• Find our print issues at issuu.com/thebishopstower
  • Have an article idea? Email us at [email protected] to share.
  • Issue 04 is now published both online and in print!
The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

The Student News Site of The Bishop's School

The Tower

From Monitors to Movies

What’s behind the divisiveness of video game adaptations?
Lucy Marek
Many video game fans agree that a good adaptation cannot deviate too much from the original game. “Stick to the main story,” advised Systems and Cybersecurity Administrator Mr. Arion Ball.

In 2020, the Sonic movie came out. In 2022, the Halo TV show and Uncharted movie were released. And in 2023, Five Nights at Freddy’s, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and The Last of Us all became incredibly popular. But what do these movies have in common? They all started out as video games. 

Screen adaptations of video games are nothing new (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001, Street Fighter in 1994, and Resident Evil in 2002 are just a few examples), but they seem to have entered the mainstream and become increasingly well-liked in recent years. In fact, according to Rotten Tomatoes, the top 10 best-rated video game movies were all made after 2017. But what is bringing beloved games to the big screen, and how do people feel about them? 

“I am in favor of video game adaptations,” said Systems and Cybersecurity Administrator Mr. Arion Ball, whose favorite games “range from Mario, to recent games like Octopath Traveler II and Final Fantasy VII.” He added, “I’ve been a longtime player of World of Warcraft — both my wife and I play — but I play everything, pretty much.” For him, adaptations are all about bringing video games to a newer audience, and when they’re done well, he really appreciates them.

Jackson Weisser (‘26), however, has watched his share of disappointing video game movies — Assassin’s Creed being one he described as “so bad, I can’t even… it’s just so bad. But the games are my favorite game series!”  But he has a theory on why they’re not always great. “They have to make super complex stories that you develop through multiple hours of gameplay into two hours for a person who’s never heard of [the game to begin with].” 

While he agrees that there are many bad adaptations, Stephan Talantov (‘25) believes they are, overall, getting better. He theorized this is because “they seem less like cash grabs and more like directors taking inspiration from games and putting them into a cinematic medium.” 

This belief is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in a comparison between the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie and the 2023 The Super Mario Bros. Movie. While the former has a 29% on both the tomatometer and audience score of Rotten Tomatoes, the latter has a 59% on the tomatometer and a 95% audience score. 

And while there is a difference between quality and popularity of a movie, Mr. Ball thinks that there is a correlation; specifically, that the increased popularity of video game adaptations is owed in large part to technological advancements in film. “For Max Payne [which was made in 2008], for example, it was harder to make things appear great for the audience with graphics, but now we’ve got movies like the more recent Super Mario Bros. Movie that looked absolutely great, and I think that’s a great thing for the industry.”

Appreciation of a game is especially important in making a successful adaptation, according to Dmitri M. Johnson (‘99), producer and one of the founders of Story Kitchen — “a dynamic media company passionate about universe building and franchise architecture; specializing in the adaptation of videogames and other ‘non-traditional’ IP into Film/TV,” per their website. He explained that “many of the key players in the entertainment industry, including writers, directors, producers, and studio executives, have grown up immersed in video game culture.” He added, “This shared background has fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation for games as a unique form of art, a perspective that was not always present in Hollywood.”

The question still remains, however, about why games even get adapted in the first place. “The profit is there, obviously,” said Mr. Ball. According to TIME, “People spent $184.4 billion on gaming in 2022, dwarfing the total global revenue of $26 billion at the box office” that same year. Bringing fans of video games into the theaters is a way to make much more money off of a potentially new demographic. These adaptations also work in the reverse by “[grabbing] more viewers who haven’t played video games” and get them to buy games.

While video games have been around for decades — and so have their TV and movie adaptations — Stephan still thinks of the genre as “sort of untapped,” with the possibility of creating lots of projects. There are only about 50 movies based on video games, but thousands of games with “really interesting stories, and really unique worlds and characters and settings. And now that [gaming] is much bigger and more publicized, you have a giant well of inspiration.”

“Behind gaming, there are stories,” said Mr. Ball, “like Final Fantasy VII for example. It’s not just smashing buttons on a controller or a keyboard — there’s a story behind it that keeps people glued to the screen.”

And according to Jackson, many games are practically movies and TV shows anyway, when it comes to graphics. “The Last of Us is really realistic [in its graphics], which makes it already movie-ish… or TV-show-ish, in this case,” and thus easy to adapt. “If the games are already really cinematic in themselves — like you can stand on a tall point in the map and look around and see the entire thing and just go ‘Woah’ — that’s good movie material, I think,” he explained. 

But just because something seems perfect to adapt, there are still lots of ways it could go wrong, which is why many video game fans have standards about what makes a good adaptation. For Mr. Ball, “The only rule is to not change things up too much. Stick to the main story. When World of Warcraft — the adaptation — came out, it was pretty good, but it changed several things from the storyline, and the fans weren’t happy with [that].”

But for Stephan, bringing in a fresh take is still important. “For the good ones it felt less like ‘We’re gonna turn a video game into a movie’ and more like ‘We’re gonna take this existing media, and we’re gonna use it as inspiration to put it in a new light,’” he explained. But “don’t just do something different from the games for the sake of being different and sacrifice a ton of believability,” he clarified.

And sometimes, it’s the small details that make all the difference. Jackson explained that he attributes good adaptations to “small nods to people who have played the games and keeping core parts of the gameplay implemented into the movie. In Assassin’s Creed, the Hidden Blade is the most notable thing and that was a pretty prominent thing in the movie, and that was the one part I liked: seeing that in live action.”

Mr. Johnson says that it is important to have a middle ground between catering to game fans and new audiences. “Respecting existing fans is paramount, and we strive not to alienate them by veering too far from the source material. Yet, we also explore avenues to expand the audience and attract potential new fans.” Fortunately, he explained that he has a way to judge whether an adaptation is successful. “I like to call it the ‘Mom Test.’ If my Mom can watch a film or TV pilot, thoroughly enjoy it, and later discover it’s based on a video game, then we’ve hit the mark.”

Overall, Stephan believes that this phenomenon is a symptom of the fact that “games are starting to get embedded more into the cultural zeitgeist, just as much as movies and TV shows.” Mr. Johnson added, “We’re on the brink of witnessing a profound evolution that will blur the lines between different forms of entertainment … We’re entering an era where entire universes will transcend the confines of a single medium and instead, complement each other seamlessly.”

As for Jackson, he is already thinking about the next big thing in adaptations: “I think once decision-based games come into the loop those could be really big, like Detroit: Become Human. That’s one of my favorite games and I think it could make a really good movie. Just putting it out there.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
Lucy Marek
Lucy Marek, Content Editor
Lucy Marek is a junior and Content Editor on The Tower, which she joined as a freshman. When she isn’t at school or doing her homework, you can find her reading, listening to music, or watching some of her favorite shows — usually with her dog, Potomac. She describes herself as having no taste in fashion and has been described by others as having no taste in movies, but she chooses to ignore this criticism and will continue to watch Cats (ironically, she assures you).

Comments (0)

The Tower welcomes comments from members of The Bishop's School community on articles published online. The Editors approve comments before publication. Comments may be omitted in order to maintain a respectful environment for discussion. Profanity, violation of privacy, spam and unsolicited advertisements are examples of grounds for omission. The Tower does not approve anonymous comments.
All The Tower Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The Tower