For some time now it has appeared as if studios have been moving away from original ideas, and relying more heavily on established stories for franchise fare. This is not necessarily surprising. Franchise films command enormous budgets, which require even larger receipts at the box office. The stakes become so high that it is simply less risky to adapt a franchise with built in fans, than it is to create original big budget stories.
So it is unsurprising that Hollywood has long looked to capitalize on the immense popularity of video games. But, perhaps counter intuitively, these adaptations have been historically lackluster at the box office. Still, studios continue to try and mine these properties as a lifting point for new franchise films. For example, Warcraft was released last summer, and we will soon see Minecraft, Uncharted, and another Tomb Raider (now starring Alicia Vikander). The next big video adaptation to be released is Fox's Assassin's Creed (starring Michael Fassbender).
So, what type of success could we be looking at for Assassin's Creed? Here are the 16 Highest-Grossing Video Game Movies Of All Time for comparison. The forthcoming list is organized by worldwide gross since international tallies are uncharacteristically higher with this genre (and the domestic grosses, frankly, are pretty sad).
17 Street Fighter ($99.42 million)
One of the earliest attempts at adapting a popular video game was the Jean-Claude Van Damme-starring Street Fighter. The 1994 film was loosely base on Capcom's immensely successful Street Fighter II arcade game. Like many video game adaptations, Street Fighter was not terribly successful at the domestic box office. On a reported $35 million budget, the film grossed just $33 million domestically. However, the film redeemed itself in the international box office at a time before foreign film markets were the behemoth they are today. Adding $66 million from its international release, Street Fighter earned just under $100 million worldwide, ultimately making the film a success.
Perhaps to the dismay of Capcom and Universal Pictures, Street Fighter did not serve as the launching point of a new franchise. Like many films based on popular video games, Street Fighter failed to replicate the finer points of the game, and was ultimately torn to shreds by critics. Filmmakers continue to struggle with reconciling what makes a video game successful with what makes a film do the same.
16 Hitman ($99.97 million)
A video game franchise which on paper seems to lend itself well to film is Hitman. The popular stealth video game series, which follows the hitman 47, has all the makings for an exciting action-packed thriller. A film based on the franchise could have been made in the same vein as Taken, but rather (though produced by Taken's Luc Besson) the Timothy Olyphant-starring film was a stale shoot-em-up with no real substance. Hitman's box office tally reflected this, as the film earned just under $100 million worldwide, on a budget reported to be in the high eight figures.
Like Street Fighter, Hitman earned roughly two-thirds of its box office receipts from international markets. The film was meant to launch a new thrilling franchise for Fox, but after poor reception and a light total at the box office, the studio instead decided to reboot the series with Hitman: Agent 47. Hitman: Agent 47 turned out to be even worse, though did earn a profit on a more respectable $35 million budget. That film, which was slated to star the late Paul Walker, ultimately starred Homeland's Rupert Friend in the title role.
15 Resident Evil ($102 million)
Perhaps the most successful video game franchise to date began with Resident Evil, starring Milla Jovovich. The film, much like the video game series, deals with the consequences of the breakout of the zombie-creating T-virus, and the individuals who try to contain the outbreak. Made on a modest $33 million, Resident Evil turned out to be a success, with $102 million worldwide-- $60 million of which came from foreign markets.
Despite ultimately mixed to negative reactions from critics, Resident Evil, was, unlike the previous two films on our list, able to launch a franchise for Sony. And the fanbase was able to grow for each Resident Evil film, as all five will be making appearances on this list. And while not creating a mega franchise by any means, Sony has created one of the few successful video game franchises. Something no doubt Fox hopes to replicate with December's Assassin's Creed.
14 Mortal Kombat ($122 million)
Like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat would appear to be the perfect source material for an action packed and thrilling film adaptation. And in reality, Mortal Kombat was a fairly successful film. Released in 1995, Mortal Kombat hit theaters before the massive uptick in the international box office. Thus, if the same film were released today, there is little doubt that it would improve on the $50 million earned from foreign markets.
Mortal Kombat's domestic take is much more impressive. Believe it or not, the film's $70 million at the domestic box office, ranks it 5th all time among video game adaptations. If we take inflation into account, that number nearly doubles to $139 million. Ultimately, the film's $120 million worldwide was a success for the New Line film made on a budget reported to be in the low eight figures. And, the tally was good enough to launch a sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Unfortunately, New Line pressed their luck on that one, and the sequel bombed with just over $50 million worldwide.
13 Resident Evil: Apocalypse ($129 million)
Do you know what it is a good time for? Another Resident Evil film on this list. The second installment of the successful video game film franchise is Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Set just a month after the original film, Apocalypse returned with Milla Jovovich as the lead, and picked up with the investigation into the contamination at the Umbrella Corporation. Much like the original film, Apocalypse was made on a modest budget; this time, $45 million. The sequel improved on its predecessor's gross both domestically and internationally, with a total global tally of $129 million.
Much like its predecessor, Resident Evil: Apocalypse was largely dismissed by the critics, but received enough fanfare to spawn another sequel (which spawned another sequel, and.. .you get it). The Resident Evil series has thus far remained largely successful by combining two genres (video game movie and horror), and thus attracting a larger audience to the theater than some of the other less successful gamer films.
12 Pokemon: The Movie 2000 ($140 million)
As evident by the summer craze around Pokemon Go, it is clear that this franchise remains a global phenomenon. Now, to be clear, including Pokemon films as video game adaptations, may be a slight stretch of the definition, as the series is known for its television series, trading cards, mobile games, etc. However, the initial Gameboy games were so successful in the US that, at the time of release, these films were largely video game adaptations.
The kid-friendly, G-rated film was made on just $30 million, and ultimately grossed $43 million in the states. The film, which was pretty much panned, was always going to earn the lion's share of its money abroad, and grossed over 6 billion yen in Japan. Today, that would be about $60 million. While successful, Pokemon: The Movie 2000 was unable to replicate the success of the first film in the franchise (though did earn a bit more abroad).
11 Resident Evil: Extinction ($148 million)
Hey look, another Resident Evil film. Liking to stay in neat chronological order, the third Resident Evil film, Extinction, comes in just ahead of the previous two films in the franchise. Again starring Milla Jovovich, the film came out about even with its predecessor domestically, while adding almost $20 million more internationally. Much like its predecessors, Extinction begins with Jovovich's Alice in a disoriented state, though this time she is a clone. And despite the lack of originality in the third installment of the franchise, Extinction did enough to turn another profit, and spawn another sequel.
The film, again much like its predecessors, was received mostly negatively by critics, but franchise fatigue had not yet set in - as will be evident by more entries on this list. It seems that a zombie apocalypse featuring a strong female heroine is a decent model for success in the video game adaptation business.
10 Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life ($156 million)
Another video game franchise that on paper lends itself well to a film adaptation is Tomb Raider. The franchise, which follows the adventures of archeologist Lara Croft, offers the opportunity for a swashbuckling adventure in the same vein as Indiana Jones. Further, Lara Croft's adventures are in present day, making for a different experience than the beloved Indy films. It also does not hurt that Lara Croft is one of the earliest examples of a video game sex symbol, increasing her popularity, and thus helping to attract real life sex symbol Angelina Jolie to the title role.
Unfortunately, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life was not quite as successful as its predecessor, grossing a respectable $156 million worldwide, but on a budget just south of $100 million. This sequel saw Jolie's Croft seeking Pandora's Box, with Gerard Butler joining the actress. And despite not earning as much as the first film, Cradle of Life's $90 million from foreign markets did initially lead Paramount to pursue a third film. Unfortunately for fans of the character, Jolie backed out, and the film never came to pass.
Lara Croft will, however, return to the big screen in 2018, when Alicia Vikander takes over the title role in the film Tomb Raider.
9 Pokemon: The First Movie ($163 million)
The first film adaptation of the immensely popular Pokemon franchise was a no-brainer. Made on a reported budget of around $30 million, the film came at a time where the the franchise could not have been any more popular. There was an incredibly successful anime program, handheld games that literally every child was playing (and skipping class to do battle), and trading cards that put your baseball card collection to shame.
Released in the US just a year before its sequel, Pokemon: The First Movie grossed an incredible $85 million at the domestic box office. And while that number may not jump off the page, what makes it incredible was the film's genre. Not only could the movie be considered a video game adaptation, but also, as anime, the track record for success was low. In fact, Pokemon: The First Movie's $85 million domestically ranks it as the highest grossing anime ever, and the fourth highest grossing video game adaptation domestically.
8 Need for Speed ($203 million)
In 2014, just one year after his universally acclaimed role as Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad, Aaron Paul starred in Disney's Need For Speed, based on the racing game of the same name. This film had a lot of hurdles to success from the beginning. Not only was this a video game adaptation, a genre which, as discussed, notoriously underperforms, but the film also occupied the racing genre. The car racing genre is historically even worse than video game adaptations at the box office. If you take away the Fast & Furious franchise (which is hardly a racing franchise anymore) only three movies in the genre have crossed $100 million domestically. Those films are Cars 1 & 2 (which come with Pixar branding) and Will Ferrell's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
So, predictably, despite being based off of a popular racing game franchise, Need For Speed was largely unsuccessful at the box office. On a budget just south of $70 million, the Aaron Paul-starring film grossed an abysmal $43 million domestically. The film was saved, like many on this list, by the international box office, where Need For Speed grossed over 75% of its $203 million. The film was also largely dismissed by the critics, but due to the success abroad, a sequel is not out of the question.
7 Resident Evil: Retribution ($240 million)
The fifth film in the Resident Evil franchise, and the most recent release, Resident Evil: Retribution, continued the series' trend of success at the international box office. While Retribution's $42 million at the domestic box office is only a few million above the original film (which is the lowest tally domestically), the international tally was a pretty massive $197 million (huge for a video game adaptation), which is good for second best in the series of action-horror films. Further, the film's $240 million worldwide is nearly four times its $65 million budget, making the film a success, and earning a greenlight on the final installment, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
Much like the previous installments in the franchise, Retribution stars Milla Jovovich as Alice, and features no shortage of gun-slinging and zombie violence. Again, the Umbrella Corporation is at the center of the conflict, with Alice's former ally Jill (played by Sienna Guillory) taking on an antagonistic role. And despite more negative reviews from the critics, this is one franchise that continues to prove it is relatively review-proof.
6 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($274 million)
The first film based off the popular Tomb Raider series of video games is Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie as the titular character. Released in 2001, the film has lasted over fifteen years as the highest grossing video game adaptation at the domestic box office. In fact, with $131 million domestically, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider lasted fifteen years as the only film based on a video game to cross $100 million at the domestic box office (you see why we had to include international numbers in this list).
Tomb Raider was released at a point where there was a real shortage in action heroines, and Lara Croft was a character easily able to attract all genders to the theaters. The film was released long before The Hunger Games series, Divergent, Lucy, and other action films with prominent female characters. In fact, at the time of its release only one film featuring an action heroine out-grossed Tomb Raider. That film was James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, considered by some to be the greatest action movie of all time.
As previously aforementioned, Tomb Raider did spawn a sequel with Jolie reprising her role, but poor reception (as well as Jolie's lack of interest) has led the franchise to remain dormant for a decade. Oscar winner Alicia Vikander will take up the mantle in 2018.
5 Resident Evil: Afterlife ($296 million)
This is not a drill, we have finally come to the last Resident Evil film on this list. Resident Evil: Afterlife is the fourth film in the zombie series, and to date, the highest grossing film in the franchise. On a $60 million budget, Afterlife became the first film in the series to cross $60 million domestically (by a hair), and added a whopping $236 million from international markets to bring its worldwide total to just a shade under $300 million.
So, why was Afterlife so successful when compared to the other films in the same series? Was it because of its adoration from the critics? Nope. Like most films in the Resident Evil franchise, Afterlife barely cracked 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. What Afterlife did have was the benefit of being released in 3D and IMAX 3D right when that format was booming (remember Alice in Wonderland?). As the first film in the franchise to be shot and released in 3D, Afterlife was able to take advantage of inflated ticket prices and earn the franchise's best returns at the box office. No secret to success here.
4 Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ($336 million)
Despite the lack of success at the box office from a litany of video game adaptations, Disney felt they could defy the odds with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Armed with Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and illustrious producer Jerry Bruckheimer (the man behind Top Gun, Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys, and National Treasure), this action adventure seemed like a sure thing. So much so that Disney dished out a reported $200 million to get this film made!
The film ultimately received mixed reviews, though was praised by some as being a generally entertaining action adventure. However, that mixed praise was not enough to lift this film to success. On that reported $200 million budget, Prince of Persia could not cross $100 million domestically, though it was able to make up some of that budget with $240 million from international markets. (Note: for the most part, films need to at least double their budget to earn a profit).
On paper, this is a film that should have worked. The star power was there. So were the visual effects. Unfortunately the film did not add much of anything original, and thus failed to lure general moviegoers to the theater. This is a film where word of mouth likely hurt the outcome. Had Prince of Persia garnered stronger reviews we would likely be looking at the start of another lucrative franchise for Disney. But alas, it was not meant to be.
3 The Angry Birds Movie ($349 million)
Released just a few months ago, The Angry Birds Movie was based on the popular and addictive mobile game that landed many students in detention (for playing during class, of course) and perhaps even more adults in hot water at work. For others, it was the reason for those strangely long trips to the restroom. The Angry Birds movie proved popular enough to become only the second film based off a video game to cross $100 million domestically. Made on a budget reported to be just over $70 million, Angry Birds did its most damage at the international box office, where the film brought in an additional $241 million.
While the film was not a runaway hit by any means (could you imagine if a Pixar or Illumination film grossed just $349 million?), the film did earn enough for Sony to begin plans on a sequel. And as is evident by this list, that is no easy task for a video game adaptation.
2 Warcraft ($433 million)
This entry may be a surprise to some, as probably very few of you reading this went to see Warcraft in theaters. But this final film on our list exemplifies how important the foreign box office has become. Despite earning just over $47 million domestically (horrifyingly terrible for a film with a $160 million budget), Warcraft was saved by the world's second largest film market; China, where the movie earned a whopping $220 million of its total $386 million international haul.
Due to Warcraft's strange performance at the box office, Legendary Pictures and Blizzard Entertainment have found themselves in a bit of a pickle. How can you abandon plans of a franchise when the film almost earned $500 million worldwide? On the other hand, how could you possibly consider a sequel to a film that earned $120 million less than its budget domestically? This oddity has left open the possibility that a sequel to Warcraft could find itself without a U.S. release, with attention paid entirely to China. Pretty amazing for the highest grossing video game adaptation ever.
1 Assassin's Creed
So, after looking through some of the better performing films based off of video games, what can we expect from Assassin's Creed, which will be released in just about two months? Judging by the films previously mentioned, we may notice that the best performing ones were those that predominately followed one protagonist. It could be said that films based off of largely single-player video games are most successful. Resident Evil, Lara Croft, and Prince of Persia are all examples of this. Of course, on Assassin's Creed's reported budget of over $150 million, it would have to outperform all of these movies (other than maybe Warcraft) to be considered a success. Can it succeed? The short answer is yes.
Assassin's Creed has some advantages over many of the films on this list. First, the film features a bona fide star in Michael Fassbander, and a very strong supporting cast. Fassbender is joined by Academy Award winners Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises) and Jeremy Irons (Batman v Superman). Further, Assassin's Creed's sub-genre is hitman/assassin. That genre is considerable more profitable than video game franchises, indicating that this film could draw in a larger audience. The film also ups the intrigue factor by taking place both in the past and future, suggesting the sci-fi element could add to the box office total.
Assassin's Creed will be released right before Christmas, which is both a blessing and a curse. Despite going against the second weekend of Rogue One, should the film receive strong reviews, it will likely have long legs at the box office, as adults take off work and school's out at this time. However, if Assassin's Creed is dismissed by the critics, it could find it difficult to separate from the rest of the holiday releases. Ultimately we will have to wait and see. But it is certainly possible that Assassin's Creed becomes only the third video game adaptation to cross $100 million domestically, and could possibly make a run at Warcraft's worldwide total. No matter what, look for Assassin's Creed to fall near the top of this list.
Well there you have it. What do you think has been the problem with video game adaptations at the box office? How do you think Assassin's Creed will perform? Let us know in the comments!