Movies based on video games don’t exactly have a reputation for being examples of filmmaking excellence. Some of the worst movies ever made fit into this genre, as do many mediocre flicks. Just think of Prince of Persia, a movie infamous for having no discernable plot. That, and it also happened to whitewash all of its Middle-Eastern characters. Then you have Assassin’s Creed, a film with a script so bad that even Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard couldn’t save it. Frankly, that’s kind of an achievement.
However, fear not: not every film in the video game adaptation genre is a total write-off. In fact, a lot of them are both incredibly watchable and infinitely entertaining. As you’d expect from this kind of media, these movies’ graphics and special effects can be truly impressive. When scriptwriters actually manage to get some kind of plot going, video game movies can be solid additions to the action and fantasy genres. Here are just a few films based on games that are definitely worth a watch.
16. Mortal Kombat
The premise of the Mortal Kombat games is pretty basic: you spend your time fighting (and often killing) various opponents in often graphically violent ways. Somehow, movie producers managed to take this simple concept and turn it into a pretty good film. The three main characters – warrior monk Liu Kang, actor Johnny Cage, and soldier Sonya Blade – all go on an epic journey to defeat an evil sorcerer. The martial arts sequences are exciting, the production pretty impressive, and the characters engaging. I mean, one of the three main stars is a badass, physically strong woman who can look after herself: that’s rare in any kind of movie! If you’re a fan of martial arts movies, give this one a try.
Back in the 1990s, Doom was a pretty revolutionary first-person shooter game. It may seem strange to think now, but there really weren’t many games like that back then. Playing from the perspective of a futuristic space marine, you had to fight demons and zombies and desperately try to stay alive. The 2005 movie version built on this further: space marines portrayed by Karl Urban, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Rosamund Pike had to save a Martian research facility from creepy genetically altered monsters. While Doom was technically a box office bomb, it’s by no means a terrible movie. Unless you’re an actual movie critic, you’re likely to get at least some enjoyment out of it.
14. Pokémon: The First Movie
Do the Pokémon movies count here since they’re technically based on the anime that’s based on the game? I’m going to go with yes, simply because Pokémon: The First Movie was such an emotional part of every ’90s kid’s childhood. While this franchise’s movies are generally pretty poor, the first installment had a strong plot that really tugged at the heartstrings. Who didn’t shed a tear or two when Pikachu unsuccessfully tried to shock Ash back to life, only for the tears of Pokémon to eventually revive him? It’s the kind of movie you can rewatch as an adult when you’re sick, feeling low, or in need of a nostalgia session. You’ll come out of it feeling just that little bit better about the world.
13. Resident Evil
So far, six different movies have been made based on the Resident Evil video game franchise, with yet another reboot lurking on the horizon. While some of the movies are of less than stellar quality, the original film is undoubtedly worth a watch. While having a knowledge of the video game franchise probably helps a bit, it’s also a great standalone film in its own right. Milla Jovovich slays (both figuratively and literally) as the lead character and bona fide badass Alice. The special effects are great – especially for the early 2000s – and the action is enjoyably ridiculous. It’s a great film in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Even lauded filmmaker James Cameron loves it: that’s got to count for something!
12. Max Payne
Who doesn’t love a good neo-noir thriller/action movie? Mark Wahlberg took the title role in this video-game-inspired film, a casting that basically makes the whole thing. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, Max Payne is a third-person shooter game about a police-officer-turned-vigilante in New York City. The film lifts the plot directly from the first game, having Max search tirelessly for the murderer of his wife and baby. Mila Kunis shows up as a Russian assassin, Ludacris inexplicably plays the part of a 60-year-old lieutenant, and singer Nelly Furtado makes a random cameo. The film may sound a bit goofy, and admittedly was panned by many critics, but it’s a fun watch if you don’t take it too seriously.
11. Silent Hill
The Silent Hill movie is a genuinely creepy horror film that very much deserves its place on this list. Based on a Japanese survival horror video game, it’s just as jumpy and psychologically twisted as you’d expect. Sean Bean stars in one of the few roles that he actually survives, while Australian actress Radha Mitchell excels in the lead role. Just a warning, though: this film is not for the faint-hearted. If gory is your thing, go for it. If you pass out at the sight of even the tiniest speck of blood, give this one a miss. Put it this way: several characters get chopped to death by razor wire. Yeah. It’s THAT gory.
10. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
The Final Fantasy franchise is one of the most successful series in video game history. With fifteen installments and numerous spin-offs, it was inevitable that the game would eventually get the movie treatment. While four Final Fantasy films have been released to date, The Spirits Within is noteworthy for its genuinely pioneering animation style. It was the first ever photorealistic computer-animated feature film and is still remembered for its impressive visuals. Unfortunately, the huge costs of this type of technology meant the film ran at a loss despite heavy praise. It’s definitely worth a watch, if not for its plot, then to marvel at what animators could do even back in 2001.
9. The Angry Birds Movie
Okay, hear me out on this one. When it was announced that a movie was in production based on the Angry Birds app, we were all (rightfully) skeptical. How on earth could anyone make a movie out of a game that involved chucking birds at pigs? Still, it happened — and the resulting film is surprisingly good. While the plot is goofy and obviously simplified to appeal to kids, the movie’s voice actors make it a surprisingly funny watch for adults too. When you put together the likes of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Maya Rudolph, and Peter Dinklage, hilarity is bound to ensue. The film did so well that a sequel is being planned for 2019. Trust me, I’m as surprised as you are!
8. Need For Speed
The Need For Speed series is another video game franchise that was bound to get the big-screen treatment at some point. Lo and behold, in 2014 a movie of the same name starring Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper made its way into cinemas. The Need For Speed game is basically just about racing cars: there’s not much more to it than that. The resulting movie is kind of Fast and Furious-lite. It does the same thing as that franchise, but just a little bit worse. Still, that doesn’t make it a bad film: it’s pretty entertaining, and audiences (if not critics) gave it positive reviews. It’s the kind of mindless movie you can put on as a distraction after work.
7. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
This pseudo-medieval fantasy romp is probably the most obscure movie on this list. It’s based on Dungeon Siege, a popular 2002 high fantasy game that saw players fighting off an invasion of their magical kingdom. It was a huge critical and commercial success, and the franchise is still popular today. As for the film… Well, it may not have been a commercial success, but everyone should watch it at least once in their life. Starring Jason Statham as a peasant-turned-warrior, the movie was critically panned but is a cult favorite. It’s a watered-down version of Lord of the Rings with hilariously awful production, and ventures far into “so bad, it’s good” territory.
6. DOA: Dead or Alive
DOA: Dead or Alive deserves a watch simply because it’s an entirely female-led fighting film! That’s right – women can be strong and badass too! Who’d have thought it? The movie is based on a game franchise of the same name which, as you’d expect, mostly centers on fighting. It translated to the big screen pretty well: while its plot leaves a little to be desired, the martial arts choreography and action sequences are pretty cool. It’s basically an even more fight-based version of Charlie’s Angels that even has an intense volleyball sequence. While it isn’t exactly award-worthy, DOA is still a fun watch on a Friday night. You’ll be laughing by the end, even if that wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention.
5. Hitman: Agent 47
For a film that saw its fair share of troubles and tragedy before shooting even began, Hitman: Agent 47 fares decently well. Based on the popular Hitman series of games, the movie focuses on Agent 47, a mysterious and anonymous assassin who’s pretty darn good at his job. Fast and Furious star Paul Walker was originally slated to portray the title character. However, his tragic death in a car accident took place before principal photography had begun. Rupert Friend replaced Walker with the Star Trek reboot’s Zachary Quinto playing the villainous John Smith. This movie didn’t change the world by any means but is a fun flick nonetheless. It’s perfect for fans of over-exaggerated 1980s action movies.
4. Street Fighter
Who doesn’t love a good cheesy Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie? Based on the successful game franchise of the same name, Street Fighter takes a simple concept – competitive fighting – and turns it into something wonderfully silly. Unfortunately, critics hated it. The dialogue wasn’t the best and the plot was a bit ridiculous. Plus, pop star Kylie Minogue was badly miscast as a military-trained female fighter. However, the film has become a classic for those very reasons. It’s one of the few films of its type to actively include comedy: you laugh with it as well as at it. It’s also got a surprisingly diverse cast for a ’90s film! If you’re into camp action that’s so bad it’s good, give Street Fighter a try.
3. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
We couldn’t just leave it at one Resident Evil movie in this list. There’s six of them, after all! Out of all of the original movie’s sequels, its final installment is probably the one you should check out. It’s got a surprising amount of nods and tie-ins to the first movie, impressive considering they were released nearly fifteen years apart. You wouldn’t think that a video game movie series would care too much about tying up loose ends, but this one (mostly) does. Sure, it’s your classic apocalyptic “this disease will kill us all” film. However, it’s certainly not the worst movie of its kind out there. Plus, it stars Ruby Rose who’s generally amazing in everything she does. What’s not to love?
2. Super Mario Bros
You can’t talk about video game movies and neglect to mention the diabolical cult classic that is the Super Mario Bros. movie. Everyone’s heard of the video game series: mustached brothers Mario and Luigi try to save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, there are random mushrooms everywhere… You know the drill. Unfortunately, this film took the most successful video game franchise of all time and stripped it of most of its charm and spirit. The plot is non-existent, the acting questionable, and Mario and Luigi don’t even wear their signature costumes for most of the movie. However, despite being hated by both critics and its lead actor Bob Hoskins, the film has become a cult favorite. It’s worth watching just so you can say you’ve done it. Who knows, you might even become part of its extensive cult following.
1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
This movie adaptation of the popular Tomb Raider video game franchise polarized critics and movie-goers alike. Pretty much everyone agreed that Angelina Jolie was perfect for the titular role: she totally nailed the English archaeologist-adventurer vibe. Whether the other aspects of the movie hold up is more fiercely debated. Not everyone likes its plot, and not everyone likes the pretty stylized action sequences. However, legendary film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie three out of four stars, so it can’t be a total waste of time! It’s a fun watch for sure, especially if slightly silly or female-led action is your thing. However, don’t bother with the sequel. The producers didn’t even try to make that one good.