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