At some point during the last decade, an entire subcategory of games – the movie tie-in – vanished. The fact that nobody seemed to notice says a lot about just how popular they were. These games were often low-quality shovelware designed to take advantage of a (temporarily) popular IP so, over the years, titles based on Ghostbusters, Fight Club, Jurassic Park, Catwoman, and all sorts of other things hit the shelves.
Sadly, they rarely did well.
Perhaps the greatest evidence that movie tie-ins are consumer poison comes from the 2020s. Between 1982 and 2005, six games based on the overgrown monkey King Kong were released, including an Atari 2600 title seemingly dedicated to the 1933 original movie. Even then, things weren’t very creative. The first King Kong video game was a copy of 1981’s Donkey Kong.
We’re arguably at Kong’s popularity zenith today – yet a new game based on the ape has yet to materialize. The hugely popular MonsterVerse franchise, the one behind recent monster movies like Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla (2014), has successfully navigated the video game tie-in world without being dragged in.
That’s not to say that media based on the hairy behemoth isn’t still being made. It’s just not taking on the familiar shape of a video game. The King Kong Cash Jackpot King slot on the Buzz Bingo website offers a lighter take on the simian terror, featuring a cast of jungle animals alongside a reclining Kong. This 5×3 slot takes advantage of the fact that parts of Kong’s identity are now in the public domain.
Oddly enough, the movie tie-in shouldn’t really exist at all. The game responsible for the 1983 video game crash, an event that reduced the volume of video game sales by 97% almost overnight, was a title based on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. The urban legend suggesting that millions of copies of the title were buried near Alamogordo, New Mexico, was ultimately proven true in 2014.
That particular burial was so feared it was encased in concrete.
Of course, the promise of attention from ravenous fanbases meant that games based on movies would become one of the defining aspects of the fourth generation of consoles (SNES, Genesis, etc) and at least 58 titles fell into this category. A brief list of highlights and lowlights has Alien 3, Demolition Man, The Hunt for Red October, and both Godzilla and Star Wars written on it.
Then, everything changed. By the time that 2013’s Star Trek tie-in completely failed to gain an audience, developers had shifted their focus to crafting original stories around famous licenses. A good example is Rocksteady’s Arkham series of Batman games. The most recent Spider-Man outing on the PS4 is a continuation of this trend too, with a brand-new narrative created just for the game.
Ultimately, games based on movies became games based on characters, a development that removed many of the shackles that come with working directly off a movie property, such as studio interference. That’s not to say that move tie-ins won’t come back though, like E.T. arising from that sandy pit in New Mexico.