After Warner Bros. cinematic triumph of “The LEGO Movie,” the production company turned its attention to another beloved, block-based property for its next animated film, and Minecraft fans rejoiced. Because “The LEGO Movie” was such a success, with smart humor, snappy songs, and an exciting plot, many expect the forthcoming Minecraft film to be similarly entertaining, filled with references and fun every crafter will enjoy. However, we aren’t so sure.
Warner Bros. has almost nothing to lose by producing a Minecraft movie. As the third most successful video game of all time, Minecraft has an enormous and cult-like following, and if even half of all players fill theater seats, the production company as well as Microsoft and Mojang will have a serious blockbuster. Yet, after a number of staffing changes and plenty of radio silence, it seems like the movie may not be as easy to put together as everyone thought. We think we know why.
Few Games Make Good Films
It is easy to list off the most popular video game franchises in history: “Mario,” “Final Fantasy,” “Halo,” “FIFA,” “Call of Duty,” etc. Yet no successful video game has been equally successful in other media. Even games that rely heavily on plot and characters, like “Diablo” or “Grand Theft Auto,” would have a hard time transitioning from home consoles to movie theaters.
Which isn’t to say film producers haven’t tried. Dozens of popular video games have found their way to the silver screen, but almost all have been commercial and critical flops. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” has been the most successful video game film to date, but even so it generated a paltry $131 million in the box office and a feeble 19 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In 2016, audiences and gamers look forward to three adaptations of popular games: “Assassin’s Creed,” “Angry Birds,” and “Warcraft,” all spearheaded by big names in the movie biz.
Experts suspect two major problems that impede the popularity of video game movies. The first is the organization of plot: Movies generally follow a three-act structure (exposition, rising action, and climax) while video games are increasingly non-linear. The second is that movies deprive gaming audiences of the interaction they so crave. The Minecraft game depends on the decisions and actions of its players, while the Minecraft movie will proceed without any audience input. Ultimately, video game movies feel like watching someone else play, which is a sensation many gamers loathe.
The Film’s Leadership Seems Shaky
Initially, Minecraft fans rejoiced to learn that the director of “The LEGO Movie,” Shawn Levy, had signed on to direct the Minecraft film. However, only a few months after Levy joined the team, he quit. Levy explained that his team created a story he was comfortable with ― allegedly a Goonies-esque adventure in a Minecraft world ― but Mojang wasn’t interested. According to Levy, the game’s creators actually said, “If we’re going to see a movie get made, we don’t know what we want, but that doesn’t feel right.”
Yet, having a clear vision for the film is imperative for its success, especially considering that the project is now led by an animated movie rookie, Rob McElhenney, who has no feature-length film direction to his name. McElhenney is best known for his credits on the FX sitcom “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a show which is far outside the normal realms of humor. Though McElhenney’s devotion to his projects can’t be denied, his offbeat style and lack of experience are serious risks.
Minecraft Tells Everyone’s Story ― And No One’s
Mojang’s difficulty explaining exactly what they want in the film is likely due to the fact that unlike most video games, Minecraft has no story whatsoever, which is to say that it tells any and every story.
Players choose an appropriate Minecraft world from a Minecraft server list and tell whatever story they choose, whether on their own or with others. Players are the stars of the show, as well as the directors, prop makers, set designers, cinematographers, and every other film production role. Players can make action-adventures, romances, period pieces, science fictions, and more ― all at once. In comparison, a movie is an incredibly narrow view of the game which only shows the incredibly limited experience of a handful of characters. Most fans will not be able to help their disappointment.
Minecraft Already Has Media
What’s more, perhaps more than any other video game franchise, Minecraft already has a wealth of media that users enjoy; the problem for Mojang is that this media is user-produced, which means the creators have a hard time profiting from it. The Web is bursting with fan-made videos, art, stories, and more, and every day users generate more creative, more exciting ways to engage their community through their favorite game. Considering the existing media is free, it is unlikely that many fans will be willing to cough up $10 to see a more expensive and less immersive version of the works already online.