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Why Hollywood Remains Infatuated with Resident Evil Movies

Why are Resident Evil movies so successful? We interview the creators to find out.

Do you love movies based off popular video game franchises? Then you'll be excited to hear that Sony Pictures is already promoting Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth film in the franchise. It'll be released on September 14th, and the filmmakers are already talking about making a sixth film, as well as a potential prequel trilogy and spin-off. With Capcom Entertainment confirming that Resident Evil 6 is coming to consoles on November 20th – an announcement that coincided with the debut of the new movie trailer – gamers might question why Hollywood has become so infatuated with Resident Evil.

Like almost everything involving Hollywood, the answer is money.

The original Resident Evil movie, which was filmed in Berlin, was an independent film. It was financed outside of the studio system for just $33 million, through Constantin Film. Sony Pictures’ Screen Gems agreed to distribute the film, which featured actresses Michelle Rodriguez and Milla Jovovich very early in their careers.

“I remember the deal we had on it was that if the movie didn’t do incredibly well at its first American test, and these are incredibly stressful things for a filmmaker anyway, when you go and first put your movie in front of the public...if we didn’t score a certain amount, they could have put the movie straight to DVD,” said Paul Anderson, who has produced and written every film and now directed three of them.

Producers Jeremy Bolt and Anderson decided very early on to not follow the storylines from the game. A gamer himself, Anderson said he had no interest in watching what Capcom’s developers had already done very well in their bestselling games. Instead, the films have focused on an original character, Alice (played by Jovovich), and had her team up with key characters from the games like Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield, and Albert Wesker. Retribution introduces Leon S. Kennedy, Ada Wong and Barry Burton to the mix.

“I think we’re stealing from each other, in a good way,” said Bolt. “The films and the games are set in two different worlds. Capcom is good at what they’re doing, and we try to do our thing. I think we want to keep it that way.”

So far, it seems to be working. The first Resident Evil film earned $17 million in its opening weekend in the U.S. and went on to make $102 million globally in theaters in 2002. The sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse received full studio support from Screen Gems and a $45 million budget, earning over $129 million globally in 2004. The Resident Evil movies kept coming and as the budget gradually increased, so did the profits at the box office. Most recently, the film Resident Evil: Extinction earned more than $148 million in theaters in 2007.

After taking a break from the series Anderson returned to direct Resident Evil: Afterlife, the first 3D movie adaptation of a videogame franchise. The $60 million film, which employed the same camera equipment that James Cameron used in Avatar, exploded at the box office with a $296 million haul in 2010. Resident Evil: Retribution 3D will be the fifth film in the series, and with Anderson remaining in the director’s chair to wield an even bigger budget it's clear that Hollywood isn't going to stop pouring money into this franchise.

The two franchises will actually converge for the first time this fall with both the movie and the new game shipping in the same window.

When asked if an original character from the film, like Alice, could appear in a Resident Evil game or DLC in the future, Christian Svensson, corporate officer and senior vice president at Capcom replied, “Conceivably. But the way the film and game franchises have evolved in parallel universes, any overlap would get tricky because the films and games go in different directions.”

“It’s been hard to plan converging and cross promoting in the past,” agreed Anderson. “But the fact is the movies and the videogames, in a broader sense, do have a synergy and a symbiotic relationship because they are all pushing the same title and the same brand.”

And that brand shows no signs of failing; fan favorites like Ada Wong and Leon S. Kenney will get their big screen debut this November, and there are already plans for these characters to return in the proposed sixth movie. Anderson claims Retribution is building up to a final climax for this second trilogy of films. But more movies could be made, assuming the box office is there.

“I could see a prequel trilogy and possibly spinning out another character,” said Bolt. “The really exciting thing for us as producers and for Paul as a director, is when you have a franchise that works, it gives everyone confidence so you can get creative under the umbrella of the franchise.”

Gamers can look forward to a double dose of Resident Evil on the big screen and then in the new game this fall.

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