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How Resident Evil's director turned a game into a hit film franchise Exclusive
How Resident Evil's director turned a game into a hit film franchise
October 8, 2012 | By Chris Morris

There have been a lot of really bad adaptations of video game movies in Hollywood – and most of them have flopped. Only one director, in fact, has found any real form of critical and commercial success with these films: Paul W.S. Anderson.

While some fans of the Resident Evil games might object to his interpretation of series, it's hard to argue with the box office results. The first four films in the series have earned over $700 million. And Resident Evil: Retribution took in over $108 million worldwide in its first two weeks. (A sixth film has been greenlit.)

Anderson was also the director of the original Mortal Kombat movie (which few gamers complained about at the time). And he's already eyeing other game franchises. The difference between him and some of the other people behind game adaptations? This guy actually loves games – and has been playing since Space Invaders was in the arcade.

"I was the first generation of filmmakers where video games were a serious part of my life," says the writer/director. "I regard them as just as valid as books or plays in terms of an intellectual property."

Long before Resident Evil hit theaters, Anderson was a fan of the series – so much so that he essentially locked himself in his house for a month to play the games. When he finally emerged, he told his production partner Jeremy Bolt that they had to make it into a film.

Film company Constantine had an option on the movie rights at the time, but hadn't been able to find a script it liked. That's a problem a lot of game movies run into.

"I think people underestimate how difficult a job it is to adapt a video game into a movie," says Anderson. "People at the studios look at a video game, see the animated sequence, and think it looks like a movie, so how hard can it be to turn it into a film? It's actually quite difficult."

The problem with many film versions of games, says Anderson, is someone, whether it's the writer, actor or studio, is simply looking to make a buck – and doesn't understand the heart of the story.

"A lot of film people have never played the game and I think that shows a real contempt about the source material and a lack of understanding about what people enjoy about the games," he says. "There are characters or costume designs that infuse a movie. If you do play the video game, you see that the person who made it knows the game. I think that shows deference to the material."

It's also important, he says, to differentiate the film from the game. Simply rehashing the game onscreen often doesn't work – which is why he came up with the Alice protagonist (played by his wife, actress Milla Jovovich) in the Resident Evil films. Characters from the game can be cast in supporting roles, but having a new lead character helps remove some preconceived notions from players, each of whom has personalized the game's hero.

It's also important, he says, to resist the urge for useless stunts.

"The answer is not as lame as 'We'll do it all from a first person point of view' like Doom. If people want that,. they'll play the video game. It's pointless to do that."

Finally, he notes, assemble a crew who have a love of the source material that's equal to yours. The heads of departments on the production team are required to become familiar with the game – and many meet regularly with Capcom. And Anderson still plays games – any games – as often as he can.

"I do play, he says. "I must admit I'm not as good as I once was. I was playing Call of Duty with an 11-year old recently and at one point, he stopped and said "are you ok?" He thought I was having a heart attack or something because I couldn't press the buttons fast enough."

It's also critical that the cast be passionate about the project. Jovovich used to play the game with her brother. And Michelle Rodriguez, he says, "basically begged me" to have a role in the first film.

He, of course, brought her on board – but Rodriguez's well-documented love of video games (I've personally seen her ignore VIP areas at events, opting instead to play classic arcade games in formalwear) resulted in a different sort of problem.

"The only difficulty you have is getting her out of the trailer if she's playing Call of Duty online," laughs Anderson. .

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Mike Lopez
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Step 1: Milla Jovovich

Step 2: $$$

I did find the first few RE movies fun. But without a smoking hot protagonist I doubt they would have done so well, true to the material or not.

Jeremy Reaban
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While that's certainly true, there have been similar adaptions (albeit not of a video game) that didn't do so well.

Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux, for instance, was a bomb.

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Jeremy... Charlize was a wasted talent in that movie. But then again how can you make a good movie based off of abstract shorts and inconsistent serials.

Its good to see them making movies about warrior women and its good to see those movies continuing to do well (although I don't think Resident Evil should be shoe horned in to that genre). I just hope it is paving the way for better higher budget films based off of female roles and it doesn't' get stuck in the b - movie category many heroin films have been in since forever.

Alan Rimkeit
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I love the movies because they are ass kicking zombie mutant horror action fun. Haters will hate and the rest of us will eat popcorn and rock out with more Milla!

Michael O'Hair
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Into a what now?

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Joe McGinn
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Now all we need is someone to convert the movie back into a [good] game!

Matthew Collins
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I'm sorry but that opening paragraph is a joke, right?

I've seen the BO figures and yes, these films did make more than their fair share of money back, but critical success? Really? You want to back that up with some figures?

Resident Evil (2002): Metacritic score - 33/100
Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004): Metacritic score - 35/100
Resident Evil Extinction (2007): Metacritic score - 41/100
Resident Evil Afterlife (2010): Metacritic score - 37/100
Resident Evil Retribution (2012): Metacritic score - 39/100

This guy is somewhere between a low-rent Michael Bay and a British Uwe Boll. His movies are occasionally pretty stupid-fun, but never anything beyond that, and certainly not critically successful. His contribution to the video game movies only propogates the disdain and contempt toward them that Hollywood inherently has.

I will be really happy when someone actually manages to make a high-quality movie adapted from a video game franchise, but it really hasn't happened yet.

Jens-Christian Seele
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My question would be then, which video game franchise do you want to be adapted? Most stories of AAA-titles are of B-movie quality or even worse. If you want to see a good movie with a strong narrative and good characters based on a game, there has to be a game with that in the first place.
I don't really like Anderson's movies, but they totally hit the spot regarding aesthetics and storytelling of blockbuster video games.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Michael Rooney
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The mortal kombat legacy is a pretty awesome series. It would probably do well as a TV show or movie if it were given a chance.

SDF River
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Dead Space.
Rated R please.

Luis Guimaraes
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Bioshock totaly needs the whole Watchmen staff to get together and make it.

Matthew Collins
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Honestly, it will eventually happen, but I agree with you Jens-Christian that most stories of video game franchises would not lend themselves to a high-quality film, unless done in a very specific way.

Then again, there are stories that could break the boundaries, but the other obstacle is the more grandiose of these games, like Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed or Bioshock, all of which have the potential to transform into very lucrative, but also very well-made film franchises. The problem here is money. The more money a film needs, the more corporate interests and bean-counters become involved in the creative process.

This means that as the price goes up, the ideas and concepts behind the story are degraded. Every now and then a film with grand artistic merit slips through this paradigm and manages to have a high budget, high return and high quality all at once. However this is rare, and rarer still is the idea that this would come from a video game. In about 20 years time, when members of the video game generation are top studio executives themselves, and the calcified paradigm of Hollywood mega-productions is shifted, we might start to see meaningful and worthwhile adaptations for our more beloved and interesting video game stories, but for now we are relegated to the needs of the tent-pole dinosaurs who for the most part believe that grand vision and worldwide marketability are mutually exclusive.

Sean Davis
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Why exactly did RE need an original story when it had one built into the game already? Thats what I dont get. I wonder if people wouldn't mind Peter Jackson making up a completely different story of LOTR and then going around calling it an adaptation of the book.

Michael Rooney
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I think the reason is that RE games are 5-15 hour stories whereas movies are 1-3 hour stories. Makes translating the story perfectly very difficult.

I'm also generally of the opinion that different versions of things should be at least a little bit different. If Game of Thrones were a wrote copy of the book, I'd be less interested because I know everything that's going to happen in every scene instead of just major plot points.

Luis Guimaraes
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They could always have adapted the books...

Alex Nichiporchik
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Twilight are also good movies (if you define good as BO hits)

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Why not adapt games into a written copy for good books, then adapt the book of the games into movies? I mean look how long it took comics to surface as good story driven films. Comic book writers had to adapt the serials into graphic novels and that allowed for studios later to extrapolate coherent philosophical movies out of that. It just seems that nobody wants to take responsibility for the product produced when it hits Hollywood.

Lyon Medina
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"How Resident Evil's director turned a game into a hit film franchise"

In a world where directors say they did something, but really didn't.... One director will think he did more than anyone before him....