Total Recall: Movies Based on Toys and Games

With G.I. Joe: Retaliation hitting theaters, we look at some memorable movies based on children's playthings.

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Toys and Games

Ready or not, a Real American Hero is invading the box office this weekend, and to help herald G.I. Joe: Retaliation's arrival in theaters, we decided to dedicate this week's list to other toys and/or games that made the jump from store shelves to the big screen. It would be wise not to expect any Best Picture winners in here, obviously, but you might be surprised by the amount of good old-fashioned nostalgic fun that can come from reliving memories of movies from an often rather cynically motivated genre. (Word to the wise: This is also one of the most 1980s-centric lists we've done in quite some time.) Get ready to beg your parents for more action figures and stuffed animals -- it's time for Total Recall!



Insofar as any movie that was inspired by a game entering its eighth decade of existence can be called a "sure thing," 2012's Battleship really seemed to fit the description -- directed by action vet Peter Berg and rounded out with a cast that was loaded with what the studio execs like to call "multi-platform synergy," it launched with a $209 million budget and a prime May release date. Sadly, Battleship was met with some choppy critical waters as it embarked upon its box office voyage -- and although it eventually earned more than $300 million worldwide, it ended up going down as one of the year's costlier flops. "This," groaned Slate's Dana Stevens, "is the kind of summer movie that softens your brain tissue without even providing the endocrine burst of pleasure that would make it all worthwhile."

Bratz: The Movie


Perhaps chiefly notable for being the movie that jettisoned executive producer/choreographer/wardrobe designer Paula Abdul before a single frame of film was shot, Bratz: The Movie brought its titular line of dolls/cartoon characters to big-screen life via a storyline involving high school cliques, rapper/Tom Hanks offspring Chet Haze, Jon Voight, and a prosthetic nose. Given all that, its $26 million box office gross has to seem like something of a triumph, but critics proved stubbornly unmoved by the Bratz gals' charms; as Ruthe Stein observed for the San Francisco Chronicle, "The proud owners of Bratz dolls almost surely have had more imaginative fantasies about them than anything onscreen."

The Care Bears Movie


In his biggest film role since playing a grumpy retired jockey in 1979's The Black Stallion, Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney lent his voice to the crucial dual role of "Mr. Nicholas Cherrywood" and "Narrator" in The Care Bears Movie, a 75-minute animated feature that doubled as a thinly disguised commercial for the cuddly stuffed feelings ambassadors created by the American Greetings Corporation. Clearly, the toys made an impact -- the Care Bears franchise endures today -- and the movie proved a solid hit at the box office, saving the Nelvana studio from bankruptcy on its way to spawning a pair of sequels. For critics, it proved more of a mixed bag, but Richard Grenier of the New York Times appreciated its gentle message, writing that "This endearing movie's mottoes are: never stop caring. And: the best way to make friends is to be a friend yourself."



Base a movie on a board game, and you're really setting yourself up for a pretty tough time at the box office -- just ask Peter Berg. But of all the board-game-to-film adaptations that have tanked during their initial theatrical runs (um, all two of them), the 1985 ensemble murder mystery farce Clue has fared most respectably by far, steadily building a cult audience after limping into the home video market with a piddling $14.6 million gross. Its 62 percent Tomatometer doesn't accurately reflect the bewilderment felt by filmgoers who felt cheated by its "three different endings" gimmick, which required the truly hardcore fan to visit multiple theaters in order to see them all, but it's reflective of the affection currently felt by critics like Gregory Weinkauf of New Times, who said it "deserves its own little niche in camp cinema history."

Dungeons & Dragons


If there had to be a movie based on the ever-popular Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, the smart money would have been on it making its way to the screen during D&D's first flush with mainstream success in the early 1980s -- back when, for instance, the game had its own TV series. But the smart money, along with every other kind of money, lost against 2000's Dungeons & Dragons, a long-overdue live-action adaptation that found Jeremy Irons, Thora Birch, and Marlon Wayans trying in vain to replicate some semblance of the home version's magic. Scoffed Susan Stark of the Detroit News, "This movie may be the clumsiest, most inept cinematic exploitation of an item with kid appeal that we have yet seen."

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


It wasn't supposed to be this way for G.I. Joe. His true debut, 1987's G.I. Joe: The Movie, saw its cinematic destiny thwarted when a pair of other Hasbro-sanctioned animated toy adaptations -- Transformers: The Movie and My Little Pony: The Movie -- were met with failure so ignominious that direct-to-video seemed like the only sensible option. More than two decades later (and with a live-action cast that included Channing Tatum and Joseph Gordon-Levitt), G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra finally brought our Real American hero to theaters. Sadly, 22 years wasn't enough for most critics, who dismissed Cobra as just one more silly, middlingly acted action flick; as Christopher Orr put it for the New Republic, "Sometimes, a film defies conventional narrative and artistic standards so utterly that it seems unfair to judge it by them.... Consider this a tone poem in 40 scraps of dialogue."

GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords


The only movie on this (or any) list to feature the combined voice-acting might of Telly Savalas, Margot Kidder, and Roddy McDowall, GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords brought everyone's second-favorite shape-shifting sentient robots to the big screen in 1986, besting Transformers: The Movie in every way that didn't count. Optimistically billed as "The First GoBots Movie Ever!," it would also be the last -- which was just fine with critics like Stephen Holden of the New York Times, who dismissed this toy tie-in as "A jerky, semi-coherent series of chases, laser-gun battles and explosions, with an allegorical plot about how no one can handle too much power."