Video Game Movies: The Best and Worst from the Infamous Genre of Film

Filmmakers have tried their hands at adapting almost everything to the screen. Novels, comic books and even radio shows have been brought to live with a level of box office success. Yet one source that hasn’t quite succeeded consistently is video games.

Video game adaptations account for some of the worst movies we’ve seen. Even more often, these movies get stuck in development hell. Take the Halo franchise for instance. There have been talks of a live action Halo film since the first game released in 2001. Peter Jackson was even tied to it at one point after completing his Lord of the Rings trilogy.

It’s not all bad for gamers. There have been some bright spots along the way. None have matched the critical success comic book films have reached though.

Like any other case where we discuss what is the best and worst there is room for debate. Some of the worst films on this list are must sees just because of how ridiculous they are! So let’s break down five of the best and worst video game movies.

The Best

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Paul W.S. Anderson’s adaptation of Mortal Kombat carried out the procedural elements of the first game’s story but not much else. The PG-13 trip to Outworld lacked the violence and dark imagery that makes the games so popular. 

The positives were in the casting which turned out to be pretty good. Christopher Lambert, Linden Ashby and Robin Shou did justice to Raiden, Johnny Cage and Liu Kang respectively. Trevor Goddard’s performance as Kano even informed future iterations of the character in the games.

The story was just tight enough and the set design was passable enough to feel like Mortal Kombat. A simple decapitation or spine ripper here and there and this film would’ve been remembered even more fondly by fans.

Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil’s live action films are a mostly forgettable library of sci-fi/action films that don’t really echo the survival horror tone of the games. The 2008 animated film Resident Evil: Degeneration was a different story.

The movie featured Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield from Resident Evil 2, both of which were voiced by the actors from the game. Thrust in the middle of another zombie outbreak, Leon and Claire have to unravel a mystery that involves murder and terrorism.

This felt much more like a true Resident Evil movie. There were dimly lit scenes, eerie sounds and horrors lurking around every corner.

The film was followed up with Resident Evil: Damnation just a couple years later. Hopefully the next live action movie Welcome to Raccoon City will ditch the huge action scenes for something more horror driven.

Tomb Raider (2018)

The Tomb Raider games were cutting edge adventures with engrossing gameplay and challenging puzzles. Unfortunately the Angelina Jolie films focused more on oversexualizing Lara Croft than her survival skills and intelligence.

Then the franchise was rebooted with a grittier new game in 2013. In 2018 a reboot film which closely mirrored the new games was released starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. 

The movie was a refreshing surprise for fans. It captures the thrills and heart of the new games. It also played like a throwback to past action movies like Cliffhanger.

For her part, Vikander carried the film well, including the very brutal physical aspects of it. There was a time nobody would have bought her as an action hero but by the end of the 119 minute runtime you’ll be convinced she’s indestructible.

Silent Hill

Pyramid Head. It might sound like a silly name, but then again so does Pinhead. If you’ve been introduced to this character already you know there’s nothing funny about him.

The 2006 Silent Hill movie had some genuinely terrifying moments. After Pyramid Head makes his first appearance you can feel his inescapable presence the rest of the way.

Silent Hill has one of the more ambitious narratives put into a game and the film brings it to life adequately. It pivots from a haunting mystery to a deranged nightmare. And like any good adaptation it captures at least the basic essence of the games from imagery to tone.

If there’s a standout performer in the film it is either Laurie Holden as the police officer or Alice Krige as Christabella. 

But let’s not forget Sean Bean. Sean Bean is in the movie. So if you like Sean Bean you should watch this movie that has Sean Bean in it.

Sean Bean.

Sonic The Hedgehog

Every now and then we get these weird movies where something cartoonish is brought into the real world. Why this happens, I’ll never know. In the case of Sonic The Hedgehog it actually works!

Sonic The Hedgehog is a lighthearted buddy comedy adventure that will appease fans of the games while making new fans of young viewers. It was also a rare instance of fanboy criticism actually yielding a positive result. After Sonic’s design was overhauled to look more like he does in the games it was off to the races.

The film seemed like it might be a cash grab for Jim Carrey. On the contrary, his turn as the evil Dr. Robotnik was a lot of fun to watch. It appeared at least that he was giving it all of his zany energy and enjoyed doing so.

The Worst

Double Dragon

Double Dragon was one of the first games to be adapted and the result wasn’t great. It tried to replicate some of the brotherly humor and fight choreography of 3 Ninjas. Most of that fell pretty flat though.

The 90s aesthetic is in full force in this movie. Even down to…whatever was going on with Robert Patrick’s villain. It’s a huge dropoff from T-1000. He did have a pretty epic closeup during the final battle. Maybe the Rock took cues on that eyebrow raise.

In the age of 3 Ninjas, Surf Ninjas and any other ninja movie you can think of, this movie is near the bottom of the list. If those movies were your thing you might think it’s worth a watch. Trust me, it’s really not.

Max Payne

Making a Max Payne movie starring Mark Wahlberg should have been a layup. Wahlberg was a hot name coming off The Departed, Four Brothers and Shooter. The Max Payne character was a perfect fit based on those films. It’s a revenge story in the vein of a Charles Bronson action movie with a tip of the hat to film noir.

What Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and director John Moore gave us was a film that was nice to look at in its time but was extremely unfulfilling in terms of story. You never feel the gratification of Max Payne getting his own brand of justice. Less time should have been spent on the demonic valkyries and more on Payne’s mission for vengeance. Undoubtedly the vision for the film was compromised to meet a PG-13 rating.

Wahlberg’s 2008 was all around rough between this film and The Happening

Street Fighter

There are two good things about the 1994 Street Fighter movie: Raul Julia as M. Bison and Vega’s cage fight scene. Vega’s scene is good purely because by itself it is a great representation of the character in live action.

As for Raul Julia, it’s a damn shame such a great actor’s last performance was wasted on a movie like this.

This movie gets just about everything about the Street Fighter franchise wrong. Ryu and Ken are basically insignificant. No real dragon punches or Hadokens. Guile, the all-American hero, is played by Jean-Claude Van Damme. Blanka. Just everything about Blanka. Most of the costume design for the movie would be put to shame by the average cosplayer. This thing is a mess.

Super Mario Bros

This movie right here is a complete trip. How anybody went from playing a Mario game to creating this thing is beyond me. Just watch the Boom Boom Room scene where Bob Hoskins meets Big Bertha. It sums up almost everything wrong with this movie.

Speaking of Bob Hoskins, there couldn’t have been a better casting for Mario at the time. John Leguizamo as Luigi is an awesome choice too. Making the Mushroom Kingdom into a dystopian cyberpunk world, not so much. 

It’s hard not to go full Angry Video Game Nerd here but seriously, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!

If there’s a memorable scene that is enjoyable at all it’s the Goomba dancing scene. I still don’t know why the Goomba’s were 7-foot tall reptiles. It’s best not to think too much about these things.

This is one of those aforementioned films that really needs to be seen just to understand how much of a departure it is from just about anything you would expect based on the source material. As wild as your imagination might be, it would never have imagined a Mario movie like this.

All of Uwe Boll’s movies

Bloodrayne, Far Cry, House of the Dead, take your pick. Uwe Boll is one of the most infamous directors in the whole industry, known for making more crappy video game movies than anyone would  even want to.

To his credit, Boll at least partially funded a lot of his projects. He’s even willing to fight for them, literally. That still doesn’t forgive the fact that these movies are incoherent and beyond unwatchable. Some even skirt the line of being softcore porn, except the plots are weak even by those standards.

Oh yeah, Alone in the Dark. Jesus this guy has made a lot of crap.

New Challengers: Fan Films worth a watch

Street Fighter: Legacy

If you want a better Street Fighter adaptation there are several anime films like Street Fighter: Alpha and Street Fighter II: The Movie. On the live action side, stuntman Joey Ansah (Bourne: Ultimatum) made a passion project fan film called Street Fighter: Legacy back in 2010. The short was received well enough to launch the web series Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist. In fact, Ansah loves the games so much he’s even learned to do some of the most impossible moves including the flash kick and hurricane kick.

The Legend of Zelda: The Hero of Time

The Legend of Zelda on NES was the first game I ever played and since then I’ve dreamed of seeing it made into a movie. As more cinematic elements were brought into the series later on that desire has grown. Some Zelda fans grew tired of waiting so in 2009 they made their own full length fan film.

Telling a Zelda story on film in under two hours is a tall task. That’s likely part of the reason why it hasn’t been done by a studio yet. That’s why director Joel Musch and crews’ fan film felt so ambitious. It isn’t a perfect movie but it was a fun watch as a Zelda fan. It certainly wouldn’t get the Nintendo stamp of approval though since it had some Rambo style action and violence mixed in.

If you’re looking for something much shorter, and a better proof of concept, check out the animated short Majora’s Mask: Terrible Fate. It’s less than five minutes long and extremely well done.

Mortal Kombat: Rebirth

With a new Mortal Kombat film on the horizon it’s time to give some credit to Kevin Tancharoen and the rest of the team behind Mortal Kombat: Rebirth. This seven minute short film resurrected Mortal Kombat as a viable film property in 2010.

Rebirth took the wave of reimagining fantasy properties in a gritty, real setting and applied it to the world of MK. The YouTube video got fans buzzing to see it made into a full-length feature. Instead we Tancharoen created an anthology series which went straight to YouTube for two seasons.

With big names in nerdom like Michael Jai White and Jeri Ryan involved, it’s a shame the initial proof of concept didn’t get the full go ahead.

Uncharted: Live Action Fan Film

Tom Holland is on deck to play Nathan Drake in an upcoming Uncharted movie. Before he was cast to play Drake, fans pined for Nathan Fillion to nab the role. Those wishes were granted (sort of) in the form of this 2018 fan film.

It’s hard to even classify this as a fan film because the production values were so good. Fillion, Stephen Lang and Ernie Reyes Jr. (Keno from TMNT: Secret of the Ooze!) starred in the sub 15-minute short that felt like a love letter to the popular game series.

When it comes to fan film scripts you’re not likely to find a better one than this. Having your dialogue delivered by polished professionals certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Portal: No Escape

Portal doesn’t scream for film adaptation like some of these other titles. Maybe it should.

At least that’s the impression after seeing Portal: No Escape.

Dan Trachtenberg’s short showed off just how cool the game’s portal gun could be if applied to live action. It’s regarded as one of the best fan films based on a video game almost 10 years after its release.

The Portal games are more based on puzzle solving than a dominant narrative but there is a story behind them. Still, who knew a puzzle based game could make such an enthralling film, even if for just a few minutes.

Trachtenberg’s next project after Portal: No Escape was 10 Cloverfield Lane. He’s since gone on to director episodes of Black Mirror and The Boys.

The Shameless Plugs

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About the Author
Joe is a contributing writer for Back Lot 605. He has had an obsessive relationship with movies from a young age. His first big-screen love was the original Ghostbusters, which he watched on repeat while playing with the action figures and proton pack. He often found himself watching movies this way. He even watched the Rob Schneider mega…flop Surf Ninjas for nearly an entire summer. Joe graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communication in 2017. He currently writes for The N’West Iowa REVIEW, based in Sheldon, IA. During his free time, Joe enjoys playing music, playing video games, reading and watching sports. Some of Joe’s favorite films are Monster Squad, Batman, The Professional, Predator and The Empire Strikes Back.
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