Why do videogame movies nearly always fail?

Videogame movies go back a long time. It kind of started out with the movie Cloak & Dagger, which was released simultaneously with the Atari arcade game back in 1984, and have come a long way since then in terms of budgets, qualities and advertising, but somehow they always seem to flunk out. Why is this, really?

Back in the ’90s when SEGA’s Dreamcast was released, I purchased House of the Dead 2 together with a sweet chick magnet light gun. That was a fairly nice gaming experience, so it was with some excitement I put in the movie House of the Dead in my DVD player many years later. I’m not even going to try and explain what a piece of crap that movie was, but it certainly was bad. It’s quite a cliché example of a bad videogame movie, but it still features the first reason why many videogame movies suck: probably one of the most notorious film directors ever.

Uwe Boll. Postal, BloodRayne, House of the Dead, Alone in the Dark and Far Cry are some of the available and upcoming films from this German film director. Boll has become synonymous with silly movies, and for many, his name is what pops up when you think of those based on videogames. There’s even an online petition where over 290,000 people think that Boll should be stopped. He doesn’t make every videogame movie out there, but the genre definitely suffers from a bad odor because of him. It’s hard to see that a “serious” director would want to get involved in these kinds of movies when Boll already has disappointed so many potential targets.

However, Uwe Boll couldn’t possibly be the only explanation. What other reasons are there for the lacking success?

Gamers like games. Those first in line to buy the cinema tickets will be the gamers themselves, and the very first of them will be the hardcore fans of the game in question. If any people are known for their high expectations, it’s them. Let’s face it, if a game is amazing, it’s almost impossible to make it equally good on the big screen. When the movie Final Fantasy: Advent Children was bound for release, every FF fan was holding their breath. How cool was it going to be with a movie based on the FF VII story? When it finally came it was cool, but it wasn’t a frickin’ sensation like the game was.

As far as I know, the Lord of the Rings movies have received most of their criticism from the real Tolkien-fanatics, but they’re still considered to be among the best movies of all time. This is because Lord of the Rings is a broader and more widely known concept than probably any videogame will ever be.

So, what else stands in the way? First, you have to define what separates videogames from movies.

Games are interactive. Many games are good because you as the player have the ability to affect the progress and outcome of the game. Silent Hill wouldn’t have been as good without the puzzle-solving and the thought that you have to react to monsters hiding in the shadows lurking in the back of your head. Final Fantasy wouldn’t be as good if you didn’t have to plan what attacks you will perform and didn’t get that “Aha!”-feeling when you discover something unexpected in the story, or if you finally get through that passage that you’ve been struggling with for the last couple of weeks. The bad story in House of the Dead survives because of the frenetic action you get when frantically blasting heads off zombies.

Movies are all about well written stories, and when you take that away you end up with zero. Combine this with something only a limited group of people know about, and we jump in to our next reason.