In The Beginning…
The video game movie genre kicked off in May of 1993 with Super Mario Bros., a promising live-action adaptation of Nintendo’s signature series. Headlined by respected Hollywood veterans, Bob Hoskins, and Dennis Hopper, and backed by a nearly $50 million dollar budget, the film’s failure wasn’t due to a lack of studio support. It was simply a poorly executed movie and failed to attract an audience. A month later, the tough theatrical competition had Goomba-stomped the film into box office obscurity.
Super Mario Bros. strayed too far from the series’ colourful source material. Whereas Mario games are loaded with bright colours, cute characters and catchy music, the film went dark and gritty. The movie replaced the whimsical Mushroom Kingdom with a harsh dystopia more in line with Blade Runner than a fairytale. The Super Mario Bros. movie came across as though it were written by people that only read the series’ Cliffnotes. Even though names and locations are correct, the film lacks the game’s most defining trait: its warm-hearted spirit.
The next video game adaptation to receive a major push was 1994’s Street Fighter. Like Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter had a large budget and featured major onscreen talent. Also like Super Mario Bros., it took all the things that fans loved about the iconic franchise, rolled them up into a ball and slam-dunked them into a bin marked not giving a #@%$. The film took the game’s straightforward premise, an Enter the Dragon style martial-arts tournament, and repackaged it as a convoluted war movie.
Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon and Street Fighter served up a brutal punch, punch, kick to the nuts combo that KO’d video game movies’ credibility. The unfortunate result was a vicious creative cycle that continues to today. It’s hard to fathom, but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (a film adored by no one) still holds the title of highest grossing video game movie. To put that into perspective: Tomb Raider came out in 2001; its cinematic contemporaries are Bryan Singer’s first X-Men movie (2000) and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man picture (2002). The only movie to come within sniffing distance of Tomb Raider’s perch atop the box office is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which came out in 2010.