Sunday, March 01, 2015

Nostalgia Theater: Street Fighter in the '90s

As a force in video games, the Street Fighter franchise has been an evergreen since its inception in 1987. Not being much of a gamer, I'm not especially equipped to comment on its intricacies, but the set-up is pretty much evident in the title. You and your opponent each pick one of several colorful characters with a specific martial arts skill and a special move. They fight. Occasionally in the street. The end. Not a whole lot to hang a mythology on, but developer Capcom sure gave it the ol' college try, spending a big chunk of the '90s trying to turn the game's niche appeal into a crossover success. Things didn't exactly work out, as you'll see below.

First up, the video game company teamed up with toy manufacturer Hasbro. Now, you'd think that with a bench of characters as deep as they had, Capcom would have pushed for Street Fighter to have its own separate line, but for whatever reason the deal they arrived at incorporated the characters into Hasbro's extant G.I. Joe toyline (which was very much on its last legs at that point) as a special subgroup of the Joes. If you think that feels like a bizarre mix, congratulations, you're right in line with the majority of consumers in fall of '93. Watch the commercial below to see what they ended up with. And yes, it's exactly as weird as it sounds.


Here's another one:


(BTW, the goofy idiot with the flat-top is meant to be Joe team leader Duke, anticipating Channing Tatum by a decade-and-change.)

Now, this was well past the point when I was buying action figures (*ahem* as far as you know), so I didn't partake in any of these, but I distinctly remember the "WTF" reflex I experienced when I first saw them on the shelves. Of course, the Street Fighter Joes were just the opening volley in what Capcom no doubt hoped would become a full-on fusillade the following year, when Street Fighter: The Movie opened in theaters, directed by Steven E. de Souza and starring the Muscles from Brussels himself, the mountain of magnetism that is Jean-Claude Van Damme. There's been so much crap piled on this flick in the twenty-plus years since it debuted in December of '94 that I'd love to say it's unfairly ignored, but nope, it's entirely awful.


The very, very short version of the plot is that M. Bison (played by a frail, visibly ill Raul Julia, who died of cancer just two months before the film was released), the penny-ante dictator of a backwater called Shadaloo, is holding several international aid workers hostage. In order to bring about their safe return, the Allied Nations (??) sends in Colonel William Guile (Van Damme), who in turn enlists a variety of, oh, let's just call them "street fighters." Just to be clear, there's nothing I can say to underscore the overwhelming terribleness of this thing (which also includes an embarrassed Ming-Na Wen in its cast), so rather than try, I'll just let you watch this riveting clip of Van Damme's Guile attempting to rally his troops in time for the big final act showdown:


Yeah, so Braveheart this ain't.

Opening over Christmas of '94, Street Fighter got pummeled by the combined suplex of Dumb & Dumber and The Santa Clause, and didn't even make back its relatively piddly $35 mil budget domestically. Still, Capcom had already put a lot of work into franchising their beloved game, and they certainly weren't going to let the utter failure of their highest profile offering be a deterrent. Anticipating a sure to be stellar box office reception, a cartoon show taking its cues from the movie was already in active development. And thus, in fall of '95, whether we wanted it or not, Street Fighter: The Animated Series debuted on the USA cable network. Here's the intro:


Now, in the interests of disclosure, I've never seen the show, but come on, can you imagine a universe where it was good? Me neither. Anyway, the animated Street Fighter lasted for twenty-six eps and then, like the movie, like the toys, it was gone. While the video games kept plugging along, Street Fighter's mainstream moment faded. In fact, it wasn't until 2009, fifteen years after the Van Damme-age, that Capcom tried again. But with a global haul of $12 million against a $50 mil budget, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (starring Smallville's Kristen Kreuk in the role Ming-Na played in '94), tanked even harder than the Van Damme version. And watching the assemblage below, with star Chris Klein trying desperately to act, I simply can't imagine why.


One Year Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Tarzan: The Epic Adventures Stinks Up Syndication

Two Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Defenders of the Earth -- Newspaper Heroes Unite!

Three Years Ago in Nostalgia Theater: Wiseguy -- Doing Brasco Before Depp

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