Revolutionary Or Underwhelming? The Impact Of Lara Croft On Gaming Culture And Beyond

Lara Croft Tomb Raider video game character

From the moment that she first appeared on our gaming screens, Lara Croft captivated a wide fanbase of players who were immediately hooked by the franchise. As one of the first female video gaming heroines that was the star of her own series, she has become a seminal character in video gaming history and a pop culture icon. But as always, there are two sides to this story: while many praise the trailblazing path that she forged for women in the entertainment and gaming industry, others point out that the franchise has paid a heavy price in order to earn that popularity.

The Immense Success of the Tomb Raider Franchise

Lara Croft first appeared in the first installment of the Tomb Raider video gaming series that was released in 1996, and has since starred in several titles, including the latest 2018 Shadow of the Tomb Raider. She has gained so much popularity that the series was even renamed Lara Croft: Tomb Raider from 2001 until 2007, and she inspired a wide range of merchandise and spin-off franchises – even in other entertainment markets, like the Tomb Raider online slot offered by Betway. One of the first platforms to embrace the original Tomb Raider, along with Sega Saturn and PCs, PlayStation has even launched a dedicated merchandise line based on Shadow of the Tomb Raider, including a Mayan Mug, a watch, and a Pop! Games vinyl figure, while wallets, bags and hoodies bearing the Lara Croft name can also be found on the Internet.

But perhaps the most iconic Lara Croft spin-off is the series of popular – and lucrative – movies the game has produced. The 2001 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider movie was a huge box office success, even if it did not do so well with critics, and is widely credited with catapulting Angelina Jolie’s career, who starred as the English archaeologist. Jolie reprised the role in 2003 with Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, before the franchise was rebooted in 2018 with Alicia Vikander as the lead character. The 2001 movie managed to make $274,703,340 at the box office globally and $131,168,070 in the domestic market, as opposed to the mere $156,505,388 and $65,660,196 respectively of its 2003 sequel, while the 2018 reboot brought in $274,650,803 – but only $58,250,803 (or 21.2%) in the US box office.

Lara Croft: Role Model or Unrealistic Standards?

This unprecedented success has made Lara Croft recognizable even beyond the gaming world. She is the most successful gaming heroine of all time and has managed to break a glass ceiling by starring as a playable character in the first successful female-led gaming franchises – aside from Ms Pac-Man, of course. An accomplished archaeologist, she is intelligent, bold, strong, and does not wait for any man to save her, effectively escaping from the trope that largely plagued most female characters in movies and pop culture at that time. She has also been part of a revolutionary transformation in gaming, which saw more women represented in the industry, both as characters and as players. In 2013, roughly 45% of all gamers were women, rising briefly to a whopping 48% in 2014 and landing again at 45% in 2018.

On the other hand, there is criticism and controversy related to the character and her portrayal both in the games and on the screen. The movie adaptations of the gaming franchise have inevitably failed to win over critics, despite becoming blockbusters. Angelina Jolie’s undeniable talent and appeal wasn’t enough to make the first movie fare any better than a meagre 19% on Rotten Tomatoes, while 2003’s Cradle of Life rose a bit more to the occasion and reached a 24% review on the site. Both of those movies, as well as the latest 2018 instalment, have received criticism for being unable to accurately portray what the gaming phenomenon is all about, burying the character’s trademark solitary adventure style under unnecessary plot points and secondary characters, and even throwing in strange and confusing foes, like giant robots, that Lara never battled in her gaming adventures.

Lara Croft forged her own path in the industry and transformed our idea of women in gaming. But perhaps it is also time to revisit this cultural icon and make sure that she gets the portrayal she and her fans both deserve.

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