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Terrible Video Game Movies Are Bad for Your Soul, and Even Worse for Hollywood Studios

Brand recognition isn't everything.

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Video game movies are, on the whole, very bad. They also perform terribly at the box office.

There are classic stinkers like 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.” (16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) that grossed about $21 million on a $48 million production budget. More recent bombs include the classic arcade-game inspired “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li,” a 2009 film sequel dubbed a “perfectly forgettable” game adaptation that reaped just $8.7 million in U.S. box office, or 2005’s “Doom,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson ($28 million in domestic ticket sales on an estimated production budget of $60 million).

“There may be no other film genre with such a checkered past,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak. “Trying to crack the code on this genre is like trying to get to the end of some of these games — almost impossible.”

Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule. “Tomb Raider,” starring height-of-her-fame Angelina Jolie in summer 2001, rang up $131 million in the domestic box office. “Mortal Kombat,” a 1995 martial arts film, brought in $70 million in the U.S. and even more internationally — a strong enough performance for the film studio to make a sequel.

But by and large, most video games do badly. Very badly. And they’ll likely continue to do badly. Just look at the trailer for the upcoming “World of Warcraft” movie. It looks horrifying. But studios continue to make these films, because they’re an established creative franchise that studios predict will attract a reliable number of eyeballs even if the movie (or the source material) sucks; there is literally an “Angry Birds” movie coming out next summer, featuring the voice talents of Bill Hader, Josh Gad, Jason Sudeikis and Peter Dinklage.

Rentrak, the media research company, has given Re/code a comprehensive list of how video games perform at the box office. We’ve embedded their information below, but here are some high- and lowlights from their data:

  • “Wreck-It Ralph,” a massively successful Disney animated movie about characters in an arcade game, languished in development hell before debuting to a $50 million opening weekend and $190 million U.S. gross.
  • Earlier this year, the Adam Sandler nightmare “Pixels” (17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) made about $80 million on an $88 million budget. Also this year, Sandler signed a four-movie deal with Netflix.
  • Even a star-studded cast can’t salvage a video-game-inspired project. Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Beau Bridges and Ludacris couldn’t rescue “Max Payne,” which limped to a $40 million domestic box office (it cost about $35 million to make, not including marketing costs).
  • “DOA: Dead or Alive” lived up to its name. The 2006 film adaptation of a Japanese fighting game was pronounced dead on arrival at the box office, bringing a mere $480,000 in the U.S. Another game-inspired vampire movie from that same year, “BloodRayne,” similarly sucked at the box office — bringing in just $1.8 million.

Here are the numbers for you to peruse yourself:

Video Game Movie Box Office Performance

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