Why Can’t Talented Artists Make A Great Video Game Movie?

Senior Contributor
04.13.18 7 Comments

Fox/Paramount

With Rampage arriving in theaters, it’s collecting an underhanded accolade, of sorts: “The best video game movie of all time.” It deserves a bit more credit than that, even though that’s true: It’s an agreeably self-aware giant monster movie that owes more to King Kong than it does the Bally Midway arcade classic. And in some ways, it’s Hollywood taking yet another furious swing at a pinata it should have cracked by now. Rampage arrives just weeks after Tomb Raider, based on the game franchise’s reboot, lost out to Black Panther at the box office.But Rampage is bringing both Dwayne Johnson, one of the few actors who can credibly sell a movie just because he’s in it, and the team from Johnson’s disaster movie hit San Andreas. If anybody can finally make a movie based off a video game a mainstream hit, it has to be these guys, right?

Maybe! But we’ve been here before. Leaving aside the regrettable career of Uwe Boll and the career of Paul W.S. Anderson, which includes the wisely self-aware Mortal Kombat and the agreeably fun and long-lasting Resident Evil franchise, the history of video game movies has a surprising amount of talent swinging and missing. Here are the worst video game movies starring the Oscar-winners and/or directed by action impresarios or even Oscar nominees, that tried to break through and just couldn’t.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Of all the failed video game movies, this movie, starring Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi, might be the most notorious. Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, the directors, were an odd choice in the first place: They were most notable for a remake of the noir DOA and the highly influential cyberpunk TV series Max Headroom, so a kid’s movie wasn’t quite a fit. The resulting disaster was best summed up by this interview with Bob Hoskins in The Guardian, nearly two decades later:

What is the worst job you’ve done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.

Street Fighter (1994)

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, a worldwide star at the time because the ’90s were ridiculous, and Oscar-winner Raul Julia in his final role as villain M. Bison, Street Fighter had another secret weapon as well: action movie writer/director Steven de Souza, whose career includes the scripts for action classics like 48 Hrs. and Die Hard and, OK, movies like Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Hudson Hawk. (But writing Die Hard gets you a lot of mulligans.) Released on Christmas 1994, it only made $33 million. And there’s a reason; it’s so absurdly campy that only Julia can really make it work, which is why “But for me, it was Tuesday” is a meme to this day.

After this, and the equally notorious 1994 bomb Double Dragon starring Robert Patrick’s bleached hair, not even the notable success of Paul W.S. Anderson’s unpretentious kung-fu movie Mortal Kombat could boost Hollywood’s appetite for video game movies. It’d take an Oscar winner to do that.

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