While 2023 was certainly a good year for movies and TV shows in general (unless you’re the Marvel Cinematic Universe), it was a pretty good year for adaptations of our favorite video game franchises. As a prime example, Nintendo and Illumination Studios’ The Super Mario Bros. was released in April. It was hard to know if the movie was going to work or not, as even Chris Pratt’s casting left fans disappointed. Are they ready to watch Super Mario on the big screen?
Turns out, they absolutely will. Super Mario Bros. will gross more than $1.3 billion at the box office, making it the third-biggest animated film of all time — behind Disney’s The Lion King remake and Frozen II. The film is also the highest grossing video game film of all time and the second highest grossing film of 2023 domestically and globally. This is a very significant change compared to previous years.
creator of Super Mario and Legend of Zelda and the all-encompassing video game, “I think part of the problem with translating games to film is that the structure of what makes a good game is different than the structure of what makes a good movie ” icon Shigeru Miyamoto said in 2007after years of bad adaptations that included 1993’s Super Mario Bros.
Movies are a much more passive medium, where the film itself tells the story, and you, as the viewer, sit back and watch it passively. Whereas video games are much more active media where you play along with the story. “He continued. “I think that video games, in general, have a very simple flow in terms of what’s going on in the game. We make this flow fun by implementing different elements in the video game to keep the player entertained.”
Historically, video games have been a bit of a gamble, and Miyamoto’s explanation for why holds some water — or at least it used to. As nostalgic as you may be for Paul WS Anderson’s Resident Evil movies, they weren’t good. Sure, they made money at the box office, but as the movies went on, the connection to the games waned — and it wasn’t very strong to begin with. Fans still flocked to 2016’s Resident Evil: Final Chapter, which grossed $300 million more, despite being essentially Resident Evil in name only. Did fans just not care about the original source material, or were they invested in the franchise’s separate narrative? It’s hard to say because on Rotten Tomatoes, the score was decidedly trashed by critics and fans alike.
Anderson got the Resident Evil job due to the first Mortal Kombat movie becoming the most financially successful video game movie at the time. Outside of silly movies like those, we’ve also had a slew of terrible Uwe Boll adaptations, Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies, and even enjoyable movies like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. Some of these films are entertaining (others definitely aren’t), but it’s hard to see any of them as largely successful or as something that will stand the test of time. In fact, it wasn’t until 2019 that a video game movie (Detective Pikachu) earned a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
However, since that movie, video game adaptations have been pretty hit or miss (remember Monster Hunter and Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City?). It all leads up to 2023, where Super Mario Bros. kicks off a good year for video game movies.
“We definitely took a blockbuster approach to making this movie,” director Aaron Horvath told GameSpot. “For me, this is a movie that’s been in the works for about 40 years, you know, and I’ve always thought of Mario as more of an action game.” In April “The characters look comedic, but the story is always high stakes, you have to save the princess or save the world or whatever in the game. So we wanted to reflect that action sensibility.”
Is this why well-made video game adaptations are finally on the rise? It definitely seems like more creatives want the final product to reflect and capture what the audience is pulling from their collective consciousness, about what they’re pulling out when these games come to mind. Sights, sounds and musical cues all play a role in this experience. This is at least one area where the first live-action Mario movie failed with that level of separation. Looking back, for example, has seen filmmakers and game studios take exponentially more care in the creative process of bringing your favorite video games to life.
I’d like to think that the industry has learned from its mistakes about what makes an adaptation work and what doesn’t. While there is a generation of video game fans who grew up on movies based solely on their beloved properties, much like the cartoon craze of the 90s – Warner Bros.’s Steel is a prime example – modern audiences expect more. More than an empty business cash. They definitely got that with Mario, and also on the small screen, earlier in the year.
Ahead of Super Mario Bros., we got HBO’s live-action take on zombie survival series The Last of Us, which GameSpot named the best TV show of 2023. While some plot twists had to be made to bolster the series—some of which were major, but added to the universally experienced level of grief—fans couldn’t get enough of the show, and it was quickly renewed for a second season. The series was a huge part of pop culture. It’s hard to ignore. You even had star Pedro Pascal dancing with show clickers in SNL commercials.
With examples like The Last of Us, Super Mario, and even shows like Peacock’s Twisted Metal and Netflix’s Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, what makes a good video game adaptation is expanding. There’s a formula that takes an already established feature and elevates it to a degree that not only makes the show compelling, but creates something in our brains that takes us back to when we first played that particular game. returns done.
Check out Five Nights at Freddy’s. Almost a year after the original release of the game, Warner Bros. tried to make a movie out of it. Meanwhile, seven sequels and five spin-off games have been released, and fans are buzzing. A Five Nights movie is finally landing at Blumhouse and opening in theaters and the Peacock in late October. It would go on to become Blumhouse’s biggest film of all time, grossing nearly $300 million, even if it could have played it at home on the Peacock. This was not due to an undying devotion to the principle of the game. Instead, the film used the stories of the games to build its take on the events that take place in the dilapidated, haunted pizzeria. It doesn’t ignore what fans know from the games, but remixes it to deliver a new story.
Based on the iconic racing video game series, Gran Turismo took a completely different path. Rather than being about the game, it was inspired by the true story of a Gran Turismo fan who got the chance to become a real race car driver.
On the TV side, you had Castlevania: Nocturne, which premiered on Netflix last fall and was quickly renewed for a 2nd season. That spin-off featured Richter Belmont, protagonist of several Castlevania games and part of the overall story of Symphony of the Night. . Nocturne fills in many of the gaps in Richter’s mythology and sits on Rotten Tomatoes. 100% Metacritic score.
These movies and shows show that, while Miyamoto might have had a good reaction to video game adaptations nearly two decades ago, that’s no longer the case in 2023. Instead, it’s now basically a tightrope walk to meet fan expectations while responding to it. Viewers something more to latch on to. The thing about Super Mario Bros. being produced by Miyamoto is that it featured a lot of notes that we know are Mario things. Yes, Easter eggs are somewhat important and there are plenty of them to see. However, those winks and nods don’t advance the plot or make it “good.” If Super Mario Bros. was just an Easter egg buffet, it would serve no real purpose and be just another movie on the video game trash heap.
However, I hope those days are over. There’s a level of respect for making really good video game movies that didn’t exist before. If successful, we can keep that kind of momentum going until we get to the live-action Legend of Zelda movie that’s a few years away. From there, who’s to say what could be? We still have a bunch of franchises that studios can bring to theaters, and that way, a generation will find and appreciate the games they’re based on as much as we do. Plus at least a few more Sonic the Hedgehog movies.