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Ten Games That Should Have Been 80s Movies
Campy dialogue, over-the-top action, and great use of practical effects and CGI are but a few of the many reasons why we love the great action movies of the 80s. In fact, we love them so much that their influence has leaked into many of the storytelling conventions and design of some of our favorite video games today.
This influence is strong enough that it’s left me thinking about the ways these two mediums have crossed paths, and how so many of our favorite games today had a small window of missed opportunity to be fodder for some truly awesome 80s action movies. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying they would have been better off; rather, I’m imagining a dream parallel dimension where these ten pieces of work were never placed in our control, but instead debuted on the big screen in the fabled era of hair bands and neon.
1) Binary Domain
Between Rocky IV, The Terminator, and RoboCop, the 80s were a time when we Americans were robot-obsessed people. We fantasized about them, about their abilities, about what they could do to improve our lives. But we also feared the coming dawn of the impending robot uprising, making countless works that dealt with the apocalypse that would surely stem from an age controlled by machines.
Binary Domain fits in pretty well with that last sentiment. Although the robots in this campy action game never reach sentience in the same way as those found in the Terminator series, they still pose a major threat to all of our friends on the Rust Crew sent to put an end to them. Furthermore, all the best action character tropes in the world are found in Binary Domain, including a handsome and smooth-talking all-American protagonist, his big wisecracking friend, hardcore soldiers who take their jobs a bit too seriously, a random (and lovable) comedic fighting robot with a distinct French accent, and the one gusty soldier girl who has a tender side that our protagonist brings out with his irresistible boyish charm. Couple this motley crew with the great action sequences found in the game (including fighting titanic machines and taking out enemies from fast-moving cars), and you’ve got yourself a robot-blasting movie the likes of which could have given 80s nerds worldwide a sense of complete and unmitigated joy.
2) Gears of War
The 80s was an era of big muscles, big guns, and big masculinity, which also happen to be the three qualifiers that also aptly describe the Gears of War franchise. With big, gorilla-like marines jammed into metal suits and armed with massive chainsaw-laden weapons thrown into the story alongside ugly aliens and excessive gore, it’s actually more surprising that we didn’t get a movie that paralleled this game back in the day.
Considering that so much of the film’s effects would have been carefully handled with nothing but the best practical effects that lent an even more gross and realistic feel to it, Gears of War could have become a go-to hyper-violent movie with some serious cult classic status.
3) Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Set in a cyberpunk world chock full of memorable characters and augmentable body parts, one could easily envision a Deus Ex: Human Revolution movie being something of a more slow and cerebral experience a la Blade Runner. And it would have worked well, too; a stealthy hero capable of causing all manner of bodily harm thanks to his robotic limbs, a twisted story filled with interesting people, and a world torn apart by its own politics would have been some seriously heavy material to deal with, but it’s hard to imagine Ridley Scott or even Steven Spielberg not taking it and making the film something of greatness.
4) Fallout 3
The Cold War alone left us with so many fears of nuclear war and the Armageddon it would bring in its wake that it’s hard to imagine a Fallout film not doing well in this time. Speaking to the widespread public fears and depicting a future that terrifies in both its foreign and familiar concepts, Fallout as an 80s movie could have taken on serious powerhouse status as a statement film that condemned the fears and actions of the time. We were wary of war then, and the phrase “War. War never changes” seems like it could have kicked off a haunting look at one person’s struggle to reunite with family members in the wake of a nightmarish apocalyptic disaster.
5) Double Dragon
There’s already been a Double Dragon film that released back in the early 90s, but the film committed the same sin as so many other video game film adaptations of the time: it took liberties with the story that were so radical that by the time the film was complete, it only remotely resembled the source material. Now, artisitc liberty is a beautiful thing, but it’s a gross slip up indeed to take a property and jam pack it full of so many silly tropes and corny ideas to stretch it out into a twisted mess that barely ties itself back to the original work.
There’s almost a Roadhouse-like experience to be had in a truly violent live-action Double Dragon film. Two brothers using their mastery of the martial arts to rescue their shared love interest and a street gang with all manner of members hellbent on defeating our two heroes seems like enough fodder to make an action film that, while probably shallow and a bit devoid of substance, really could have made for entertaining and machismo-driven ride.
6) Dead Rising
If being trapped in a mall full of shambling hordes of the undead and all manner of weapons and accessories at your protagonist’s disposal doesn’t sound like enough to base a great action movie on, then I challenge you to tell me what is. Dead Rising would have made for a fantastic 80s action film for two reasons: One, it’s already campy and facetious, never truly taking itself seriously and encouraging the player to try and find creative ways to kill the most corpses. Two, imagine the use of practical effects in what would inevitably be a crazy, action-packed gore fest. The zombies, the set design, the weapon crafting, the fights…truly, Dead Rising is a missed opportunity whose real destiny as a grungy action horror film will sadly never be fully realized.
7) Duke Nukem 3D
The tough, big-talking action hero Duke already apes so many of the conventions that made 80s action stars so distinctly, well, 80s. Plus, he feels like someone who auditioned for Roddy Piper’s role in They Live, but fell just short of scoring the lead. Had he been given big guns to pack around, lots of aliens to fight, and a few sharp one-liners, Duke would have fit perfectly in action films of the era.
8) Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
I will always praise the use of good practical effects in film, and they’re part of the reason I love movies from the 80s. CGI, no matter how well-rendered, will always have a glossy sheen that prevents it from ever feeling as gross, awkward, and realistic as creative effects enacted by a team. And, practical effects are the sole reason a Symphony of the Night 80s action movie would have been fantastic. Imagine all the baddies you fight within the game, fully realized as creations borne of master makeup artists and costume designers. Add typical Belmont family drama and great fight scenes into the mix, and Symphony of the Night has some primo ingredients that could have made it a great action/horror film.
9) Sleeping Dogs
The cop drama that is Sleeping Dogs‘ story is a familiar one, but it’s the characters and their overall development that make it something special. Yes, there are a lot of great crime dramas still being produced today, but some of the true greats were released back in the heyday of 80s film making. Visiting Hong Kong, watching Wei Shen interact with both the police and the Triads as he begins to find himself tangled up in the web of the seedy criminal underworld would have made for a fantastic film, and the mere fact that much of the combat is based on martial arts leaves a lot of room for inventive choreography and action sequences that could have been truly impressive.
Jazzpunk is a bit of a weird entry on this list because of is lack of overt masculinity or brutal violence, but I’m always amazed at how much it feels like a playable Mel Brooks movie. Snappy, random comedy, parodies and riffs on existing properties and creations, and a general sense of goofy absurdity all make Jazzpunk the absurd little enigma that it is. Much like Get Smart, Jazzpunk takes comedic jabs at the spy genre and all the goofiness we’ve seen crop up in its films. Traversing the world and taking on missions make up core gameplay, and with its ability to be completely and utterly ridiculous, it seriously could have made for a great shock comedy in the same vein as Space Balls or Airplane.