Movies based on video games have had a checkered past in Hollywood. For every hit, there have been two or three box office duds. But Hollywood continues to go back to the well, because some movies based on video games have been huge hits, spawning sequels and raking in big box office grosses.
And another factor is oversea box office. Certain video games are immensely popular in other countries besides the US, and moviegoers flock to the theater to see movies based on those games. All in all, movies based on video games are hot properties, and the following five video games are great examples of that.
The first three movies based on video games to be made by Hollywood are Super Mario Brothers, Double Dragon, and Streetfighter. The first two were box office poison, and all three received incredibly low critical reviews.
The fourth movie adapted from a video game was Mortal Kombat, and it elevated the genre. It made as much money as the previous three movies combined, and received better reviews than any video game-based movie had before.
Streetfighter and Mortal Kombat are very similar games, and in fact were direct competitors as video games. They both were tournament-based one-on-one fighting games. Streetfighter attempted to create an elaborate plot that veered wildly outside of the video game’s scope, and enlisted the star power of action mega star Jean-Claude Van Damme. The near-universal audience and critical reaction was deeply negative.
Mortal Kombat, on the other hand, stuck true to its video game roots. The plot was very similar to the plot of the game, with a fighting tournament for the fate of the world. The movie starred Christopher Lambert, known for his work in the Highlander series of movies, but not an action star on Van Damme’s level. The movie put the focus on its driving techno-based soundtrack and the fighting, and audiences responded.
Critics too liked Mortal Kombat more than previous video game adaptations, while not being overly effusive. But what it proved was that the movie based on a video game could be a hit, and a viable franchise.
The next video game property to burst onto the Hollywood scene was Tomb Raider. The treasure hunting heroine Lara Croft had long been a video game fan favorite, and superstar actress Angelina Jolie signing on to play her in the movie was a big deal. Tomb Raider went on to make nearly $275 million at the box office, shattering the record Mortal Kombat had held.
Jolie went on to star in a sequel called Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, which grossed only around $150 million. It wasn’t quite up to the standard set by the original movie, but it still was the second-highest gross for a video game based movie.
And the franchise still has legs, as a Tomb Raider reboot is in the works currently. A new star is onboard to play the iconic heroine, and it’s possible that this new movie will continue the trend of box office gold for the video game franchise.
The video game which has produced the highest number of movies is Resident Evil, and it’s not particularly close. The horror survival game has had six movies made based on it, with the last of them signaling (at least for now) the end of the movie franchise.
The first Resident Evil movie was made in 2002, and the last was made in 2016, meaning that Resident evil movies have been hitting the market at an average of about every two years for over a decade. The franchise has grossed over $1.2 billion over its lifespan, making it the video game property whose adaptations have been the most financially successful of all time.
What’s interesting about the Resident Evil movie franchise is that it was so successful despite ignoring most of the content of the games themselves. It follows the exploits of a protagonist named Alice, who was created entirely for the movie franchise. There are zombies, but aside from that almost nothing from the games makes it into the franchise. And yet Resident Evil was wildly successful.
Image source: Bloody-disgusting.com
Prince of Persia
The Prince of Persia games became the next entrant into the big budget video game-based Hollywood movie arena in 2010, with the release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Helmed by a cast including Jake Gyllenhaal and Ben Kingsley, the movie ended up grossing over $330 million, making it the biggest money maker of any video game-based movie up to that point.
The film earned mixed critical responses, but when considering the bar video game-based movies often set, this was seen as a success. And audiences turned out in sufficient numbers that the movie was quite profitable.
The standard that Prince of Persia established was that Hollywood had the ability to make a video game-based movie with big stars and have it be a safe financial investment. While no one will likely look back on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time as a groundbreaking movie in any way, it serves as an example of the increasing extent to which video games are mainstream entertainment.
If you had to guess the highest grossing movie based on a video game, would you guess Warcraft? Most people wouldn’t, and yet the movie Warcraft holds the distinction of making the most money of any video game-based movie of all time. Warcraft grossed $433 million dollars in theaters, shattering the record held by the Prince of Persia movie by nearly $100 million.
Critics generally strongly disliked the Warcraft movie, and US audiences tended to share that sentiment. Reviews were nearly universally poor, and the movie underperformed domestic projections for revenue.
However, two things pushed Warcraft to its lofty perch atop the video-game-to-movie heap. The first is the massive fanbase of the Warcraft video game universe. Warcraft was a series of groundbreaking real time strategy games, the most successful and popular Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Game of all time in World of Warcraft, and a popular digital card game in Hearthstone. And a modification of Warcraft 3 became DotA, which launched the MOBA video game genre.
Between all those games and the fanbases devoted to them, there was a strong baseline of moviegoers willing to see the Warcraft movie.
The second thing that benefited the Warcraft movie’s bottom line was the international market, and specifically China. The Chinese market was eagerly anticipating the movie, and it was a smash hit upon release. In its first five days in Chinese theaters, Warcraft grossed over $150 million.
The story of Warcraft goes to show that a movie doesn’t need to get good reviews or be beloved by the US moviegoing population if it has other things going for it.
Erik Winther is a passionate video producer from Southern California and the creator of Netflix Guides, a site to help all TV and movie enthusiasts keep up with the latest shows coming on Netflix.