The Gaming Ghost – Vol. 4: Games on the Big Screen


Josh Lawrence

Are video game films capable of leveling up?

Josh Lawrence, Columnist

A good cinematic cutscene can really improve the quality and storytelling of a game. But hear me out; instead, what if the whole game becomes a cutscene, your controller becomes a bucket of popcorn, and your old chair becomes a greasy AMC recliner? Sound good? Then you’re in luck, because we are living in a new age of video game movies!

Hey everyone, it’s Josh, and today we’re talking about games hitting the big screen. While there are more showing up today, video game movies are nothing new, so let’s get historical while we try to get kernels of popcorn out from in between our teeth!

The first video game movie was fittingly Super Mario Bros. The game Super Mario Bros. which released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, was a revolutionary title that broke the boundaries of what video games could do at the time. A video game could be an adventure, not just a high-score hunt. Video games today owe a lot of their heritage to Super Mario Bros., so obviously, video game movies would owe everything to this game’s counterpart film, right?

Well, they did owe the Super Mario Bros. film one thing, the incredibly low bar for video game-based films. Super Mario Bros. was an objectively bad film, and if you can find any evidence to prove me otherwise, I will see you in court. Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a 24% rating, and that’s generous if you ask me. The film was wildly unfaithful to the source material, and was criticized for it by both Nintendo fans and the average viewer.

Following the Super Mario Bros. film came Double DragonStreet Fighter, and 2 Mortal Kombat films. The highest rating of this group was 44%. Yikes. Video game movies had an undeniable curse.

The biggest issue for almost all of these films was a lack of understanding towards their audience. The directors of these films would often betray the source material of the games they base their movies on. Super Mario Bros., for example, changed a lot about the characters. Bowser was a human with weird hair, Goombas were just large monsters wearing suits, etc. Needless to say, it was quite alienating for a kid who was looking to see their favorite characters on the big screen. However, these movies were also too confusing for people who did not play video games. General audiences couldn’t get into it, and fans of the original game felt poorly represented. Video game-based films lacked a target audience.

As the years ticked on, some improvement was made. The movies began to pander more to their target demographic: fans of the original games. Detective Pikachu was a strange movie, but it was popular amongst fans of Pokémon. It did pretty well. Pixels, on the other hand, featuring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, and other celebrity actors, was heavily criticized for poking too much fun at it’s target audience: middle-aged guys who still worship arcade games. Personally, I found the movie alright, but it was a strange choice to make fun of the majority of its own target demographic.

Today, video game movies are trendier than ever. Two different Sonic The Hedgehog films have been put out, and there’s another on the way. These movies clearly had people working on it who are truly passionate about the source material. Passion creates art. With the upcoming new Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) by Illumination, I for one have my fingers crossed that the most famously terrible video game movie will succeed on its second try. In life, you don’t always get a second chance, so when you do, you’d better take advantage of it.