Why Are Video Game Movies So Bad?

Ryan Fan

Video games with good stories usually don’t need to be made into movies

As I write, I’m cringing and shaking my head at a TV screen. I am simultaneously writing, doing work, and watching a movie — but it’s not just any movie, it’s a movie adaptation of one of the most addictive video games I ever played: Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker.

By its name, you can probably tell that the movie is an adaptation of the Dragon Age video game series, but even though I know the background of the plot and had a lot of fun playing all the Dragon Age games, I can’t help but feel that the cutscenes in the games were better than the movie.

In the movie, the plot makes no sense. The animation is bad. The graphics are subpar. It’s not funny. I feel no emotional connection to any of the really generic characters, and I could go on for hours shitting on this movie.

The nature of the adaptation gives me a startling trend: why are video game movies so horrible? Why, in the words of Paul Tassi at Forbes, does “history dictates that the movie has a pretty high chance of being bad, or at best, average”? The trend doesn’t start nor end at Dragon Age — there was Resident Evil, Warcraft, Tomb Raider, and Mortal Kombat. Sure, there are video game movies that are alright, but I haven’t seen any movies with even average status, with the exception of the Pokemon movies and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.


Tassi explains three main reasons why movies of video games are so bad. I will explain his points and offer some reflection based on my own gaming experience:

1. The video games being adapted don’t have the best stories in the first place

Tassi brings up a great first point that video games being adapted have a pretty lackluster story — so think about it. I didn’t play Resident Evil or Dragon Age for their stories. I played for the gameplay and quest These games aren’t great source material to begin with. I played Mortal Kombat as a kid and still don’t know what the premise of the story was.

Tassi uses the example of Tomb Raider, a movie with great combat mechanics, climbing, and problem-solving. The Tomb Raider game only had approximately 45 minutes of actual story between cutscenes and dialogue, with 15 hours of gameplay. To turn very little source material into a movie, with all the gameplay taken away, is a major challenge for even the most talented of writers.

Assassin’s Creed and Dragon Age are similarly fantasy movies that are heavily reliant on gameplay, so my heart goes out for whoever had to make these movies — the challenge is daunting to begin with.

2. Video games with good stories usually don’t need to be made into movies

Final Fantasy is a franchise universally known for its story. In fact, a major reason why detractors from the hype and fandom of the franchise is that there are too many cutscenes and that the games function more like virtual novels than as games.

As such, most Final Fantasy games don’t need to be made into movies unless there needs to be supplemental material. Games like Final Fantasy, The Last of Us, and Mass Effect don’t need to be made into movies because they’re already so much like movies.

Tassi brings up a great point that adapting video games with great stories into movies might even make the stories worse. Adapting a book or comic has a significant amount of source material to be changed from text or comic to the screen — but video games that have good stories already have so much on the screen that it’s just not worth it for the video games with the best stories to be adapted.

3. The best video game movies are usually about playing video games

According to Tassi, some of the best “video game movies” aren’t adaptations of video games themselves, but about the whole experience of playing video games. Look at Jumanji and Wreck-It Ralph, two movies that use video game concepts as opportunity for a broader story. I liked Wreck-It Ralph in particular because it was a movie that was an adventure story but simultaneously built on themes of nostalgia in the retro-era of video games.

These movies are not adaptations, but their own independent films that stand alone and focus on the concept of video games. Tassi talks about possibly using a middle ground, like using Grand Theft Auto as an action comedy that makes fun of tropes of the game, but so far, video game movies have struck out.

Even the good video game movies that strike closer to adaptations that I remember, like the Pokemon movies and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, are not completely adapted from the video games — they take their own creative liberties to create completely new stories. They don’t adhere religiously to the games themselves, but feel free to take risks and build whole new stories instead of trying to remake old ones.

So perhaps the overall quality of video game movies teaches us a lesson that trying to replicate and recreate the stories of a source material doesn’t usually result in good quality. Instead, take risks and liberties and be ambitious and don’t constrain yourself to the box of the source.

Originally published on June 11, 2020 on SUPERJUMP.

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Believer, Baltimore City special ed teacher, and 2:40 marathon runner. Diehard fan of "The Wire," God's gift to the Earth. Support me: https://ko-fi.com/ryanfan

Baltimore, MD

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