still an absolutely huge market for games and their characters that movie studios want to tap into.

I can’t really blame them for that, every business on the planet wants to get more customers to buy their product. However, at times it really does feel like the cross-media proliferation of games has gone just a little bit too far.

The concept of characters from a game popping up somewhere else is certainly nothing new, Saturday Supercade started in 1983 and featured short episodes featuring characters from arcade games (Donkey Kong, Frogger, Q*Bert and Pitfall Harry), while the late 80s and early 90s saw Mario and Sonic, among others, getting their own cartoons and comic books.

Kids loved the characters, and making transition to other forms of media was an obvious one that provided profit for everyone involved.

As gaming has grown so has the desire for their characters to make the transition over to comics, books, TV and films. It now seems like just about any popular piece of IP will be picked up for a film, and I wonder if this isn’t always the best thing for the original games.

Yeah, the Super Mario Bros. movie.

It may well be that these crossovers bolster the original game, bringing the characters to a wider audience and, crucially, drawing in more money for the publishers and developers to make more games with. However, too often I think they’re simply bad, harming the game’s reputation and enforcing a notion that games can’t tell “proper” stories.

If a movie’s good then, maybe, you might be able to redirect some of those patrons back towards the source material, although the popularity of movies like the Avengers or Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy hasn’t done all that much to bolster the sales of comics featuring the same characters.

Of course much of the time the announcements of a movie deal comes to nothing, it’s simply a studio buying up the rights on the chance that they feel like making it and to stop a rival from picking up a potential blockbuster. I’m actually content with this, and hopefully a longer time spent developing the film will lead to a better quality product if it does get released.

Realistically that’s what we need if games are going to continue to get movie deals – good films of good games. If that starts to happen more often then perhaps it could be good for gaming as a whole, although I do worry that an oversaturation may seem a little desperate, similar to some of the backlash against the number of movies tied into comics.



  1. Who would play the lead in a Portal movie? Lucy Liu, or Li Bingbing?

    • Yes please!

    • Lucy Liu is already committed to the Mirror’s Edge movie, obviously. ;)

  2. I think it comes down to video-gaming being a relatively fresh, new arena of entertainment and graphical fidelity meaning that the film world has a good idea of the developers vision and how that might transplant to the big screen. However, give it all some time – allowing for the good ones to succeed and the fails to flop – and we’ll start to see something resembling a pattern depending on franchises, genres, publishers and budget, etc..

    I’m fine with it all but as long as they see what games have done with existing film franchises. The recent Batman games have shown that they don’t need to replicate the stories that Christian Bale has starred in. They just want to use the Batman universe as a springboard into something far more suited to interactive entertainment.

    With that in mind, embrace the game world but look to fleshing out something that suits the passive world of sitting there for two hours watching a screen (as oppose to interacting with it).

  3. The info about the uncharted movie before it was abandoned sounded pretty bad, they wanted to turn it into some kind of family gangster drama.

  4. I think there’s a major problem with trying to take an interactive medium, where the player gains investment from taking part in/creating the narrative, to a medium where viewing is overtly passive.

    It’s a similar problem to book/novel translations where people have already become invested in the material, and then can’t help but be let down by their preconceptions of what the source material means to them.

    Games can tell meaningful stories, but the plot points aren’t necessarily where the story solely resides. Sadly I think it’s this fact that causes game licenses to be taken less seriously, and therefore picked up by low rent distributors and directors who just want to leverage the name for a higher income.

    There have been more hopeful signs recently with directors like Guillermo Del Toro and JJ Abrams being linked to projects, and hopefully as the games industry develops, so too will its related properties.

  5. I don’t want a half life or portal movie. They have silent protagonists, it would be awful. When I play a game as a silent character I’m not being Chell or Gordon Freeman, I’m being ME. In a movie, that’s ruined. It’s why I enjoyed Dead Space 2 much less than Dead Space, I had this stupid character instead of feeling like it was me running around a spaceship. Took me right out of the experience, and was much less scary.

    A portal movie anyway? An intelligent AI in voice form forces a mute woman to solve puzzles for an entire film, before being shut down? Sounds awful. So add a voice, a love interest, aperture technicians, guns. Oh that sounds like portal… I guess they could make it about Cave Johnson and his rise and fall, as it’s already explained throughout Portal 2. I’m sure that would be interesting. But it’s not really portal.

    Half Life would work better, again though, I do not want gordon to speak, which would have to be changed, and I’d rather have half life 3.

    I’m not in favour. I don’t see how it would be true to the games.

  6. I think every game should come with a small movie/animation inside of every copy rather than a pointless manual.I remember when manuals were manuals.8)

  7. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a CoD film at some point soon. Granted it probably wont be great but it will be Michael Bay all the way!

    • not sure why I added ‘but’…as if Michael Bay makes it better ;)

    • No we wont, Activision are 100% against they idea.

  8. There are plenty of Movies-of-games that are “fine”. Not awesome, not Aliens or The Dark Knight or Casablance, but fine nonetheless – IF you view them as movies and nothing to do with the games.

    I really enjoyed the Max Payne movie, never played the games so didnt matter. The Hitman film was ok. Resident Evil 1 and Silent Hill 1 do a half decent job of capturing some of the key momenst from the games and intertwining them with a good horror movie.

    Mortal Kombat is stupid fun and the first Tomb Raider was good as well.

    I have just discovered there is a Far Cry film – anyone seen that?

    • its a uwe boll movie, if that means anything, but if your a FarCry or aTil Schweiger fan its not bad, it actually tries to stay closer to the source then some of his other game films, but its got some low production values

    • It’s a Uwe Boll film, i don’t need to say more.

    • I thought the Hitman film was pretty bad. Didn’t like Resi though. Tomb Raider was okish. Second one was much worse.

      Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are dumb fun yes.

      • you probably won’t want to hear that Paul Walker has apparently been cast as Agent 47 for the Hitman reboot then. O_O

  9. No. The problem with games is that they can have well written stories but a terrible narrative or terrible direction. Hence I can see why someone would want to make a film of a game, because a film has a likely hood of telling the story better than a game.

    However, a film screenplay for two hours is quite different from a game, and so we get films like Silent Hill that pack too many different ideas at once, or another film becoming stupidly repetitive or inspired by the action of a game.

    Could I pack Halo 1,2,3 in to a film? No. Would I want to put in the silent cartographer mission of combat evolved? No. But then the story might not make sense. So then the story could becomes adapted and before you know it there are a multitude of ineptitudes. Games should stay as they are, but for the love of narrative plot and technique I wish developers would invest in directing a story.

  10. I always see game-movie tie ins the same as comic book movies. You already have a fan base, and often people will go and see a movie about a comic they read even though the reviews are terrible (Green Lantern for instance).
    Its just laziness and easy for hollywood to chern them out.

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