Is there a more woebegone movie genre than the video game adaptation? This is the pantheon of “Max Payne,” “Wing Commander” and “Assassin’s Creed.” In the 27 years since the first video game movie, “Super Mario Bros.,” these adaptations have been so regularly mocked that you might think the genre was -- like a teetering fighter in “Mortal Kombat” surrounded by chants of “Finish him!” -- on its last legs.
And yet, Hollywood is increasingly viewing video games as one of the ripest, richest veins of intellectual property outside of comic books. Even as much of the film business slowed over the last year, the hunt for the kind of IP that has fueled an overwhelming share of worldwide box-office ticket sales has continued unabated.
The video game movie isn’t finished. It might even be just pressing “Start.”
On Friday, Warner Bros. will release a new, rebooted “Mortal Kombat” 26 years after the first adaptation of the martial arts fighter. It was then just the fourth video game movie, coming on the heels of “Double Dragon” and “Street Fighter,” with Jean-Claude Van Damme. This was well before the IP land rush started by Marvel’s success more than a decade later. “Apollo 13” was the No. 2 film at the box office in 1995.
Now, a bloodier, R-rated “Mortal Kombat” signals a new cycle for video game adaptations. After years of misfires and flops, it’s lately seemed like a new level has been unlocked for one of the movies’ most derided genres. In 2019, “Detective Pikachu,” based on the Nintendo game, grossed more than $400 million worldwide for Warner Bros. Last year, “Sonic the Hedgehog” became the genre’s highest grosser; a sequel is already underway. Netflix, which on Wednesday suggested it may invest more deeply in gaming, has found one of its biggest hits -- the streamer’s answer to “Game of Thrones” -- in “The Witcher.” The Henry Cavill-led series is based on a fantasy novel series that found fame as a popular video game.
No one is engraving Oscars or Emmys yet. But it may be that video game adaptations aren’t cursed, after all. They were just going through some growing pains.