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  • Thomas Rose

Fallout: How Amazon and Bethesda Managed to make a Video Game Adaptation Successful (And a Brief History of Video Games in Film)

Ever since the first successful video game franchises like Super Mario Brothers and Street Fighter hit the shelves in the 80s and 90s, the prospect of making blockbuster films and TV adaptations of these brands has been an ongoing struggle for industry giants like Nintendo and Sega. Video games are notoriously hard to capture accurately on the big screen; producers and directors of films based on video games aim to accurately recreate the feeling of freedom and immersion games provide. There have been some successes, like "The Super Mario Bros Movie" (2023), and failures nothing short of infamous like the "Super Mario Bros" (1993), the first major video game movie in the West, and by far the worst received (though critics seem to hate 2010's "Tekken" even more, with a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes). It was followed by a string of poorly received adaptations like those of the Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and DOOM series into the later 1990s and 2000s.

At the same time, video game adaptations on Television also floundered. Kid-friendly franchises such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokémon found their niche as Saturday morning cartoons for several years, with the latter finding lasting success, allowing it to continue airing to this day; more mature franchises, however, failed to find any lasting success on TV; only a handful of franchises could even be greenlit, with most lasting a single season. Network TV, like the film industry, didn't understand video games and what gamers wanted out of a show; even if series like Street Fighter sold millions of copies, there was simply no demand for the inaccurate and poor-quality adaptations that networks at the time could muster.

Despite these early, devastating failures, the development of video game franchises into films and television continued; the 2010s was a mixed bag, seeing lows like "Warcraft" (2016) and highs like "Detective Pikachu" (2019). The development of several major franchises into films was announced at this time; fans saw that Mario and Sonic would make their way onto the big screen in the coming years. On the television front, the late 2010s sparked a new beginning for video game adaptations, with "The Witcher" (2019) starring Henry Cavil, who, fun fact, is a longstanding fan of the franchise, being lauded for its accuracy and immersion. These successes proved to major studios and, more importantly, streaming executives that video game adaptations that took the time to accurately reflect the world of the source material could appeal to the millions who enjoy gaming.

Now we come to the topic: Fallout, the multidecade, multibillion, and multiGOTY (Game of the Year) franchise of legends, was up for grabs during the late 2010's and early 2020's blitz for adaptation rights. Longtime series producer Bethesda was suffering from a series of late 2010 setbacks, the biggest of which was the panned prequel "Fallout 76", released to poor reviews in 2018. Fallout needed a boost, and a television series could help, which is where Amazon comes in; they were no stranger to adapting comic and book franchises into well-received series on Prime. By the time Fallout's license was up for grabs in 2020, Amazon had already proved itself with "The Boys," "Jack Ryan," and "Invincible" which would break the internet within a year; they were more than capable of being handed the reins to the franchise.

Adapting "Fallout" would be no easy task, though; the world of Fallout encompasses literal hundreds of years of in-game history, with dozens of fictional factions, raider groups, and pseudo-nations with unique ideologies, leaders, and histories to cover, not to mention the critical stories of all 5 significant installments (6 if you count the gradually-cobbled-together-through-updates story of "Fallout 76"). Amazon's producers couldn't afford to retell the story of the games; there was simply too much to cover. Instead, they would take a huge risk, creating a new storyline that would serve as both a sequel to the game series for existing fans and an introduction to the franchise for new viewers.

Put simply, "Fallout" succeeds at what it sets out to do. Its story not only provides brand-new viewers with the skeleton of the franchise's lore in a thematically satisfying and well-paced way, but it also includes enough callbacks and picks up enough pre-existing plotlines to satisfy longtime fans. In addition, the feel of Fallout's vast, decayed world is preserved, and the series' unique sense of humor is perhaps the best adaptation of all. Amazon, by consulting and heavily involving Bethesda (the studio that makes "Fallout") writing staff and executives, pulled off capturing the world of "Fallout" in just 8 episodes without simply relying on references and names to be able to tell a convincing story.

"Fallout" has the acting chops to succeed as a long-term series, too. Leads Ella Purnell (Yellowjackets), Aaron Moten (Disjointed, Next), and Walton Goggins (Invincible, The Righteous Gemstones) each have incredible comedic and dramatic acting skills, each portraying different character archetypes found in the "Fallout" games. Many video game adaptations fail because of poor acting; "Fallout" is not one of them.

All in all, Amazon and Bethesda working closely together is likely one of the biggest reasons "Fallout" succeeded as well as it did; by involving the people who worked on well-received installments like Fallout 3 and 4, giving them creative control, and hiring great actors, "Fallout" will likely be one of the most successful video game adaptations to either small or big screens for years to come.


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