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Why Is It So Hard To Adapt ‘Resident Evil’?

Resident Evil is quite possibly the most successful game franchise of all time. So why has it been so hard to make a movie based on the game series?

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There have been multiple attempts at adapting the Resident Evil games into live-action movies and shows: the Milla Jovovich movies, the Welcome to Raccoon City movie, and the Netflix show. While the success of these endeavors has been mixed, none have truly been good adaptations of the source material for a variety of reasons. Here’s our dissection of Resident Evil movies and shows and why they can never quite reach the same heights as the video games.

Adaptations in name only

Alice, Claire and Abigail in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

Despite the Milla Jovovich Resident Evil films being the most successful version of the live-action movies and shows, the films are truthfully adaptations in name only. This is due to a combination of factors, mainly that the protagonist is an original character named Alice. While we do later see characters like Jill Valentine and Albert Wesker, they all play minor or supporting roles alongside Alice.

Despite the lack of connection to the games, the approach ended up being a financial success for the films, as Resident Evil was at one time the highest-grossing video game movie series, the highest-grossing zombie movie series, and the highest-grossing horror movie series.

The Netflix Resident Evil show tried to replicate that success by creating an entirely original plotline that doesn’t fit into any of the established canon. However, the show alienated fans of the games with the many strange changes, and it was ultimately panned by audiences and critics alike.

Easter eggs aplenty

(Sony Pictures Releasing)

This is arguably the opposite of the “in name only” issue, but it is still a major problem these projects contend with. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City tried to fit as many references as possible in its meager runtime, even if they didn’t make sense. The movie focused so much on these random references and the appearance of faithfulness that the filmmakers forgot to focus on aspects like plot, character, or theme.

Overstuffed plot

Resident Evil Welcome to Raccoon City
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

Another issue that many video game films suffer from is that they are attempting to condense hours, if not days of playtime, into one feature-length movie. Welcome to Raccoon City made the mistake of trying to condense both Resident Evil 1 and 2 into a single film while not managing to succeed at adapting either.

A show might arguably work better, especially for games like RE4 that have designated chapters. But Netflix’s Resident Evil show was ultimately a flop, too, and there’s been no news about future live-action projects since.

A competitive zombie market

A man in scrubs stands alone on a bridge in London in "28 Days Later"
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

There is also the issue that the Resident Evil films first came out at the beginning of the zombie media boom, which arguably started in 2003 with 28 Days Later and “ended” with World War Z in 2013. Ultimately, the Milla Jovovich films moved away from zombies as the series went on, focusing more on exploring the dystopian aspects of the world they created.

I would argue that 28 Days Later, the film that revived the dormant zombie genre, is the best Resident Evil film ever made. It follows a young man, a young woman, and a girl in a zombified urban wasteland that was created when a man-made “rage” virus was accidentally released. Basically, it’s the plot of Resident Evil 2. The film’s creators, Danny Boyle and Alex Garland said as much when stating their inspirations for the film.

The live-action adaptations are redundant

Resident Evil Infinite Darkness

Some fans do wonder if live-action adaptations of Resident Evil games are even necessary. The recent games and remakes are near photo-realistic in their rendering and some of the gory deaths featured in the games border on NC-17, meaning any future live-action adaptation would likely have to tone down the gore. There are also multiple CGI animated films and shows that continue the story of Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Chris Redfield, and Jill Valentine after the events of the games. All of this, plus the high-quality games available means that fans don’t necessarily need any more live-action adaptations, which is certainly a good place to be when you’re part of a fandom.

Never let it be said that Resident Evil suffers from too much success.

(featured image: Netflix)

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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.