Has 'Tomb Raider' Broken the Video Game Movie Curse?

Alicia Vikander's film is unlikely to come in at No. 1 at the box office, but it's a win for a genre plagued by poor adaptations.

There have been plenty of video game movie adaptations over the years, but critical and financial successes in the genre are few and far between.

With this year's Tomb Raider, Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and star Alicia Vikander are hoping to follow in the path of one of the few video game films to have resonated with audiences, 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. The film is the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time, and it made a box-office giant out of star Angelina Jolie.

While the original film was not exactly lauded by critics (it has a 20 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), fans of the game franchise and Jolie's take on the suave, gun-toting, robot-kicking titular tomb raider bolstered a box-office take of more than $155 million and even spawned a sequel in 2003.

Like Jolie, Vikander had already won an Oscar when she signed on to play Lara Croft. The two actresses differ, however, in their portrayals of the character. While the two Jolie-led films of the early 00s showcased a more sexually-charged, over-the-top, quippy Lara (as she was similarly presented in the game series at the time), Vikander's Croft is more realistic, both in her choice of attire and her physical limitations. 

The original Jolie films have been panned by fans and critics for questionable dialogue and set pieces, as well as the sequel's infamous "shark punching" scene, but Vikander's turn introduces a more grounded action hero who struggles with the ethical ramifications of taking life and the dangers of traversing unexplored, hostile environments. 

While it's pacing to perform well at the box office — a rare accomplishment for video game adaptations — it will likely fail to dethrone Black Panther, which looks to keep its No. 1 spot for an astonishing fifth weekend in a row. Vikander's real-life husband, Michael Fassbender, just last year was at the head of one of 2017's most infamous flops, an adaptation of the popular game Assassin's Creed.

The new Tomb Raider currently sits at 49 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, which isn't enough to earn a "Fresh" rating, but the score does make it the most positively reviewed live-action video game adaptation of all time (the top rating of 50 percent goes to last year's animated Japanese release Resident Evil: Vendetta). In fact, only four other video game films even crack 40 percent on the site: 2017's Pokemon: I Choose You! (43 percent), 2016's The Angry Birds Movie (44 percent), 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (45 percent) and the aforementioned Resident Evil: Vendetta — making Tomb Raider a clear standout in the genre.

Other than Jolie's Lara Croft, commercially successful video game film adaptations are few and far between, with the Resident Evil franchise being the notable exception, having made over $1 billion at the global box office over the last decade and a half. Only two video game films in history have managed to cross the $100 million mark domestically, Jolie's Tomb Raider and Angry Birds, while films like Assassin's Creed and 2016's Warcraft failed to make back even half of their production budget at the domestic box office.

The failure of adapting games for the big screen is underscored by the profits many of the game franchises boast. World of Warcraft had a subscriber count of over 12 million at its peak in 2010 while the Assassin's Creed series has sold more 100 million copies since the first title was released in 2007. Meanwhile, mobile game Angry Birds has been downloaded more than 3 billion times, yet the film wasn't even successful enough to warrant a sequel.

2018's Tomb Raider is likely not going to be a box-office juggernaut, but the fact that it's getting relatively positive reviews and is headed for a respectable box-office showing equals a success (judging it on the video game movie scale) and doesn't preclude that the film could score a sequel for Vikander.