Video-game adaptations burn up the box office


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It is entirely possible to be an Oscar nominee (or even winner) and the star of a movie based on a video game.

Just ask Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie, who twice played Lara Croft, or Mark Wahlberg, who was the only actor nominated for best picture "The Departed" and later produced "The Fighter" -- with a stint as "Max Payne" in between.

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" starred a buff and British-accented Jake Gyllenhaal as a rogue prince who reluctantly joins forces with a feisty princess (Gemma Arterton). Together, they race against dark forces to safeguard an ancient dagger that will allow its owner to rule the world.

Last week, Screen Gems confirmed it would distribute a live-action adaptation of "The Last of Us," a PlayStation 3 game that arrived in stores in June.

It's set 20 years in the future when the human race has been overrun by a parasitic infection that turns people into zombie-like husks that hunt other humans. There is no cure, and the goal for the few remaining humans is to survive.

Max Parker, the Post-Gazette's Game Guy columnist, wrote at its release: "Naughty Dog has created a console-defining masterpiece in 'The Last of Us.' It achieves the perfect balance between thrilling action and emotional storytelling."

If that weren't enough, a cross-country journey includes a lengthy stay in Pittsburgh and the game features some Downtown landmarks along with the Strip District and Fort Pitt Bridge. It's too early to know whether they'll be retained in the transfer.

Today brings another video game adaptation with "Need for Speed" from director Scott Waugh, who says he wants audiences to feel what it's like to drive 230 miles an hour. Without bobbling their popcorn.

"Need for Speed" stars Aaron Paul (two-time Emmy winner for "Breaking Bad") as a man who runs his family's auto shop and races the underground street circuit on weekends. When he lands in prison for a crime he didn't commit, he has two years to plot vengeance in the action movie also starring Dominic Cooper, Imogen Poots and onetime Batmobile driver Michael Keaton.

As "Need for Speed" lands the pole position alongside other openers "Veronica Mars" and "Tyler Perry's The Single Moms Club," here's a look at the top-grossing video game adaptations in North America, courtesy of Rentrak Corp., global media measurement company.

1. "Wreck-It Ralph" (Nov. 2, 2012) -- It made nearly twice what "Flight" did when both movies opened on the same day and went on to bring in more than $189.4 million at the box office.

The 3-D animated family film, about a video game villain who tries to break free of his role, has references or homages to "Donkey Kong," "Rampage," "Call of Duty," "Metal Gear Solid" and "Root Beer Tapper" and lots of famous voices. Post-Gazette rating at time of release: 2.5stars out of 4stars

2. "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (June 15, 2001) -- Ms. Jolie brought a combination of sneer, swagger and sexuality to the archaeologist trying to stop a villain from gaining the ability to control time. Its opening weekend take of $48 million was a record for a movie based on a video game. It eventually made $131 million in North America and launched a sequel two years later. 1.5stars

3. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" (May 28, 2010) -- Sixth-century Persia provides the backdrop for Mr. Gyllenhaal's adopted prince wrongfully accused of killing his father, the king. Directed by Mike Newell and filmed largely in Morocco, it cost a reported $200 million but supplemented its $90.8 million in North America with $245 million overseas. 2stars

4. "Mortal Kombat" (Aug. 18, 1995) -- The visuals are stunning, from the morphing sorcerer to the bad guy with scorpions growing out of his palms. But the acting is nowhere near as impressive and it plays like a cheap imitation of an old Ray Harryhausen epic. Nevertheless, it made $70 million. 2stars

5. "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (July 25, 2003) -- Ms. Jolie, back as the fearless, frightfully fit Englishwoman, uncovers an ancient orb that is a map to finding Pandora's Box, which will unleash a deadly plague. In costumes such as a black bikini and form-fitting silver wet suit, she must keep the world safe with help from a former lover played by Gerard Butler. The sequel made roughly half of the original with nearly $65.7 million. 2.5stars

6. "Resident Evil: Afterlife" (Sept. 10, 2010) -- This 3-D horror film, which grossed $60.1 million, was the fourth installment in the series starring Milla Jovovich as invincible zombie killer Alice. Of special interest to Pittsburghers was the addition of Wentworth Miller, a 1990 graduate of Quaker Valley High School and star of "Prison Break," as the game character Chris Redfield. 1star

7. "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" (Sept. 10, 2004) -- This was a sequel to 2002's "Resident Evil," which didn't burn up the box office but did well on home video. Ms. Jovovich was back as a security chief trying to help survivors escape a zombified metropolis before a nuclear strike. One critic called her "babe-tastic," while another wrote: With its miniskirted heroines and gooey guts-a-plenty, "Apocalypse" appealed mainly to guys under the age of 25, who fattened the box office by $50.7 million. 2.5stars

8. "Resident Evil: Extinction" (Sept. 21, 2007) -- In the third chapter of the franchise, set in the Nevada desert, Alice now has superhuman strengths, senses and dexterity. She and her crew, played by Oded Fehr, Mike Epps, Ali Larter and Ashanti, try to make a final stand against evil and turn the undead dead again. They scored $50.6 million. 1star

9. "Silent Hill" (April 21, 2006) -- Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean star in this adaptation about a town possessed by the damned and a mother who must survive it (and grotesquely deformed creatures) to save her daughter. She had taken the girl there to cure her of an ailment but the child disappears after a violent car crash. It made just shy of $50 million at the box office. 1.5stars

10. "Resident Evil: Retribution" (Sept. 14, 2012) -- Fifth installment of the franchise in which Ms. Jovovich's Alice is the only hope for the human race, which is headed for extinction. She fights her way through cities and across continents, all inside Umbrella Corporation's prime research facility where old friends become new enemies. Another $42.3 million added to the coffers. 1star

Bonus: In "Max Payne" (Oct. 17, 2008), Mr. Wahlberg is a former homicide cop now assigned to the cold case unit. He is still haunted by the unsolved murders of his wife and infant but finds there may be a link with some new deaths, which puts Payne in everyone's sights, from fellow officers to Russian mobsters and villains.

It's bleak, has story holes the size of the Fort Pitt Tunnel and an ending that's not quite an ending. "Max Payne" (2stars ) grossed almost $40.7 in North America.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.

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