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Will 'Warcraft' be the rare game movie adaptation to succeed?

The new film 'Warcraft,' which is based on the game 'World of Warcraft,' is one of several film adaptations of games being released this year, even though the genre is one that's been tough to find success in for Hollywood.

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    'Warcraft' stars Toby Kebbell.
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Many game characters are jumping to the big screen this year. 

From the April release “Ratchet & Clank” to the summer blockbusters “The Angry Birds Movie” and “Warcraft” to the November film “Assassin’s Creed,” hit games are serving as the source material for some of Hollywood’s biggest releases this year. 

Studios basing their films on pre-existing material is nothing new, but what is more surprising about these movies is that so far, the video game film adaptation in particular has proven to be a tough project to get right.

The 2001 Angelina Jolie movie “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” based on the “Tomb Raider” video games, became a hit. But recent projects like “Ratchet & Clank,” “Hitman: Agent 47,” and “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time,” among many others, have not translated either at the box office or with critics.

“I can't really think of a movie coming out from a game that has been very successful in the market and also has been really any good,” Simon Tarr, associate professor of art and media arts program coordinator at the University of South Carolina, says. 

Why would the world of these games not be fun to watch onscreen? Alenda Chang​,​ ​assistant ​professor ​in the department of ​f​ilm and ​m​edia ​s​tudies ​at the ​University of California, Santa Barbara, says watching these stories as a movie takes away the elements of what makes playing the games fun in the first place. 

“What makes many of these video game franchises successful is the ability to … control your own character and develop a narrative in an interactive way,” Professor Chang says. “…I'm not sure entirely that those translate well to a traditional cinematic experience other than the sort of novelty of seeing some of your beloved characters come to life.” Multi-player games like “Warcraft” also offer players “the ability to also connect socially with your existing networks and to meet new people,” she adds. 

Yet Hollywood is betting this year that these movies will find viewers. After these other films didn’t hit, what keeps studios coming back? 

“It’s proven, right?” Professor Tarr says. These games have a lot of fans that can turn up at the theaters if they are successfully drawn in. 

That’s easier said than done, though. Tarr says he’s not seeing a lot of anticipation for, in particular, “Warcraft” or “Assassin's Creed” among his acquaintances who play video games. “Nobody’s talking about the movies,” he says. Time will also tell whether the studios can bring in viewers who don’t know the source material. 

But Chang says she could see the “Assassin's Creed” film working better onscreen than some others because of the story’s “historical element.” (It takes place in fifteenth-century Spain.) 

And she believes Hollywood will keep trying to successfully bring video game characters to movie theaters, partially because of what’s popular in the movie industry right now.

“The truism right now is that Hollywood is less about stories than it is about world-building,” she says. (This can be seen with such franchises as the Marvel movies, the upcoming “Harry Potter” spin-off movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” and the spin-off “Star Wars” film “Rogue One,” to name a few.)

“And so I think that because that trend is occurring, they will turn more and more to virtual worlds and to video games because they have such fully-realized worlds.”

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