The extent to which bad movies based on video games outweighs the good is almost laughable. Over the years, many studios have tried to translate the thrills and bombast of our favourite interactive medium to film, but it continually proves all-too-easy to slip up spectacularly. We say this fully aware that director Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil series has grossed box office takings of $1.2 billion worldwide. But as any fan of Capcom’s celebrated horror franchise will tell you, even Anderson’s franchise quickly abandoned the original concept, mutating into its own beast until it was near-unrecognisable.
The movies that do the most justice to video games tend to be those that skirt around gaming – such as Wreck-It Ralph, Ready Player One, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – rather than the ones that directly lift an existing plot or concept, condensing down hours and hours of gameplay into roughly 90 minutes. It’s an impossible task most of the time, it seems, when a studio sets out to transfer a game to the big screen. However, there are a bunch of Hollywood flicks that accidentally encapsulated our favourite game franchises – and in the process, made decent versions that could only have been improved had someone stepped in at the end of shooting and shouted: “Surprise! You’ve just made a Call of Duty film! Now add in these bits…”
Perhaps more movies need to be retroactively or stealthily made into game adaptations. Here’s our pick of movies that could, and perhaps should, have been based on video game properties.
Originally rumoured to be another undercover addition to the cult Cloverfield anthology series, the J.J. Abrams’ produced Overlord turned out to be a gore-fuelled genre mash-up of war film and horror flick – one with an affinity for relentlessly dispatching zombified Nazi soldiers. It’s a pretty tongue-in-cheek take on what lengths the German army might have gone to in order to secure their thousand-year army. These traits are emblematic of the Wolfenstein video games: a series that also isn’t afraid to take some creative liberty when it comes to depicting what the Nazis were capable of.
Set in an alternate history where Hitler’s Third Reich has steamrolled its way onto American soil, recent Wolfenstein entries have placed you in the shoes of gung-ho resistance fighter B.J. Blazkowicz. And while there are no zombies for you to fight per se, the in-game Nazi forces have been conducting some equally grotesque human experiments. Just add in some mechs with the patriotic spirit dialled up to 11, and Overlord is a Wolfenstein movie in the making.
Exodus: Gods and Kings/Assassin’s Creed
While portraying a sneaky assassin and climbing tall buildings bring much of the joy gamers get from playing Assassin’s Creed games, it’s the historic locations and stories that are of chief appeal. The official Michael Fassbender-led Assassin’s Creed movie botched this a few years back by emphasising the series’ futuristic aspect, when what we should have got was a fully-fledged swords-and-sandals epic likes Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings.
The 2014 movie that cast Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Rameses II wasn’t great, as it happens. But it could have been had it been deliberately infused with a touch more Assassin’s Creed DNA. Only last year, the Ubisoft series ventured into the Ptolemaic period of Egypt, casting players as Bayek the Last Medjay, tasked with protecting the innocent. Exodus: Gods and Kings was, in the end, a plodding retelling of a story told countless times before and would have benefitted by borrowing from the Assassin’s Creed brand of fictionalised history.
Gangster Squad/LA Noire
Set in post-WWII Los Angeles and intended as an homage to noir films of the era, Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad had a cracking cast in Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, and more. However, it’s instantly forgettable thanks to an uninspired story. It follows a rogue team of LAPD officers challenged to go beyond police boundaries to take down a local crime baron. The movie, however, shares plenty of similarities with the critically acclaimed detective game, LA Noire, released just two years prior.
LA Noire forgoes the usual action spectacle for a slower-paced crime story that is gradually pieced together as you work your way up the police departments. The cases you, as protagonist Cole Phelps, are solving are based on real Los Angeles crimes committed in 1947, and there’s a strong emphasis on the morality of the decisions you make in order to get your confession. Gangster Squad could have been vastly improved with this nuance, which would have done justice to the style of film it honours. Instead, the film just consistently descends into a 21st century-brand of action.
While a diluted version of Resident Evil may have already found success among cinema audiences, the Milla Jovovich-led franchise leaned more on action than the intimate horror of Capcom’s best entries of the classic game series. The formula for a perfect Resident Evil movie should go something like this: zombies + limited resources + a confined space. In other words, the elements masterfully executed within 2007 Spanish found-footage horror REC, and by extension its US remake, Quarantine.
Both versions of the film centre on an innocent reporter accompanying a team of firefighters on their first job of the night, only to find that the apartment building they’re called to is Ground Zero to a viral outbreak. This is akin to the close-quarters horror Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine find themselves experiencing in the first Resident Evil’s Spencer Mansion, or, more recently, Resident Evil 7’s Baker House. The movies’ found-footage aspect aligns them specifically to the latter game, restoring the stripped-back scares that Anderson’s films always lacked. REC is already intense, but just imagine if it was approached as a Resident Evil film.
Edge of Tomorrow/Call of Duty
Edge of Tomorrow is already quite video game-y. In it, we follow an underprepared Tom Cruise, who is forced into battle during an alien war against Earth, only to find that he is able to die again and again before being sent back to the beginning of the skirmish. That’s right, it’s Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. And while Edge of Tomorrow could make a case for being based on any first-person shooter franchise, it aligns well with the fast-paced action of Call of Duty’s multiplayer offering.
The movie is actually based on a manga comic called All You Need Is Kill, but the time-loop aspect reinforces the tediousness of war until ultimately it’s trivialised – similar to how Call of Duty players have become acclimatised to “live, die, repeat”, up to the point where they win for their team online. There is an official Activision-licenced Call of Duty movie currently in development, but Edge of Tomorrow’s futuristic element means it doesn’t sit too far away from sub-series entries Black Ops and Infinite Warfare. Another movie that could have been improved by an overt association with a gaming franchise? What could have been.