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From Ghost of Tsushima to Borderlands, game film adaptations are becoming more common occurrences, giving them a chance at a second life and new audience. Likewise, several games are themselves adaptations from existing IPs, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which spanned comics and TV before moving into games) or any of the Star Wars games, showing a strong connection between the two mediums. Despite the recent deluge of video games being adapted to films, there remain countless video game titles with compelling stories that have yet to be recreated for the silver screen.
Several games have seen successful movie adaptations in the past, such as Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, and Sonic: The Hedgehog. There have even been movies made out of games that wouldn’t seem to lend themselves to an adaptation, such as Angry Birds, which even got a sequel in 2019, proving that with dedication and budget, nearly any game franchise could make the move to film. However, just because a game can be adapted doesn’t mean it should – or at least requires more care than is sometimes given – as evidenced by box office and fan flops such as Assassin’s Creed or Warcraft.
Looking at the past video game to movie relative successes and failures, patterns begin to emerge. In order to be a good adaptation, the game itself should have a strong premise with, if not a good plot, then iconic characters that an audience can latch onto, rendering popular games like Tetris or Fortnite poor options. Additionally, the film should be able to add something players can’t find in the original IP; by this metric, games like Annapurna Interactive’s Twelve Minutes wouldn’t make good adaptations. Given these parameters, here are several video games that would make excellent movies.
Mario Kart is one of Nintendo’s longest running franchises starring most of its most iconic characters, and could make an excellent Cannonball Run-style movie adaptation. Though the game itself doesn’t have a narrative, it’s easy to imagine one for a Mario Kart movie in which each character has been selected to represent their game, and must win the gold in an epic series of races to prove they are the best. A kart racer adaptation would have to be careful to walk a fine line regarding its tone; if too campy, the film could alienate audiences, but if it took itself too seriously, game fans would likely reject it as well. A good Mario Kart movie would capture the relative ridiculousness of the game’s mechanics, while making audiences feel the tension at the sight of a blue turtle shell or sharp turn on Rainbow Road.
Most of the Legend of Zelda games have all the elements for a successful fantasy movie, telling an epic tale of light versus dark, spanning the diverse continent of Hyrule. Such an adaptation could add some spectacular cinematic elements to The Legend of Zelda, and could finally give Link a voice. The movie also has high fan potential, as the games have been popular since The Legend of Zelda first released 35 years ago. However, fan fervor would also run the risk of being the undoing of a movie adaptation. If players perceived any aspect of the movie as done wrong, or disagreed with casting choices, it could have significant backlash. Additionally, if filmmakers weren’t careful, the adaptation could get messy given The Legend of Zelda’s notorious multi-branched timeline.
To date, there has been no Call of Duty film, despite being one of the most popular and successful franchises of all time. Activision briefly announced a movie was in the works, but in 2020 confirmed adaptations into film were not a priority. In theory, a Call of Duty movie would do exceptionally well, as the war genre is very popular and has produced such hit titles as Saving Private Ryan, Apocalypse Now and 1917, among many others. However, this supposed boon could also prove to be a Call of Duty adaptation’s downfall, as the market is oversaturated with war movies and very few rise to the top. If Activision were to make another attempt at a movie, an adaptation of the upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard might be its best bet, as a story centered on one of the best female snipers in WW2 would almost certainly be a standout in the genre.
The first four games in The Elder Scrolls franchise paint a fascinating tale of Uriel Septim VII, the last ruler of Tamriel’s Empire, and he would make a fascinating subject for a movie adaptation. Whether centered on Uriel’s banishment to the realm of Oblivion, an attempt to raise the Numidium, or the looming threat of the Tribunal, these events are unique enough to grab new audiences’ attention and satisfy longtime fans. A movie would need to give Uriel a more active role than he takes in The Elder Scrolls games, as usually the player character is summoned to do great deeds, which could be a risk for some of the more diehard fans. Audiences are also living in a post-Game of Thrones world, and an Elder Scrolls movie could fill the medieval fantasy void Westeros left.
Horror games tend to be more straightforward film adaptations, and Returnal could add to the genre with its roguelike twist. Selene’s journey for the truth on Atropos is mesmerizing, and a movie that starts with the protagonist finding her own corpse is sure to grab audiences. Since there are no other characters, a Returnal movie would need to work to make sure Selene’s dialogue and actions remain engaging (or could bring in elements from before her arrival at Atropos), but should be possible judging by other such films like The Martian. Additionally, Returnal’s two endings could be done in a Clue-esque stunt, with different showings or distributions of the film getting different endings.
Kratos got a Norse makeover in the 2018 God of War, a touching yet blood-ridden story of a father and son on a journey of grief. The game gives players an in-depth look at the diversity in Norse mythology, with its nine realms full of monsters, gods and otherworldly beings. Norse mythology has seen a massive spike in popularity of late, and a movie adaptation of God of War would be sure to dominate the box office. The hardest part about a God of War game film adaptation would be the 13 years worth of backstory from previous games in the franchise; Kratos revealing that he is a god who killed the Greek pantheon, not to mention the name Atreus’ mother gave him could break the suspension of disbelief for audiences unfamiliar with the God of War franchise.