Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Rampage’ And A New ‘Tomb Raider’ Could Beat The Video Game Movie Curse – Forbes

Image from 'San Andreas,' courtesy of Warner Bros.

Image from ‘San Andreas,’ courtesy of Warner Bros.

Naomie Harris is joining the cast of Rampage! The Moonlight actress will star alongside Dwayne Johnson in New Line Cinema’s upcoming monster mash. Johnson will star as the guy who must save the world from the giant monsters while Harris will play, to quote the Hollywood Reporter, “a geneticist with a moral streak.”

I bring this all up because A) it’s good news for Harris and good news for Rampage and B) early 2018 will be a fascinating time for the so-called video game movie. 2016 was supposed to be the year the video game adaptation came into its own. But it didn’t really didn’t happen. The animated Ratchet and Clank, the animated Angry Birds Movie, Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed all received the usual mediocre-to-poor reviews associated with the sub-genre. The box office results are a little more complicated.

Ratchet and Clank earned just $11.8 million worldwide, so that’s an easy miss. Sony’s Angry Birds Movie didn’t exactly inspire a passionate new fandom, but it did become the second video game movie to cross $100m domestic ($103m) and became the second-biggest global video game hit ($349m) ever on a mere $75m budget. Come what may, there will probably be a sequel.

Universal/Comcast Corp. and Legendary’s Warcraft bombed in North America ($49m) and much of the world, but it infamously had a brisk (but brief) run in China to the tune of $220m, giving the $165m Duncan Jones fantasy a $433m worldwide cume. It’s the biggest video game grosser ever, but it’s still not a hit (it was more frontloaded in China than it was in North America) and it wasn’t exactly received as The Fellowship of the Rings of video game movies.

And then 20th Century Fox and Regency’s Assassin’s Creed was another mixed bag. The poorly-reviewed Michael Fassbender/Marion Cotillard/Jeremy Irons action drama earned $53 million domestic but its overseas performance is mediocre. The film crossed the $200m mark last weekend and where it goes from here depends on its performance in Japan and China. Like Warcraft, it cost too much ($125m) to be an actual hit with its likely final gross (unless it’s the kind of grindhouse offering that goes nuts in China) but there was a certain amount of interest.

So, here’s the rub: While the video game movie ended 2016 just as critically derided as ever, we did have three such films crossing the $200 million mark. That’s in a sub-genre with only eight such milestones total, with two of them being Resident Evil sequels. We’ll see if Resident Evil: The Final Chapter becomes the ninth such offering. If so, that will mean, inflation and exchange rates notwithstanding, that four of the nine video game movies that topped $200m worldwide did so within the last year.

Assuming nothing gets switched around, 2017 will come and go with just Resident Evil 6 as the lone video game offering in multiplex release for the year. But then early 2018 gets interesting.

In the span of six weeks, from March 9, 2018 to April 20, 2018, we will have four major releases that are either based on video games or heavily inspired by video game culture. Early March sees the release of Walt Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph sequel, March 16 brings Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc.’s Tomb Raider reboot, March 30 brings Warner’s Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of Ready Player One and finally April 20 brings New Line Cinema’s Rampage.

Now considering that those last three titles are Warner Bros. offerings, I’m guessing something, like Ready Player One, will get moved elsewhere. But if everything is as it stands, there are two things of note. First, two outright video game adaptations will face off against two other films inspired by video games. Second, there is a halfway decent chance that the early 2018 video game adaptations might well break the curse of the doomed video game adaptation.

Even 16 years later, Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider remains the biggest-grossing video game movie ever in North America, with a $131 million gross that adjusted for inflation would be around $200m in 2016 bucks. Yeah, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life was a bomb ($156m on a $95m budget in 2003), but that $65m domestic gross is still the sixth-biggest total for any video game movie.

While you can make the case that a rebooted Tomb Raider existing in 2018 is a symptom both of reboot culture and of how few female-driven action franchises still exist 16 years after the original Laura Croft adventure, the brand is still potent. Alicia Vikander is no Angelina Jolie in terms of marquee value, but she is an Oscar-winning actress and the allure of a big-budget action spectacular with a female lead is still a big deal.

Meanwhile, you have Rampage, a film starring Dwayne Johnson in a plot loosely based on the 1980’s monster smash-up video game. In that game, you controlled the monsters as they wrecked the world one city at a time, but the movie obviously had to make some adjustments. Yes, the film is based on an old video game. But for most moviegoers, the Brad Peyton-directed/ Beau Flynn-produced action fantasy will be sold as “Dwayne Johnson Versus Giant Monsters: The Movie.”

Now, what do these two films have in common? Well, putting aside whether either of them will be any good, they are both high concept action offerings with plenty of audience-friendly draws and marketing-friendly elements even divorced from their video game origins. Yes, the Tomb Raider games are popular, but the marketing trump card will be a female Indiana Jones movie. Yes, Rampage is based on a cult arcade game, but the marketing trump card will be “The Rock punches Godzilla, King Kong and the Wolf Man!”

We’ll see how this all plays out. Will 2018, not 2016, becomes the year where the video game movie gets its groove? And if that happens, it will be because the movies in question, Tomb Raider and Rampage, will have learned the lesson of the Resident Evil series. Those films succeeded by being commercially appealing and “something unique unto itself” in the marketplace regardless of whether would-be moviegoers have any knowledge or interest in the video game. If Rampage and Tomb Raider hit it big in just over a year from now, it will partially be because they didn’t depend on any existing fandom for pre-release interest.

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