Several years ago, the latest blockbuster movies were almost expected to have an accompanying video game. X-Men, Thor, Batman, and many more have all had games launched alongside their films. Nowadays, however, one would be hard-pressed to find any such game outside the Lego umbrella.

One of the first video games to be tied in with a movie was 1979’s Stark Trek: Phaser Strike. Developed for the Microvision, Star Trek: Phaser Strike was a simplistic Space Invaders clone that kick-started an entire gaming genre.

A few years later, the sub-genre of gaming would rise due to the release of Star Wars and the countless tie-in games that would follow. To this day, fans hold many of the older adaptations among some of the highest-rated games of all time. Titles such as Star Wars: X-Wing (1993) live on as influencers of modern games.

The ‘80s and ‘90s were chock-full of adaptations from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure, to Die Hard, and even The Godfather (all 1991). Video games became an integral piece of a film’s marketing strategy despite the risks and costs to make them. Even the early 2000s gave us such timeless gems as Spider-Man 2 (2004) which heavily influenced Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018).

Spiderman2 inlfuencing Spiderman 2018

And then one day, poof, barely a whisper of a film and game tie in to be seen. One of the last true adaptations was The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) which launched to lackluster reviews. Since then, games based on movies have remained a relic of the past.

To put it simply, to release a film and a game simultaneously became too expensive. A typical blockbuster budget is essentially doubled by marketing. Adding millions to create a AAA adaptation as well is enough to break the bank. Box office hits such as Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) became crippled by their critically bashed game releases.

Not only were budgets tight on these releases, but the time to create them became increasingly rushed. A typical film can be shot and edited in roughly a year’s time, not accounting for reshoots or studio interference. High-quality games, however, can take multiple years to complete which hinders the sales boost of releasing alongside movies.

The Lego series remains one of the few ongoing adaptations left standing with the upcoming Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga (2020). Other properties to which Lego owns the right also receive some love with DLC tie-in packs such as Aquaman.

Lego DC Super Villains Aquaman

Some developers have found a clever amalgamation of developing their own game while still capitalising on movie magic. I am, of course, talking about downloadable content. Some fans love it, some hate it, but either way, The Terminator is likely to appear in your favourite game. Mortal Kombat 11, Gears 5, and Fortnite are just some titles working alongside Hollywood through DLC.

Cameos of a fan favourite characters may seem harmless but Fortnite received exclusive content from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Not only were characters featured in the battle royale but an exclusive piece of dialogue played before each match. The monologue, given by Emperor Palpatine actor Ian McDiarmid, was not featured in the film and was created exclusively for Fortnite. Even Star Wars Battlefront II, developed by DICE, did not receive the same content boost as the popular battle royale.

Star Wars Episode IX in Fortnite

Cinema seems to be effecting games in other more subtle ways as well. The upcoming Avengers (2020) merges the likeness of the film stars with their comic book counterparts. Other Marvel titles such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 and Marvel’s Spider-Man (2018) have both seen elements or character designs heavily influenced by their big-screen versions.

Could this be the new future for video games based on movies? Will our favourite films be reduced to paid DLC and expansions? Will it ever be possible for Hollywood to co-release a high-quality film and game again?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and tell us about your favourite game based on a movie. 

Richard Flint
Part of the UK team, Richard enjoys a bit of everything. From covering news, to meeting up with devs at events, Rich has done it all and loves every minute of it. No task is too big or too small and each new opportunity is a chance to grow as writer.

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    1. The biggest problem was that most of the games sucked. Not only were they not as good as the movie, but even as stand alone games, they just weren’t well made or fun a lot of the time. The Lego games work because they aren’t trying to be realistic or grandiose, but rather to tell a simplified, silly version of the stories using cute characters. Its a lot of fun, or at least was until they changed their model recently.

      I think that the better approach is to make a game that is in the same universe as the movie/TV show, but uses different characters and tells a different story. Jedi Fallen Order is a wonderful example of doing that. Back in the day, LOTR: War in the North was a good attempt as well. In that case, the game was so closely tied to the movies that it provides backstory to the Hobbit movies that you wouldn’t otherwise get, which is cool.

    2. Most licenced titles in general now tend to be mobile games, too. Without wanting to be too cynical- licenced games were mainly hooked around churning out any old shit to an undiscerning audience on the cheap, and that fits the mobile game market perfectly. Zynga makes a lot of its money just re-skinning the same match-three and slot machine games with whatever property it can get its hands on, whether that’s a nostalgia trip like Wizard Of Oz or more contemporary titles (for the time) like Ice Age.

      Related to what Ben rightly points out in his comment, and running slightly counter to my previous paragraph it feels like there’s perhaps more respect running in both directions, and developers now are setting out to make good games that themselves stand up as entries in their franchise- Star Wars being the best example, but also Alien Isolation, and Batman: Arkham Asylum in relatively recent memory. To a certain extent as well, properties that were born of games in the first place are now big enough to sell on their own name, and arguably are ‘licenced’ games in their own right- the new Animal Crossing is a good game, but it’s selling off the back of being “Animal Crossing”.

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