Gaming Adaptations Part Two: Adaptability, Bankability, and Sustainability (Opinion)

Updated: Feb 16

Last time I left off as the prospects for the gaming adaptation were dwindling rapidly, with one of its greatest pioneers failing to take centre stage then what would that mean for the future of other, maybe less vaunted titles? If the pinnacle of gaming couldn't make it through the treacherous terrain of Hollywood, then surely the outlook was not so bright for the next ones to follow in the Master Chief's footsteps but once again we tried to look through the disappointments, switching our focus instead to the future. After 2009 was a depressingly fallow year we looked at 2010 with some renewed hope, a new decade came not just new expectations but also new possibilities.

Alice was still chopping her way through T-Virus infected people and then some with the 4th instalment in the Resident Evil franchise with Resident Evil: Afterlife, and even though it was doing well in the box office it wasn't exciting the masses. The franchise itself had garnered more than enough of a fan base to keep going over the years, but always lacked that mainstream appeal that a true blockbuster has but luckily for us all we wouldn't have to wait long for that said blockbuster. In the summer of that year Disney would release their adaptation of the famed Prince of Persia games with Jake Gyellenhaal starring in the lead role.

I would like to say we were all excited for the release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time but the obviously strange casting decisions had us all going to the theatres with more than a little trepidation in our hearts. The decision to cast Jake Gyellenhaal was baffling to say the least, casting a white American actor to play a Persian role boggles the mind and even though it is still one of the highest grossing video game adaptations of all time it was rightly shredded by the critics and fans alike, aptly fading from memory like the sands of time it bore its name from. This looked like a big blow for the future viability of video game adaptations, nobody knows how to hit those all important demographic numbers like the mouse, failing only a few times in recent memory, but unfortunately for everyone involved this was one of those occasions.

New Decade, Same Old Story

Now that the new decade had begun like the old one had ended our expectations and hopes were at an all time low. 2012 saw the release of the sequel to Silent Hill, but as I previously mentioned in my last article that is better off forgotten. 2012 also saw the next phase of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution. One has to admire the staying power of the Resident Evil franchise, and even though they themselves aren't great movies they are extremely important in terms of video game adaptations maintaining some relevance over the years because as other potential franchises failed and fell to the wayside it consistently kept churning out movies.

Then with 2013 being a quiet year on this front we would have to wait until 2014 to see the release of the Aaron Paul led adaptation of Need for Speed. The movie was based on the ridiculously successful video game franchise of the same name but the age old adage of being first to market couldn't be better exemplified than in this instance. The whole street racing genre has been dominated by the Fast and Furious films and if I’m being honest I'm not sure if we need two underground street racing franchises, even if the Fast and the Furious franchise is about anything but street racing nowadays.

After another famine in 2015 aside from the surprising success of the Angry Birds adaptation which led to a sequel four years later, we all looked at the following year for the feast that had yet to come. In 2016 our previously low expectations were moved to all time high, I know that's not saying much but with the release of both Warcraft and Assassins Creed being muted we had every right to be more than a little optimistic for once. Warcraft was to be directed by Duncan Jones and starred Vikings stalwart Travis Fimmel in the lead role. Although it looked spectacular it never really lived up to expectations, and was criticised for aiming too much towards the hardcore fans but with its huge worldwide following it was plain to see why this strategy was taken, even with all its detractors, Warcraft remains the highest grossing video game adaptation in history.

As Warcraft suffered in the eyes of the critics we looked to the future again with blind optimism---at this stage it could be called nothing else---surely the Assassins Creed adaptation with Hollywood's Swiss army knife Michael Fassbender in the lead would be an undoubted success, but ultimately ended up being another one in the L column for Hollywood. The movie itself is not terrible but the scenes with the changed Animus amount to nothing more than a distraction, and take away from the overall piece. Assassins Creed had the games developers Ubisoft behind it but shows that certain elements of the gaming experience don't translate properly to the big screen.

The End of an Era, and the Start of a New

2016 didn't just see the hopes of two possible future franchises being dashed against the rocky shores of high expectations it also saw the climax of the longest running game adaptation franchise in the history of cinema. The franchise in question is Resident Evil, which called it a day with it's 6th and final instalment Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. This was the end of a 15 year long journey for Milla Jovovich in the role of Alice, and even with all its failings the culmination of this franchise would leave a massive hole in its wake, the size of which was clearly evident when the box office numbers came in.

The Final Chapter was the highest grossing entry in the entire series, showing that even as it bowed out it still had a passionate fan base which helped it stay relevant right up until it departed on its own terms, something that can not be said for many a franchise especially ones that find their roots in the world of gaming. Now that Alice was out of the zombie killing business we all wondered who the next badass female protagonist would be, and we would not have to wait long for an answer. That answer would come in the form of the rebooted Tomb Raider in 2018. This time Alicia Vikander would play Lara Croft, this interpretation would take its inspiration from the 2013 title of the same name, and just like its source material, it looked to bring new life to the tomb raiding legend.

This new incarnation of Tomb Raider was a solid outing, and Vikander is an extremely talented performer with amazing range, so the future for this franchise may be brighter than a lot of other previous gaming adaptations, it also did pretty well at the box office and received a more than decent reception upon release. Whilst Alicia Vikander was busying herself raiding them tombs, Dwayne Johnson found himself at the centre of another gaming adaptation, this time he would go rampaging with a giant albino gorilla named George in the 2018 movie Rampage. The actor formerly known as The Rock is usually a safe pair of hands when it comes to your all out action affairs, and even though the movie itself was slated by almost everyone who saw it, the lead actors immense gravitational pull saw it land at number 3 in the all time ticket takings for gaming adaptations.

After we all got done smelling what The Rock and George were cooking we found something else to whet our appetites but unfortunately our next meal would not be an appetizing one. I previously touched on the Angry Birds sequel, and that was probably enough time spent focused on that if I'm being honest, that remained the sole notable gaming adaptation to hit the big screens in 2019 until a furry little detective caught all our imaginations in the adaptation Pokemon: Detective Pikachu. Ryan Reynolds did the voice work for the iconic character, it was well received by fans and critics, realising the world of Ryme City and the myriad of creatures that are contained within it with great effect and a sequel is already in development.

Although the dishes served up in 2019 were only partially palatable it wasn't the morsel we had already sampled that would really leave a bitter taste in our mouths, it was the one that was yet to come, that being the 2020 release of Sonic the Hedgehog, to say the initial reaction to Sonic was less than favourable would be me being very kind. When the teaser trailer first hit the masses the look of the titular hedgehog was met with bile and a fair amount of derision, so much so that the release of the movie was pushed back and the aesthetics of the blue speedrunner were taken into consideration.

This was a monumental move, as for the first time ever a major studio really listened to the fans, and they found themselves rewarded and then some. Sonic was met with positive reviews and did extremely well at the box office, also finding a home for itself amongst the top 10 earners in the history of gaming adaptations, and just like a hedgehog shaped phoenix Sonic rose from the ashes. It was not only a financial success, it looks like it was the first entry into a burgeoning franchise with the sequel slated for release in 2022. The impending follow ups for Detective Pikachu and now Sonic the Hedgehog proves that the future is getting brighter for gaming adaptations.

Adapting to the Future

Now a pattern is forming, the gaming adaptation was finally becoming a viable money maker for studios, all but one of the top 10 grossing movies based on video games have all been released in the past decade, and even though only a handful weren't slated on release they were still grabbing the public's attention. Now that the gaming adaptation was finally finding its bearings on the previously mentioned treacherous terrain of Hollywood, it would be through another medium that it would really come alive, one that has just gone through its own golden age, one that was a more natural fit from the get go, one that was not hampered by a 2 or 3 hour runtime, a medium that adhered to a longer form of storytelling, that medium being the one of T.V/streaming.

It is not very often that two separate mediums reach their pinnacles to such an extent that they can enhance one another in the way T.V/streaming and gaming have done, and that enhancement is already taking place. In 2017 Netflix would bring the beautifully Gothic world of Castlevania into our homes with visionary comic book writer Warren Ellis at the helm. Castlevania has been a huge success, it has found acclaim in all of the right circles, and has a 4th season on the way, which will unfortunately be Warren Ellis' last involvement in the project. The success of Castlevania has not only been important for itself, it has also gone a long way in opening up Netflix to the possibilities of other dormant I.P that lay in wait, ready to be stirred out of a long creative slumber.

Next up for Netflix was the adaptation of the hugely successful book series turned gaming franchise, the darkly fantastic The Witcher, with Superman Henry Cavill himself as the titular Witcher. Although the style of storytelling it employed was a little muddled, it was still an incredibly unique glimpse into a vast world that is just waiting to be explored, and we won't have to wait long to do that said exploring, as season 2 of The Witcher is already in production, and is scheduled to come out next year. That is not where the Netflix involvement in The Witcher series ends, there is also a prequel series The Witcher: Blood Origins in development from the streaming behemoths.

The positive reaction to both Castlevania and The Witcher has really given Netflix the gaming adaptation fever because currently there are no fewer than 10 gaming adaptations on the way from the powerhouse. Titles such as Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell and The Division will be getting the Netflix treatment, the former as an animated series and the latter as a live action film, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Netflix will also be taking us all back to Racoon City with two series from that franchise, once again taking a dual approach with Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness been a CG animated series and will soon be followed by a Resident Evil live action series that will reportedly remain truer to the source material than the previous movie adaptations.

Come One, Come All

These are not the only major titles that Netflix have awaiting us, there will also be a live action Assassin's Creed series, other titles such as Final Fantasy and Devil May Cry will also be finding their way onto the streaming platform, which sets up an absolutely huge period in the future of the gaming adaptation. That previously mentioned fruitful field looks like it is finally being harvested in the correct way, with its immense yield being put to use in the manner we all believed it could be once the right level of care was taken with the massive crop of titles. Netflix have surely immersed themselves in the gaming world but they aren't the only company that have decided to take the plunge, seeing the success that Netflix were having companies like HBO and Showtime have decided to get in on the act.

HBO will be taking the celebrated Naughty Dog title The Last of Us to its streaming service HBO Max with the creator Craig Mazin, the man behind the acclaimed miniseries Chernobyl taking on writing duties alongside the games creator Neil Druckmann. The involvement of Druckmann was given a massive endorsement from the die hard fans of the series and with Mazin's work on Chernobyl being given all the kudos it deserves, his participation has also excited the masses. The mini-series Chernobyl was magnificently captivating and it told real human stories, which are what lay at the core of The Last of Us. If handled correctly then this could be a landmark series for both HBO Max and gaming adaptations as a whole.

The adaptation of The Last of Us is not the only gaming titan to find its way onto its new medium, in the near future Showtime will be gearing up the Master Chief for a series based on what many believe to be Microsoft's magnum opus, the legendary Halo franchise. Steven Spielberg's Amblin production company will be partnering with Showtime to lift Halo from its developmental hell with a 9 episode series run next year, and with the master of the blockbuster helping to transform this epic tale I think we can all look forward to it with a fair amount of excitement. The stream of content---pun intended---coming our way is truly a massive moment in terms of the future of gaming adaptations and with the war for content across all platforms well on its way it can only bode well for the prospects of other I.P from the world of gaming making the crossover also.

The gaming adaptation seems to have found a very well suited home on its new format but the success of its future on both T.V/streaming remains to be seen, although from the outset the two mediums seem like a match made in heaven, in the same way the literary world has seen more and more of its adaptations landing on the small screen instead of the big, but the future of video game adaptations won't just be on one platform, it still has a bright future in the theatres too, and studios are still willing to bank on the ever more bankable properties.

The Future is Bright

There are a plethora of movie adaptations coming in the near future too, with new and established titles alike in development from studios all across the board. There are sequels on the way from the aforementioned franchises of Tomb Raider, Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, but there are also several new titles that are going to be making their big screen debuts over the coming years. Naughty Dog are going to see another one of their properties come to life with the Tom Holland led Uncharted, even though the casting of Holland as Nathan Drake has been met with some question marks, I think the vision Sony/Naughty Dog are going with might support the use of a younger Drake in the role, which also leaves the potential for a long series of movies a la what Marvel/Sony are currently doing with Holland in the Spiderman franchise.

Another title to make the jump from screen to screen is the adaptation of the Monster Hunter video game series. Milla Jovovich will be front and centre as the lead in another title that had its original home at developers Capcom, not unlike the Resident Evil franchise. This one could take a turn for the worse really quickly but as long as they have people hunting monsters with oversized weapons then I'll give it 2 thumbs up, but I would advise all to leave your brain at the door, as I think that this might be that kind of affair. These aren't the only big name titles that are slowly but surely making the move across mediums, Eli Roth is attached to bring the Borderlands series to life, Just Cause looks to be crossing the divide also with Jason Mamoa reportedly taking the lead in that one, Mortal Kombat will also return to cinemas after the Midway game series itself has proven to be a consistent money maker for Warner Bros.

The up and coming releases I mentioned here are just a portion of what is a mightily hefty meal, the wealth of riches that have been cast aside for so long are now well and truly being taken advantage of, but also they are being better appreciated by this new generation of creators that have grown up playing these games. There is a multitude of new worlds that will be gracing our screens in one way or another over the coming years, but there are still an untold amount of landscapes just waiting to be discovered and explored by new audiences that have never seen them before, and old fans that want to experience these characters and places in a whole new way. Taking all of these things into account with the ever changing landscape in how we digest our media/entertainment, we can look to the future, this time not with blind optimism but with real hope that the titles we have all come to love will be brought to life in a truly realised way that does service to the fans, both old and new and the most importantly to the source material.

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