Why Are Video Game Movies Doomed to Fail?

Early reviews of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft movie are unfavorable and it seems that once again a capable director has failed to adapt a beloved video game to the big screen. This begs the question: Why are video game movies doomed to fail?

If there was ever a video game movie that could have ended the cycle of disappointing adaptations, it was Duncan Jones’ Warcraft. Not only is he a self-professed fan of the franchise, but he also reached out to gamers for advice on how to appeal to the mainstream, suggesting that he prioritized staying true to the game.

But is that the issue with video game movies? That they are made to first placate the fans of the source material? Typically, there are three huge obstacles when adapting a video game for the big screen.

1) Length.

Even a short game, one that falls in the 8 to 10 hour range, is 4-5 times the length of the average movie. The games and game series that tend to have the most beloved stories coincidentally tell those stories over the course of 40 to 60 hours. Given the expansiveness of the story, it’s pretty much impossible to boil it down to a 2 and a half hour film.

2) Active versus Passive.

The way a player engages with a player character colors how the player views a game’s world and story. When the player makes certain choices on behalf of the protagonist, we tend to consider them to be the sum of the choices. On film, this is fixed. A lead character on screen will behave how the screenwriter and the director say he must, which can be dissonant to the story the player thought they knew…

3) Purpose.

Some games are about their story. Others are about broader themes. But overall, many gamers are really about their mechanics, which is something that cannot be translated onto the big screen because they are totally different mediums. Without exploring the map, getting new gear or leveling up, many games lose their identity and the cookie-cutter plot is laid bare for all to see in all its underwhelming glory.

Since its inception, the Warcraft movie was touted as the savior of the genre. Now, we’ll have to wait until the Assassin’s Creed movie or–God forbid–the Tetris movie to see if video game movies can be redeemed. But for now, the curse continues to reign supreme.

Why do you think video game movies always underwhelm? Let us know in the comments!

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