The “gaming curse” has finally been broken! For the thirtieth time…

The Mario movie may not have been a hit with critics cinema, but it’s blowing up with the public and breaking record after record in box office. The production made its debut shortly after the immense success of the The Last of Us on HBO, which helps create a climate that movie and TV game adaptations are having a big time.

That’s when we see a lot of content appearing on the internet celebrating the end of the “gaming curse” – a kind of meme way of referring to the difficulty of adapting games for movies and series, and the amount of terrible works that originated from the attempts.

But has this curse really been broken? Or rather, did it really exist in the first place? In this time’s article I want to analyze more carefully the truth behind the meme and, who knows, help manage expectations for the future.

The origin of the “curse”

If you’re a superstitious person and believe that there really were supernatural forces standing in the way of the development of decent video game adaptations for cinema or TV, the first Mario movie can serve as a great argument for the origin of the curse.

1993’s Super Mario Bros. is infamous for its lameness, being considered not just a bad game-based movie, but one of the worst mainstream movies ever made in any category. And this was the first live action feature film based on a video game, so we certainly got into the field on the wrong foot.

The original Mario movie is, above all, very weird. I believe readers who have seen it will agree with me that the main emotion this work causes is one of confusion. We stare at the screen perplexed throughout the duration of the story with only one question in mind: “why?”.

Why is Mario a gangster from Brooklyn? Why aren’t Super Mario Bros brothers? Wait, is he called Mario Mario? Why is Toad a street musician with a topknot? Why!?

It’s easy to point to the lack of fidelity to the source material as one of the problems for this movie, but the truth is, that’s just one of the many ingredients in the recipe for this disaster. And maybe it’s not even the main ingredient. The 1993 Super Mario Bros. it had a terribly troubled production, with inexperienced directors and constant fights on the film set. Bob Hoskins, the late actor who lived Mario, did not hide his opinion about the experience:


Worst thing I’ve ever done? Super Mario Brothers. It was f * a nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare,” Hoskins told the The Guardian in 2007. “The film had a husband and wife team directing, whose arrogance was mistaken for talent. After so many weeks, their own agent threw them off the set! P* nightmare. Fucking idiots.

The story of this film would make up an entire article, perhaps even longer than this one. But I couldn’t fail to mention the first super live action production ever made based on a video game, and the fiasco that it was. Currently, the film has its fans there – even with all its faults, it is a very original work in the veins of sci-fi/fantasy that populated the screens in the 90s. be to curse too.

Some notable examples

The first Mario film was not only a public and critical fiasco, but also box office – which is the metric that really matters to production companies. Even so, that wasn’t enough for the big companies to stop the film adaptation train.

What made production companies not give up trying to bring video games to the cinema even after the first attempt was so disastrous? The answer is simple. Games offer the two things the executives behind the movies love most: brand recognition and a captive audience.

It’s the same reason every bestselling book or hugely popular comic book becomes a movie—also with widely varying results. They are media that already have a guaranteed audience of consumers, in addition to becoming famous brands even for those who do not consume. In 1993 you might never have touched a video game, but you probably would have heard of Mario.

It is with this logic that game adaptations for cinema have never stopped coming. Several equally hated by the public and critics, but many more successful in terms of “making money”. It is worth highlighting some of these names here.

Street Fighter came out the year after the Mario movie, arriving in 1994 almost on Christmas. It was also a very troubled production, almost equally criticized by the public and professionals in the field, but it did well at the box office. Despite a certain fiasco at the premiere, its worldwide collection exceeded the production cost and was enough to make Capcom happy in its project to extract more content from its franchises (it was commented in this article).


Another year later and we had Mortal Kombat, which continued its slow steps toward greater success as a video game adaptation. This work also arrived a year later, in 1995, and was less criticized in general, being the first to break the barrier of US$ 100 million in worldwide box office collection.


Keeping the focus on live action cinema (the section about animations comes later), we had Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001. The film had a much greater investment and return, surpassing US$ 250 million in worldwide collection, in addition to being one of the main productions to launch Angelina Jolie to her current fame.


And so continued game adaptations over the years until today. Several are criticized by the public, even more so by professionals in the field, but many manage to offer financial return, which makes the producers keep trying.

When we talk about a possible “curse” of game adaptations for cinema or TV, then, we are referring to the quality of the works and the amount of criticism they receive. We certainly had many financial failures, but only the number of attempts since the famous Mario movie shows that the producers consider this a good investment.

The main conclusion is that, if such a curse exists or existed, it is related to the number of people calling a game adaptation “good” – and this is where the subject of animations comes in. But before delving into this part, I need to reserve a short passage to talk about a bizarre figure in the world of video game adaptations: Uwe Boll.

Uwe Boll wants to settle with a punch

I can’t write an entire article about game adaptations for the movie world without commenting on one of the most controversial filmmakers to ever grace (or disgrace) our screens with game-based productions: Uwe Boll.

Boll is a German director and producer who has been working with films since 1990, adding a large portfolio of works – many of them coming from video games. The list is worth checking out, along with their IMDb ratings:

House of the Dead (2003): 2,1
Alone in the Dark (2005): 2,4
Bloodrayne (2005): 2,9
Bloodrayne 2 (2007): 2,7
Postcard (Save Yourself Who Can!) (2007): 4,4
Far Cry (2008): 3,2
Alone in the Dark 2 (2008): 2,6
Bloodrayne 3 (2011): 3,0


It’s hard to understand why Boll has directed and produced so many gaming-inspired movies when they’ve all been critical, audience, and box office flops. It gets even more difficult when we take into account that he does much better in productions far from games, with some even being praised and winning awards, such as Darfur (2009).

The only reason that comes to mind would be that he really loves games and wants to get at least one great movie inspired by them made, but some of the director’s statements make that theory seem unlikely.

For starters, Boll likes to stray far from the source material for his adaptations and has made comments criticizing both game producers and players, trying to defend that his movies are good and that companies that don’t help publicize and people that don’t understand.


Also, we have an excellent “insight” into Boll’s mind: an excerpt from an email he sent to Edward Carnby, who was working on the script for Alone in the Dark. Carnby gave an interview to the website Something Awful and showed them one of the e-mails he received from the director. I’ll do my best to translate below, because English is not Boll’s first language and he doesn’t care about trying to spell it correctly:

Edward (the protagonist) is not mysterious and does things in a common way – which destroys all his heroism – all his reputation built by the game would be DESTROYED by this movie. Edward has to be mysterious like in CROW or BLADE, he has to have special abilities and weapons and not have a normal STORY.

You don’t have big script experience and after my bad experience with House of Dead (sic) I need a Top Script now. His first script wasn’t that. I want to be scared, smart, not bored, stuffed and surprising at the end.

Carnby adds that Boll also wanted “big gun battles” and “car chases” in the Alone in the Dark movie. I can’t imagine a true fan of the Alone in the Dark games believing that this would be the best path for a movie.


The German director and producer is also famous for the blown-out, unfiltered way he responds to his critics, abusing profanity and capacitist language. He even went so far as to challenge the professionals who most cursed his films to boxing matches – and worst of all, some accepted.

The business ended up becoming a major advertising event, sponsored by the Golden Palace betting site and named Raging Boll, alluding to the film Raging Bull, by Martin Scorsese. And the director managed to defeat the five critics who agreed to fight him, indicating that perhaps he should have chosen another career at some point in his life.

For better or for worse, Uwe Boll has become so well known in the game movie business that even some of the most famous names know him and have talked about him. Blizzard’s Paul Sams was contacted by the director regarding the Warcraft movie and responded as follows, according to boll himself:

We will not sell the movie rights to you… Specifically not to you.

Even the great Hideo Kojima has spoken about the prolific German game film director. Around 2006, when there was a lot of talk about a possible Metal Gear movie, rumors began to roll about Boll directing the film. Kojima finally went asked on the subject and replied:

No way! I don’t even know why Uwe Boll is talking about this kind of thing. We never spoke to him. It’s impossible that one day we would make a movie with him.

Prejudice with animations

“Animation is a medium, not a genre” – this was one of the first phrases Guillermo del Toro said after receiving the Oscar for Pinocchio in the category of Best Animation this year. The award-winning Mexican director was not the creator of this line, which is often used to combat the prevailing prejudice against this style of storytelling.

There are many examples of very high concept animations, which tell all kinds of stories for different age groups. The media is respected and recognized, but it still finds resistance not only from the public, but also from critics and other audiovisual professionals who still stubbornly see animations as something less than live action productions.

This prejudiced perception is something that has helped a lot in building a myth of a “curse” of game adaptations, because this talk often ignores the excellent game-based animations we’ve had over the years.

The first Pokémon feature film came out in 1998, was acclaimed by its fans and had a resounding success of box office – scoring a sizable profit compared to other films as it required far less investment to make. Even for that reason, it was followed by dozens of other films about the little monsters, which never achieved the same success.


Jumping back a few years, we should mention the Angry Birds movie, released in 2016. It certainly wasn’t as praised as the debut of Pokémon in cinema – in fact, quite the contrary, it is an extremely criticized production. But the producers dry their tears in dollars, because it’s absurd what profit conquered by this long.

Arriving now in 2023 we have the most recent Mario movie, an animation with numbers that speak for themselves. In addition to crushing BY FAR all the gains already achieved by game adaptations, the more than $700 million achieved by the film put it above other mega productions outside the world of games as well, such as The Hunger Games and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. In terms of Front deskthe critics didn’t like it very much, but the public seems to love the film.


Leaving the big screen area and going to the small screen, we have even more game adaptations that were highly praised in the world of animation. Old-timers will remember Fly and Street Fighter V on SBT, for example.

Fly is the Brazilian name of Dai, the main character of Dai no Daibouken, a manga based on Dragon Quest. In 1992 it became an anime, which changed its name when it was localized to be shown on Brazilian TV. The anime won a remake adapting the full story in 2020, keeping Dai’s original name.

Fly (or Dai) is an excellent example of an adaptation that perfectly captures the universe of the game it is inspired by, while telling an original story that matches the format of episodic television.

Street Fighter 2 V – the V is for Victory – follows a similar line. It features characters from the game with slightly altered visuals to tell an original story. The base of the game is all there, but changes are made to tell a coherent story in an animated episode format, and the result worked very well for most fans of the game and the cartoon.


And not just talking about classics, Castlevania also got a hugely well-received animated adaptation on Netflix in 2017.

All these examples are good reasons for not ignoring animations when we talk about quality adaptations from the world of games, but they also serve to conclude this article.

Simple in theory, complicated in practice

Is there, after all, some secret formula for making a good adaptation of the video game world for the screen? Most players who complain on the internet are quick to point out that the problems with works that go wrong is a supposed lack of fidelity with the games that give rise to them.

This certainly could be a factor. There are many examples that are lost as they stray far from the original material. But at the same time, we also have adaptations that have failed trying to be just like the games and others that have done very well while not being afraid to stray a bit from the source. Even The Last of Us, as faithful as it was, had some considerable changes and the series was highly praised for some of these changes.


After an entire article exploring the biggest hits and misses in the world of game adaptations for film and TV, I reserve the right to make my own speculation.

In my understanding, the real “secret” to getting an adaptation right is no secret at all. The most important part that a movie or series should know how to emulate from the game it adapts is not so much the visuals or script, but the feeling you get when playing.

It’s apprehension and suspense wrapped in the extremely human drama of The Last of Us. It’s the sense of adventure, fun and nostalgia of the world of Super Mario. It’s the excitement of life-and-death combat, impactful for the violence and fun for not taking itself too seriously from Mortal Kombat.

The film or series must cause the person watching sensations similar to those felt when playing – regardless of whether the person has played the game that gave rise to it or not.


And that’s why we have so many mistakes. I don’t think that most producers and professionals in the field don’t understand this concept, I just believe that it’s too difficult to understand and emulate a feeling, an emotion. Even more so when the people involved in planning the project didn’t play the original game and didn’t feel that emotion on their skin. Simple in theory, complicated in practice.

As games gain an increasing presence in the market and more people become gamers, we naturally see a greater number of game adaptations being praised by the public. I believe that the trend is to continue improving and I hope you enjoy it a lot. Personally, I prefer to spend the time I would be watching a game movie just playing the game.