Whenever a beloved video game property gets announced as a new television or film adaptation, someone always brings up the “stigma” of video games being brought to a different screen. It’s true how some unfortunate efforts have given video game movies a bad name — from House of the Dead to Postal to Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li — and critics seem to grade these adaptations by harsher standards. First to market was 1993’s fantastically bold live-action Super Mario Bros. which has since garnered a cult following, although it was met with vitriol that poisoned the discourse forever surrounding video game adaptations. There have been well over 50+ video game adaptations since Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo fought Dennis Hopper’s King Koopa, yet headlines are still asking, in our year of 2023, if The Last of Us will “break the video game adaptation curse” or finally “rid an awful stigma” — even though any curse or stigma has been vanquished long ago.
It’s hard to understand what stigma is even being referenced, whether that’s financial profitability, critical consensus, or audience appreciation. “All video game movies are bad” is a thread of logic that went out of vogue at least a decade ago at this point, uttered only by those who willfully don’t engage with video game adaptations or are burdened with short-term memory loss.
If we’re talking about box office returns on video game movies, how can there be a stigma when Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil franchise spans 6 movies due to ceremonious ticket sales? Heck, let’s throw in Johannes Roberts’ 2021 reboot reportings as well. Even rounding down, the Resident Evil movies have grossed $1.2 billion worldwide on a production budget of $313 million for Sony — and that doesn’t include physical media sales. Apocalypse, Extinction, Afterlife, and Retribution all opened at number one at the North American box office, with The Final Chapter generating $314 million worldwide on a $40 million budget as the highest grosser. The infection started spreading in 2002, when Anderson’s patient zero Resident Evil raked in $100 million on its $33 million spend — tracking back to the early 2000s for a studio-approved stigma buster.
Resident Evil isn’t the only theatrically successful video game movie, either. Anderson’s 1995 Mortal Kombat adaptation dominated the competition with $122 million in earnings versus the production’s $20 million expenses. Simon West’s 2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider banked on Angelina Jolie’s star power as the titular explorer to a whopping $274 million — still impressive considering the blockbuster budget of $115 million. Lest we forget Steven E. de Souza’s 1994 Street Fighter adaptation? Jean-Claude Van Damme combo’ed baddies full of bruises to the tune of $99 million on a $35 million budget — and might I mention that all of these titles begot sequels due to their stunning financial performances?
The Last of Us Episode 1: TV Show vs Game Comparison Slideshow
So if you’re trying to tell me that curses and stigmas are about dollar signs, stop right there. Super Mario Bros. might have been a super-stinker bomb — a reported low-end budget estimate states the $38 million box office total didn’t even clear the production’s $42 million cost — but that stat is useless even a year later when Street Fighter more than doubles Mario’s embarrassing high score.
Television doesn’t have box office reports, but it does have ratings that convey viewership in the same ways ticket sales are tracked. Netflix’s Arcane: League of Legends emerged as a shockingly popular series that became Netflix’s #1 television program in its first week. Netflix’s Castlevania beloved anime has spun off into a sequel series after massive praise over four highly lauded original seasons. Streamers have opened the door to televised video game adaptations based on an expansive range of properties. Not to ignore Sonic’s, Donkey Kong’s, Mario’s, and Link’s cartoons as Saturday morning type adventures — the true originals.’s when it comes to episodic video game adaptations.
If you’re arguing critical backlash as a viable metric when measuring the worth of video game adaptations, that’s another refutable arena. Rotten Tomatoes released a recent Tomatometer scale that charts 49 theatrically released video game adaptations with 20-or-more reviews, and only 5 are deemed fresh. From the fifth spot to first, you’ve got both Sonic the Hedgehog movies, then Detective Pikachu, followed by The Angry Birds Movie 2, and Werewolves Within as the only Certified Fresh video game adaptation (kudos Josh Ruben). Not included are VOD and/or international releases like Taiwan’s Detention (2019) at 86%, Japan’s Fatal Frame (2014) which never reached American critics, or Indonesia’s DreadOut (2019) at 64% which is still awaiting US distribution. Also ignored are shows like Arcane: League of Legends with 100%, The Cuphead Show! Season 1 with 69% (currently awaiting a fourth season renewal), and Castlevania with its lowest season score at 83% (tossing two 100% perfectos into the ring).
Animated television often gets left out of the conversation when it comes to video game adaptations because of — hilariously enough — stigmas. “Animation is for kids” or “television is second-tier to film.”. We’re used to charting highs and lows as theater paydays, while television’s once less prevalent but still present adaptations weren’t valued the same. How can we say The Last of Us might be an unattainable high like Arcane: League of Legends didn’t just shock us all in 2021 with, itself, being called the first great television video game adaptation? Or when acknowledging the successes of Sonic’s multiple television cartoons that predate even Super Mario Bros. by a year (1992)?
Then again, we’re creating a stigma based on personal preferences and critical values if we’re saying these are be-all, end-all gradings of quality — and can you really do that? Audiences have long appreciated screen retellings that are deemed “unwatchable” by critics who may not be video game enthusiasts or horror appreciators, putting them at a predisposition to skew negative (2000s horror fans know this struggle). Anderson’s Resident Evil might have a 35% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, but also boasts a 67% audience score. The Rock’s Rampage remix lands negative at 51%, yet charts even higher at a 72% audience score. Anderson’s recent Monster Hunter crack that was an unfortunate lockdown casualty? Only a 44% critical score against its much beefier 70% audience score. As a critic, I understand that everyone’s entitled to their opinion — but I also understand how aggregators erase voices who are there to champion a Rampage or Monster Hunter, both of which I’m happily part of the positive review crew. The Cuphead Show! continues because people are watching, and that matters.
Case and point: I’d ramble on for at least a thousand more words right now about how Doom (2005) is one of the most successful video game adaptations to date if my editors wouldn’t cut them all. I see the Rotten Tomatoes score, but if you were to ask me personally? I’d say video game adaptations have rarely surpassed Karl Urban’s FPS speed run through a Mars facility filled with demon mutants. You might roll your eyes, but this is purely a pushback on the silliness of perpetuated stigmas. Maybe you’ve never loved a video game adaptation in your life, but that doesn’t negate the countless others who’ve found their successes where others scoffed and scathed. The Prince of Persia stans, or Silent Hill supporters, or Assassin’s Creed defenders. Personal preference can’t be reported as a generalized fact. Sourcing incomplete feelings is just lazy clickbait.
So, no. The Last of Us will not break the video game adaptation curse because there’s no stigma to break. Will The Last of Us be a momentous event that further legitimizes video game adaptations as their highlights evolve? Signals are flashing in the right direction. That’s the problem with modern critical discourses, though — if we’re not pitting things against each other or stroking hyperbole, there’s not much attention. It’s easy to continue a broken narrative that all video game adaptations are bad, while it’s harder to prove the opposite. Luckily, I enjoy a challenge every now and again. Say it loud, say it often, and say it to anyone who will listen: there’s no such thing as a video game adaptation stigma.