Why A Temple Run Movie Doesn't Have to be Bad

Cinema purists decrying the lack of substance in modern film have more fuel to add to the fire: a film version of Temple Run, a popular game for mobile phones, is in the works. Some are saying it's a bad thing. It doesn't have to be.

A similar story was reported in May, when it came out that an Angry Birds film was being developed for a 2016 release. Media companies are clearly looking at the number of downloads and hoping they will translate into ticket sales. How likely that is remains to be seen.

In the studios’ ideal world, an adaptation of a video game would attract the built-in audience of gamers, and then also appeal to filmgoers with no prior experience with the franchise. In theory, it’s a great way to use an existing property to build a franchise. In practice, it has been less than successful.

With the exception of Wreck-It-Ralph, which was a new property with cameos from video game characters, video game films have traditionally underperformed at the box office. 2010’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a notable example, grossing just $336 million at the worldwide box office on a budget of $200 million. The normal 2x-2.5x requirement for a film to break even (marketing and other costs need to be taken into consideration) meant that the film’s relatively high gross was a failure for the studio.

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Few other video game franchises fared better. Apart from the Resident Evil and Pokemon franchises, which regularly release new films (though some are direct to home media), video game films tend not to perform to expectation. Doom, the Lara Croft films, and Mortal Kombat all failed (although Mortal Kombat is supposed to be going through a renaissance with an upcoming movie and the Legacy Youtube series), to varying degrees, to earn the money the studios were looking for. Critically, the films were all trashed.

The difference here is that these mobile games, simplistic as they are, are aimed at general audiences, including children. There is only the slightest attempt at storytelling within the games, so there isn’t a whole lot a screenwriter would have to do in order to adhere to the existing narrative. A lot more room to create a new plot, with new characters – to tell a story, in other words.

There's no outcry when films take an existing literary property (except on the side of the book readers, occasionally). Film has a history of adapting ideas from different media. Sometimes the work is good, sometimes its bad. There's no blanket rule, and it would be unfair to judge a film on its origins in a game that has virtually no story. It's essentially being built from the ground up, but with a recognizable name.

Even if the films end up being lower quality on the story end, it’s generally well known that young children will see anything. A film about Angry Birds or Temple Run might even be extra-exciting to that tiny (height-wise) demographic, and it seems unlikely that the films will target anything but the broad audience the games were made for.

Whether this all means a shift will be made toward making more casual-gaming based films remains to be seen, but Hollywood tends to go where the money is. A Cut the Rope or Plants vs. Zombies movie (actually, that second one sounds kind of cool) could conceivably join the ranks of Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell and Warcraft as the next big video game movies, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, creatively or financially.

However it turns out, the films are far enough away that any pitchfork sharpening is grossly premature. Both Temple Run and Angry Birds are set to release in 2016.

Comments 3
Syranda Raffoul's picture

This makes me think of that terrible movie they made based on the board game battleship. It's not really a new concept, and you're right, it's not single handedly going to kill cinema. It's just likely to add to a pile of awful summer blockbusters. Even if one or two adaptations are cool and do well at the box office, it'll just open the door for hundreds of other lazy adaptations of popular apps.

Still, as you said, no need to lynch the filmmakers. Films don't all need to be Citizen Kane. It's a broad medium, with diverse audiences who are looking for different things and there's plenty of room for everybody.

George Prax's picture

I was actually telling Rob the same thing Syranda! For me, this is more along the lines of Hasbro licensing board games to studios than film adaptations. The bigger games are going more cinematic and story driven, and I think that will help them translate better to screen. That said, I think that gamers will almost always hate movie adaptations of their favorite games, because the experience of playing a game is just fundamentally different from watching a movie.

A game can stretch a story to 30+ hours, and is allowed ludonarrative dissonance between the gameplay and the story, while a film has to thrive to tell a concise story in two hours and allow for suspension in disbelief. That's not to say that a game to film adaptation can't be done, just that they're different mediums both filmmakers and gamers have to realize that instead of forcing themselves to remain fixated on the source material. That's the big step here.

As for Temple Run, like I said, they're licensing out basically the title, so I don't even know why it would be lumped in. But I agree that it doesn't have to be bad, there are plenty of things they can do with it as an adventure story and they don't have to be concerned with pissing off fans.

Josh Walters's picture

Wasn't Indiana Jones the original temple run?

All jokes aside though I agree with you George. Games like "The Last of Us" by Naughtydog are some of which shouldn't ever be made into movies. The story is so deep that it actually needs the 30+ hours of gameplay to get the message across. Same thing with novels too, the creators of the Harry Potter movies did a pretty decent job at covering all the books but these occurrences are few and far between.