Note: This article was written before the release of Warcraft, and so some elements may be out of date.
One of the biggest films hitting cinemas soon is Warcraft – directed by David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, and chronicling lore from the smash-hit MMORPG World of Warcraft. Trailers have been promising, so I wouldn’t blame you if, like me, you thought Warcraft would be the special one. The one to buck the trend of video-game movies being a bit rubbish. That said, as the review embargo is lifted and the world can discover the opinion of critics, it seems that Warcraft may not be the special one.
Currently sat on 19% on Rotten Tomatoes and 36% on Metacritic, reviewers have labelled the film ‘grim… over-stuffed‘ and doing ‘a whole lot of ‘Beginning’ without ever truly taking off‘. Unfortunately, it seems inevitable that Warcraft will now fade into pop culture obscurity a la Hitman: Agent 47, but it’s the implications of this film’s reception that seem to be more interesting than anything that actually takes place on-screen.
Warcraft‘s critical disappointment seems to be another straw on the back of the video-game movie camel, and after the amount of duds in this genre, the camel’s back is sure to break before long. Warcraft is just one of the three (!) video-game movie flops we’ve had this year so far alone, after Ratchet and Clank (16% on RT) and The Angry Birds Movie (43%): the future of this genre is certainly grim.
The curse of the video-game movie doesn’t just seem to be haunting 2016, however. Since 2000, we’ve had a vast number of flops, so let’s take a closer look at a few.
First up, 2005’s Doom. Starring Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban and based on the 1993 industry-changer of the same name, this sits at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, criticised for its lack of originality and disorienting first-person action sequence. Doom tried something new for the genre, an attempt to really create some convergence for fans, but judging by the reception it received (not making its budget back amid critical savagery), this didn’t go to plan.
Next up is Max Payne, released in 2008 with Mark Wahlberg playing the police-detective-turned-badass. This fared even worse than Doom three years prior, with a 16% Rotten Tomatoes score, panned for its style-over-substance approach. That said, it fared reasonably well at the box office, making $85 million worldwide, comfortably regaining its $35m budget, but the ice-cold reception has ensured this franchise has stuck to consoles for the time being.
One of the few examples of video-game movies doing well is 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Unlike the previous two examples, this had a substantial budget of $115m, and a starlet at the peak of her worldwide adoration in Angelina Jolie, and these combined to make a hit – with the public, at least. Sitting at 19% on Rotten Tomatoes clearly wasn’t an issue as it made almost $275m worldwide, enough to spawn a 2003 sequel (which we won’t discuss).
These examples really show the enigma that is the video-game movie formula: traditionally, films centred on action, grittiness and violence thrive, but Tomb Raider proves that if you do something a bit different: get an actress at the peak of her appeal to star in a brand well-known and with a big fanbase, a hit can be assured, regardless of critical reaction.
And this leads us back to Warcraft. If Tomb Raider is the formula for success, Warcraft couldn’t be further away: a lack of A-listers – after Fantastic Four, Toby Kebbell definitely isn’t in this bracket – and based on source material generally considered ‘geeky’ and niche by the population, it may not come as too much of a surprise that Warcraft hasn’t hit with critics. That said, it’s still yet to be released to the public, so box-office figures could blow this theory completely into dust, but I’m not so sure.
In an age where superhero and comic-book films reign supreme year-in, year-out, it’s quite odd that films with their feet dipped so firmly into similar subject matter lack any semblance of this success. Despite Warcraft‘s disappointment, not all is lost, with the Assassin’s Creed film on its way later this year. Whether this will break the curse and change the genre, it’s hard to tell from one trailer, but it’s safe to say that something needs to change for this genre, and soon, or it may be game over.
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