For as long as video games have existed, film producers have adapted them for the big screen. The rationale behind these decisions is clear, as big-name video game properties have the potential to bring a lot of fans into the theater. But they have seen limited success over the years.
Some video game movie adaptations have managed to capture the spirit of their source material and deliver an exciting take on the franchise. Others, however, have treated the video games as a vague reference point, resulting in underwhelming films that disappointed the average moviegoer, as well as longtime players.
Two newer films, Sonic the Hedgehog and Detective Pikachu, earned top spots on our list, and there is even an animated Super Mario film in the works by the masters at Illumination. It has never been a better time to be a video game movie fan. These are the best video game movies.
1. Pokémon Detective Pikachu
The Pokémon anime series never fully translated to the big screen despite countless attempts, but Pikachu couldn’t be kept from box office glory forever. The first live-action Pokémon movie, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, uses brilliantly detailed CG Pokémon alongside humans to create a vibrant world that fans have dreamed of since playing Red and Blue on the original Game Boy. Its noir-mystery story is predictable and just scratches the surface of the universe, but it feels like it was created by longtime fans who grew up as the franchise evolved.
The element that puts it over the top is Ryan Reynolds, who delivers his famous sarcasm and wit at a rapid-fire pace as the titular character. Such an adorable creature having the voice of a grown man never loses its novelty, especially when he has to interrogate another Pokémon during his missing-person investigation.
2. Tomb Raider
Angelina Jolie starred in two big-budget Tomb Raider films as titular hero Lara Croft in 2001 and 2003, but these leaned into the cheesy elements that defined early video games. When Alicia Vikander took over the role for 2018’s Tomb Raider, it was the rebooted, down-to-earth 2013 game that served as source material.
A few of the film’s most harrowing moments were pulled directly from the game, but this was done in a way that felt natural and fitting for the film rather than mere fan service. Vikander fit perfectly into the role of Lara Croft, and she was joined by the always entertaining Walton Goggins as villain Mathias Vogel. A sequel is currently in the early stages of pre-production.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson appears in more than one of the movies on our list, but Rampage is likely the one he’ll want his audience to remember the most. Based on the classic Midway monster arcade game series, it’s just as ridiculous as it needs to be to remain entertaining.
An enormous gorilla is joined by a bizarre wolf-like monster and a sea creature as they cause havoc in a city filled with skyscrapers to climb and destroy, and only Johnson can put a stop to the madness before it’s too late. It’s light on memorable dialogue or storytelling, but it’s dumb fun from beginning to end.
4. Sonic the Hedgehog
The deck was stacked against Sonic the Hedgehog from the very beginning. The video game series has been mediocre at best in recent years, and picking now to release a new movie felt like a desperate cash grab. When the first trailer revealed a disturbing design for Sonic himself, the internet revolted, leading to Paramount Pictures actually delaying the movie in order to fully redesign the character.
The delay paid off in a big way, as the new Sonic design resembled the game character and had fans optimistic for the final film. That film was made with a younger audience in mind — there are several fart jokes — but it’s carried by energetic performances from James Marsden and Jim Carrey, as well as Ben Schwartz as Sonic himself. References to game mechanics from the Genesis games and other famous characters are sure to please ’90s kids looking for some nostalgic fun, and Sonic doesn’t kiss a single human woman in the whole movie.
5. Mortal Kombat
Despite its violence and gory Fatality moves, the Mortal Kombat series has always kept a sense of humor about its seemingly endless battles between good and evil. The original Mortal Kombat film directed by Paul W.S. Anderson was the only piece of live-action Mortal Kombat media to understand this, keeping the flashy action of the games alongside its campy tone.
Putting Christopher Lambert in the role of Raiden – spelled “Rayden” in the film – should tell you all you need to know about it. Oddly, it contains none of the gore of the video games, making it appropriate for slightly younger viewers. It showed that Mortal Kombat’s cheese is not limited to violence alone, and its bizarre mythos can stand on its own. The sequel, however, didn’t seem to understand what made the first film successful, and as the games got bette,r the adaptations surrounding them unfortunately did not.
6. Resident Evil: Damnation
The second film in the animated Resident Evil film series, Resident Evil: Damnation sets up the video game Resident Evil 6. The animated films are filled to the brim with action, but this approach works better than when it was done in Capcom’s video games, which rely on elements of quiet tension to enhance the scares.
Prolific voice actor Matthew Mercer stars in the lead role as Leon S. Kennedy, and you’ll also see familiar faces like Ada Wong and the “Tyrant” monster. Unlike the live-action films starring Milla Jovovich, Resident Evil: Damnation feels like it was created by people familiar with the source material, treating the characters with respect rather than using them as mere window dressing for a story that has very little to do with the games’ themes or setting.
7. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Among the most notable blockbuster video game films ever produced, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was an odd film from the very beginning. It was based on a game series that had already begun losing popularity in favor of Ubisoft’s newer Assassin’s Creed games, but with an enormous budget and star power from Jake Gyllenhaal, it managed to exist as a successful action movie in its own right.
What helped Prince of Persia succeed where so many others have failed? Aside from its all-star cast, which also included Ben Kingsley, it kept its focus on the high-flying stunts and gorgeous environments at the center of the game series. This gave it the leeway to deviate from the source material when necessary without abandoning it outright.
8. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within had the potential to forever change not just video game adaptations, but the film industry. The CG-animated film was nothing short of gorgeous, blowing away longtime Final Fantasy fans who had become used to the rendered cinematics of the games on PlayStation systems. It also promised to deliver the first artificial actress with Aki Ross.
The voice cast included everyone from Alec Baldwin to Steve Buscemi, but without a satisfying story to tie it all together, it lacked the mass appeal that Square was hoping for. This didn’t stop producers from releasing a Final Fantasy VII companion film later down the line, but the animated movies’ large budgets and lukewarm reception made it easy to see why they didn’t continue for years. After the poorly-received Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, they could be dead for good.
If there is one thing that doesn’t matter at all in the Doom franchise, it’s the story. 2016’s rebooted Doom game understood that, and it even thumbed its nose at certain characters’ attempts to explain what was happening. The Doom film tried to make the universe horrifying instead of silly, and we were left with something that felt very unlike the classic PC shooters. It most closely resembles Doom 3, a game that was acclaimed at the time for its technical achievements, but ultimately led to a creative roadblock for the series that would continue for over a decade.
Dwayne Johnson turning into a demon in the film’s closing moments was one of its few bright points, as was a very goofy first-person shooting sequence that was clearly included to appease the series’ fans who were wondering why they paid money to see the movie. A few minutes aren’t enough to save even mediocre movies, however, so perhaps Doom should have gone the Hardcore Henry route and shot the film entirely in first-person.
Warcraft has a long and complicated history spanning multiple real-time strategy games, novels, and the mega-successful World of Warcraft. The decision to adapt it to film seemed like an impossible task, but Moon director Duncan Jones did his best by limiting the Warcraft film to the events of the original game.
An enormous clash between Orcs and Humans leaves both civilizations on the brink of collapse, but with the plot jumping around so frequently, we are left with very little reason to care about the heroes on either side. Despite an enormous budget, it’s also downright comical how poor some of the characters look. A half-Orc and half-human woman at the center of the film’s conflict is simply painted green and given tusks, while all other Orcs are computer-generated. Oversized human armor that looked a little silly in the games looks even more ridiculous in the movie, undercutting some of the more dramatic moments.
11. Assassin’s Creed
Assassin’s Creed took a very different approach than Warcraft, but was ultimately met with a similar reception. Rather than adapt one of the games, the film instead told an original story centered around an assassin (played by Michael Fassbender) with ties to an ancestor who lived during the Spanish Inquisition period of the 15th century.
Fassbender starred in both roles, a strange and novel approach, and an all-star cast included actors like Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and Michael K. Williams. Assassin’s Creed was flashy and fit the tone of the series well, but it also felt wholly detached from the games’ storylines. This resulted in something that was confusing for general audiences, and unnecessary for the games’ fans.
12. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
The original ‘90s Street Fighter movie is horrendous, but its nothing compared to the mess that is 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li. The decision to take the popular fighting game franchise into a police drama probably wasn’t the best decision, and the actors look downright confused about how they’re supposed to be playing their characters. Chris Klein at least has some fun hamming it up as Charlie Nash, though you wouldn’t know he’s supposed to be that character unless you hear someone address him as such. At the very least, we got Michael Clarke Duncan as Balrog, so it isn’t a total loss.
13. Alone in the Dark
German director Uwe Boll has become the stuff of legends for his low-budget and often embarrassing video game film adaptations. These include Postal, House of the Dead, and BloodRayne, but Alone in the Dark stands, well, alone, as the low point of Boll’s career.
Rated as one of the worst movies of all time on Metacritic, it’s a horror film that does nothing we haven’t seen before, using tropes like evil spirits and a remote, creepy island. That would make it a forgettable film, but it’s Boll’s complete ineptitude at framing scares or thrills that make it truly awful.
14. Super Mario Bros.
Without the very low expectations that we now have for video game movies, perhaps viewers didn’t realize the mess they were walking into when Super Mario Bros. released in 1993. The filmmakers didn’t appear to have ever played the games, however, as the film bears almost no resemblance to any of them.
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo do their best in the title roles and it’s amusing to see Dennis Hopper as Bowser, but Super Mario Bros. managed to take everything great about the games and ruin it. Yoshi is turned into a horrifying monstrosity, and few other characters look remotely close to their video game counterparts. Illumination is turning the games into an animated film as we speak, and with any luck, it will be a whole lot better.
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