Resident Evil began as a video game series in 1996, but has now expanded to include six major game titles (Resident Evil 1-6) as well as roughly a dozen other associated games, five live-action films with a sixth in production, two CGI films, several original novels and multiple novelizations of both the games and the films, more than one comic book series, and a flood of action figures and other licensed merchandise. Resident Evil is remarkable both for the number and breadth of the associated media and for its longevity as it stretches towards two decades of active production. While much can be said about the franchise as a whole, we chose to focus here on the films.
The Resident Evil films stand out as the most successful series of films based on a video game, having grossed $915 million USD worldwide. The two most recent films have earned more than half of this total, with Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010) topping $296 million USD and Resident Evil: Retribution (2012) exceeding $240 million USD. These financial markers of success aside, however, the contributors to this theme week on the films also demonstrate the film series’s compelling use of narrative and provocative thematic content. The Resident Evil films are financially successful, but they are also delightfully provocative.
In a moment marked by zombies as cultural obsession, the Resident Evil films remain fresh for their use of ludic elements, aggressive critique of corporate culture and attendant interrogation of medical ethics, and their iconic female protagonist. Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, is an original character developed for the movies; before the first film in 2002, there was no Alice. Following the release of that film, it is hard to imagine the franchise without Alice; in the films, audience members experience the world of Resident Evil largely through Alice’s perspective and experience. The tag line used for a Resident Evil: Apocalypse poster, “My name is Alice, and I remember everything,” serves as a wry commentary on her role in the films’ stories.
With a sixth Resident Evil film in the works, and the Resident Evil 6 game recently released, the film series and the franchise in whole are both evolving texts. Even as the series continues to develop, it remains a benchmark for the potential expansion and development of video game narratives through cinematic adaptation and demonstrates the creative potential of expansive transmedia franchises.