When it comes to general rules in entertainment and pop culture, the rule always works until it doesn’t. What I mean by that is trends are fickle. What seems certain, logical, and even unavoidable one day for a particular genre might be shrouded with doubt the next.
In decades past, there was a general rule that there would always be a prominent place for western movies. Granted, there’s still a place for them, but it’s not nearly as prominent.
Just a few decades ago, there was a general rule that if you put someone like Nicholas Cage and Arnold Schwarzenegger in any movie, it would easily gross over $100 million. That’s no longer the case, either. It’s been quite a while since either actor achieved that level of success at the box office consistently.
I’m also old enough to remember a time when superhero movies were seen as extremely niche with limited appeal. I even remember the reaction to “Batman and Robin,” which for a time felt like a massive setback for the genre that would last a generation.
These rules were once general assumptions in the entertainment world. And they were assumed to always apply, but then they didn’t. We should never assume a rule or trend will always apply, especially when it comes to pop culture. And I say that as someone who never wants to see superhero movies go out of style.
With that in mind, I think it’s time we finally change our rules and assumptions about video game adaptations.
Now, I’m not just saying that because I’ve been watching “The Last of Us” on HBO and have been repeatedly blown away by how great it has been. One good movie or show is a fluke. That’s why there are so many forgettable “Die Hard” knock-offs from the 1990s. The reason I think the time has come to adjust our attitudes is because “The Last of Us” feels like the last critical part of a new trend that has been unfolding for a while now.
And as someone who loves video games and wants to see more successful adaptations, I welcome this. In fact, I think it was overdue. I’d been hoping for something like this for years and have been burned by one too many “Resident Evil” movies along the way.
Even if it has taken way too long, I think “The Last of Us” has finished what “Sonic: The Hedgehog” and “Castlevania” started. It helped further distance audiences from the old mentality that video game adaptations tend to suck by default. It made the case that a video adaptation can be done and done well. There’s even a proven process to it, which has become more and more refined, going back to the days of the first “Tomb Raider” movies with Angelina Jolie.
A big part of what makes “The Last of Us” work so well is that it stays remarkably true to the source material in terms of ambience and theme. It doesn’t completely retell the story of the game. It nicely supplements it. The game is the foundation and the scaffolding. The show is the meat and the substance.
Even a movie like “Sonic: The Hedgehog,” which doesn’t closely mirror any of the games, still captures the heart and tone of character. The Sonic you see in the movie feels like a natural extension of the one you play in the game.
A show like “Arcane” takes it even further than that. It actually uses that foundation to build new, more compelling lore for every character involved. Even elements not covered in the game can get fleshed out, but in a way that doesn’t involve reinventing or reshaping the characters or world. More importantly, it doesn’t just rely entirely on the built-in audience to fill in the blanks. There’s a real, concerted effort to tell a cohesive story beyond the action.
This all seems obvious now, but it wasn’t that long ago that it was deemed impossible or incompatible with video game adaptations. I think we need to ditch that mentality once and for all. That’s not to say that video adaptations will stop sucking entirely. Even with their current popularity, superhero movies can still be awful. Just look at “Moribus.”
I’m also not convinced the upcoming “Super Mario Bros” movie will be great, but that might just be because I still cringe at the 1990s adaptation that had Dennis Hopper playing Bowser.
But the precedent has already been set.
The standards have already been raised.
A show like “The Last of Us” and a movie like “Sonic: The Hedgehog” is no longer a fluke or a one-off. They are now part of a tangible, verifiable trend that video game adaptations can be great in their own right. And personally, I hope to see more in the future. There’s definitely a place for them in popular culture.
Video games have come a long way since the days of Tetris and Pong. Players today expect more story and depth than ever before. That sort of thing can definitely translate into blockbuster franchises or shows and they should. Because regardless of the medium or source, there will always been an audience for great stories with memorable characters.