3 Things Hollywood Needs to Stop Doing for Video Game Movies

This was made last year. Really.
This was made last year. Really. Screencap from the Doom Annihilation trailer
There is a LOT of video game news coming out right now, but the first thing that caught my eye was the trailer for Doom Annihilation dropped. The first Doom movie in 2005 was a financial and critical failure despite a pretty good cast. The franchise came roaring back to life thanks to the 2016 reboot of the game series that kicked literally all the ass. Why? My theory is that 2016 was the perfect time to relive the ‘90s in a hyper-violent game with clear antagonists and an unburdened nameless hero who could give less of a shit about space politics. Sometimes lightning strikes just as the DeLorean passes the wire, you know?

It was clearly enough to make Universal think the time has come to try again, and Spider Mastermind preserve us I wish they hadn’t. The sets looks cheap, the effects generic, and the story sounds like something Jean-Claude Van Damme would have turned down because it had been done before. Hollywood has a very bad reputation with making video game movies, with only Resident Evil launching a successful franchise and Castlevania on Netflix being one of the few absolutely perfect adaptations.

How can Hollywood do better? They could start by…

3. Stop Focusing on Shooters

All the blockbuster games are shooters, so Hollywood thinks that they can plug a shooter into their money-algebra and voila. The problem is that it doesn’t work and it’s not ever going to.

The people who are there to do the shooting and the people who are there to experience a narrative are pretty separate groups with some minor overlap. A good chunk of Call of Duty players never play the story mode at all. Shooters are still how games make hundreds of millions, but if you made a movie that was 80 percent gun battles it would not do well because John Wick is already a thing. Fortnite and Overwatch and Borderlands will not be megahits as films because you cannot improve what gamers already get out of playing. Every film that tries to take a shooter and plug it into a three-act story fails because the whole reason that shooters are successful as games is that they’re opposite of a standard film.

2. Stop Using Safe Directors

I’ve seen everyone from Guillermo del Toro to Gore Verbinski to Peter Jackson attached to various big game movie projects. It’s the same mindset as picking the shooters: Load up on guns and bring your friends. Video games are treated like these feral children who need the calm, strong hand of a Hollywood elite to keep from crapping on the floor.

Never mind that the best film version of Portal was shot by Dan Trachtenberg as a freebie for YouTube, or that most interesting thing anyone had done with Mortal Kombat in years was Rebirth by Kevin Tancharoen, most famous before that for the Fame reboot of all things. You know who turned Phoenix Wright into a pretty solid film? Takashi Miike, who makes all those horror flicks your creepy friend watches.

Games require play and experimentation to work, and you’re never going to get that with brilliant, but by-the-numbers directors best suited for minting popcorn munchers. One of the ways to do this would be to…

1. Stop Licensing Triple A Games

There is little Hollywood can do to improve on a Triple A video game. They have budgets and casts that rival a Marvel film. Why would I ever pay for a movie version of Resident Evil 2 when I can watch a no-damage speedrun by CarcinogenSDA that is better in pretty much every way? It’s for sure more exciting and the stakes are higher while sacrificing none of the story beats.

Leave the Triple A games alone because a YouTuber can make a better movie with them than most directors. Instead, look for indie and smaller games. Hollow Knight is begging to be turned into a movie, as is Undertale. I could see a bleak, character-drive horror movie made out of The Shrouded Isle, or an eco-thriller out of Valley.

Or how about this: there are thousands of properties lying around that no one has touched in decades. Houston director Joe Grisaffi has told me multiple times how he’d like to buy the rights to Zork, and that’s something I wish Hollywood would consider. Firewatch is rumored to be getting a film, so maybe there’s some hope.

In the end, Hollywood needs to stop trying to treat video game movies as a brand extension because they have little to offer that the medium can’t do on its own. What can a movie do with the source material that it couldn’t do itself? Answer that, and you’ll have something much better than Doom Annihilation looks.
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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner