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At the time of this writing, Wikipedia's list of films based on video games shows that out of all such theatrical films with an international release, only two have a Metacritic rating of "Mixed or Average Reviews" (Mortal Kombat at 58 and Prince of Persia at 50), while 26 are "generally unfavorable reviews" ranging from 20-49 and 7 have "overwhelming dislike" with a score less than 20 (four of which were directed by Uwe Boll).

Rotten Tomatoes is similarly grim with the highest rated film being Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within with a score of 44%, placing it, and every other video game adaptation, in the "Rotten" category.

Are there any authoritative explanations for why video game movie adaptations have generally gotten poor critical reception? If so, what are they? By "authoritative explanations", I mean published analysis from academics in the field of film studies, those in the industry such as directors, film critics who have analyzed multiple video game adaptations, or other such people who have the expertise to authoritatively speak on the subject.

  • I realize that this question may be in danger of being "primarily opinion-based", so I added the last paragraph asking for some authoritative analysis that goes beyond asking for the average person's opinions. If there are other improvements that can be made, please let me know. – Thunderforge Dec 29 '16 at 18:08
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    The general feeling is that movies based on games never have much cinematic merit. There are likely many reasons for that, including general laziness on the part of the studios (i.e. they don't have to make a great movie because they have a built-in market.) Burden of the pre-existing material, which potentially hamstrings the narrative, may also be a factor. – DukeZhou Dec 29 '16 at 18:39
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    favoriting to see if anyone has any resources to substantiate an answer. as is, I doubt there is a non-subjective answer – DForck42 Dec 29 '16 at 18:48
  • It also probably has a lot to do with the "too many cooks" condition that ruins so many studio films. (i.e. you have too many parties with their own agendas all trying to exert control over the final product.) Critically acclaimed films typically have a single, driving, creative force, such as a director with a high degree of creative control. – DukeZhou Dec 29 '16 at 20:29
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    Could it be as simple as the fact they are all terrible movies? I'm sure it i possible to make a good movie based on a game, but I can't think of one right now. – matt_black Dec 30 '16 at 11:45
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Those in the film industry who have worked with video game adaptations, as well as academics and critics, have identified several reasons that such movies are not well-received.

While this doesn't necessarily mean that there will never be any good video game adaptations, the existing video game adaptations seem to have failed for one or more of these reasons.

Adaptations are chosen based on franchises that sell well, not ones that will translate well to film

"It often comes down to money, as movie studios frequently choose to make films based on the franchises that sell the best, not those with the most cinematic potential."

–Corey May, co-founder of Sekretagent Productions, which provides writing services for both films and video games (Source)

"Doing a video game movie has not really been done well, and I think part of the reason for that is it's been done for the wrong reasons," Tull told IGN. "If you simply say 'How many people have played the game? How much money can we make?' You're doomed. You're doomed right off the start."

–Thomas Tull, producer for the Warcraft video game adaptation (Source)

Games are often successful for reasons that are not applicable to film

The Hollywood machine, in its endless chase for big bucks, can't help but exploit the latest hit interactive outing, often failing to realize it's often a specific gameplay mechanic, psychological meme or technical feature that makes the title so compelling.

–Scott Steinberg, head of TechSavvy Global and founder of GameExec magazine and Game Industry TV (Source)

Translating non-linear games into a linear, three-act story is very difficult

The problem? Most film narratives follow a traditional, time-tested three-act structure, whereas videogames don't fit nicely in that mould. "Translating a non-linear narrative into a linear three-act structure is like making a song out of a painting or a sculpture," says Kjeldsen.

– Kirk Kjeldsen, assistant professor in the Cinema Department at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Vancouver (Source)

Video game adaptations are not interactive, unlike their source material

"There's a very simple reason that nearly all video game movies fail; they're not interactive," Dixon says.

"With video games, the player is really the star of the movie, directing the actors, deciding what plotline to follow--and most importantly for most games, whom to shoot down to get to the next level. When this aspect of the game is missing, viewers no longer feel like part of the action."

–Wheeler Winston Dixon, professor of film studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Source)

Film directors and writers often appeal to the audience in different ways than the video games

The issue here is that, when developing video game movies, many directors and writers try to appeal to the audience in whatever way they feel best suits them. In the case of something like Tomb Raider, that appeal came in Lara Croft’s look and gymnastic abilities, rather than the globe-trotting, puzzle-solving, and blending of history with fantasy that made the game so appealing.

This is true of other video game movies as well—Max Payne suffered heavily from a similar weighing of game aesthetics over actual plot, and it’s been a recurring problem in several of the Resident Evil films.

–Melissa Loomis, journalist for GameRant (Source)

  • Sorry to see that this was downvoted. How can I improve this answer? – Thunderforge Dec 30 '16 at 4:18
  • I'm not sure why the downvotes. This is an excellent answer to a vague question. Also, I have to say: "Translating a non-linear narrative into a linear three-act structure is like making a song out of a painting" cough cough Pictures at an Exhibition cough cough (BTW, I totally agree!) – user1118321 Dec 30 '16 at 4:46
  • @user1118321 I'm glad that you like my answer! Is there some way that I can improve the question? (And I did remember Pictures at an Exhibition, although I think it's fair to say that an adaptation of a song out of a painting is as rare as a good video game movie). – Thunderforge Dec 30 '16 at 4:47
  • Maybe "vague" wasn't the right word. But it does seem like it's going to be very opinion-based, even if it's informed opinions. (Which is fine by me.) It's not going to have a nice neat answer like "what did 'x' symbolize in movie 'y'?" I don't think there's much you could have done differently, it's just the nature of the question. – user1118321 Dec 30 '16 at 4:52
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Poor story, dialogue, acting, poor story, bad effects, and a very silly Quality Assurance dept. at the movie studios. The story of most games can be explained as an interactive movie. Movie studios believe that using the same story is going to ruin the game, so they come up with one that is usually very different that is mean to please both moviegoers and gamers, but ends up confusing the gamer, and has the audience wondering wtf is going on. Prince of Persia was NOT a terrible movie, but it was cliched from beginning to end. No fancy footwork combined with the hourglass-and it was such a huge part of game play. Super Mario Bros. made no sense. WTF was up with the goombas and turtles? Resident Evil was O K, but no mansion or real threat. House of the Dead included game screens from the game itself-but can you still sit thru the whole movie for just that 1 part-which was terrible with or without the game screens.

Usually game movies are just not good. Ripoffs of fantasy stories, packaged with game references and names, and then sent to the box office to try and get an audience to make money from. So far, arguably the BEST game movie-hands down-Warcraft. It held to the story, had paladins and mages, threw in a murloc, built up Guldan and Sargeras, and overall was a solid show. But even then, it could have easily been called Enchanted Moon or Invaders of Doom, and still done just as well at the box office.

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