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Movies that were supposed to launch franchises (but didn’t): Doom

johnson - doom

Ten years ago today, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson starred in the video game adaptation, Doom.  Video game movies are always a risky proposition.  Even Doom‘s executive producer, John Wells, admitted that most of them sucked.  But there was reason to think Doom might be different.  The game the movie was based on was credited with popularizing the first-person-shooter style of gaming.  If a video game can be considered historically significant, Doom was.  Additionally, Johnson seemed poised to break out as a movie star.  All he needed was the right vehicle.  If Doom was it, you could practically smell the sequels.

But it turns out, Doom sucked.

I have never played any of the Doom games.  But I know people who were very devoted players.  The game takes place at an outpost on Mars which is invaded by demons from Hell.  Players run around collecting weapons, ammunition and other upgrades while blasting beasties back to Hell.  My apologies to fans of the game if I am missing any nuances.  But that’s about it.

Doom started as a PC game in the mid-nineties.  Almost immediately, rumors of a movie began.  But it took about ten years for it to actually happen.  The film rights were optioned by several studios who would then let the option expire and revert back to id Software.  Following the success of the 2002 video game movie, Resident Evil and probably more importantly its 2004 sequel, Universal wanted to put out its Doom adaptation as quickly as possible.

You can certainly see the appeal.  The Resident Evil movies are relatively cheap to make and they are reliable money-makers.  But in the history of video game movies, the Resident Evil franchise is the exception rather than the rule.  Still, there was reason to think that Doom might be able to duplicate their success.  The game’s premise is very similar to the popular Alien series.  In fact, the movie removed the creature’s hellish origins to deliver a movie that was closer to an Aliens knock-off.

Doom

The real reason for optimism was the casting of The Rock.  Everyone seemed to agree that sooner or later, the charismatic wrestler would establish himself as a bona fide movie star.  And yet his film career was a frustrating chain of near-misses.  Johnson made his jump into mainstream movies with a supporting role in the 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns.  The sequel had built-in franchise potential.  Johnson reprised his role the following year in the spin-off movie, The Scorpion King.  The Scorpion King was a modest hit at the box office which launched a slew of direct-to-video sequels.  But Johnson had bigger things in his future.

Johnson followed up The Scorpion King with the buddy picture, The Rundown and a remake of Walking Tall.   Neither were hits, but they weren’t embarrassing flops either.  In 2005, in addition to starring in Doom, Johnson had a supporting role in the Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool.  Be Cool was also a disappointment at the box office, but it kicked off an interesting trend in Johnson’s career.

When Doom failed to kick off a franchise as hoped, Johnson continued looking for a breakout role that could establish him as the movie star he was born to be.  In 2008, Johnson attempted to launch franchises with a supporting role in the big screen Get Smart and a reboot of the Witch Mountain franchise.  Race to Witch Mountain did okay, but not well enough to warrant the hoped-for sequels.

Where Johnson finally found success was starring in sequels to other people’s movies.  In 2011, Johnson joined the Fast and Furious ensemble for the fifth movie in the long-running series, Fast Five.  The presence of the Rock supercharged the series.  In a bit of irony, Fast star Vin Diesel had turned down Doom before Johnson agreed to star.

The following year, Johnson took over for Brendan Fraser in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.  And in 2013, he stepped in for the GI Joe sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation.  Once again, the addition of the Rock resulted in a bump at the box office.  While Johnson couldn’t start a franchise to save his life, he seemed to have a gift for breathing new life into existing series.

Case in point, in 2014 John starred in Brett Ratner’s Hercules.  That movie seemed like a slam-dunk to kick off sequels.  But once again, it disappointed at the box office.  In 2015, Johnson starred in the disaster movie, San Andreas.  Another box office disappointment.  But Furious 7 took the Fast and Furious series to new heights at the box office and an eighth entry is planned for 2017.

Doom

Ten years ago, Johnson was still best known as a wrestler.  His hopes of movie stardom were pinned on Doom.  Johnson had actually passed on another video game adaptation, Spy Hunter (which would have been directed by John Woo) in order to star in the sci-fi horror hybrid.  Fans of the game were excited to learn that the movie would be rated R rather than receiving a watered-down PG-13 rating.

They was also a lot of buzz about the presence of a scene shot in first-person just like the video game.  It seemed like the filmmakers were doing everything in their power to make a movie that recreated the experience of the game.  Of course the problem with that concept is that the audience isn’t in control of the movie.  So rather than recreating the feeling of playing the game, the movie recreates the feeling of watching someone else play.

Doom made a lot of nods to the game it was based on including fan-favorite weapons like the BFG (Big “Freaking” Gun).  But fans of the game were horrified to realize that the origin of the creatures had been changed from demons from Hell to generic aliens and genetic experiments.  To a lot of fans, it no longer felt like Doom.

Today, Doom is considered among the worst video game adaptations of all times.  Which is really saying something considering the competition.  Even Johnson had admitted that the movie was a failure.  But at least he’s got the Fast movies to fall back on.

More Movies that were supposed to…

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Posted on October 21, 2015, in Movies, movies that were supposed to... and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Is it just me or does SpyHunter sound a whole lot more like something you could base an actual movie on? I’d probably watch that.

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    • Of the two, I’d have gone with Spy Hunter. Just for the director alone. But Doom was the hotter game and apparently Johnson was a fan. Also, who knows what the script for Spy Hunter looked like. Maybe it was even weaker than the Doom script? There was definitely potential in the premise of Doom. Done right, it’s Pitch Black. Done wrong, it’s this.

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  2. Even though I’ve played my fair share of video games, I’ve never played “Doom” (I’m not really into first person shooters, more open world games and others that have something of a story). I do know a lot of it’s history though. I’ve never actually seen the film version, here, only the previews. I like Dwayne Johnson though.

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  3. I’ve played the game myself. One evening in the summer of 1996 I was playing one and listening to Metallica. My dad was working the night shift and came in to say good night before he left. The weapon I was using was the chain saw. We say good night and as he leaves he says to my mom “I’m worried about our son. He’s in there listening to heavy metal music and cutting up demons with a chain saw.”

    I never actually saw the movie version. Yeah, most video game based movies suck big time. I don’t 100% agree with Roger Ebert’s view that making a good movie based on a video game is impossible. If you have a good script, good acting and good direction, it can be done. But the prime problem is as a friend put it:

    “As much as some video games get praised for their storytelling (and deserve it!), those stories don’t convert very well into film. By nature, most video game scenes cover major moments, and while some aim for a real level of character development, there’s not much time to pull that off. And again, as Ken said, there’s a level of cheese that comes with a game that makes it super fun as a game but possibly pretty lame as a movie. I mean, the GTA games have very fun stories to play partially because the story reminds us of cheesy tropes. I remember playing Mafia II, which is a supremely well-told mob story — and barely a game. There’s just too many competing elements.”

    That’s it right there.

    I admit to a certain guilty pleasure enjoyment of the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie. Mainly because it managed to work the tournament fight plot form the game for maximum effect and because it understood the core audience (hardcore gamers) and targeted it accurately. The movie itself wasn’t great. But it understood how cheesy it was and used that to its advantage. I never saw MK: Annihilation, mainly because it looked atrocious. but also because by the time it was released, I was out of my hardcore gamer phase.

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    • My brother dragged me to the MK sequel. It was really bad. Like a marked drop off in quality from the first movie which was only barely watchable to begin with.

      I never heard Ebert say that it was impossible to adapt a video game. But he was very much on the record as saying video games could not be considered art. He fought that battle with fans for years and I don’t think he ever budged.

      Off the top of my head, the best video game adaptations I can think of would be the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider movies which aren’t what you would call good, but are kind of diverting.

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    • “I’m worried about our son. He’s in there listening to heavy metal music and cutting up demons with a chain saw.”

      I nominate that as the Comment of the Week! I love it.

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  4. I was about to criticize you for not talking about Uwe Boll directing it, until I looked it up and saw he didn’t! I’m amazed they could make a video game adaptation this terrible without Boll’s involvement!

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  5. Bad Movie Beatdown: Doom (2005)

    Film Brain begins his double bill on the works of Polish moviemaker Andrzej Bartkowiak beginning with his ill-fated attempt to adapt the popular videogame Doom without a single demon from hell. Go figure.

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  6. I watched the movie when it was on TV and I found it interesting. I didn’t play the 90’s version of DOOM (I played the 20xx version of the game) and I didn’t have any expectation about the movie. This must explain why I enjoyed it

    According to Mojo:

    Domestic Total Gross: $28,212,337
    Foreign Total Gross: $27,774,984.
    Worldwide Gross: $55,987,321
    Production Budget: $60 million

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  7. Doom had been played by over 20 Million people just in its first two years of release alone, so it obviously had a big fan base eager for a movie based on it. The game had a bare-bones concept just to move the action forward: scientists on Mars accidentally ripped open a portal leading to Hell, and the military is sent in to kill all the hellions and close the portal before they make their way to Earth. You learn this in the first two minutes of the game, and from then on it’s just pure shooting up demons.

    So my thought is, if you’re a producer working up a Doom movie, why would you even mess with that basic concept? I think the movie instead had genetically enhanced lab monsters, or some such. Why deviate from the basic concept that 20+ million people know and are familiar with? I thought that was a pretty dumb choice on behalf of the filmmakers.

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    • I get why the made the decision. “Demons from hell” courts controversy. There’s parts of the country where that could be a problem. Genetic experiments are not going to be picketed by the bible belt. They were hoping to appeal to a broader Aliens audience without upsetting fans of the game. They miscalculated.

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