What Sonic the Hedgehog is Getting Right About Video Game Movies


It’s no secret that for nearly as long as there have been video games, there have been flailing and desperate attempts to adapt the success of the interactive medium to the big screen. When hearing of an upcoming beloved gaming franchise making the leap to film, most react with low and cynical expectations, and rightfully so after decades of disappointing results.

However, one recent franchise managed to stand out amongst the forgettable bargain-bin fodder that came before, setting box office records and garnering a generally positive response from fans. Though while “generally positive” isn’t outstanding by any means, under the lens of video game movies, it’s pretty groundbreaking.

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sonic_the_hedgehog_Sony
Paramount Pictures

Sonic the Hedgehog was released on August 21, 2020, to unexpected financial and critical success, quickly becoming the highest grossing video game movie of all time. While the animated comedy is not without its flaws and critics, it still managed to be a generally competent and fun adventure, keeping a good balance of respecting the source material, while taking its own direction. Jim Carrey was also commended for his performance as the antagonist, Dr. Robotnik, with many citing him as the most enjoyable aspect of the film.

The sequel, being released on April 8, is set to feature much more of the characters and set pieces from the original games, further exciting fans to see what their childhood memories will look like interpreted in the movie’s established universe. Through all the success, however, it’s important to look back and note what Paramount has done right with the franchise, and what other video game adaptations could do to follow suit.


A False Start

Fans did not welcome the concept of a Sonic the Hedgehog movie with open arms right out of the gate. The idea of ​​yet another rushed, poorly planned and ill-conceived movie based off of a legacy video game franchise wasn’t exactly churning up excitement. It hadn’t been since 1996 that the hedgehog had been featured in a theatrical release, so viewers were cautiously curious to see how the new attempt would turn out, and for those more cynical, how it would be done wrong. When the first trailer dropped in April 2019, it lit up the internet with what many describe as the creepiest and most uncanny design for the lead character that could’ve possibly been made.

Visual designers at Paramount seemed to have missed the mark entirely, and fans made countless memes, corrections, and complaints all over social media. It was clear that the movie was set to be a laughingstock upon release, and the prime culprit was the main character’s look. In an unprecedented move, Paramount not only decided to delay the release of the film, but to completely redesign their Sonic from the ground up, undoing the finished animation work they had created and starting from scratch with a new designhoping to appeal to fans and defuse the mountains of ridicule they had received.

Half a year and endless animation crunch time later, Paramount released their second trailer for the animated adventure. Fans were relieved to see a design much more akin to the original games, and it seemed consensus toward the film had taken a complete 180. The massive amount of press received from not only the ghastly original design, but from juxtaposing it with the new corrected version created a groundswell of attention towards what may have been a relatively under-the-radar movie, and the excitement to see how the final product would turn out was palpable.


Sonic the Hedgehog
Paramount Pictures

After the release, most agreed that, while far from perfect, the adaptation was at the very least an inoffensive and decent enough popcorn flick for families to enjoy, setting a new golden standard for the otherwise despicable video game movie performances.

Related: New Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Poster Parodies The Batman

The Art of Listening

It is nowhere near common for large corporations in the media realm to show that they listen to fan feedback, and make corrections accordingly. The costly move by Paramount to change their design demonstrated that they were willing to admit where they went wrong, and rather than charging through and ignoring the critiques, made adjustments accordingly to provide an ultimately better viewing experience for those who were most likely to see the film: fans of the game.

No one is more excited about the prospect of a theatrical film being made for a video game than those who already have a deep adoration for playing it. The fans are often the first to point out mistakes or liberties being taken with the story, and can pretty easily sniff out when something is being made just to try to slap a pre-existing big name franchise on a film and calling it a day. Aspects such as this are what make Sonic the Hedgehog stand out from, for example, the recently released Uncharted movie.


Tom Holland
Sony Pictures Releasing

While a financial success thanks to the popularity of the Playstation franchise in general, Uncharted still managed to receive only middling to low reviews and scores from critics and audiences. Though not a dreadful performance, it does demonstrate how, with a lack of real focus and understanding of what makes the original brand stand out, an adaptation can just end up as a lame duck, destined to be forgotten with time.

At the end of it all, it’s a movie based off of a popular video game franchise, and the name of the game should be to just have fun with it. Taking the weight of a property too seriously, or in some cases not caring enough, can mark instant-death to any potential attempt for a decent adaptation. At the core of movies like Sonic The Hedgehogand even 2019s Detective Pikachu by extension, is a fun and simple idea that makes use of complimenting an existing franchise, rather than a shallow story relying solely on its brand recognition to garner excitement.

Related: God of War Live-Action Series Adaptation Reportedly Lands at Prime Video

Fast-Stepping in the Right Direction

The highly anticipated Sonic the Hedgehog 2 premieres in April, seemingly making steps to take the franchise closer to its source material. Fans are delighted to see the cast return to reprise their roles, as well as interesting new additions such as Idris Elba portraying Knuckles the Echidnawho will also be receiving his own spin off series on Paramount Plus. A third film is already greenlit to begin production as well, seemingly hoping to make the narrative into a trilogy.


Paramount continues to demonstrate their attentiveness towards critiques, particularly about their ad campaigns. When fans called into question the exclusion of voice actress Colleen O’Shaughnessey and actress Tika Sumpter’s names from the promotional poster, a replacement poster was created that included their credits. Though a relatively simple solution, it does still portray that there are people listening, and making genuine attempts to create a product that can be enjoyed by everyone.


Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Paramount Pictures

It may have been a pretty unlikely candidate to do so, but Sonic The Hedgehog managed to push boundaries and set a standard for the modern version of video game movies to follow. With lots of confirmed video game adaptation projects coming down the pipeline, viewers can only hope that the self-awareness and willingness to make changes that have been demonstrated by Paramount can be seen elsewhere in the industry. The world of video game movies will always be unsteady, however, as long as studios can understand their audiences and respect those with deep care for the brand, a blueprint for how to do it right is out there; it just took a speedy blue hedgehog to show the way.



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