Films based on video games have a terrible reputation. The general consensus among moviegoers is that they remain entirely unfaithful to the source material and feature some incredibly terrible storylines and acting.
However, I tend to disagree. Sure, any time Uwe Boll comes out of his hiding place, I want to run and scream in terror, but not every video game movie is the worst thing since Batman v Superman.
I like to think there are quite a few (I’ve somehow managed to find at least 10 of them) that, while not cinematic masterpieces like The Dark Knight, Citizen Kane, or The Room, are still pretty enjoyable to watch.
Here are 11 video game based movies that aren’t the worst pieces of cinema ever made:
11. Tomb Raider (2018)
Tomb Raider (not to be confused with 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie) is, for better or worse, the origin story that Angelina Jolie never got in her turn as the adventurer. While Jolie hit the screen already embroiled in the cutthroat world of international archaeology adventuring, Alicia Vikander’s Lara is a less focused sort. Seven years after the disappearance of her father, Lara is living paycheck to paycheck in London because she refuses to sign the papers that would declare him legally dead and give her the rights to her inheritance.
Vikander is characteristically good, a soulful, scrappy type who grounds the outlandish story and fills in many of the character gaps in this script. Some may find her turn as an action hero unbelievable, but this is a genre that is fueled by impossible feats of strength, agility, and endurance—Vikander’s ability to scale a crumbling cliff face using only a pickaxe is just as believable as anything Tom Cruise does in the Mission Impossible franchise.
Perhaps the best thing about Tomb Raider that I can say is that it left me wanting more. Not many films of the entertaining, but ultimately forgettable category leave the viewer hoping for future installments, but the final two scenes of Tomb Raider were particularly strong, hinting at a larger role for actors Nick Frost (Max), Derek Jacobi (Mr. Yaffe), and especially Kristen Scott Thomas (Ana Miller) should the series continue. With a cast like this one and a competent if unambitious action film as its opening installment, Tomb Raider deserves another adventure.
10. Doom (2005)
The hate shown toward this film is astounding since this is a genuinely fun movie to watch. The best way to describe Doom is that it’s a Cannon film made in the modern day (Cannon Films created very cheesy, trashy, and over-the-top action flicks in the 1980s). Doom has many similar tropes to Cannon Films (or any ‘80s actioner), and this is meant in the best way possible.
From the stereotypical ragtag characters to the corny dialogue and acting (you will never see The Rock’s eyes bulge further out of his sockets), the film comes across as a product of a bygone era… and is at least better than Masters of the Universe.
There’s no way you cannot talk about this movie without referring to THAT scene. You all know which one: the moment when the movie recreates the action from the game in first-person mode. To call this sequence amazing is an understatement: it’s a monumental achievement. It’s a giddy, bloody scene that brings the game to life. From the amazing use of the camera to the gleeful gun/chainsaw action (so. much. blood), the scene gives the rare opportunity for a film based on a video game to actually be a video game.
9. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
If you’ve never played a single second of Final Fantasy VII, then you will have no idea what’s going on throughout the course of this film (also, shame on you for never playing FFVII!). For those who have played the game, this film offers an enjoyable return to a world that still has many stories left to tell. From reuniting with old characters you grew up loving to experiencing more of what Midgar has to offer, the film is sure to please many fans of the beloved video game.
The movie differs from most video game adaptations in that, rather than be a simple adaptation or create a story based on that world, it is a direct continuation of the game’s story. While the original game focuses on the concept of life and death, the film focuses on the themes of moving on from past mistakes (Cloud’s guilt over not saving Aerith or Zack) and hope for the next generation (the children in the film’s title). These deep messages show progression and development for the story, something rarely seen in video game movies.
8. Hitman (2007)
The character of Agent 47 is cold, calculating, and ruthless. He’s methodical and unemotional (gee, if the contract killer career doesn’t work out, he would be a great politician). Timothy Olyphant manages to perfectly convey 47’s coldness and severe lack of empathy. However, we also get to see a bit of emotion within the character when it comes to his relationship with Nika. For once, 47 has someone he genuinely cares about, someone who’s worth a damn. It’s interesting to see a softer side to a character that is notorious for being distant and cold.
7. Street Fighter (1994)
While the characters from the game retain the same names and fighting styles, the film takes liberties with their motivations and plot descriptions. For example, while Guile and Bison remain the same in regards to their motivations, Chun Li is now a news reporter.
The most noticeable of such changes can be found in the characters of Ryu, Ken and Chun Li, who are two con men and a journalist, respectively. These changes offer a fun take on characters you grew up playing and they serve the film’s ludicrous story.
Perhaps the biggest reason to watch this film is largely due to Raul Julia’s amazing final performance. As Bison, Julia cranks the cheese factor up to 11 and devours scenery whenever he arrives on screen. For some reason, he comes across as a villain you would find on Power Rangers, but in the most wonderful way possible.
Instead of wondering why Van Damme, a Belgian, is playing an American soldier with a Belgian accent, you should spend your time anticipating Julia’s return so that he can spew lines like, “I guess you didn’t SEE that, did you?”
6. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
It’s very rare to find an actor/actress that embodies a role brought to life in another medium. Angelina Jolie manages to embody Lara Croft perfectly. Personifying the character’s sarcastic wit, daredevil attitude, and physicality, Jolie manages to capture the essence of Lara perfectly…even though her British accent is about as good as Daniel Craig’s American one (read: it’s not).
The reason why this film is a joy to watch is mainly due to its playful and self-aware nature. It’s idiotic and silly, but the film understands this and plays along with that notion (this can be seen in the first scene involving Croft fighting a robot). It’s less of a by-the book-action movie and more of the result of what happens when Indiana Jones and Stargate have a baby together.
5. Resident Evil (2002)
What makes this film so enjoyable is how it’s able to play with different genres and mix them together. Horror-action is the most obvious one, as the film is focused on a virus that turns people into (what else?) zombies. The movie is also a cat-and-mouse game with Alice’s memories. The audience is left to try to figure out whom she can trust and what her true story is, which can lead to some fun twists and turns along the way (looking at you, James Purefoy).
While the rest of the Resident Evil films are a bit loopier than the entirety of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, it’s amazing how many seeds this first film planted for the franchise. Some of them are pretty obvious (the Nemesis program, the inclusion of the Red Queen), but a few hints and nods from this picture are incorporated into the others with surprising results. While no one could predict how wildly successful the series would become, it’s nice to see the groundwork being laid out.
4. Silent Hill (2006)
While most video game films settle for the “slam, bam, wham” approach to their adaptations (again, look at the wackiness that is the Resident Evil franchise), Silent Hill actually goes for a slow burn, building tension as it goes. The result is genuinely disturbing, as the film’s use of psychological horror gives way to some of the scariest thrills seen in a horror video game adaptation. Rather than focus on the gore and blood, the film takes time to actually make you wonder what is real and not real, allowing your mind to become messed up in a good way.
One of the reasons why many consider this to be one of the best video game adaptations of all time is due to its atmosphere. The film has some of the most intricate and impressive production design ever put in a video game film. The sets, particularly within the town itself, give off a modern Gothic style, while the monsters truly look like the game come to life. It also helps that some clever uses of the camera, as well as the inclusion of the actual game’s music, allow this film to be a truly immersive experience.
3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
While featuring updated effects, the movie plays less like a video game adaptation and more like an old-fashioned adventure film you could find in the ‘40s or ‘50s. The film’s nostalgic sense of adventure, mixed with tropes such as the charming rogue, a beautiful princess, the wacky sidekick, and a royal villain, make for a fun and often enjoyable adventure. This extends to Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton’s chemistry. While they’re certainly not among the ranks of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, their onscreen heat still feels similar to those kinds of pairings: playful banter, mixed with a love/hate relationship.
Another entertaining aspect of the film is its action sequences, particularly during chases. The film makes excellent use of the parkour movement, which allows the runner to get from one point to the next in the quickest fashion. This type of movement allows for some pretty inventive chase sequences, as the mix of parkour, hand-to-hand combat, and swordplay add to the film’s charm. This can be seen in the first action scene when Dastan must scale the eastern gate of the city of Alamut. It’s such a thrilling and impressive sequence, thanks due in part to the ability to blend fighting styles.
2. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Many video game and film fans alike despise this movie with a burning passion, mainly due to the fact that the film has almost nothing to do with the game. I offer no counter-argument. This is a truly terrible movie. However, it’s because of that awfulness that I place it so high on this list. This film is perhaps my biggest guilty pleasure, as it’s so bad that it’s amazing. From Academy Award winner Dennis Hopper hamming it up in every scene to Bob Hoskins reprising his role as Eddie Valiant, and then hearing subplots involving pizza, this is a movie to riff on with a group of friends.
One of the only major things I am genuinely impressed with in the film is its production design. “Dinohattan” looks like Blade Runner and Nickelodeon’s illegitimate love child, and this world is intricately designed, revealing new details upon each viewing. Many Easter eggs from the games can be found on a rewatch, but just looking at the design of the cars, streets, and buildings alone is impressive enough for a sit-through.
1. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Out of every film on this list, Mortal Kombat is perhaps the truest to its source material, as it retains elements from the first two entries in the game series, especially in regards to how characters are depicted within the plot. Unlike its sequel, which does a complete 180 on how to make movies, the original MK proved that there could be faith in video game adaptations. The film’s sets are impressive, as is the costume design, which brings the characters from the game fully to life.
Like the game, the characters involved have developed backstories that help the audience connect. Their motivations and reasons for fighting, especially Johnny Cage’s, who enjoys a great arc, are interesting enough to the point where you, as the audience, want to care about what happens to them.
As with anything related to Mortal Kombat, particularly a film, the biggest aspect to focus on is the martial arts sequences, which are pretty fantastic to watch. The fight choreography is particularly impressive, as the fighting gets so intense you can feel every punch and kick the fighters land. While there are, unfortunately, no brutal fatalities from the game (this IS a PG-13 movie for the kids after all), the fight sequences are enjoyable enough. It also helps that the fights are bolstered by a kickass techno soundtrack that will still get you amped up decades later.