With the success of Mortal Kombat 2021, we see if we can cobble together ten worthy flicks in this much maligned category.
When it comes to video game movies, “best” can be a bit subjective. The genre is notorious for cranking out some of the worst films you could imagine, so the bar is basically lying right on the ground when it comes to making a “good” one. That being said, there are plenty of video game inspired movies that are quite enjoyable, if you don’t mind a bit of nonsense or wanton destruction in lieu of story or character-building. We covered our picks for the ten worst video game adaptations ages ago, so to even the score we’re picking ten of our favorite video game movies.
Top Ten Video Game Movies
10. Rampage (2018)
Not much more to say here than what we already covered in our movie review at the time: Rampage is a movie about a giant monkey fighting a giant crocodile and wolf, and somehow or other the Rock winds up being the winner. When that’s your premise, all you can do is crank up the crazy-meter to eleven on your monster fight machine and let the Rock’s charisma handle the rest.
9. Doom (2005)
Doom will never be confused with Citizen Kane, but it did do a lot of things I enjoyed. First, it cast Karl Urban, which is always a plus. Next, it cast the Rock…and actually let him play a baddie. Lastly, it took visual risks, daring to film an adrenaline soaked, gore-fest sequence all in first person perspective, paving the way for gems like Hardcore Henry.
While it certainly was schlocky, it was on the whole the self-aware kind of schlocky that had fun with its premise. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and watch a hero cut loose with a chainsaw on every demon in a ten block radius. Simple pleasures.
8. Resident Evil (2002)
I have a love/hate relationship with the Resident Evil movie franchise. Some of them have been cheesey, B-Movie good times. Some of them have been complete trainwrecks. The first one, however, was an honest-to-god good movie.
Very (very!) loosely adapting the video game franchise, we get a new protagonist, Alice (Milla Jovovich), who is an amnesiac thrown into a sinister mansion which hides all manner of bioweapon monstrosities. The settings were all fantastic, the traps were so devilish that the game would go on to steal from the movie, the monster design was solid if predictable, and Jovovich brought a ton of physicality to the many fight-or-flight scenes that kept the movie constantly rolling. For once, director Paul Anderson made his video game adaptation more comprehensible, not less. Overall, a solid action flick with enough horror elements to please fans of the game series.
7. Tomb Raider (2018)
While I think that Angelina Jolie perfectly captured the essence of the original Tomb Raider games with a sexier, more confident Lara Croft, the 2001 film also captured the silliness of the games and the “Indiana Jones and the Lost Story Line” plots of those games.
2018’s outing, starring Alicia Vikander, was just a better movie. The plot made more sense and was grounded in a personal story instead of endless MacGuffin hunting. Vikander’s Lara was less confident, but much more physical, and her inexperience as a treasure hunter translated into more tension whenever she was in peril…which was all the time. It may not replace The Goonies as my go-to treasure hunting film, but it certainly brought home the goods.
6. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Guilty pleasure time here. I know this movie routinely gets demolished for the stilted performances of some of the main cast and for an aesthetic that flirts right up to the line of being cheesey…but I enjoyed this film immensely.
For every groaner one-liner from Johnny Cage or semi-mystical fortune cookie quote from Liu Kang, we got gems like Christopher Lambert smirking his way through playing the lightning god Raiden or Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa absolutely reveling in the evilness of Shang Tsung. For every bad visual choice (Scorpion’s spear is alive and comes out of his palm?) we get a great one (Sub Zero creating a maelstrom of ice around himself) or a hilarious one. That face Goro makes when Johnny Cage tags him in the beans? Priceless.
And last but not least, the movie had a banging soundtrack. The MK theme done over in a club remix is fire, and I’ll shout “Mortal Kombat!” right alongside it all day long.
5. Pokemon – Detective Pikachu (2018)
Sometimes all you need is competence and to respect the fans. Nate’s review of Detective Pikachu says it all:
I enjoyed the former [Avengers Endgame] because it paid off my years of both comic book and comic book movie geek-dom with loads of big wet kisses. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu does the exact same thing for Pokémon fans, a craze that missed me by a good decade or so. But having absorbed enough Poke-culture simply due to Pokémon’s 20+ years of existence, I can see where the movie does the series justice.
Detective Pikachu may not reinvent the wheel, but it delivered solid visuals, serviceable jokes, and all the pocket monsters you could shake a stick at.
4. Silent Hill (2006)
Critics may have balked, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first cinematic take on the classic horror game series, Silent Hill. It adapts the story from the first game ably, while dipping into some of the expanded lore and gory creatures from later iterations. The aesthetic and cinematography are suitably creepy, and I like that they changed the fog from the series into ash clouds from a colossal underground fire. It elevated the town from spooky to hellish.
Many of the creepy-pasta monsters from the series put in an appearance. Bandaged nurses with broken necks and claw-like hands? Check! Meat-puppet creatures staggering around blindly? Ditto. A giant meat-cleaver wielding dude in a pyramid mask ripping the WHOLE SKINSUIT OFF A PERSON and then THROWING IT AT OUR HEROES? Wait…that wasn’t in the game!
Should have been. It was the single most monstrous thing in the movie and turned what had been a slightly creepy movie into a “holy crap!” horror fest.
3. Sonic the Hedgehog (2019)
To everyone’s shock and amazement, 2019’s Sonic the Hedgehog delivered. Not only was it not a CG dumpster-fire, it was unexpectedly delightful. Sonic was personable and fun, his human companions were worth caring about, and Jim Carrey turned in an utterly watchable performance as the megalomaniacal Dr. Robotnik.
The pandemic made the year a wash at the box office, so I can’t make too much of Sonic being the third highest grossing movie of 2020, but I do feel the blue blaze earned his paycheck. When they announced a sequel in the works immediately after it premiered, I thought “good, I hope the original cast returns” instead of “dear god, why!?” That’s about the highest praise you can give a video game adaptation.
2. The Last Starfighter (1984)
Our last two entries stretch the definition of “video game adaptation” a bit. They’re not directly inspired by a specific video game, so much as they are a love letter to the genre and take lots of inspirations from different games that were the new craze at the time.
The Last Starfighter creates its own clone of the space shooters like Galaxian and Asteroids, and uses it in a clever way. In this story, the peacekeeping Star League uses the coin-op game as essentially a flight simulator, testing potential pilots unawares. Alex, a boy who seems doomed to be stuck in his one-horse town, sets the high score and is recruited to fly for the league. Due to treachery, his ship is the only one to survive a sneak attack, and he must use the skills he learned to fight off a whole armada of intergalactic conquerors.
Pure wish fulfillment, The Last Starfighter was a perennial favorite at my house. We weren’t just screwing around with our Atari…we were prepping to potentially save the universe. Looking back at it from 2021 where soldiers pilot drones from a computer and surgeons brush up on their motor skills via simulators, 6-year-old me feels vindicated.
The film boasts earnest performances and memorable characters. Sure, the story is a daydream, but it’s serious where it needs to be while not being overly self-important. Director Nick Castle’s filmography is a wild collection of disparate pieces, but he tells a solid story here that hits all the emotional beats while capturing the wide-eyed glory of the 1980’s video game scene.
1. TRON (1982)
While a lot of entries on this list are “good…for a video game movie” Tron is an actual classic. It’s computer generated imagery was jaw-dropping at the time, and it’s style and audacity still impress forty years later.
A baby-faced Jeff Bridges plays Flynn, a genius software engineer who moonlights as a hacker. While trying to expose his shady boss, he learns that the system he helped create has become self-aware and is dangerous. As he attempts to enact a fail-safe program, TRON, he is digitized into the computer and the real fun begins.
The world inside the computer in TRON is stark and breathtaking, using bleeding edge computer tech for the time. It’s not just eye-candy, each design choice is meticulous and thought out, either serving a story purpose or bringing to life elements from contemporary games. The line-drawing dots from Snake are imagined as neon motorcycles zipping through a digital terrain. Pong becomes a life-and-death game of electrified Frisbee suspended over a bottomless pit. Everything is big and bold and delightful.