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From Mario to Uncharted: How the Video Game Movie Evolved

From Sonic 2 to Mario: How the Video Game Movie Is Evolving

(Updated 01/17/2022)

The phrase "video game movie" was once almost always followed by the word "curse." Turns out that a great video game movie is pretty difficult to make! Just ask Nintendo's Mario, the central figure of the first big video game movie — and the center of one of 2022's biggest new titles, too. A good game often prioritizes interactivity over character development, while movies, which can't be interactive, rely on change and character evolution. For a long time, producers had trouble making those two polarized approaches to storytelling work together.

Filmmakers have begun to crack the game-to-movie code, however. In the last few years, we've seen a few great adaptations, which suggests the future may be bright for movies based on video games. The long-awaited UNCHARTED movie is coming to theatres to cap off this winter, and in December we'll see a new movie version of Nintendo's MARIO. Until then, let's scan back over the evolution of the video game movie.

Super Mario Bros.

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Super Mario Bros.

[Image Credit: Buena Vista Pictures]

For better or worse, it all started here. Video games had been popular for more than a decade before Nintendo's main mascot hit the big screen in 1993, with Bob Hoskins playing the adventurous plumber, Mario. Beyond some of the basic ideas and character names, SUPER MARIO BROS. really isn't much like the pipe-jumping, world-bouncing games it is based on — and yet the movie is still entertaining, in part because it is such a strange relic of a time when the rules of video game adaptations had not yet been written.

Mortal Kombat

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Mortal Kombat

[Image Credit: New Line Cinema]

Two years after SUPER MARIO BROS., fighting game mania helped usher MORTAL KOMBAT onto the big screen. It helps that the structure of the original games is a lot like the setup for many martial arts tournament movies, from ENTER THE DRAGON to BLOODSPORT. With over-the-top characters and effects, this movie is a fast-paced brawler that certainly looks like the games, even if the headline-grabbing gore of the arcade experience was significantly toned down. This was the second movie from a relatively new indie British director, Paul W.S. Anderson, who would go on to be a video game movie mainstay thanks to the next movie on our list.

Resident Evil

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Resident Evil

[Image Credit: Sony Pictures]

Paul WS Anderson liked the original "Resident Evil" game so much that he wrote a script he later called a "rip-off" of the games — and which was eventually re-written to be the first RESIDENT EVIL movie. Despite the film being only very loosely based on the games, it did something few other game-based movies have managed, by creating a character — Alice, played by Milla Jovovich — that fans were eager to see back on the big screen. Five sequels followed between 2004 and 2016, all featuring Jovovich, making RESIDENT EVIL one of the most successful game-to-film adaptations.

Tomb Raider

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Tomb Raider

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Yes, there were two TOMB RAIDER movies starring Angelina Jolie in the 2000s, and Jolie was a great choice to play adventurer Lara Croft. The 2018 "reboot," simply called TOMB RAIDER, and based on the 2013 game reboot, is one of the most faithful game to movie adaptations. With Alicia Vikander in the lead role, the movie is energetic and muscular, with thrilling and gritty action sequences that capture the game's spirit while also standing on their own as achievements in the cinematic realm.

The Angry Birds Movie 2

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: The Angry Birds Movie 2

[Image Credit: Sony Pictures Animation]

Since the ANGRY BIRDS movies are based on mobile games they aren't always included in conversations about video game adaptations. That's too bad, because THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2 might be the best movie based on a video game, period. That's no small feat when the game upon which the movie is based doesn't really have characters or even a story. That's where the filmmakers stepped in, and for this sequel writers Peter Ackerman, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart and director Thurop Van Orman came up with a wacky, wild adventure that always makes. time to treat birds and pigs like people — in between the entertainingly chaotic setpieces.

Sonic the Hedgehog

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Sonic the Hedgehog

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

Sonic the Hedgehog came around just a few years after Mario did, and fans waited a long time for his big-screen debut. The movie reflects an unprecedented turn of events, where the filmmakers and studio revamped the Sonic character design based on fan feedback. That revision, combined with the boundless energy of star Jim Carrey, turned SONIC into an effective and fast-paced adaptation of the games. It's funny, engaging escapism, which is precisely what helped turn the Sonic games into hits in the first place.


The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Uncharted

[Image Credit: Sony Pictures]

A movie based on Sony PlayStation's best-selling "Uncharted" video game series has been in development for a long time. Now it is almost here, with VENOM director Ruben Fleischer calling the shots. Spider-Man star Tom Holland stars as a young version of treasure hunter Nathan Drake, whose globe-trotting adventures frequently land him into dangerous situations. The games have always felt like some of the most directly film-based experiences you can have on a game console, so the movie adaptation is hotly anticipated by fans of the series. UNCHARTED opens on February 18.

Sonic 2

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Sonic 2

[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]

In one of the quickest sequel turnarounds we've seen in a while, especially in the Covid era, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 is racing towards theatres. Not only does most of the major cast return from the original movie, but characters like Tails (voiced by Colleen O'Shaughnessey) and Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba) have been imported from the video game series, too. This might be one of the more game-accurate adaptations yet — and if the first movie is any indication, one of the most fun, too. SONIC 2 opens on April 8.

Super Mario Bros: The Movie

The Evolution of the Video Game Movie: Super Mario Bros 2022

[Image Credit: Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment]

While the first movie based on Nintendo's signature character Mario was not what the video game company asked for, we expect this new effort to be quite different. Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment (makers of the MINIONS movies, among others) have been in production since 2020 on SUPER MARIO BROS. The voice cast is wild: Chris Pratt as Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, Jack Black as Bowser, Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, and Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong. We don't know any real details about the story but expect more cast and cameo announcements in the coming months. Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath, who wrote the very funny and still underrated TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES (which Horvath also co-directed) are writing and directing the new Mario movie. SUPER MARIO BROS opens on December 21.

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