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The Video Game Curse is was lifted a long time ago and we all need to find a new talking point

It hasn't been a thing for 20 years, people

super Mario Bros. Movie screenshot
Image credit: Illumination

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Every time a new movie or TV show is announced that is based on a video game, the same media cycle breaks out: First, we all wonder how they will even begin to adapt something as iconic as Fallout or Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda into an entirely new medium. Then we are suddenly and forcefully reminded of all the terrible video game adaptations that we’ve had to endure over the years. Then countless media outlets ask the same question – will this be the property that breaks the dreaded “video game curse” that has led to so many misfires over the years?

That question, like the concept of a video game curse itself, is woefully outdated. Just like comic book movies have enjoyed their time in the spotlight, games have already proven capable of making the jump to the big screen. Super Mario Bros. pulled in more than $1 billion at the box office last year while Five Nights at Freddy’s was one of the most popular horror films of the year. So why do we keep having this same tired conversation?

Street Fighter movie screenshot
Image credit: Universal Pictures

A lot of it is historical – meaning that, historically, a lot of video game movies were bad. Some were downright terrible. Anyone who lived through the era when Uwe Boll was churning out video game movies will tell you that in the 90s and early 00s, the video game curse was still alive and well. For every “so bad it's good” Street Fighter movie we got, there were several Alone in the Dark films to remind us of just how bad things could be.

The 90s were indeed a wasteland of uniquely terrible video game adaptations. Of the lot, only 1995’s Mortal Kombat could even be considered legitimately good and even that has effects that have aged like fine milk. So what changed? When did the famous video game curse start to lift? Having Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie at the height of her Hollywood fame, bring in almost $275 million at the box office in 2001 helped, but what really changed was the way video games were presented.

When games became more cinematic, they simply became easier to adapt. Cutscenes became more than just text on the screen. Stories became more important to the experience and easier to separate from the gameplay. We no longer have to fill in the gaps in the story to make a good movie. What had been a niche hobby was quickly becoming one of the biggest media formats in existence.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 screenshot
Image credit: Paramount Pictures

As video game stories became easier to adapt, their films became a better investment for studios. The Resident Evil franchise, as hilariously uneven as it is, has grossed more than $1 billion at the box office. Detective Pikachu, Uncharted, and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 grossed more than $400 million and all proved that you can translate these games into live-action without making them cheesy or losing what made the games fun. That success has also shifted to TV, where Fallout and The Last of Us have been gripping and fun and exactly what fans of the games wanted without completely alienating non-gamers in the process.

But critics have long memories and short attention spans sometimes and it is easier to claim that the few successful video game adaptations have been the exception instead of acknowledging that the video game curse is well and truly dead. Sure, we occasionally get some terrible movies based on video games, like 2020’s Monster Hunter, but that is because bad movies continue to be made in every genre. There is no stopping that, we’re afraid, but to say that video games make for bad movies is to ignore the last twenty years of cinema history and we need to stop doing that.

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