Why Are Movies Based on Video Games SO BAD?

This is not a rant. This is SCIENCE.

First, all the data (culled, of course, from my beloved Wikipedia). Click to embiggen.

Some facts:
  • Movies based on video games have an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 18 out of 100. None of them got higher than 42.
  • Most (72%) had a budget of $50 million or less.
  • Most (68%) made less than $100 million at the box office.
  • It should be no surprise then that half of these movies did not make a profit.
So that's pretty bad (relatively; I mean I wouldn't mind making $100 million), but why? Is there something inherent in video games that makes them un-movieable (totally a word). Or is it the way they're handled? I have my own ideas, but let's look at the data.

Looking at the list of movies, my first thought was they were poorly chosen. There do exist games with solid, character-based stories (I helped make one of them), but Doom, for example, is not one of them. So it might be that producers are choosing games from the wrong genres:

84% of these titles are in action genres. And while RPGs (for example) are known for their stories, action and fighting games aren't so much.

Unfortunately, when I grouped review scores by genre, there didn't appear to be much correlation. Every genre is spread pretty evenly between hits and misses:

Apologies for not labeling the genres. Excel was mean to me.
Maybe it has to do with where the games come from (a heck of a lot of these games come from Capcom, for example), but I found no correlation there either:

At this point, I wondered if there was any answer at all. Is it just dumb luck? Is there even a correlation between review score and profit?

Thank goodness there is. It's not a huge correlation (and my heart goes out to the Final Fantasy movie, which got the highest score yet lost the most money -- clearly there is no justice in this world), but the trendline definitely goes up.

Finally, I had the idea to look at the directors. It turns out there is one man who has directed almost a quarter of these movies -- twice as many as any other single person.

He has directed movies from four different game genres. The highest score he received was 24 out of 100, and it was an outlier. Only one of his games-based movies ever made a profit (a whole two million dollars). In short, this man has never directed a video-game-based movie worth seeing.

His name is Uwe Boll.

I'm just looking at the numbers here, but it seems to me that this man should never be allowed near a video game again.

It's science.


Sarah said...

Was that just domestic box office or did it include foreign (non-US)? Sometimes I'm surprised by how well certain movies do outside the US. I also wonder if the whole video game--> movie thing is based on the (potentially false) assumption that they will have a built-in audience: the folks who play the games. Except, I believe that demographic is the one that is rapidly eschewing movie theaters?

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm pretty sure it's simply not possible for a movie based on a video game to be awesome. From a geek's perspective, I don't care whether they make money, because lots of crap makes money, but I do care whether or not it's cool.

I can't think of a single video game that would make an incredible movie. I mean there are some great games out there with great stories - Fallout, Metal Gear, Elder Scrolls - and it's not like there couldn't be some tie-in content made from them that was cool, but I don't think I'd want to see a movie based on any of those.

I think it has to do with credibility. Books are the best form of storytelling, then movies, then games. So to have a movie based on a book, and then a game based on the movie (think LOTR), is fine. Cool, even. But it doesn't work the other way around.

I don't know. I'm not explaining myself very well, but I guess my point is I don't think it's possible for a movie based on a game to be any good, although - I would totally watch a Planescape: Torment movie.

Matthew MacNish said...

I forgot to mention: I saw that Dungeon Siege film (great game, BTW), and it was absolute trash. So I totally agree, we'll never let Uwe Boll anywhere near either of our books (once they're, you know, turned into games).

Eliza Tilton said...

He's the worst. Every movie is a flop....and I would LOVE to see a Metal Gear movie, if it had the right director.

Lori M. Lee said...

I wonder how Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children would match up :P

Also, I am still looking forward to a World of Warcraft movie, should it ever happen.

Cap'n Heine said...

The problem is they either pick games with little to no story (Doom, Double Dragon, fighting games, etc) or ones where the universe is just too bizarre to try to tie a story to the real world (Super Mario Bros.). The successful(ish) ones were games that had some semblance of a story (Lara Croft, a.k.a. female Indiana Jones and Resident Evil).

So what they need to do is pick a game that actually has a plot that would stand up well on its own without gameplay holding it up in a universe people can make sense of. I think the Zelda or Metroid series could work, but would be very tricky to pull off. Deus Ex would be pretty awesome and could definitely work with lots of conspiracies and cyberpunk-ness. Hmm...maybe I'll have to write a post on this on my blog...:)

Steve MC said...

One of the few I've seen is Final Fantasy, along with Tomb Raider. Both had smart female leads, only one was computer enhanced and the other outfit enhanced.

And good sleuthing on the directors.

Erik Winter said...

Perhaps an addition to your first chart: Metacritic rating of the game (or average for a series if appropriate). This presents other avenues of analysis relating to the quality of the original product, etc.

linda said...

LOL. Love your conclusion and final chart.

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Peggy Eddleman said...

Your charts and graphs make me happy. :) I'm a sucker for science being used to prove a point.

Daniel Smith said...

Heh, heh. Uwe Boll is known for bad movies.

I generally agree with Matthew and Cap'n but I have a different sort of slant on it. Video games are immersive. You *are* the character and get to make the decisions. Not so in a movie which is passive. (Which is related to Matt's Books -> Movies -> Games point) It's the difference in media which makes all the difference. There are also expectations since the players of game X are the target audience for any movies made about it. They remember their experience and expect to relive parts of it. Thus, and here's my point, the games that translate best to movies ... have fewer choices that affect the direction of the story. They're linear rather than branching which is more suitable for a movie.

Games from Elder Scrolls and GTA would probably make for *terrible* movies because it would be impossible for the movie to meet the expectations of the target audience and this is regardless of the fact that such games generally have *very* rich stories. There's also the difference in time: Movies average 2 hours or less, good video games average 10+ hours with many at 40 or more. Players can't get the same experience with a time difference that great.

Thus it's no surprise that Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and MK did well. Linear gameplay though, ironically, MK probably did well largely because it didn't have a detailed story to follow. Just combat action and opponents weren't fought in any particular sequence in-game. So in-movie the writer had lots of room to maneuver and create a backstory.

There's more than this, surely, but I think being linear is definitely something to look at. As is matching whatever genres are hot in Hollywood. Zombies, anyone?