Film Lists The Biz

Bad Timing? Where 12 Video Game Franchises Were in Their History When Their Film Adaptations Came Out

Last year, hooker-killing extraordinare Grand Theft Auto 5 racked up an astonishing $800 million globally in first day sales, and a mere 2 months later Call of Duty: Ghosts easily topped that, pulling in $1 billion in first day sales.  If those were both movies instead of video games those sales figures would have placed them at #6 and #3 respectively on the list of highest worldwide grossing releases of 2013 (of course, both of those games carried a price tag of $60 a pop whereas the average movie ticket price in North America was just $8.13 in 2013).  Compare that to the most recent movie adapted from a video game, Need for Speed, which currently sits at just barely over $30 million in domestic gross after 11 days.  Sure, China seems to love the movie, but its overall performance isn’t going to do any favors for other video game properties languishing in development hell [see: Uncharted, God of War].  So, if video games can now make as much as the highest grossing films why is it that movies based upon video games almost never turn into hits?

With Fox, Universal, and Sony respectively backing risky adaptations of Assassins Creed (2015), World of Warcraft (2016), and Angry Birds (2016), you can bet Hollywood is anxious to find out the answer to that question.  According to Vulture, a lot of this simply comes down to a case of consistently bad timing:

“Film development can take years and years — especially for a big-budget project that needs plenty of prep and post-production — and often, when a video-game movie is finally released, the series it was adapted from has lost all its cachet in the interim.”

That’s been true in my own personal experience as a lifelong video game player, having abandoned the likes of Resident Evil, Prince of Persia, Max Payne, Final Fantasy, Doom, and Need for Speed well before their film adaptations ever came along.  Sadly, the only films which came out while I still adored their source video games were the rather atrocious Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.  

With that in mind, let’s look at the top 18 worldwide grossing films adapted from video games (including sequels, not adjusted for inflation) with an eye toward where exactly the 12 represents video game franchises were in their history at the time of the film’s release:

1. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), aka, Resident Evil 4

Budget: $60 million  || Gross: $60 million domestic/$296 million worldwide

Resident Evil Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 50 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Resident Evil 5: Gold Edition (2010), the 19th installment in the franchise.  The Resident Evil films, particularly the sequels, are probably the least effected by what was happening with the games concurrent to the films.  By the time you get to your 4th Resident Evil film you’re a legitimately established film franchise, regardless of source material..

2. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) –

Budget: $115 million || Gross: $131 million domestic/$274 million worldwide

Tom Raider Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 35 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Lara CroftTomb Raider: Chronicles (2000) – The 5th installment in the franchise, Chronicles was actually a collection of flashbacks to previously unseen Lara Croft adventures, set-up by characters in the present who were in mourning since the previous game – The Last Revelation (1999) – had killed Croft off due to fan disinterest.  The franchise had been weathering diminishing sales with each release beyond Tomb Raider 2 (1996), and neither Last Revelation nor Chronicles changed that.  In fact, Chronicles was the least successful game to that point in the franchise.

3. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) –

Budget: $200 million || Gross: $90 million domestic/$245 million worldwide

Prince of Persia Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 20 million since 1989
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Prince of Persia (2008)/Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (2010) – Ubisoft delivered an instant classic in 2003 with their utterly charming Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, a reboot of a franchise which had only yielded 3 installments since 1989 prior to that point.  Part of the game’s appeal was its infinitely likable protagonist/narrator and comparatively tame level of violence.  Then it was like the Prince went through puberty (or a mid-life crisis) because the sequel, The Warrior Within (2004), featured him as an insufferable brute with an uncharacteristic thirst for blood.  Plus, his voice was suddenly deeper (they replaced the voice actor), and the soundtrack favored a steady stream of heavy metal.  Fans weren’t happy, and most did not return when Ubisoft tried to make up for it by combining the two versions of the Prince in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005).  Their would be a complete reboot in 2008 with Prince of Persia (2008), featuring an entirely new visual design and gameplay mechanics.  Then, mere weeks before the release of the Sands of Time-inspired Jake Gyllenhaal film there was a last ditch attempt to give us what we had once loved with the Sands of Times-esque Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (2010).  As of right now, that was the last Prince of Persia game.

4. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), aka, Resident Evil 5 –

Budget: $65 million || Gross: $42 million domestic/$240 million worldwide

Resident Evil Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 50 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (2012) – Here’s what happened with Resident Evil – they made 3 games between 1996 and 1999, but from that point forward they only released 3 more canon installments along with a crap-ton of quasi sequels set during the events of prior games just told from different points of view.  Case in point, Operation Raccoon City is set sometime during Resident Evils 2 and 3 (even though they came out over a decade prior), and is actually just a hypothetical “what-if?” scenario not considered canon.  It’s the 22nd installment in the franchise, and though critically derided it sold well according to franchise standards.

5. Pokemon: The First Movie (1999) –

Budget: $30 million || Gross: $85 million domestic/$163 million worldwide

Pokemon Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 245 million since 1996, making it the 2nd most prolific video game franchise of all time behind Mario Bros.
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Pokemon Gold & Silver (1999) – The history of the Pokemon video games is just as challenging for an outsider to understand as Pokemon is itself.  Basically, there are multiple generations of Pokemon games, and within each generation are multiple releases due to individual games receiving a ridiculous number of different versions.  Pokemon Gold & Silver, for the Game Boy Color, was the start of the second generation.  At that point, the first Pokemon video game had only come out 3 years earlier.

6. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) –

Budget: $95 million || Gross: $65 million domestic/$156 million worldwide

Tom Raider Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 35 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness (2003) – Released earlier in 2003 than Cradle of Life, Angel of Darkness, the 6th Tomb Raider game, was Lara Croft’s return to life after her apparent death in The Last Revelation (1999).  The related hype turned Darkness into an instant hit.  Unfortunately, once people actually got to play the game they encountered something which was clearly not ready for launch.  It was plagued with multiple bugs, gameplay issues, and graphical errors, and boy were fans not happy.  In fact, Paramount blamed fan anger over Angel of Darkness for Cradle of Life‘s poor box office

7. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), aka, Resident Evil 3 –

Budget: $45 million budget || Gross: $50 million domestic/$147 million worldwide

Resident Evil Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 50 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Resident Evil: Deadly Silence (2006) – The 16th installment in the franchise, Deadly Silence was actually a 10th anniversary celebration re-make of the first ever Resident Evil just with updated graphics for the Nintendo 3Ds

8. Pokemon: The Movie 2000 (2000) –

Budget: $30 million || Gross: $30 million domestic/$133 million worldwide

Pokemon Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 245 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Pokemon Gold & Silver (1999) – See everything I said about Pokemon: The First Movie

9. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), aka, Resident Evil 2 –

RE apocalypse
Budget: $45 million || Gross: $51 million domestic/$129 million worldwide

Resident Evil Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 50 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Resident Evil: Outbreak (2003) – Set during Resident Evil 2 and 3, this PS2-exclusive 13th installment in the franchise received poor reviews to go along with generally low sales figures, though on par with those of a then-recent entry like Resident Evil: Zero (2002)

10. Need for Speed (2014) (Still in Theaters)-

download (8)
Budget: $66 million || Gross: $31 million domestic/$127 million worldwide

Need for Speed Video Game Franchise

11. Mortal Kombat (1995)-
Budget: $15 million || Gross: $70 million domestic/$122 million worldwide

Mortal Kombat Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 32.5 million since 1992
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Mortal Kombat 3 (1995) – 3rd installment in the franchise in just 4 years, divided fans due to its inclusion of new characters and campier fighting elements (like the Animality finishing move)

12. Resident Evil (2002) –

Budget: $33 millio || Gross: $40 million domestic/$102 million worldwide

Resident Evil Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 50 million since 1996
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Resident Evil (2002) – A GameCube-exclusive remake of the original Resident Evil.  At that point, the last time the franchise had released an actual straight Resident Evil sequel was 3 years earlier with Resident Evil 3 (1999).

13. Hitman (2007) –

Hitman movie poster UK
Budget: $20 million || Gross: $39 million domestic/$99 million worldwide

Hitman Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 10 million since 2000
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Hitman: Blood Money (2006) – The 4th installment in the franchise in just 6 years, Blood Money was commercially successful and well-liked, yet the next Hitman game didn’t come out for another 6 years.  These were part of the wave of stealth action games which challenged viewers to exercise patience and cunning instead of opting for brute force.  However, in 2006 there were other stealth game series out there (e.g., Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Metal Gear Solid) which were equally cinematic but far more popular than Hitman.

14. Street Fighter (1994) –

STreet Fighter film
Budget: $35 million || Gross: $33 million domestic/$99 million worldwide

Street Fighter Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 35 million since 1987
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo (1994) – Back in 1993, it seemed like every time you went to the arcade there was yet another new version of Street Fighter 2.  By the time Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo arrived in early 1994, it was the the 5th variation of Street Fighter 2 and 6th overall Street Fighter installment.  Annoying, sure, but it worked.  Capcom exceeded $1.5 billion in gross revenue from Street Fighter 2 in 1993, the highest grossing game for Capcom until Resident Evil 5 passed it last year.  So, even though the Street Fighter film is 10 kinds of horrible (“What is a street fighter?”) they did get it out to market when the game series was at the height of its popularity.

15. Silent Hill (2006) –

Budget: $50 million || Gross: $46 million domestic/$97 million worldwide

Silent Hill Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: Sales totals are not available
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004) – This was the 4th installment in this survival horror game franchise, which put out its first title 5 years prior in 1999.  The Room actually debuted at #1 on weekly sales charts, and received favorable reviews.

16. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) –

Budget: $137 million || Gross: $32 million domestic/$85 million worldwide

Final Fantasy Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 102 million since 1987
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Final Fantasy IX (2000) – Final Fantasy is basically an anthology series, consisting of standalone stories per volume.  So, it’s not like Final Fantasy IX was the 9th installment in a sprawling saga.  No, it was just another new batch of quirky characters progressing through a crazy fantasy story, encountering enemies and strange creatures who were all cool with standing in fields and engaging in turn-based combat.  IX was a commercial and critical success, but it sold fewer copies than either of the two preceding Final Fantasy games.

17. Max Payne (2008) –

Budget: $35 million || Gross: $40 million domestic/$85 million worldwide

Max Payne Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 7.5 million since 2001
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Max Payne 2 (2003) – Max Payne was the Matrix-meets-film-noir, with an emotionally tortured, world-weary protagonist providing narration like a more drug-addled Same Spade except he could also go into Matrix-style bullet-time during combat.  It was awesome!  However, it also had a remarkably dark story to tell, which made it a hard sell.  Max Payne 2, despite rave reviews, sold so poorly its publisher would wait nearly a decade before putting out a sequel.

18. Doom (2005) –

Budget: $60 million || Gross: $28 million domestic/$55 million worldwide

Doom Video Game Franchise

  • # of Units Sold: 10 million since 1993
  • Most Recent Game at the Time of This Movie: Doom 3 (2004) – I have to admit – until now, I had no idea there had been a new Doom video game released the year before Dwayne Johnson lugged around the B.F.G. in the movie.  To me, Doom was that game my cousin loved to play on his computer in the late ’90s.  However, Doom 3, the first new Doom game since 1997, was a franchise reboot which sold extremely well, becoming the most successful title in the history of its publisher.  On top of that, critics loved the thing, handing it multiple end-of-year awards.

A quick note: technically, The LEGO Movie does not count as a video game adaptation since it is its own unique thing, at least as far as BoxOfficeMojo is concerned.  However, the only reason I saw that movie is because of my love for the LEGO video games, and the movie came when that passion had yet to fade, unlike Need for Speed.


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