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Here’s Why Video Game Movie Adaptations Often Disappoint Fans

Movie adaptations of other media have never been uncommon. However, video game adaptations seem to do the worst. Many novels, comics, and TV shows are brought to life all the time, and some of them have even created the biggest franchises out there right now, like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or Harry Potter. Even though there are several popular video game franchises, and some of them have been brought to life on the big screen already with even more on the waythey tend to be disappointing.

Of course, in terms of money, most video game movies are a success, which is why they keep being produced. Everyone wants to see how their beloved video games are brought to life, so everyone goes to see them. However, the reviews they receive are rarely positive. As Uncharted took the top spot in the box office its first two weekends, it received a widely mixed reaction, which is better than normal for most horribly-reviewed video game adaptations. Take a look at some reasons these game adaptations tend to go badly, and see what you think for yourself.


Jinx surrounded by smoke, holding one arm up as blue sparks fall around her.

One of the biggest reasons to make a big-screen adaptation of something is so that the audience can actually see the story coming to life. A video game already has all the visuals necessary to bring the story to life, so to turn it into something else just feels repetitive and, quite possibly, boring. Unless the creators are making a new story to engage the target audience – which would be the fans of the games who do already know the story – they might not feel any different from just putting all the game cutscenes together.

When Netflix made Arcanethey did not take League of Legends and try to turn that into a game, they took the characters and setting and gave the people the chance to see their backstories come to life. This could be the key to why it was such a roaring success. Instead of giving the audience an adaptation of what they already have or trying to write a similar story where the plot might really work better as a game, they took a look at the world and the characters and brought the audience something they had not yet seen that still fit the game’s legacy.

Related: Best Video Game Movie Adaptations, Ranked

Another issue with turning a game into a movie is the time. The stories games want to develop often take a lot longer to tell than just the average two hours of a movie, which is why they’re a game in the first place. Even an entire season of a TV show might not make up for it. Just to complete the story, it could take an entire day’s worth of time – 24 hours – to see the end of the game when the credits roll. Some games can be even longer. Shortening it to fit a movie sacrifices the smaller details that may not seem important, but actually help build on the characterization of someone, or help the world-building. Without them, it all feels flat.

Movie Adaptations Tend to Forget the Game’s Roots

Michael Fassbender with his arms spread out as he jumps from a tall building.
20th Century Fox

When a book is turned into a movie it is never perfect, as there are always things that need to be changed to better fit the screen. However, the writers tend to stick as close to the book as possible, especially to please the fans. While it’s clear that just adapting a game would not work, many creators of these adaptations seem to forget the foundations of the game, and the adaptation does not come out right, or they cobble the plot together by using several games at once.

Movies like Uncharted or Assassin’s Creed come from popular game franchises, but left fans disappointed after watching them. When they created their own storyline, it felt like they were trying to make another game. Some stories are just better suited for games, so to see them as movies does not bring the same thrill and excitement.

Uncharted seemed to take all the big action sequences from every game and put them together, forgetting that they were specific to each game for a reason. Assassin’s Creed looked at a franchise full of detailed stories set in different moments throughout time, and decided they only wanted the base of the story and not really what actually happens in the games, making it much too serious and forgetting the important, smaller moments they have. Even lead Michael Fassbender admits they missed the mark with it.

Though not perfect adaptations, movies like Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu did better with the audience, but why did they do better with stories of their own than the previous two? Both beloved franchises, they kept the spirit of the games alive but did not try to copy the game completely. They were sure to include many fan-favorite characters and characters the audience would recognize. By remembering the source material and why people enjoyed playing them, they were able to create their own stories that sat better with the audience.

Video Games are Meant to Be Interactive

A pikachu in a detective hat smiling up at the camera.
Warner Brothers Pictures

Obviously you would not play a video game just to sit there and watch the screen. There will always be something interactive that a passive movie adaptation would not have. However, what all these writers and directors seem to forget is that video games completely rely on those active interactions. They aren’t just there to push the story along, they are fundamental to the story.

Related: Here Are 5 Video Games That Would Make Great Live-Action Movie Adaptations

Take The Last Of Us as an example. HBO is currently in the process of adapting the game into a TV show. However, in this post-apocalyptic world, it might just end up feeling like any other zombie show out there. You watch as the characters sneak around in zombie-infested areas and only hope they make it out alive. However, when you’re actually playing it with the controls in your hands, it feels a lot more real. Suddenly it’s you trying to avoid being discovered by creatures like the terrifying Clickers, your heart pounding as you try your hardest to make it to your next objective without dying. They aren’t the same experience, and it’s the game version that really brings it home.

There are also many games that have no set path to follow, and your choices can change the outcome of the story. One such game rumored to have plans on a TV adaptation is Mass Effect. Every choice you make in the game has a reaction, some larger than others, meaning it is extremely difficult to make any two playthroughs exactly the same. By making a show adaptation, it would force the game into one path, leaving all the other options behind and removing the choices that make the game what it is.

Sometimes, it’s better to just leave games than games.

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