In 1993, “Super Mario Bros.,” the first major movie based on a video game, was marketed with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game.” Despite the film’s disastrous performance both critically and commercially, it absolutely lives up to the slogan. “Super Mario Bros.” is nothing like the games it’s based on. This film began the curse that is video game movies, and since ‘93, countless beloved video game franchises have received their very own theatrical embarrassment. From “Street Fighter” to “The Angry Birds Movie,” video game movies have just never been very good.
One of the main reasons video game movies consistently fail is that storylines in the games themselves often aren’t very interesting. A story about birds who fight pigs to save their eggs is fun on the handheld screen of an iPhone, but just doesn’t work for an hour and thirty minutes on the big screen.
These movies often go through identity crises when drastically altered from their original mediums. In 2001, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was released, featuring a cast full of new characters. These changes might’ve aimed to cater to more to the tastes of general audiences, but they only make the film more ridiculous. Lara fights against the Illuminati, who she must stop from finding an ancient artifact and gaining the power of time travel. The movie was received middlingly by viewers, but received a zero out of five stars from ING, a popular gaming news outlet, calling it “unbearable.” This begs the question: who are these movies even for?
Modern video game movies have improved, but still don’t really make the cut. Though 2019’s “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” was well received, its praises were mainly focused on its depictions of the franchise’s iconic creatures rather than actual content. Three years later, the movie is ultimately unmemorable, falling into irrelevance as Pokémon explores other ventures.
The genre’s most recent successes, the “Sonic the Hedgehog” films of 2020 and 2022, were both received positively by general audiences and hardcore fans alike. But while the Jim Carrey-led action comedies are alright, they’re plain average within the wider category of children’s movies. This is where modern video game movies have found their niche, as inoffensive but uncreative entertainment for the whole family.
Video game movies have a rocky history, starting in the ‘90s with bizarrely horrible comedies, and continuing today as dull family movies. Mario, Mr. Video Game himself, will throw his cap back into the ring next year with “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” to be portrayed by Chris Pratt. The iconic Italian character might star in the first truly great video game movie, but the history that he jumpstarted in the first place foretells otherwise.