Despite currently sitting at 21% on Rotten Tomatoes (including a less-than-glowing review from our very own Ben Kendrick), Resident Evil: Afterlife was number one at the box office last weekend and already has sequel on the way. What does this say about us and videogame movies? Are we as a people so desperate to see our treasured videogames translated to the silver screen that we’re willing to ignore awful reviews and years of cinematic abuse for a fourth helping of pain and suffering? The answer, apparently, is yes.
Sure, sometimes videogame movies make money, but there has never been a videogame movie that was at once financially successful, critically successful, and popular amongst the fans. Heck, I can’t even recall a single videogame movie that was either A) critically successful or B) overwhelmingly popular with fans, and Hollywood has been making these things for the past two decades.
One of the many problems, in my opinion, is that movie studios continue to adapt games that are themselves far too heavily influenced by movies. Mortal Kombat was just Enter the Dragon with magic. Resident Evil was just Night of the Living Dead with more guns. Doom was just Aliens without a single moment of tension. And Prince of Persia was just Aladdin with white people.
The following top ten list includes the videogames that should be made into movies precisely because they’re so unique. Not just as videogames or movies, but as stories, as concepts, as fully-developed worlds, and as stylistic expressions. Certain games were left off the list due to the fact that they’re already in-development (Mass Effect and World of Warcraft, for example), while others were left off for their heavy reliance on movie references and/or cinematics (Grand Theft Auto, Uncharted, and Metal Gear Solid, to name a few). That, and there were only ten slots.
Check out our list of ten unique videogames that could be awesome movies:
10. The Longest Journey
Funcom’s The Longest Journey was a moderately successful point-and-click adventure game that came out immediately in the wake of the so-called “death” of adventure games. In it, you control April Ryan, an art student living in the futuristic, high-tech world of Stark, who has dreams about a fantasy realm called Arcadia filled with dragons and mermaids and monsters and more. Or…are they dreams?
Eventually, April learns that she’s a shifter—a being who can traverse between the two worlds known as Stark and Arcadia. Stark, a world steeped in science and technology. Arcadia, a world steeped in magic and miracles. Whether she likes it or not, it’s April’s job to restore the balance between these two worlds before it’s too late.
The Longest Journey combines the best parts of both science-fiction and high-fantasy, which is why two drastically different filmmakers would be necessary to realize it. First, think James Cameron—king of sci-fi. Second, think Guillermo del Toro—while not exactly “king” of fantasy (yet), he’s really, really good at it. These two renowned filmmakers are already working together on At the Mountains of Madness, so why not tackle The Longest Journey in their spare time?
Now imagine Zooey Deschanel as April Ryan and all that’s necessary to get this film off the ground is to actually convince the filmmakers that it’s worth doing. Shouldn’t be too hard.
9. Fear Effect
Eidos’ Fear Effect is a survival horror game in the vein of Resident Evil and, to a lesser degree, Silent Hill. In terms of gameplay, it didn’t try to push any boundaries (unless being awesome is a boundary) – don’t fix what isn’t broken, I guess? What it did do, however, was craft a really creepy, atmospheric and interesting tale—a combination of the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi genres—with great characters and an unparalleled visual flair.
In the not-too-distant future, you control three mercenaries—Hana, Glas, and Deke—on the hunt for the runaway daughter of the head of the Chinese Triad (or something). You aren’t out to save her, per se; you just want to find her so you can collect your reward or, if necessary, your ransom. Before you know it, Hana and her mercenary friends find themselves in the middle of an ancient Chinese horror story, with hook-handed demons, monsters made of paper, and green zombies galore.
At one point, the nefarious Uwe Boll wanted to direct the film adaptation of this forgotten gem of a game, much to my intense chagrin. (Which isn’t saying much—at one point, Boll threatened to adapt every videogame in existence.) Thankfully, such an atrocity never came to fruition, leaving the game wide open for a director who actually knows what he or she is doing.
For my money, Sam Raimi would be perfectly suited to take up the reigns. He’s the master of highly-stylized horror movies and I’d love to see his take on Chinese folklore with a cyber punk backdrop. Throw in Maggie Q. as Hana, Bruce Campbell as Glas, and Hugo Weaving as Deke, and Fear Effect the movie is good to go – just so long as the filmmakers don’t slap the dreaded PG-13 rating on it.
8. Chrono Trigger
Squaresoft’s Chrono Trigger is probably the company’s most famous RPG game after Final Fantasy. In fact, it’s basically a Final Fantasy game…but with time travel! That might sound like I’m being sarcastic and therefore mocking the game, but I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth.
After a crazy experiment goes wrong, Chrono and his friends (a tough-as-nails princess, a neurotic science geek, a sensitive robot, and a sword-wielding frog) find themselves traveling through time to the prehistoric ages, the Middle Ages, the post-apocalyptic future, and else-when. Epic adventures, random battles, and leveling-up ensues.
Imagine a Chrono Trigger animated by Pixar—and, more specifically, directed by Brad Byrd (The Incredibles). Since Finding Nemo, Pixar has continually branched out in terms of subject matter. With The Incredibles, they covered superheroes; with Wall-E, they covered the future, robots, obesity, and global warming; with Up, they covered the elderly; currently, they’re helping with Andrew Stanton’s adaptation of the classic John Carter of Mars and they may, in the near future, adapt a Marvel comic book. I’m just saying, can a videogame be too far behind?
7. Beyond Good and Evil
Ubisoft’s Beyond Good and Evil was, for my taste, the surprise hit of 2003. Unfortunately, it came out at the same time as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and was subsequently, and undeservedly, overlooked—but not, however, forgotten. Almost ten years later, the game is so beloved by its small but ardent group of fans that Ubisoft is in the process of producing a sequel called…wait for it…Beyond Good and Evil 2.
The original takes place a few hundred years in the future on the mining planet Hyllys—which, obviously, is somewhere deep in the far reaches of space. For years, Hyllys has been under constant attack by the DomZ, an evil alien race hell-bent on eating or enslaving every living creature on Hyllys. Unfortunately, the Alpha Sections, Hyllys’ supposed protectors, cannot seem to protect its citizens from any meaningful attack. You control Jade, a photojournalist and martial arts expert who, along with her friend and mentor Pey’j (a giant pig-man), plunge themselves headfirst into this conspiracy to find out what’s really going on. Are the Alpha Sections and the Domz in cahoots? Or are they—dear heavens, let’s hope not—one and the same?
My synopsis doesn’t really do the game justice. What makes Beyond Good and Evil so special is its characters, its emotion, its mystery, and its whimsy. You’re totally immersed in this completely alien world as you unravel the most horrific conspiracy in the history of conspiracies. Plus, did I mention there’s a giant and endearing pig-man?
Because Beyond Good and Evil is a French game, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie) would be the perfect choice to direct it. And since Jeunet’s directing, it’s only fitting that Audrey Tatou play Jade, Danny Devito play Pey’j (because he looks and sounds the part), and Jean Reno play Double-H, Jade’s helpful, if stupid, partner later in the game.
6. Full Throttle
Lucasarts’ Full Throttle was another a point-and-click adventure game back when such things were cool. Set in the near future in some barren desert out west, Full Throttle was, thematically-speaking, about the future encroaching on the past: in with the hover cars, out with the engines and motorcycles. You play Ben, the leader of a motorcycle gang called the Pole Cats, the toughest and meanest (but nonetheless honest and loyal) motorcycle gang on the road.
Meanwhile, Michael Corley, owner of Corley Motors—the last domestic motorcycle manufacturer in business—is on the road with his sleezy, money-grubbing vice president, Adrien Ripburger. When he sees the Polecats’ bikes outside of a highway bar, he stops to have some drinks with them and make friends. Unfortunately, after befriending Ben and his gang, Malcom is murdered out back by his vice president, who promptly frames Ben for the act.
It’s basically the classic Hitchcockian trope of the man wrongfully accused and on the run from everyone – only, in the future and with lots of motorcycles. And barfights. And very violent road rage. Etc…
If I had my druthers, John Carpenter would direct this Full Throttle movie with a massive budget and crew at his beck and call. Of course, that would mean Kurt Russell would star as Ben alongside Kristen Bell as Maureen Corley (Malcom’s daughter) and Sam Elliot as Malcom. Conversely, if the above director and cast are considered too “old” for those young Hollywood studio folk, I would suggest that Edgar Wright direct with a cast including Chris Evans as Ben, Kristen Bell (still) as Maureen, and Sam Elliott (still) as Malcom.
If you’ve never played Full Throttle, do yourself a favor and find it on Amazon as quickly as possible.
5. Final Fantasy VII
Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VII, the videogame single-handedly responsible for popularizing the console RPG, is the most successful Final Fantasy for a reason. Combining fantasy elements with cyber punk/science-fiction trappings, the story is epic, the characters plentiful, and the visuals mind-boggling. It’s basically the Japanese Lord of the Rings, although I probably shouldn’t be saying that because I know very little about Japanese culture. Cloud Strife, Final Fantasy VII’s protagonist, is the most recognizable Final Fantasy character ever, if not as recognizable as Mario, Link, Sonic, and the rest.
Set in a dystopian future of sorts, the story follows Cloud, a bleach-blonde mercenary, and a group of activists who try to stop Shinra, a mega-corporation responsible for sucking the life out of the planet as a means of producing energy for their cars and microwaves and technological what have you. Eventually, a megalomaniac named Sephiroth, created by Shinra during an experiment with an extraterrestrial lifeform, decides to become a god, destroy the mega-corporation that wrought him, and take control of the planet. Cloud and his buddies eventually come to the conclusion that this would probably not be good for anyone and try to stop him.
The Wachowski Siblings, who once upon a time tried to make their own awesome videogame (and failed), were born to make Final Fantasy VII into a trilogy of movies. Say what you will about The Matrix and its sequels—or even Speed Racer—those films are proof positive that an adaptation like this would be right up the Wachowskis’ alley. Imagine Jared Leto as Cloud, Common as Barret Wallace, Emma Roberts as the doomed Aeris, and Jason Isaacs as Sephiroth, then throw in an epic, soaring music score and some giant swords and you’ve got easily the best Final Fantasy film ever made (which isn’t saying all that much considering The Spirits Within and Advent Children were both pretty bad).
4. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is possibly the most unusual game in the entire Zelda library, which is precisely why it found its way onto this list. Implementing gorgeous ‘cartoon’ visuals via cell-shading, it was immediately chastised by fanboys at that year’s E3 for being too ‘young-looking.’ As we all know, fanboys love their videogames, movies, and comic books to be all dark, all the time. Despite initial concerns, Wind Waker was extremely well-received by both fans and critics upon release, and it’s one of the few Zelda games to produce a direct sequel.
Whereas the typical Zelda game found our hero, Link, battling monsters and bad guys in the magical medieval kingdom of Hyrule, in servitude to the perpetually-imperiled Princess Zelda (your typical fantasy tale, really), Wind Waker finds Link searching for his kidnapped sister in a Hyrule made almost entirely of water. As young Link, you boat around—on a talking boat, mind you—from island to island, fighting goblin pirates in constant search of your kidnapped kin. Zelda, of course, plays a large part, but she’s more a pirate than a princess.
Imagine if Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo) and Studio Ghibli adapted this, the most creative Zelda game of the past ten years, into an animated, seafaring, action-adventure film for the whole family. Then, for the American release, Disney could hire a whole bunch of adorable-sounding children to voice the characters, as is their wont. Frankly, I would be onboard with all of this and more.
3. The Half-Life Series
Valve’s Half-Life series is widely considered to be one of the best videogame series of all time—it’s creatively and technically groundbreaking, incredibly well-written, and utterly entertaining all the while.
You control Gordon Freeman, a scientist recently recruited to work for the top-secret government facility known as Black Mesa, as an experiment goes awry that inadvertently opens a dimensional rift between the lab and an alien world called Xen. Soon the lab is overrun by all manner of hostile creatures, in addition to a government hit squad sent to silence any scientist survivors, Freeman included. After saving the day and defeating the Xen overlord, Gordon Freeman is hired by a strange man known only as “G-Man,” who immediately puts him into stasis…for twenty years.
Once Freeman is released, the world – and by the world I mean the human race – has been conquered by the Combine, another alien species and enemy of the Xen, that used the Black Mesa incident to find Earth. After Freeman comes into contact with his old scientist pals from Black Mesa, he joins the resistance and becomes the face for human rebellion in a scenario that’s more reminiscent of World War II than, say, Star Wars.
Recently, Valve spoke about their interest in personally making a Half-Life movie, as opposed to selling the rights to a Hollywood studio that wouldn’t do the story justice. Since there’s nothing official as of yet, we felt it was acceptable to include Half-Life on the list you’re currently perusing. So without further adieu:
In my opinion, an inspired choice for director would be Paul Verhoeven, a filmmaker who’s no stranger to the strange (Total Recall, Starship Troopers) or World War II for that matter (Black Book). Then imagine Guy Pearce as Gordon Freeman, Rosario Dawson as Alyx Vance, and Steve Buscemi as the creepy, almost omniscient G-Man, and you’ve got yourself a Half-Life movie.
2. The Monkey Island Series
Lucasarts’ Monkey Island series of adventure games is, without a doubt in my mind, the funniest and weirdest series of videogames in gaming history. You control Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate and the lovable loser of the story, as he tries and tries and tries (and fails and fails and fails) to become a badass cutthroat pirate, all whilst falling in love with Governor Elaine Marley and constantly battling the ghost/zombie/demon (depending on the game) pirate, LeChuck. Those unfamiliar with Monkey Island will probably write it off as Pirates of the Carribbean-lite, but nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, the games are primarily about pirating, not unlike Pirates of the Carribean. Sure, the games were (to a degree) inspired by that infamous Disney ride, also not unlike Pirates of the Carribbean.
But unlike Pirates, Monkey Island isn’t about action, adventure, and popcorn thrills – at least not in the conventional sense. In point of fact, the only action involves Guybrush getting his ass handed to him time and again. The character is a moron, a weakling, and an aloof, incompetent pirate reject, plain and simple. But he’s also very lucky, very likable, very handy, and he can hold his breath under water for ten minutes. You’d be surprised how often that comes in handy.
Monkey Island, above all else, is a bizarre satire of every pirate-related book, play, movie, and theme-park-ride known to man, which is why a director like Wes Anderson would be perfect at the helm. Imagine Owen Wilson as Guybrush, Emily Blunt as Elaine, Gary Oldman as LeChuck, Jason Schwartzman as Wally B. Freed, Will Arnett as Stan the sleazy salesman, Bill Murray as Herman Toothrot, Willem Dafoe as Murray the Demonic Talking Skull…
And last but not least, Queen Latifah as the Voodoo Lady.
I don’t care if this movie exists solely in my head, I’m already jittery at the thought of it.
1. Grim Fandango
Lucasarts’ Grim Fandango is a gaming masterpiece, which is probably why it’s my favorite videogame of all time—I play it about once every year and it’s always like I’m playing it for the very first time. The art design is amazing, the music is moving and memorable, the story is incredible, the dialogue is hilarious, the characters are fantastic and well-drawn, and the game itself is about as perfect as they come (with the exception of some minor control issues). For every time a person says, ‘Videogames can’t be art,’ I say, ‘You haven’t played Grim Fandango.’
Grim Fandango (1998) was the last vestige of the truly awesome adventure games in the vein of Monkey Island and Full Throttle (indeed, it was created by the man behind Full Throttle, the esteemed Tim Schafer). You control Manny Calevera—a grim reaper of sorts—whose job is to guide dead souls from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Dead, where Grim’s story takes place. Basically, you’re a government travel agent who sells travel packages (based on the quality of their life) to recently deceased souls for their four-year-long “journey of the soul.”
Manny, a walking skeleton himself, eventually gets embroiled in a corrupt plot by gangsters working with the DOD to steal every goodhearted soul’s golden ticket on the #9 train straight to heaven. He joins forces with the Lost Souls Alliance—an underground resistance—to thwart the villains while never giving up his search for his one lost love, Mercedes “Meche” Colomar.
One part film Noir, one part comedy, one part Gothic horror, with a style that combines art deco, Tim Burton, and Mexican folklore, Grim Fandango would easily make the greatest stop-motion movie since The Nightmare Before Christmas. Imagine if Henry Sellick and Alfonso Cuarón (hell, why not Tim Schafer, too) joined forces to direct the original voice actors—Tony Plana, Maria Canals-Barrera, Alan Blumenfeld, etc.—and just try not to drench yourself in sweat and salivation. Too late for me.
And the best part? A successful movie could mean—gasp—a sequel to the game itself! I’m officially having a panic attack here.
So, readers, did we miss anything? Are there other unique videogames you could imagine being awesome movies? Don’t just go for the obvious choices, dig deep and let us know about unexpected choices that could truly make for a memorable cinematic experience.