A movie studio just spent $80 million to answer the burning cultural question of our times: Why are the Angry Birds so angry? The fowl made famous by a chart-topping iPhone game have now conquered the box office as well, with The Angry Birds Movie leading the weekend with a $38.2 million take. In the film, the bird you slingshot at pigs on your morning commute back in 2011 has been given a name (Red), a famous voice actor (Jason Sudeikis), and a backstory (his anger issues make him an outcast among calmer birds). Middling reviews indicate that Red and his friends are about as funny as most animals spit out by the DreamWorks Anthropomorphic Character Generator. (A fun sidenote: The film has spawned a conspiracy theory that it’s actually an elaborate anti-immigration allegory inspired by Europe’s ongoing refugee crisis. Deep stuff.)
Whatever The Angry Birds Movie is trying to accomplish, it’s certainly another sign that the overload of games across all of our devices and platforms is fertile ground for feature-length reimaginings. Angry Birds (the app) has been downloaded more than 3 billion times — just getting a fraction of the people who’ve played it into the theater will make the film a hit. And it’s not alone: Big console franchises such as Ratchet & Clank and Assassin’s Creed are also gracing the silver screen this year. And World of Warcraft, a PC behemoth that had more than 12 million active subscribers at its peak, gets its movie debut in June, the first film in a planned trilogy.
Hollywood is also growing increasingly desperate to bet on well-established IP, be it from comics, television, or games (or, occasionally, books). Of the 29 movies that grossed more than $100 million in 2015 in the United States, just six were based on original concepts, and one of those was San Andreas. As gaming continues to grow in popularity, movie studios will get more aggressive about adapting (read: shoehorning) beloved gaming franchises into popcorn fare.
So which of these attempts past, present, and future are fun, big-screen retellings … and which are an obvious, depressing cash grab?
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) — There’s really no assembly required in transforming a game about an archaeologist who scours tombs for treasure into a movie about an archaeologist who scours tombs for treasure. Plus, this movie brought us one of the many dope OutKast songs hidden away on a film soundtrack.
Resident Evil (2002) — With its detailed pre-rendered backgrounds, the original Resident Evil on PlayStation helped bring a cinematic flair to early 3D gaming. It’s no surprise that the horror series eventually spawned a line of films, though they generally don’t live up to the game’s pedigree.
Minecraft (TBD) — It’s hard to imagine a film could capture the infinite possibilities offered by Minecraft’s simple but powerful world-building tools. Then again, a movie about LEGOs seemed like a silly idea, too.
Mortal Kombat (1995) — The first Mortal Kombat movie is just outlandish and low-budget enough to be endearing — it tried its hardest to be cool! The game’s flamboyant characters and dramatic finishing moves made this a slightly more reasonable game-to-film adaptation than other fighters like Street Fighter and Dead or Alive.
Super Mario Bros. (1993) — What was originally scripted as a cartoony fairy tale in the style of the series’ iconic games mutated into a dark satire in which goombas with grotesque, shrunken lizard heads roam the streets of a dystopian New York and perform with George Clinton. There are actual people in the world who believed this would be the dinosaur movie of 1993, not Jurassic Park.
Need for Speed (2014) — This 22-year-old racing franchise is all about the cars, not the theoretical humans who drive them. But the movie centers on Aaron Paul as a troubled street racer who didn’t love family or Corona enough to make it into Furious 7. At least it’s fun to imagine Jesse driving directly into the reality of this film after his final scene inBreaking Bad.
Fruit Ninja (TBD) — Can slicing through melons of varying sizes and colors really be the driving premise of a 90-minute film? Feels like no.
Asteroids, Centipede, and Missile Command (TBD) — Hollywood is hellbent on turning a relic from the primordial days of Atari 2600 into a summer blockbuster, so all three of these movies are reportedly in the works. The only question is whether the first to make it to screen will be the game with no plot where you shoot asteroids, the game with no plot where you shoot centipedes, or the game with no plot where you shoot missiles.
Tetris (TBD) — Recall the last time you played Tetris on your computer. As you frantically slid a line block down the right-most column and cleared four rows at once, did you think, “This would make a great sci-fi thriller!”? So did Larry Kasanoff, a former producer of the Mortal Kombat films who is now developing the Tetris movie. The celebration of blocks will be a long one, as Kasanoff hopes to turn the game into — wait for it — a trilogy.
This piece originally appeared in the May 25, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.