Screen Themes — Angry Birds and the History of Video Game Movies

By | | comments |

While comic book adaptations rake in the big bucks at the box office, video game to movie conversions have always struggled. Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the new Angry Birds Movie and “highlights” from gaming movie history.

The Angry Birds Movie (2016) — directed by Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Unless you have been living under a rock or an area will poor mobile coverage, it seems likely that you’re aware of the Angry Birds phenomenon. Starting life as a simple yet addictive App based game in 2009, the franchise has grown to include a multitude of spinoffs, a cartoon series, toys and even a feature film.  How does one make a feature film based on as simple a concept as Angry Birds? Pretty poorly, as it turns out…

The ostensible star of the movie is Red, a misanthropic ("misavithropic", perhaps?) dickhead with an anger management problem. Voiced by the occasionally entertaining Jason Sudeikis, Red remains an unlikable character for the majority of the film, and his 11th hour discovery of the value of friendship feels entirely contrived. Faring slightly better are Red’s companions (it seems a stretch to call them friends) are the motormouthed Chuck (voiced by Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb, voiced by Danny McBride doing his best Seth Rogen impersonation.

Undoubtedly the best character in Angry Birds is Mighty Eagle, voiced by Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. Considered a hero to the birds, Eagle is lazy, arrogant and over-the-hill, and the closest thing that this movie has to a fully realised character.

The plot (such as it is) revolves around a bunch of pigs who appear on bird island one day, con most of the birds with some tired shenanigans, then steal all of their eggs. Naturally, Red is suspicious of the pigs motives, and after the eggs are stolen the townspeople turn to him to retrieve their unborn children. Because anger is more effective than diplomacy, you know?

At the end of the day, the biggest problem with Angry Birds is not that it’s a bad movie (although it is), but rather we adults have been spoiled by the incredible output of Pixar studios. From Toy Story, through Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Inside Out, Pixar have managed to create movies that entertain both adults and children, contain realistic, fully fleshed out characters and really make you feel something. Angry Birds, by comparison, is loud, predictable and entirely forgettable.

Angry Birds rating: 2/10

The History of Video Game Movies

Released back in 1993, Super Mario Bros is widely held to be the first video game to movie conversion and tells the story of a stereotypical Italian plumber and his quest to rescue a beautiful princess. The decidedly British Bob Hoskins adopts a dodgy accent to portray the plucky plumber while a pre-Romeo & Juliet John Leguizamo looks vaguely embarrassed as his brother Luigi. The only one who comes out of the film with any dignity is Dennis Hopper, who plays the villainous King Koopa as if everything going on around him were totally real. Considering the many drugs Hopper is reputed to have taken over the years, it may well have been real to him…

Fighting games seemed like an obvious choice for adaptation, and side scroller Double Dragon was the first to make it to the big screen in 1994. Starring the charisma-free Scott Wolf from Party of Five along with Mark Dacascos and Robert Patrick, low production values and an inane script led to failure at the box office but a reasonable life on home video. Only a month later came Street Fighter, the game known as “king of the milk bar”, starring action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme  and pop princess Kylie Minogue. It was pretty bloody awful, but made almost $100 million at the global box office, which isn’t bad against a reported production budget of $35 million.

The bar for video game movies was raised (slightly) in 2001, with the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (starring Angelina Jolie) and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (starring a bunch of creepy motion captured CGI sprites). Neither film was particularly good, but Tomb Raider set a new record at the box office, taking in almost $275 million at the box office, a record that it held until 2010 when it was dethroned by the awful Prince of Persia: Sands of Time.

The pace of technological improvements means that filmmakers are now able to bring photo-realistic video game characters to screen, as seen recently in the sporadically entertaining Pixels. Unfortunately, far more time seems to be spent on special effects and finding a hip young cast than writing a decent script, as evidenced by the sub-moronic plots of dreck like Max Payne, Hitman: Agent 47 and Battleship (technically a board game to movie conversion, but the argument holds).

Looking to the future, the impending Assassins Creed movie certainly seems to capture the atmosphere of the game, and stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard aren’t known for phoning it in. On the downside, Australian director Justin Kurzel has little experience with action blockbusters his most notable films to date are the creepy Snowtown and the little-seen Macbeth. There is also the table-game to movie Warcraft (starring Travis Fimmel from Vikings) and the long awaited movie version of Uncharted, rumoured to star Nathan Fillion from Firefly.

On the other hand, there are also movies based on Centipede, Missile Command and Tetris in pre-production — can classic (yet entirely uncinematic) games like Combat, Adventure or Pong be far behind?

Like what you read? John Turnbull''s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Get the latest movie reviews! Subscribe to IA for just $5.

Recent articles by John Turnbull
The tragic comedy of Clerks III

Drawing from his own life story, Kevin Smith has jammed gum in the locks of his ...  
Screen Themes: Nomadland is Easy Rider for the 2020s

John Turnbull checks out the multi-Academy Award-winning film Nomadland and its ...  
Screen Themes: Nobody vs Mortal Kombat

In the wake of the least-watched Oscars in recent history, entertainment editor ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support Fearless Journalism

If you got something from this article, please consider making a one-off donation to support fearless journalism.

Single Donation


Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate