From Video Games to the Silver Screen

First there was those crazy Mario Brothers. Then video game fanatics saw they’re much-loved, karate-chopping pastime Mortal Kombat flash on the silver screen. Now Dungeons and Dragons aficionados have even more reasons to rejoice to their D&D gods.

The classic role-playing, fantasy-adventure game arrives in theaters Dec. 8 — with nearly three decades of past and current D&D players ready to flock to national theaters to watch it. With a reported budget of $36 million and backed by proven executive producer Joel Silver (“The Matrix,” “Die Hard,” “Lethal Weapon“), “Dungeons and Dragons” is sure to get the high-profile treatment to match the legions of anxious D&D fans.

Starring Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch (“American Beauty“), Marlon Wayans (“Scary Movie”) and Justin Whalin (“The New Adventures of Lois and Clark”), among others, the film is the tale of a rag-tag group of adventurers seeking to foil the plans of an evil wizard.

But like the aforementioned games, it’s not the first time a popular kids’ game has become a feature film, nor will it be the last. Paramount’s “Tomb Raider,” starring Oscar winner Angelina Jolie and due in theaters next summer, is based on the popular video game featuring a buxom female adventurer named Lara Croft who can be described essentially as a female Indiana Jones in shorts and with breasts (and less stubble). The film’s script reportedly takes off where Tomb Raider III — the video game — left off.

Is Hollywood running out of ideas? Or are studios trying to cash in on the popularity of video games? A little of both, some say.

“When you have a property or a game or characters that prove to be popular in another entertainment medium, there’s always a filmmaker or a studio that will try to translate those characters on the big screen,” says Paul Dergarabedian, president of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations. “The hope is that you’ll carry over the audience from that video game to the box office.”

That attempt isn’t always fruitful. “Super Mario Bros.” (1993) was a box office stinker, grossing a mere $20.9 million. The trick is to produce a film that not only appeals to game’s aficionados, but also to the public in general. If studios can entice both sectors of the market, they’ve got a recipe for a successful film.

Such was the case with “Mortal Kombat” (1995) and “ X-Men” (2000), each grossing $70.5 million and $157.3 million, respectively. “X-Men” made $54 million its opening weekend and although it didn’t originate from a video game, it’s a good example of a film that lured non-X-Men fans to theaters, Dergarabedian says.

Dungeons and Dragons” distributor New Line Cinema is banking on the games’ 25-year history and popularity to bring in the hordes of D&D fans — as well as their spending cash. Consider the following:

The game is one of the best-known fantasy titles and has generated more than $1 billion is sales worldwide, including publication of more than 400 novels. D&D products have been translated into 18 different languages and toy maker Hasbro is about to launch a 25th anniversary line of D&D products, just in time for the holidays and the film’s release, of course.

“For millions of people worldwide, Dungeons and Dragons has been the penultimate fantasy game for more than 25 years,” says Mark Ordesky, president of Fine Line Features. “This film will deliver for die-hard fans as well as those who have never been exposed to this epic world of magic, sorcery and adventure.”

Whether “Dungeons and Dragons” fares well at the box office is still to be seen. But the studio and the marketers behind the film have their work cut out for them, says Dergarabedian.

“The main factor is getting the fans of that property (D&D) to embrace the movie. It’s a tough audience because you have built-in expectations and preconceived notions of how certain characters should be translated to the big screen.”