Since the days of Pong, video games have evolved into works of art, filled with incredible technology, stunning imagery, and amazing storylines. Unfortunately, video game movies have failed to capture the same achievements. In fact, most of them are downright bad.
While very few of them ever do more than just moderately well at the box office, there’s still something addictively enjoyable about video game films. These thirteen incredibly entertaining movies based on video games prove that.
Detective Pikachu, 2019
Based on the 2016 “Pokémon” game of the same name which focused on an investigative narrative with a talking Pikachu companion.
The Good: The Pokémon CGI was beautifully rendered, and all of a true Poké-fan’s favorites were brought to life in vivid and creative ways. Ryan Reynolds brings incredible depths of humor and emotion to Pikachu, and his live-action scene partner Justice Smith plays the role of Tim Goodman as a likeable and endearing Pokémon outsider that inspires immediate camaraderie and empathy in viewers.
The Bad: Rightfully so, the Pokémon are center-stage in this movie, but that leads to some of the human interpersonal relationships feeling a bit underdeveloped. Additionally, the plot is pretty predictable, but that’s not all that shocking considering it’s skewed towards a younger audience.
Faithfulness to the Game: The origins and motivations behind the use of ‘R’ is entirely different on the big screen. Beyond that, there were more mysteries in the game that were unsurprisingly thinned out of the screenplay. While it’s a matter of preference, many critics praised the changes that were made.
RELATED: Why Story Matters in Video Games
Tomb Raider, 2018
Based on the game from 2013 that rebooted Lara Croft’s origins as a yet-untested explorer on an island under threat of an evil cult.
The Good: This film was noted for its action sequences grounded in the reality of human capability. Alicia Vikander’s badass portrayal of Lara Croft is dynamic and powerful, giving a thrilling elegance to her dangerous skillset.
The Bad: Unfortunately, where Vikander soars, the story falls a little flat. There’s a wealth of underdeveloped side characters which steal valuable screen time from the leading heroine. The plot drags near the middle of the movie, and there’s a lack of any real surprises.
Faithfulness to the Game: While Croft’s arsenal and look closely mirror that of the video game, her backstory in the film makes her more of a woman of rough street smarts rather than a meticulously trained college girl. Most notably, the game's supernatural elements are sapped out of the movie, making it strictly adventure fare.
Based on the arcade and console video game series first released in 1986, following the action of humans who can transform into giant monsters and wreak havoc across cities.
The Good: The giant white gorilla, George, is immediately loveable, and having Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as his primatologist handler ensures there’s a lot of fun and heart. The action is jaunty and exciting, with just as much destruction as one could hope for in a monster movie.
The Bad: We doubt anyone would be surprised to learn that the plot of this movie is a little bit flimsy and thin. It never dives deep into emotion, staying confidently in the realm of mindless fun.
Faithfulness to the Game: Right off the bat, the film flips the main premise of humans-turned-kaijus and utilizes the plot of mutant animals. The main creatures from the games—George the gorilla, Ralph the wolf, and Lizzie the alligator—are all present in the eye of the storm, though they were given some extra modifications to come across more distinct and fearsome.
Assassin’s Creed, 2016
Based on the 2007 video game about harnessing ancestral memories within a simulated reality.
The Good: Michael Fassbender is in the leading role, and he delivers an exciting performance no matter what project he’s a part of. He excels especially in cinematic combat, which is packed in tightly to this film. The stunt work and visuals were incredible.
The Bad: For those viewers looking for a deeper experience, the characters are pretty shallowly developed. The plot can feel a bit convoluted and hard to follow, especially for anyone who’s not previously familiar with the Assassin’s Creed franchise.
Faithfulness to the Game: If anyone was hoping to see popular protagonists from the gaming franchise, then their hopes are dashed with the focus on Michael Fassbender’s original character Callum Lynch. Lynch’s ancestor also hails from the Spanish Inquisition—a period and locale which hasn’t been touched in-game.
Based off of the video games series launched in 2000 about a contract killer with a perfect record who takes down high-profile criminals.
The Good: Timothy Olyphant gives 47 all of the classic, hard-edged coldness that viewers would expect, while still opening him up to moments of humor. It appeals to an audience outside of fans of the video game with it’s wit and well-executed action sequences.
The Bad: The movie has a tendency to prioritize gratuitous violence over plot, though how much one can blame a movie about hitmen for that is debatable.
Faithfulness to the Game: The film makes a purposeful effort to stray from the continuity of the video game series. Rather than having the Agency, the film centers around the Organization, which trains orphans to become hitmen from youth, rather than hiring on killers of varied backgrounds.
Based on the game series first developed in 1994, focusing mainly on the real-time strategy game Warcraft: Orcs & Humans.
The Good: The visual effects were top notch, especially in regards to the portrayal of magic. Implementing large scale CGI is always a risk, too, but Warcraft manages to pull it off with very detailed and individualized Orcs with clear facial expressions.
The Bad: The film has a tendency to take itself a little too seriously, and it falls into a slog of expositional mythology. With too many characters at the forefront of the narrative, it’s difficult to find much depth in any of them—particularly the humans.
Faithfulness to the Game: While there wasn’t much narrative content to draw from the first game in the Warcraft series, the movie does a wonderful job of staying true to aesthetics. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans might have been a pixelated 2D rendering, but the film pays its respects to the architecture, weaponry, and other elements of visual identity present in the culture of the game.
Mortal Kombat, 1995
Based on the 1992 side-scrolling arcade fighting game notable for its gory finishing moves.
The Good: Between the driving music, the impressive hand-to-hand fighting, and a storyline that actually kind of works, Mortal Kombat 1991 is a fast-paced fighting flick that definitely keeps the viewer invested. The game was also adapted for a 2021 movie, but our friends at Den of Geek say that the original adaptation is still the champion.
The Bad: The performances from … well … honestly, pretty much all of the performances stink. Robin Shou as Liu Kang sounds like he’s just reading the lines, Linden Ashby as Johnny Cage is so over the top that it hurts, and Bridgette Wilson-Sampras is painfully rigid as Sonya. This is definitely not a movie you watch for great acting.
Faithfulness to the Game: Where is the Toasty Man? Seriously! You throw in the line “Finish him,” but not the Toasty Man? I’m hurt. And sad. And definitely not feeling toasty.
Silent Hill, 2006
Based on the 1999 survival horror game, in which a man must find his daughter in the terrifying small town of Silent Hill.
The Good: Silent Hill is known for atmosphere, and the film recreated the eerie, pulse-pounding fogginess of the game’s world with wonderfully creepy visuals. The bathroom scene, where the walls slowly rot away into a bloody mess, is incredibly disturbing.
The Bad: I’m still not quite sure what the ending meant. Or even what the plot was. Silent Hill’s storyline is really convoluted, and, honestly, I don’t think the filmmakers were too concerned. This is a movie about feeling, not thought.
Faithfulness to the Game: The way both Pyramid Head and the nurses are depicted in the film is impressive, especially considering the costume designers had to top all the great cosplay that exists for both characters. And the way the nurses move? Absolutely shudder-worthy.
RELATED: 8 Chilling Sci-Fi Horror Movies
Resident Evil, 2002
Based on the 1996 survival horror / third-person shooter game about a zombie apocalypse started by the shadowy Umbrella Corporation.
The Good: Most of it. This is a really solid action horror flick, even if you aren’t familiar with the source material. The genesis of one of media’s most legendary zombie-pocalypses is incredibly fun to watch, and the emotional implications of the end of the world are nicely handled.
The Bad: The sequels. All of them. The first film is great, but the sequels fall flat. While one shouldn’t judge a film on its sequels, it’s hard not to have some bias (especially if you end up seeing a later film first, like I did).
Faithfulness to the Game: The zombie dog scene feels straight out of one of the games (in fact, there are numerous memorable canine zombies in Resident Evil 4). Additionally, the Red Queen was such a clever AI character that she eventually migrated from the film into the platformers, appearing in Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles.
Street Fighter, 1994
Based on the 1987 side-scrolling arcade fighting game that originated the idea of special command based moves.
The Good: Raul Julia makes this movie worth watching. Julia’s portrayal of Bison was his last performance before his untimely death, and is absurd in the most wonderful of ways, moving flawlessly between chilling calmness to unhinged anger. Also, the constant terrible one-liners are fantastically entertaining.
The Bad: I’m a fan of Ming-Na Wen’s work on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but her portrayal of Chun-Li really falls flat.
Faithfulness to the Game: It’s a fighting game movie, starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. How in the heck is there only one big hand-to-hand combat scene, most of which had constant cutaways to hide the fact that Raul Julia was not a martial artist?
Max Payne, 2008
Based on the 2001 third-person shooter about a downtrodden cop in New York City seeking to avenge the murder of his family.
The Good: There’s something delightful about Mark Wahlberg in this vaguely satanic noir film where he barely even talks. His silent broodiness makes for some fun scenes, and the wacky plot, which features a mysterious drug and a mythological creature, is pretty intriguing.
The Bad: The game features narration placed over graphic novel-esque panels of action, instead of cut scenes. But except for the very beginning and end, there’s no narration in the film. Although the titular character’s silence makes some of the scenes more compelling, I could have used a little more noir Marky Mark V.O. in my life.
Faithfulness to the Game: One of the most notable features of the game is its use of bullet time—the slow-motion effect most known from The Matrix. However, the film barely even used it. Given that it was made almost 10 years after The Matrix, it couldn’t have been an issue of the technology not existing, so the decision is downright baffling—especially considering that the movie’s fight scenes, for the most part, are pretty dull.
Based on the 1993 horror first-person shooter (FPS) often credited with popularizing the genre.
The Good: Between his work in Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, and Dredd, I’m an avowed Karl Urban fan, and he did not disappoint in Doom. Between the quality of his performance and the sheer action entertainment of the story, this film deserves more praise than it gets.
The Bad: The Rock, before he was Dwayne Johnson, was not exactly the world’s best leading man. While his stiff portrayal works for some of the movie, it definitely flounders at the end.
Faithfulness to the Game: There’s a perfect first-person shoot scene that looks straight out of the game. That segment alone makes the move worth watching.
Super Mario Bros., 1993
Based on the 1985 side-scrolling platformer that introduced the beloved plumber, his hapless brother, and a perpetually-kidnapped princess.
The Good: Everything. Ok, not really, but I deeply love this film for all its ridiculousness. Sure, it’s weird that Mario is not the star of a movie with his name in it, and Peach is a throwaway character. But this crazy mish-mosh creates sheer joy—kind of like how the game, which is very strange if you think about it, is one of the most lasting franchises in gaming history. Anyway, what kind of deep story did you expect from a movie based on a game whose only real plot point is, “Your princess is in another castle”?
The Bad: The sentient slime is just weird. And gross.
Faithfulness to the Game: The film does a decent job of riffing on some of the classic game elements, like traveling in pipes. But what’s up with the Goombas? How did they go from being giant heads with tiny legs to giant bodies with tiny heads? And why are they lizards?
It’s time for a BONUS ROUND!
Hardcore Henry: This 2015 movie technically isn’t based on a single game, but it’s a film that basically is a video game. Shot from the main character’s perspective (so we only see his arms) with a ridiculously convoluted mission, constantly changing weapons and skills, and even a clever riff on the idea of respawning, this movie will thrill anyone who plays first-person shooters.
The King of Kong: This isn’t a film based on a video game, but a 2007 documentary based on playing video games. Delving into the surprisingly intense world of competitive arcade gaming, The King of Kong is a fascinating character study set in a subculture you probably never even knew existed.
Tron: This is a film about a fake video game that became a real video game only after the 1982 film was released. Tron was legendary in its time for its special effects and, years later, they’re still beautiful to see. This movie remains iconic for a reason.
Featured still from "Super Mario Bros." via Buena Vista Pictures Distribution