Are Movie-Based Video Games Cursed?

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial video game

E.T. The Extra Terrestrial video game

Are Movie-Based Video Games Cursed? Come to think of it, aside from a series of platform games based on Disney animated features and a series of slot machines at the Red Flush Casino, there’s no video game based on a movie that we could say it’s truly successful. Even the slots at the Red Flush are only seen by a limited audience – slot machine fans that is. At least they appreciate these games – the movie-based slots you can play at the Red Flush are constantly among the most popular ones there.

Although video game developers have over a century of movies to get inspired by, and game engines that ensure a realistic and immersive way to play, no movie-based video games have ever made it to the gaming world’s halls of fame. And we can’t expect any of them to be among the 5 video games to look out for in 2017. Are movie-inspired video games cursed to be unsuccessful?


The Atari 2600 E.T. Video Game

The Atari 2600 E.T. Video Game

A long history of criticism

The first movie-based video game to get mostly negative reviews was 1983’s “ET the Extraterrestrial”. The game was bashed by critics and players alike. Although the movie it was based on is considered to this day one of the most memorable science fiction flicks in history, the game it has inspired has another (far more negative) record: it’s widely seen as the worst video game ever to be created. It had simply bad graphics, redundant gameplay, and was completely confusing for the player. Out of the 1.5 million copies sold (Atari expected to sell 5 million) many were sent back to the publisher. Ultimately, truckloads of the game’s cartridges were buried in a landfill in New Mexico.

The game was coded in just five weeks to be ready at the release of the movie. While modern-day video games have far longer development cycles, they still seem to be affected by the usually short deadlines.


Creating 3-D animated video game characters

Creating 3-D animated video game characters

Movies vs. Video games – development

From an idea to the finished product, a movie can be made anywhere from 3 to 7 years. Part of the time is used to develop a movie – this usually involves everything from writing a screenplay to finding a director. Once the movie is green-lit, pre-production takes about 4 months, shooting takes around up to 12 weeks or more, and post-production takes further 6 months and beyond.

Building a video game involves much the same phases but it’s a bit more complex. Each character has to be built from scratch, and so is the entire environment and the whole universe the action takes place in. A game also needs a story, a series of characters (main and supporting alike) and a far more far-reaching story with many side tracks. Besides, there’s the interactive nature of the video game – players take decisions that can take the story in one direction or another. And video games are seldom linear – some of them allow players to explore an entire world, others are built to be completely open, with no precise endgame to speak of. A big video game takes up to 5 years to develop, plus all the testing that can take a further year to be done.

Movie-based video games are usually rushed, and have to fit into a tight budget (studios are usually reluctant to spend up to $50 million on top of the movie’s budget). With a short time and a cheap development studio, movie-based video games are often doomed from the very beginning.


 An E3 attendee tries out the Virtuix Oculus Rift and Omni Treadmill at E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California. The annual video game conference and show runs June 10-12. (Photo by Dan R. Krauss/Getty Images)

An E3 attendee tries out the Virtuix Oculus Rift and Omni Treadmill at E3 Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California.

The future

With the spread of virtual reality, the world of movies and video games might one day merge completely. This will allow viewers to step inside the action, take over the role of one character or another, and take the action in the direction they please. That will be the time when we’ll finally get our share of great and immersive movie-based video games.



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