Video Game Movies And TV Shows Finally Got Good In 2023
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Video Game Movies And TV Shows Finally Got Good In 2023



While 2023 was certainly a great year for movies and TV shows as a whole (unless you’re the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it was an especially great year for adaptations of our favorite video game franchises. As a prime example, Nintendo and Illumination Studios’ The Super Mario Bros. Movie hit theaters in April. It was hard to know if the movie was going to work, as even the casting of Chris Pratt stirred disdain among fans. Would they be willing to watch Super Mario on the big screen?

It turns out, they absolutely would. The Super Mario Bros. Movie would earn more than $1.3 billion at the box office, becoming the third-biggest animated feature ever–behind Disney’s Lion King remake and Frozen II. It’s also the highest-grossing video game movie of all time, and the second-biggest movie of 2023, domestically and worldwide. That’s a pretty dramatic change, compared to previous years.

“I think that part of the problem with translating games to movies is that the structure of what makes a good game is very different from the structure of what makes a good movie,” Super Mario and Legend of Zelda creator and all-around video game icon Shigeru Miyamoto said back in 2007, after years of bad adaptations that included 1993’s Super Mario Bros.

“Movies are a much more passive medium, where the movie itself is telling a story, and you, as the viewer, are relaxing and taking that in passively. Whereas video games are a much more active medium where you are playing along with the story,” he continued. “I think that video games, as a whole, have a very simple flow in terms of what’s going on in the game. We make that flow entertaining by implementing many different elements to the video game to keep the player entertained.”

Historically, video games have been a bit of a gamble, and Miyamoto’s explanation of why does hold some water–or at least it used to. As much as you might be nostalgic for Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil films, they weren’t good. Sure, they earned at the box office, but as the movies went on the connection to the games waned–and it wasn’t very strong to begin with. Fans still showed up for 2016’s Resident Evil: Final Chapter and it made more $300 million, despite it’s essentially Resident Evil in name only. Did fans not care about the source material or were they invested in this franchise’s separate narrative? It’s hard to say because over at Rotten Tomatoes, the score was decidedly rotten from critics and fans.

Anderson of course got the Resident Evil job due to the first Mortal Kombat movie becoming the most financially successful video game movie at the time. Outside of silly movies like those, we also had a string of terrible adaptations by Uwe Boll, Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider films, and even enjoyable schlock like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Some of these movies are fun (others definitely aren’t), but it’s hard to consider any of them wildly successful or as something that would stand the test of time. In fact, it wasn’t until 2019 that a video game movie (Detective Pikachu) earned a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Still, in the time since that movie, video game adaptations have been very hit or miss (remember Monster Hunter and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City?). That all leads to 2023, where Super Mario Bros. kicked off a great year for video game movies.

“We definitely had a blockbuster approach to making this movie. To me, this is a movie that’s been like 40 years in the making, you know, and I’ve always considered Mario more of an action game,” director Aaron Horvath told GameSpot back in April. “The characters look comedic, but the story is always high-stakes, you gotta save the princess or save the world or whatever in the game. So we wanted to reflect that action sensibility.”

Is that why well-made video game adaptations are finally on the upswing? It definitely seems more creatives want the end product to reflect and capture what the audience pulls from their collective consciousness on what they think of when these games come to mind. The sights, sounds, and music cues all play a part in the experience. That’s at least one area where the first live-action Mario movie failed with that level of detachment. Looking back on those botches as examples has led to filmmakers and game studios to be exponentially more careful throughout the creative process of bringing your favorite video games to life.

I’d like to think that the industry has learned from its mistakes in what makes an adaptation work and what doesn’t. While there is a generation of video game fans that grew up on movies based on beloved properties in name only, much like the ’90s comic book movie craze–Warner Bros.’s Steel is a perfect example–modern audiences expect something more than a vacant commercialistic cash grab. They definitely got that with Mario, but also on the small screen, too, at the beginning of the year.

Before The Super Mario Bros. Movie debuted, we got HBO’s live-action take on zombie survival series The Last of Us, which GameSpot has named the best TV show of 2023. While some story deviations had to be done to beef up the series–with some being huge, but adding more gravitas to the level of mourning the world experienced–fans couldn’t get enough of the show, and it was quickly renewed for a Season 2. The series was a huge part of the pop cultural zeitgeist and hard to ignore. You even had star Pedro Pascal dancing with clickers from the show on SNL commercials.

With examples like The Last of Us, Super Mario, and even shows like Peacock’s Twisted Metal and Netflix’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, what makes for a good video game adaptation is expanding. There’s a formula that takes the already established property and elevates it to a degree that not only makes the show engaging but triggers something in our brain that takes us back to when we first played that particular game.

Look at Five Nights At Freddy’s. Warner Bros. tried getting a movie going barely a year after the game’s initial release. In the meantime, seven sequels and five spin-off games have been released and its fanbase has been clamoring for more. A Five Nights movie would eventually land at Blumhouse and hit theaters and Peacock in late October. The feature would go on to be Blumhouse’s biggest movie of all time earning almost $300 million, even though it could be streamed from home on Peacock. It wasn’t because of an unending devotion to the game’s canon. Instead, the film used the story of the games to build out its own take on the events that unfold at the rundown and haunted pizzeria. It doesn’t disregard what fans know from the games, but remixed it to serve a new story.

Gran Turismo, based on the iconic racing video game series, took an entirely different route. Instead of being about the game, it was inspired by the real-life story of a Gran Turismo fan getting the chance to become an actual race car driver.

On the television side, you had Castlevania: Nocturne premiering on Netflix this past fall and being quickly renewed for a Season 2. That spin-off featured Richter Belmont, the protagonist of several Castlevania games and part of the overall story of Symphony of the Night. Nocturne fills in a lot of blanks of Richter’s lore and sits at Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% Metacritic score.

These movies and shows demonstrate that, while Miyamoto may have had an appropriate reaction when asked about video game adaptations nearly two decades ago, that’s no longer the case in 2023. Instead, now it’s basically a tightrope walk to meet fan expectations, while also giving viewers something more to latch onto. The thing about the The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which is produced by Miyamoto, is that it hit a lot of notes that we know are Mario things. Yes, Easter eggs are important to an extent and there are plenty of them to behold. However, those winks and nods don’t move the film’s plot along or make it “good.” If the Super Mario Bros. Movie was just an Easter egg buffet, it would be void of any real purpose and just another film on the pile of video game rubbish.

Hopefully, though, those days are over. There’s a level of reverence going into making really good video game movies that was missing before. In success, we can keep that sort of momentum and energy moving by the time we get to the Legend of Zelda live-action movie heading our way in a few years. From there, who is to say what could be next? We still have a plethora of franchises studios could bring to theaters and, through that, get a generation to find the games they’re based on and treasure them as we have. Plus at least a few more Sonic the Hedgehog movies.



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