As much as Hollywood tries, it hasn’t been able to crack the tough nut that is the video game adaptation. Over the last 15 years — as comic book movies dominate the box office, and a fantasy franchise won an Oscar for Best Picture (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King) — films based on video games have scuffled with critics and audiences. Comic book fans have X-Men, Spider-Man, and Iron Man; gamers get Hitman: Agent 47.
But maybe there’s hope: Despite the fact that Hitman: Agent 47 — the second Hitman movie to arrive in eight years — debuted to a critical trouncing and barely made a dent at the box office, it could be an important entry in the video game movie canon — the last breath of half-hearted adaptations.
Between live-action and animated features, more video game adaptations are hitting theaters in 2016 than ever before. And there’s reason to at least be cautiously optimistic — each of the upcoming offerings hints at a medium-wide effort to make these adaptations not just passable, but outright successes.
The most prominent perhaps is Warcraft, the adaptation of one of gaming’s most important franchises. But Legendary’s take is aiming for more than an above-average, straight-to-DVD fantasy epic. Warcraft is being helmed by a proven director and self-professed fan of the game, Duncan Jones (who also co-wrote the screenplay). Add in several recognizable actors and an attempt to make this film’s orcs as impressive on screen as the first time you saw Uruks in The Lord of the Rings, and there’s hope the film could be more than a mere cash-grab to appease Blizzard’s World of Warcraft diehards.
The other live-action offering is Assassin’s Creed. It’s taken a while for the film to get off the ground, but star and producer Michael Fassbender has explained it’s a matter of crafting the right story to tell.
“It just takes time to get a good story together and we really want to do it right,” Fassbender said before mentioning that the film will start shooting in September. And though there may not be any hints of what Assassin’s Creed will look like on the big screen, there is promise in the talent attached to it. Fassbender is reteaming with Marion Cotillard and director Justin Kurzel after the trio worked together on this year’s Macbeth.
As logical as an animated adaptation may be, they have been far rarer than live-action video game movies over the years. But both the animated Ratchet & Clank and Angry Birds movies will hit theaters in 2016. Ratchet comes with T.J. Fixman, who has already been writing the funny and charming game characters for years, and the released footage looks like Ratchet and Clank in a more beautifully animated form than ever before.
And last but not least, there’s Angry Birds. Is anyone who plays Angry Birds really clamoring for a version where they can’t fling the pigs themselves? Probably not, but the ubiquity of the mobile game makes it a prime candidate for adapting. And because the games aren’t steeped in complex storytelling, the filmmakers have some free reign when it comes to crafting a unique animated movie, which star Josh Gad indicates may be the case. (No one was really pushing for a movie about LEGOs either.)
Both animated offerings also come stacked with impressive voice casts. Ratchet retains its original core voice actors and adds Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, and Sylvester Stallone to the cast. Angry Birds brings Jason Sudeikis, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Gad to the table (and if Gad can make a hit out of another animated character he may very well never have to take any non-snowman or -bird roles).
Yes, any of these movies could be failures: at most, the general public has seen a small teaser’s worth of clips from Ratchet, and at the least, nothing from Assassin’s Creed. But with strong casts and creative teams, interaction with the original creators, and decent release dates (none of the four have been scheduled for the doldrums of January or August, indicating the studios have at least some faith in the films), there’s reason for fans and moviegoers to not approach these adaptations with side-eyed cynicism.
2016 will be a telling year for whether video games can have a life on the big screen or whether we can expect the Resident Evil‘s of the world to be the best Hollywood can offer. The tide seems to be shifting, as studios, producers, and creative teams look to be taking games more seriously. And as Hitman: Agent 47 slips in and out of the box office with barely a notice, it might be one last sign that both Hollywood and audiences are done with the way games have been treated on theaters. If studios take them seriously, audiences just might too, and both sides will have the chance to prove that next year.