Are video game movies saving mainstream Hollywood?

To save itself from streaming services invading the big screen, Hollywood has turned to the video game community. Gamers give their opinion on such tactics. 

From low score animated movies and superhero movies to unwanted remakes of beloved movies like “Lion King” and dragging on series like “Fast and Furious,” Hollywood’s mainstream movies have been flopping terribly for a while now. Thanks to failing miserably, streaming services are taking the film industry by storm, making major Hollywood studios lose their place on the big screen. But hope isn’t lost, for Hollywood has turned to video game-based movies to fight to keep their place on the throne.   

This decrease in popularity in mainstream movies coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic, when lockdowns prevented people from going to the movies. Streaming services quickly became the new home for blockbuster movies. Since then, major movie studios like Disney are losing their rightful place in the theaters, for now streaming service movies, like Apple TV’s latest movie “Napoleon,” are appearing on the big screen instead of the small ones. Even though the movie didn’t get a high score on Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, and IMDb, the fact that a streaming service movie is in theaters is a huge deal for the industry.  

To make matters worse for major movie studios, Apple TV’s “Napoleon” outdid Disney’s new movie “Wish” at the box office, as Screen Rant reported. The disappointment audiences felt about the so-called 100th-anniversary film is a hot topic in the media, to the point major entertainment medias like Screen Rant have multiple articles discussing it. This proves that even a powerhouse like Disney can be defeated, as major entertainment magazines Variety, CBR, and Screen Rant report. Many feel that all of this is thanks to their movies lacking the Disney magic older films had, which are only found now in days in their Disney+ shows. With Disney failing in the box office, the theater industry is in danger because the studio that attracted families to theaters through its main studio or third-party films is failing to attract people now in days as Business Insider reports. 

But as I said, it’s not just Disney itself going downhill. DC and Warner Brothers are also getting hit by this, as shown through audience reactions to their Justice League movies, ending the era of superheroes. This may be proving that what Youtuber MatPat said back in 2021 on The Film Theorists, about Hollywood being scared that streaming services being nominated for theatrical awards like the Oscars, is coming true for the past few years even before the pandemic. Streaming service Netflix has been nominated 8 times for Best Picture and other award categories, as Business Insider recalls. Business Insider states that although streamed movies aren’t being nominated as heavily this year for the Oscars, Netflix has 16 nominations currently, while Apple TV attempts to return to the Oscars with “Napoleon,” as Variety Magazine reports. Hoping to win another Oscar like their film “Coda” did in 2022. Terrifying Hollywood once again! 

However, major picture studios aren’t going down without a fight. For the past few years Hollywood has turned its eye from superhero and book movies to video games. The industry is being taken to a whole new level by releasing video game-inspired movies back-to-back, such as recently announced indie horror game “Bendy and the Ink Machine” movie on December 25, as a Christmas gift to gamers right after the “Five Nights at Freddy’s” (FNAF) movie’s success.  

Video game movies, from the success of “Sonic the Hedgehog” in 2020, to “Uncharted” staring Hollywood darling Tom Holland has led to gaming movies finding achievements in the eyes of the critics. Not just live action video game movies have found achievements on the big screen. Nintendo and Illumination’s animated “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” took fans by surprise. It is currently sitting comfortably as the highest-rated video game movie, as seen in Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. Ironically, this proves once again another prediction from MatPat of video games being the future of movies. Yet, who knows how long this lifeboat of video game movies will keep Hollywood afloat, for streaming services are starting to cling to this idea as well, by making shows inspired by video games. 

This trend in streaming services catching onto Hollywood’s change of course is something many gamers have also caught, like UWT Alumnus of 2023 class Nunu, who has been a gamer since his childhood. Although he enjoys video game movies, he says that he doesn’t necessarily see video game movies saving Hollywood anymore, since streaming services like HBO are making video game series like “The Last of Us.” However, he still sees value in these movies.  

“I love seeing the video game movies like the Sonic franchise,” Nunu said. “There is clearly some love shown since Sega and Blur Studios listened to the fans when the community was rioting about Sonic’s first look when the first images of the movie came out. They changed it right away to please the fans. Some movies don’t hit the nail like that.”  

He continued by telling The Ledger that attention to the fan’s love for a series gives value to the movie.  

“The presentation matters,” he said. “It’s like a book movie, take out the important elements of it, fans will hate it. Making video games into movies gives the industry another medium to explore.”  

Nunu isn’t alone in this view. Game design artist Alex Warn from Redmond’s DigiPen Institute of Technology shares a similar opinion as well, while also agreeing with Film Theories’ MatPat. Warn is studying digital art and animation with a focus on VFX. Warn’s degree allows them to create VFX for video games with a large focus on stylizing, helping them work with game designers to ensure all feedback for gameplay is communicated through the VFX.  

Warn agrees with Nunu in terms of video game movies being great, for it is another medium to introduce new audiences to video games. But of course, there are varying levels and depths they can represent. Warn tells The Ledger that their opinion on video game movies and shows being a cool new medium for games was amplified while they interned with Riot Games for three months. They had the opportunity to see the excitement of game designers seeing their hobby and work being recognized in a new medium.  

In 2021, Netflix and Riot collaborated to make Emmy winning game series “Arcane” based on “League of Legends.” The show explores the untold past of two of the series’ beloved characters Jinx and Vi along with others of whom little is known in the game, expanding the world of “League of Legends” like never before.  

Local video game store “Game over” in the Tacoma Mall. Photo by Cameron Berrens.

Additionally, just like UWT alumni Nunu, Warn also agrees with MatPat that video game movies are saving Hollywood.  

“I think they’re bringing back audiences back to the cinemas for sure,” Warn said. “But unfortunately, I think that Hollywood needs to take a step back and evaluate. More creative ideas rather than just IPs to bring audiences in and figure out how to best use streaming services that doesn’t just condition audiences into not going.”  

Alex also encourages fans to play the video games, for the original source can provide new fans with a different experience that movies can’t provide, which I agree with. I would much rather have people play the video games after watching the movie to get the true experience of the series, because just like we saw with the FNAF movie, it didn’t show the full lore of the video game. Instead, it took some elements of the video game and made an alternative story to fit into the hour and 50-minute window of a movie. It’s understandable why Blumhouse Studios did what they did; they couldn’t smush nearly 10 years’ worth of complicated lore into a movie. But it probably would’ve been possible if it was a series like “The Last of Us.”   

Although fans enjoy video game movies, streaming services are showing that video game series are better. Series can expand games’ worlds and cover all plot points easily. This is seen through the responses I got from other gamers when I ask which film medium, they would want to see their favorite game in 

UWT student Ryan Woo told the Ledger that he would like to see “Super Smash Bros” as a series because it would be interesting since the franchise has a variety of characters.  

Jackson Witcher said “War Hammer” would make for a cool series due to truly capturing the battles and world building seen in the game. Leilani Van Eerde said “Until Dawn” could work as an hour-long movie since it isn’t heavy on lore, but it could also be seen as a series depending on who writes it.  

Lastly, old UW Seattle student now Digipen Junior Laura Audrey Wen leans more towards series, based on her description of how gaming series by Netflix like “CyberPunk Edgerunners” truly captured the pace of the game’s lore and themes. Meanwhile, the “Arcane” series captured “League of Legends” animation style by incorporating 2D painterly textures and VFX onto 3D models which is refreshing thing for her to see. 

Just like these gamers, I am leaning more towards game series, because I want to see a “Kingdom Hearts” show, for the complex lore would be impossible to tackle as a movie. But even though so far video game movies and shows have been successful, Wen reminds us that all game adaptations, no matter their format, can be a hit or miss. That doesn’t mean pursuing the idea was a bad idea, what matters is learning from your mistakes and building upon your next one with what you’ve learned.  

This is a lesson we could all benefit from. Hopefully Hollywood uses the success of video game movies to create their very own mainstream movies once again, because video game movies can only keep them afloat for so long. All we can do now is wait and see as we eat some popcorn, will Hollywood prevail or fall to streaming services like Blockbuster did?