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Hits and video games-profitable combination

Published: Thursday, July 13, 2006, 15:49 [IST]

Los Angeles (Reuters): Hollywood's love affair with video games has blossomed again this summer with tie-ins to Cars, The Da Vinci Code and other movies, but as in past years, the union has not always been fruitful. Video games based on films often receive a mixed reception from game enthusiasts, who tend to be skeptical of movie adaptations even those derived from box office hits. Still, there are good reasons for the cross-pollination between the two industries. Licensing movie titles to game makers offers Hollywood another way to help cover the sometimes 200 million dollar-plus cost of blockbusters like action flick Superman Returns.

Likewise, game companies benefit from the millions of dollars Hollywood spends to promote the movies that inspire their games. While it's too early to call it a winner, Cars video game maker THQ Inc. said first-week sales of the game were better than for its games based on The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, also hit movies from Walt Disney Co.'s Pixar Animation Studios. The latter two game titles rang up about 100 million dollars each in U.S. sales, said NPD video game analyst Anita Frazier. Cars already has proven to be a big hit at box offices, with U.S. ticket sales at 207 million dollars and counting, according to boxofficemojo.com. On the other hand, The Da Vinci Code title from Take-Two Interactive Software Inc.'s 2K Games has sold less than 20,000 units even as the Sony Pictures film has been a smash success with a box office haul of 213 million dollars in the United States and 515 million dollars worldwide.

Industry watchers said the reason for the disparity is that the elements of a good movie are not identical to those of a good video game. As a result, each product has to be tailored to its respective audience. ''It's a different medium. It needs to be treated differently,'' said NPD's Frazier. She noted that video games often offer 20 or more hours of interactive play, while movies are passive entertainment lasting around 90 minutes. While video game fans say they want a faithful movie adaptation, being too faithful has been many a filmmakers' undoing because it can kill the tension and surprise on screen, director Paul W.S. Anderson said at the recent Hollywood and Games Conference in Beverly Hills.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]''If you stray too far from the source material, you're doomed. If you're married to it, you're doomed. It's a minefield,'' said Anderson, who directed the Hollywood adaptations of Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the top-grossing film of the movie-video game genre, with a U.S. gross of 131 million dollars. The second film, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, holds the No. 4 spot with a U.S. take of almost 66 million dollars. creen siren Angelina Jolie turned out to be the big draw for the films based on the game franchise that racked up nearly 340 million dollars in U.S. sales. ''They lucked out in finding somebody who really embodied the character of Lara Croft,'' Ricardo Torres, senior editor at GameSpot, said of the film's sexy leading lady.

Anderson said filmmakers can navigate the tricky terrain by giving audiences a fresh look at the story. For example, Anderson said: ''The last frames of the movie would become the first frames of the video game.'' He directed 1995's Mortal Kombat, the third-ranking film in the genre with a U.S. gross of 70 million dollars, and filled in gaps left in the game's story line to give the audience for the martial arts-filled movie something new. But for a video game and movie combination to be a runaway commercial success, it has to grab both game enthusiasts and a mainstream audience, and that requires going after the two distinct audiences separately.

Marc Weinstock, executive vice president of marketing for Screen Gems, a division of Sony Pictures, said his team ran a movie poster contest for ''Silent Hill'' that created buzz among fans of the survival horror video game from Konami Corp. Yet for non-gamers, the studio promoted the title like any other film. ''People told me they didn't know 'Silent Hill' was a game. That, to us, is success,'' Weinstock said.

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