When the dust settles and the battle for superhero property supremacy is over; when the actors and actresses can finally give up their nonstop ketogenic diets and return to normal life; when the minimalist/punk/grunge movement rises again and saves us from the hipsters and autotune, Hollywood will move on to the next under-appreciated frontier: video games.
Right now, video game movies are in the same phase superhero movies were in throughout the 80’s and 90’s: a couple of winners, and a whole lot of losers. You have your Resident Evils, but then you have the ocean of straight to video groan fests. Just like the superhero movies of yesteryear. Matt Salinger’s Captain America and Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher were the rule back in the day, while Michael Keaton’s Batman was the exception. Remember Fantastic Four from 1994? No? Well, you’re not missing much. Except for a Human Torch that looked more like a Tron character. There were the made for TV Incredible Hulk movies starring Bill Bixby and a green-painted Lou Ferrigno. There was even a Nick Fury movie on TV starring David Hasselhoff. The ONE big successful superhero movie property of the 90s, Batman, couldn’t even make it to the end of the decade without shooting itself in the foot with an icy Batarang with Batman And Robin. After a long string of misses, can you blame the big studios for not wanting to touch such potential spandex bombs like Spider-Man and X-Men? Marvel’s bankruptcy in the late 90s didn’t help either. Taking on a superhero movie was a sucker’s bet. How The Phantom and Steel got made is way beyond my understanding. Even I, the biggest comic book fanatic I knew in the 90s had no respect for the genre.
Then there was that one day in 1999 wasting time in my college’s computer lab. “Surfing the net,” as we used to say back in those days, I came upon a website full of movie trailers. I saw a link to a trailer for Fox’s X-Men. “Surely, they’re joking,” I thought. So I clicked it. And waited. And waited some more. I watched a status bar slowly creep along and I thought about how amazing it was that I could actually sit here and get a movie trailer without having to drive to the theater! I skipped my next class. Then, I hit “play.” Wow. X-Men. The movie. Finally, my prayers had been answered. Hard-studying students lifted their heads and looked about the room wondering where the high-pitched squeals of excitement were coming from.
Then I saw the movie. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Looking back, it was kind of stupid. Let’s be honest. Those awful black, leather costumes. Halle Barry’s awful fake accent. Cyclops acting like a whiney D-bag. And, my favorite: Using a giant machine on the Statue of Liberty to turn people into… mutants? I guess. But watching it for the first time, on the big screen; the excitement I felt over seeing some of my favorite characters in live action. Wolverine beating the piss out of people in a cage and drinking whiskey between rounds…. Even with the pathetically low budget of $75 million, it was awesome for its time. Definitely better than the most recent Batman movie.
I wasn’t alone, either. Studios began paying attention. Because of the success of that movie, we got Spider-Man. We got a rebooted Batman in 2005 (happy 10th, by the way, Nolan Knight. May it be a “gritty” one). Then we got Iron-Man. Then we finally got the third-highest grossing movie of all time, The Avengers. And in between all of those, it was just one superhero after another. Some stinkers, but for the most part, superheroes have finally earned their cinematic respect. But how far can it go?
Neither Warner Bros. nor Marvel have announced plans past 2020, and Fox is scrambling to come up with reasons NOT to totally reboot X-Men. By 2020, the well may very well have run dry, at least for a few years, and the studios will have to migrate to a new territory for its ideas.
Right now, I believe video games are in their 80s-90s Salinger/ Lundgren phase, as far as movies go. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, it seems that Hollywood still doesn’t know just how to handle video games. To me, it should be easy. Video games have come a long way from the days when the only goal was to have the high score in a game that only shows progress by the speed of the sprites on screen. Now we have epic stories that take hours upon hours to complete. Hell, most of the games now are partial movies, anyway. You can even play them online against other people all around the world, expanding even further the experience of the game itself. But there is an audience that has been forgotten: the casual gamer. People like me who’d rather play through a game of Mortal Kombat on my Genesis and get on with my day. If you can take a story like, say, Halo, with its huge, episodic story, and condense it into a two and a half hour experience in the theater, I’d be there opening day. I know that World of Warcraft is being filmed as we speak, which I think is a great idea. It’s a game that’s been around since 2004 that I’ve never played, but I am willing to watch the movie, for sure. And I have to believe I’m not alone. So you have a very successful game series being given a real cinematic production that will introduce the concept to countless more people around the world. How many of these people will be inspired to buy the game and further their interest in video games after the release of the movie? No one can say for sure, but for an easy example of a successful crossover, go to your local bookstore and see how many copies of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books now have screen shots from the movies on the covers.
In the coming years, I believe we will finally be able to get past the Mortal Kombat: Annihilations, Street Fighter: The Movies, Dooms, Street Fighter: Legend of Chun Lis, Tekkens, and Dead or Alives and see a REAL genre of video game movies develop. And no, I didn’t forget to mention Super Mario Bros. in the above list. It was a horrible movie but it was just so darn fun.