Hollywood has a troubling history when it comes to making a movie from a video game brand. No matter how popular the franchise may be on a home video game console or in the arcade, it is almost always game over at the box office when a Hollywood team gets involved.
But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the ill-fated video game movie genre. We’re putting our hopes on the people’s new box office champion, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Johnson is starring in the 2018 film “Rampage.” While this may just look like another explosion-fest with giant monsters and Johnson flying around in a helicopter attempting to save the day to most casual observers, this movie is actually based on a classic arcade game by the same name.
If you are unfamiliar with the source material this mega-blockbuster is based on, “Rampage” was a simple concept in which giant monsters would demolish a city and compete for the most destruction. You could choose between George the gorilla (who appears to be the main animal in the film), Lizzie the lizard, or Ralph the wolf. While pounding on cars driving by and helicopters attempting to shoot you, you climbed buildings and punched walls to bring them down. You could also eat the citizens!
The amount of fun you would have smashing a city to smithereens would last for as long as you had quarters to pump into the machine, and it would later come into living rooms with a port of the game on nearly every home console you can think of, from the Atari 2600 to the Commodore 64 and PC, to the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System. It may not have been held in as high regard as “Pac-Man” or “Donkey Kong” or even “Dig Dug” or “Frogger,” but “Rampage” was an essential addition to any arcade in your local mall back in the day.
Will it work as a movie? We’re about to find out in April, with Johnson headlining the cast.
Remember when you & your friends used to laugh at and f*ck with the monkeys at the zoo?
Well, me and my best friend George here want to chat with you.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) November 16, 2017
“Rampage” will serve as a chance for redemption at the box office for Johnson. This will be Johnson’s second film based on a video game franchise. Early on in Johnson’s career, he starred in “Doom,” a film adapted from the first-person shooter popular in the early days of the FPS genre in PC gaming. For a variety of reasons, “Doom” did not fare so well in theaters. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rotten 19%, and the audience score of 34% was not all that much better. The film was rated R, which you would expect for a movie based on a game in which you are fending off an invasion from Hell. The rating limited the target audience by default, but the film was just bad and remains one of the worst films Johnson has starred in.
We can probably give Johnson a pass for his role in “Doom.” This was just the sixth film Johnson had a role in, and he was still in the very early stages of being the main attraction in a film. And you don’t bat 1.000 right out of the gate in Hollywood. Though he had some success with “The Scorpion King,” he was feeding off his portrayal of the character originating from “The Mummy Returns.” The first few films with Johnson in the lead role did not fare all that well, although I always liked him in “Walking Tall.” “Doom” was Johnson’s second film of 2005, following “Be Cool,” and it was just a mess trying to capture the video game in too many ways. The movie‘s failures were not in casting Johnson. He just happened to be in a crappy film.
Johnson has come a long way since his last attempt at a movie based on a video game franchise, and the hope here is that the experience in making the movie will help turn the corner for the video game movie genre. Simply starring Johnson is no guarantee the fate of “Rampage” will rewrite the narrative for a video game movie. After all, big action stars have tried this once before.
There is a glimmer of hope for the video game movie genre, of course. Angelina Jolie knocked the box office out of the park as she took on the role of Lara Croft in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” in 2001. The film worked on a budget of $115 million and raked in $274.7 million at the box office. A sequel in 2003 cut back on the budget, but still managed to bring in $156.5 million at the box office. The profits were there, but not at the same ratio as the original. The “Resident Evil” franchise continues to bring in massive profits every time a new film is added to the series as well, so something is working. But for every success story, there appear to be multiple failures along the way, and the biggest franchises tend to be the biggest letdowns.
While “Rampage” may have been moved to the back of your local arcade later in its lifespan, it was probably to make room toward the front for either “Street Fighter II” or “Mortal Kombat.” “Mortal Kombat” hit theaters with its first big screen adaptation in 1995, and it was a success early on. The film itself may not have been great, but it somehow led to a sequel and was later rebooted in theaters in 2011. The series did have a more successful time in theaters than its fighting game rival, “Street Fighter.” Released a year earlier, “Street Fighter” hoped that casting Jean-Claude Van Damme would help make the film adaptation of a worldwide street fighting tournament work.
But if “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat” essentially killed off the idea of a successful video game movie, a significant blow was dealt a year earlier by “Super Mario Bros: The Movie.”
By now, you know the tale. Nintendo took a gamble in allowing its valuable Super Mario Bros. franchise to be used by a Hollywood studio, and it scared the company away from doing so again for years. Casting Bob Hoskins as Mario seemed like a natural decision, while John Leguizamo as Luigi was… odd. And Dennis Hopper as Bowser could have been good, but was just another mess in a waste of a film.
The movie resembled almost nothing fans would have expected from the source material. Not even a more recent twist including Yoshi, a relative newcomer to the Mario franchise, worked out well. And the Goombas… my goodness. Only now does it appear Nintendo is ready to dip its toes back in the Hollywood spotlight, with a bit more creative control over how its iconic plumber mascot will be used in an animated adaptation. That is the safe way to go at this point and we’ll see how it all plays out down the road.
Ever since the release of “Super Mario Bros: The Movie” and the subsequent releases of “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat,” Hollywood has been trying to rebound in the video game genre. There have been some successes like “Tomb Raider” and “Resident Evil,” but far more often than not, the video game movie has been a bomb. “Pixels” was the latest example of why you shouldn’t make a movie based on video games (or maybe just don’t let Adam Sandler be involved with it). “Assassin’s Creed” was a huge flop too. But this will not stop production companies from continuing to try. There are films based on more classic games from the past in development right now, including “Asteroids,” “Spy Hunter,” “Contra,” “Mega Man,” and many more.
For now, the attention will be place don Johnson and “Rampage.” If Johnson can lead the movie to good reviews and a solid box office, then I look forward to seeing him carry a “Tetris” movie to box office records.
“Rampage” is coming to theaters on April 20, 2018.