The Three Great Movies About Videogames
Up until the early 1980s, videogames played such a minor role not only in the American consciousness but also in the movies, where they would either be part of the background scenery (as it would often be) or play only minor parts related to the movie's overall story, as in the case of National Lampoon's Vacation where the Griswald children used their Astrocade game controls to invade their father's graphical display of their proposed family vacation trip to Wally World.  But with videogames reaching the point of popularity where it seemed that everybody and their grandmother would want to play them, movie studios would eventually find a way to express the greatness of the hobby even further to the still-uneducated masses that found their entertainments from anything other than videogames.  Within the space of two to three years in the early 1980s, videogames finally had the movies that would communicate the message of the new entertainment medium:
Walt Disney's TRONTRON (1982) by Walt Disney Pictures -- which gave moviegoers the double treat of awesome 3D computer-generated imagery that would take years for even videogame systems to emulate, and the vision of the possible future of videogaming that would later be touched upon by Star Trek: The Next Generation with its "holo-deck" and The Lawnmower Man.  Videogame designer and player Kevin Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges, tries to break into the fictional game company Encom's mainframe computer to find evidence that the games that he has personally invented were stolen by his former co-worker and now corporate rival Ed Dillinger (David Warner), only for his pirate program Clu (also played by Bridges) to be discovered and brutally deleted by Dillinger's Master Control Program.  With the help of his friends and former co-workers Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) and Laura Baines (Cindy Morgan), Flynn again attempts to break into Encom's computer, only this time from the inside, but the Master Control Program now has a personal encounter with the "boy detective" and uses a matter-digitizing laser developed by Laura Baines and Encom founder Dr. Walter Gibbs (Bernard Hughes) to transform Flynn from a human User to a human-looking program inside the world of the System, where the Master Control Program captures programs and locks them away inside the Game Grid to play videogames as deadly real-life contests designed for only one thing -- their destruction.  Here Flynn sees the System's mirror images of people he recognized from the real world -- Sark (Warner), the malevolent field commander of the Master Control Program's Warrior Elite; Tron (Boxleitner), Alan's security program turned warrior designed to defeat Sark and the Master Control Program; Dumont (Hughes), the Input-Output Tower Guardian who bears Gibbs' face; and Yori (Morgan), the Factory Domain worker program who's possibly Laura's digital avatar -- along with some other program-beings who become part of Flynn's quest to return to the real world.  While the movie wasn't a very big success, it did inspire the release of two popular arcade games from Midway, some Intellivision games from Mattel which include Tron Deadly Discs and Solar Sailor, and two Atari 2600 games also from Mattel -- in addition to a belated game-based sequel for personal computers called Tron 2.0, where Alan Bradley's son Jet becomes like Flynn, thrust into an updated version of the same computer world dealing with a new dangerous threat to all digital life. Currently the movie now has a theatrical sequel called Tron Legacy where Kevin Flynn's son Sam finds his father trapped in the Game Grid for 20 years after he supposedly disappeared, and that his own program, an updated version of Clu, has turned against him and hunted down a new form of digital life forms into near-extinction, with Sam now charged to protect the last known living life form from Clu's machinations.
MGM/UA's WarGamesWarGames (1983) by MGM/United Artists -- which mixed the growing popularity of computer gaming with the possible threat of a nuclear war that people suspected could be triggered by the growing problem of hackers breaking into other people's computer systems through the phone lines.  High-school underachiever David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is such a videogame fanatic that his arcade-playing habits cause him to be late for class and even get in trouble with his teachers -- yet that only serves his purpose of finding out the school's computer system password so he can break in and change his grades in his favor.  While at the dinner table, David discovers an ad for upcoming games from the fictional company of Protovision and decides to use his computer to search out phone numbers in the California area that would give him access to the company's computer (to try out their games?).  The search, interestingly, comes up with a mysterious log-on screen that David tries to enter the password to access with no success -- until through some research on programmer Professor Stephen Faulken (John Wood) he finds the right password and gets access to a program called Joshua, which unknown to him until later on is a military defense wargame program codenamed WOPR, and starts up a game of Global Thermo-Nuclear War which makes the Colorado-based defense bunker commanders believe that a real war has been initiated by the Soviet Union.  Of course, when David does find out, he also gets arrested and taken into custody at the same defense bunker where he is questioned and suspected of working with the Soviets.  Breaking out of there and getting in touch with his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy), David finds out where Faulken, who was presumed dead but is actually living under a new name, currently lives and asks for his help, which he ends up offering in time to deal with the movie's endgame sequence, where the confused Joshua program starts to launch real missiles to deal with an imaginary Soviet missile attack.  The movie has spawned a few games related to its subject and also a TV series called Whiz Kids where some brainy teen hackers help solve some mysteries. A direct-to-video movie sequel called WarGames: The Dead Code was released in later years.
Universal's The Last StarfighterThe Last Starfighter (1984) by Lorimar/Universal Pictures -- which echoed Tron's story element of being cast into a world where a videogame becomes reality, and also features the use of 3D computer-rendered imagery, but sets its story and said imagery into our own universe.  College-bound trailer park resident Alex Rogan (Lance Guest), who finds himself constantly helping his landlord out with fixing things that break down instead of having fun with his friends, becomes an expert player at the park's only arcade game machine Starfighter, even breaking the game's high score record.  However, when a mysterious person by the name of Centauri (Robert Preston) shows up in his automobile to find the person responsible for breaking the machine's high score record, Alex naturally assumes that he's going to receive some sort of cash reward from the company that made the machine.  Unfortunately, Alex realizes that the Starfighter machine was actually a training device used to find potential pilots to fly the real thing in a real version of an out-of-this-world battle with Xur (Norman Snow) and the Ko-Dan Empire, and wants to go back home immediately.  But Alex finds himself pursued by alien assassin agents sent to destroy him back home on Earth, and the only way he can protect himself as well as his family and the rest of Earth is to return and become the galaxy's last Starfighter.  I like this movie because of its humor and that it doesn't even try hard to become a "Star Wars Lite" like other movies of that era.  Atari did pick up the rights to create games based on this movie for the Atari 5200 and 8-bit personal computer systems, but although the Last Starfighter game was near completion, the Tramiel takeover of Atari in 1984 caused this project to go on the shelf for four or five years, only to resurface in completed form as Star Raiders II for the XE Game System.
Hollywood Pictures' Super Mario Bros.New Line's Mortal KombatParamount's Tomb Raider
These weren't the only movies that came out that prominently featured videogames as the stars.  Cloak & Dagger (1984), which starred Dabney Coleman in dual roles, had at the core of its story a videogame cartridge that contained secret information that some spies wanted to sell to the highest bidder, and the boy who has it must protect it at all costs with the help of his imaginary friend character.  The Wizard (1989) was about a young somewhat autistic boy who was on a personal quest, whose talent for playing Nintendo games causes his brother and another friend they pick up along the way to help him out in both training for a videogame championship contest and in fulfilling that boy's personal goal, even while their parents and a hired bounty hunter pursue them across the country.  Arcade (1993), which came out only on video, was something of a low-grade horror film where teenagers who play a newly-released videogame end up being killed by it.  Then came the movies that were based on existing videogames in the 1990s and beyond, such as Super Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter II, Double Dragon, Wing Commander, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, and Resident Evil, all of which either succeeded or failed to capture what made these games exciting enough to play and to consider making into movies (though personally, I would rather see a Legend Of Zelda movie instead of a Super Mario Bros. movie despite its having Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo playing Mario and Luigi).  In 2003 there's Spy Kids 3D, the third in the movie series, where the two children of a secret agent couple confront a villainous game designer played by Sylvester Stallone within a virtual reality game he's created. In 2012, there's Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, which is basically "Toy Story" with videogame characters", where a videogame villain of a classic arcade game wants to be recognized as a hero and tries to achieve his heroism in another videogame, only to cause problems as another videogame's villain becomes a destructive infestation in yet a totally different videogame. And in 2015, there's the Adam Sandler comedy film Pixels, in which his character and a few of his friends must stop an alien invasion by forces disguised as video game characters that want to reduce the planet Earth to a pile of pixels.
Will people actually pay to see movies based on videogames?  It really depends on the strengths of the movie itself, such as scripting, casting, acting, and a whole lot of other things that can make or break a movie independent of anything else outside it such as merchandise tie-ins.  If it is capable of standing on its own without obvious tie-ins, such as in the case of The Wizard which was criticized for being a movie-length commercial for Nintendo gameware, then I'm sure that people will want to see it.  We should remember that not everybody who watches movies actually even enjoys videogames, so we would be mistaken if all those who watch movies based on videogames will have their minds changed about the subject.

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