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'Angry Birds' takes flight, but can it shake the curse of video game movies?

A still from the Angry Birds Movie
Source: Columbia Pictures | Rovio Animation
A still from the Angry Birds Movie

Since at least the 1990s, Hollywood has been trying to bring video games to life on the big screen—with only modest success.

Now, the makers of "The Angry Birds Movie" are hoping to reverse what's been a historically losing record for the genre. The movie is based on a Finnish video game that's been a hit with smartphone users for years, but struggles under the weight of countless predecessors that have missed the mark at the box office.

"Angry Birds," which opens today and has a $173 million budget, raises expectations that this time could be different. The Pixar-esque animation aims for a children's audience—and Pixar's ability to spin cartoon movies into gold—that differs somewhat from the fans flocking to blockbusters like "Captain America: Civil War."

So why would anyone go see a movie about mad animals that fly?

"The fact that [there's] something silly about it and it's both odd and quirky that lends itself to being a movie, director Clay Kaytis explained to CNBC in a recent interview.

"There are a lot of apps and games out there that are either too fully fleshed out that have to be a certain thing, or just don't have anything to hang anything on. This at least has a basic conflict and a fun world," he added.


Early indications suggest "Angry Birds" makers may have struck a chord. Last week, the comedy showed glimmers of success in international markets, pulling in more than $43 million in its overseas premiere. "Angry Birds" also jumped to number one in 37 different markets and set a record for the biggest opening for an original animated movie in the month of May.

To be certain, the movie has an uphill climb ahead of it. The movie is tracking at 43 percent approval at Rotten Tomatoes, a site that gauges fan and critic sentiment, while early reviews have been tepid at best.

Meanwhile, the road to box office success is littered with video games that were turned into movies, but failed to draw in audiences as enthusiastic as the gamers that embraced them.

Live action films based on games, such as "Tomb Raider," "Resident Evil" and "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" have performed better than their animated counterparts. "Prince of Persia," for example, fell flat with critics yet pulled in $336 million worldwide—more than earning back its $200 million budget, according to data from Box Office Mojo.

"Video games movies don't succeed because they're [either] not good movies and they don't have compelling stories and characters that people actually care about, or they don't reach the expectations of the fans," Kaytis told CNBC.

"A lot of the things these movies don't do is kind of respect the audience and deliver something a story that stands on its own," he added.

Even in light of that checkered history, director Fergal Reilly said "Angry Birds" could be defy the trend because of the approach the producers took making the movie.

"I think that when you're adapting something you really need to allow it to shed its skin and form into something else," Reilly told CNBC. "It isn't a straight up adaptation; it is always a transformation as well."