We’ll be the first to admit that movies based on video games have a less than stellar track record (see, for example “Super Mario Bros.”). In fact, we’ve already broken down the worst of the worst when it comes to terrible movies based on great games. But that doesn’t mean the category can be ignored outright.
Whether or not November’s “Assassin’s Creed”> film turns the tide, it seems like the trend of dog awful B-movies loosely based off games might just be a thing of the past. Or at least that’s what we’re hoping. To spread that optimism around, we’ve examined the many attempts at adapting games into movies to highlight the times they succeeded — or least didn’t go down in flames.
10. Max Payne (2008)
Despite a story being heavily laden in sometimes comical amounts of sadness and drama, the 2008 “Max Payne” movie featured a lot of what made the game great. The movie’s visually stunning take on the Valkyr drug trips were a huge upgrade in comparison to the source material, which was essentially running around empty rooms with a red filter on them and some spooky echoing voices.
The character of Max Payne was never particularly emotive in his PlayStation 2 debut, being largely relegated to flat dialogue delivered over a series of comic strip style cutscenes. This in turn allowed Mark Wahlberg to nail the grim and badass disposition of Max onscreen with little issue. Granted it took entirely too long to get to some savory good old-fashioned gun violence in the film, but it delivered a few decent sequences like the office shootout. Coming from a game based on a loose-cannon cop with a few bullets to spare, “Max Payne” the film was passable.
9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Before her more recent current-gen reboot, Lara Croft was primarily known as the big-bosomed Indiana Jones styled heroine from a series of early PlayStation and PCgames. Other than fighting skeletons, dual-wielding pistols, and failing swan dives, there was little to be had of her personality outside of her favorite titular hobby of tomb raiding.
Enter “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” the 2001 film adaptation with Angelina Jolie filling in the main character’s combat boots. For all its unnecessary robot fights and inexplicable indoor bungie shootouts, the movie still managed to be entertaining. Jolie portrays Lara as badass and sarcastic, while still remaining feminine. The effects are dated, but feature evil living statues and stone golems reminiscent of the games’ typical repertoire of enemies. Plus the film delivers on, you know, Lara actually raiding a tomb for an ancient artifact at the center of its plot. And hey, who realized Daniel Craig was in this? (Put your hand down, don’t act like you really knew.)
8. DOOM (2005)
Let’s be honest, “DOOM” was an unflinchingly violent, gory and stupidly fun game to play when it debuted in 1993. So it stands to reason that a movie based off of it would be awesome, right? Guys?
Even though 2005’s “DOOM” the film fell into the same painful Hollywood pitfall of playing far too loosely with the source material when crafting a script, the movie itself wasn’t a half-bad action/sci-fi thriller. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson starred as the typical ‘I’m-probably-going-to-be-the-bad-military-guy’ character adequately referred to as Sarge, alongside Karl Urban as an ineffectual space marine with a sense of morality named Reaper.
In some ways, the flat acting and paper-thin plot was perfectly suited to a game that had most of its original story relegated to the desolate wasteland known as the printed game manual. Where the movie made history however, was through an extensive homage to its source material in the form of a five-minute long first-person action sequence. This arguably had never really been explored to this extent before (take that, “Hardcore Henry”), and was actually pretty dang cool to watch for all its gimmicks. “DOOM” the film was bloody, violent and dumb fun, which is exactly what is expected from the game itself.
7. Hitman (2007)
Where some movies stumble in incorporating the source material, “Hitman” actually managed it pretty handily. The 2007 adaptation of the stealth contract-killing game starred Timothy Olyphant as Agent 47, who was far more personable of a character than the original’s stoic and oft-silent protagonist. The story borrowed key pieces from the games and blended it into a neat 90-minute action film. Featuring 47 on the run from The Organization after failing a contract, “Hitman” boasted a more than adequate storyline with a high production value. The arms dealer shootout and restaurant scenes are great examples of elegant violence, an homage to its source.
Sure there was that completely irrelevant sword fight between multiple enemy agents and Olyphant may have played 47 a bit too snarky at times, but the movie felt like it could have easily existed as an entry to the series of games themselves. Shockingly, “Hitman” actually turned a profit at the box office and still remains a very watchable action flick. This adaptation touched on everything that made the games great: elegance, violence, and red neckties.
6. Ace Attorney (2012)
Based off the wildly popular “Phoenix Wright” series of courtroom drama games, this movie was unfortunately only released in Japan in 2012. One could argue that studios overseas are far more willing to go the extra mile when it comes to adapting games to screen, but “Ace Attorney” takes it to a different level.
“Ace Attorney” endeavored to be as much like the game has humanly possible, right down to Phoenix Wright’s insanely spiked hair and Miles Edgeworth’s gaudy Victorian attire. The courtrooms are portrayed almost like arenas with holographic displays showing off evidence, as if viewing it from a Nintendo DS screen.
The actors themselves deliver practically copy-and-paste performances of their video game counterparts, which don’t always manage to come across well on screen, but are legitimate nonetheless. Characters are wacky, dialogue is weird, and there’s plenty of the games’ off-beat comedy to go around. Some complained that the film was too long, but that’s just another example of the movie’s dedication to the source material. “Phoenix Wright” game stories were told through a series of cases, and the film was no different in this respect. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, “Ace Attorney” is among the most accurate video game movie adaptations in existence.
5. Warcraft (2016)
Rumors of a “Warcraft” movie based off the original real-time strategy game seemed to swirl on for years on end; so much so that most doubted it would ever come to fruition. Finally the film was pushed into the light of day in 2016, debuting orcs, kings, and magic with a lavish budget behind it.
The “Warcraft” movie focused on a mixture of events from the original game to introduce the orcs as a people instead of just cannon fodder for big battles. Several characters from its vast universe were debuted such as Durotan, Lothar, and Garona. The cast was full of smaller but recognizable names like Dominic Cooper and Paula Patton, but they all managed to portray these characters strongly. To say that the film moves at a breakneck pace story wise is a bit forgiving (it does try to mash in a ton of lore into a two-hour movie) but it had an understandable enough plot.
Even with the few deviations from the source material in the movie, director Duncan Jones’ film more than made up for it in its jaw dropping production value. Costumes and environments thrilled the eyes and the extensive animation was of the same incredibly detailed beauty we’ve come to expect from Blizzard cinematics. Even better, “Warcraft” performed incredibly well overseas, bucking the stigma that video game movies can’t do well at the box office. There’s hope yet that we’ll see a sequel.
4. Pokemon (1998)
This movie may have the benefit of being animated, therefore not really raising an issue of accuracy with costumes, sets, etc., but let’s really break this down. “Pokemon” at the time wasn’t just a video game — it was a global frenzy. What started as a relatively simple game of collecting and battling adorable little monsters because a media franchise that continues to thrive to this day.
So in 1998 rabid fans everywhere got the chance to see a feature length film of Pokemon. Critics might have universally hated it, but “Pokemon the Movie” was loved by fans. It not only featured fan-favorite characters like Ash and Pikachu on screen, but also showed the rarest pokemon of all duke it out: Mewtwo and Mew.
For being a movie that arguably could have been useless fluff harcore fans would still have eaten up, “Pokemon” strived to push messages of tolerance and anti-violence to kids. Yes, it has Pikachu throwing Thunderbolt around like fans wanted, while also treating them to introspective conversations about life’s purpose, the choices we make and the impact it carries on others around us. Heavy stuff indeed for a kids’ movie, but important messages that were always present in the games.
3. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016)
When it comes to movies based off of video games, “Final Fantasy” has garnered some of the worst reputation. Following the misstep of “Spirits Within” and the fan service fodder that was “Advent Children,” “Kingsglaive” had a lot to make up for.
Pitted as a prequel of sorts to the upcoming “Final Fantasy XV,” “Kingsglaive” featured leather-clad, magic-wielding soldiers dubbed “glaives” fighting to defend the city of Lucis from invaders. Surprisingly, this movie boasts a self-contained story that is actually followable. The film introduces us to brand new characters that have some personality outside of brooding (shocking, we know). They’re also backed by an incredibly strong voice cast that includes the talents of Sean Bean, Aaron Paul and Lena Headey.
“Kingsglaive” succeeds where all previous “Final Fantasy” game-to-screen adaptations failed because it actually incorporates the fantasy element. Magic is thrown around instead of bullets, larger than life summons appear, and the cityscapes are a beautiful mix between cyberpunk and victorian style. Pair that with the stunningly realistic animation and it makes for an honest-to-goodness fun ride.
2. Silent Hill (2006)
Another video game film that had to fight its way through development hell, “Silent Hill” was a brutal, suspenseful trip that captured a lot of the original games’ twisted horror.
The movie opted for a brand new female protagonist named Rose instead of the original Harry Mason, but kept the plot very much along the same lines: a parent is looking for their lost child in the haunted town of Silent Hill. If anything, the movie boasted a somewhat leaner version of the game’s plot, while retaining a lot of the creepy factors from the series.
Silent Hill was iconically ash laden and foggy, with impressive visual effects appearing to morph the town into a burning inferno. The film also incorporated enemies from multiple games, including the nurses and everyone’s favorite: Pyramid Head. While there was no shortage of brutality from these creatures, the movie stayed true to the game in focusing on moments of suspense and breath-holding fear rather than outright action. Silent Hill wasn’t only a box office success, it managed to replicate the feeling of horror fans got every time that iconic siren rang.
1. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Sure it’s hokey in every possible 90’s way, but “Mortal Kombat” absolutely nailed the game’s concept when bringing it to film. A bunch of combatants are in a tournament to defend Earthrealm from being invaded by forces from Outworld — you can’t get much more accurate than that!
What’s actually most impressive about “Mortal Kombat” as a film is how well it worked from such a flimsy concept: a fighting game. It kept things simple, only focusing on Liu Kang as a protagonist and Shang Tsung as the villain, but still managed to include every character from the games’ first roster. The actors were also great in their parts. Not many can argue that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa wasn’t perfectly menacing as the Outworld sorcerer or that Christopher Lambert didn’t charm your pants off as a snarky Raiden.
Many of the movie’s locations were gorgeously shot in remote Thailand, which really did feel like a proper homage to the games’ various stages. And lest we forget, “Mortal Kombat” actually delivered on the fights! While the likes of Tony Jaa or Donnie Yen may have blown a lot of cinematic martial arts out of the water, the fights in “Mortal Kombat” were amazing for its time. “Mortal Kombat” was a huge summer blockbuster and managed to wash the terrible taste of the “Street Fighter” movie out of audiences mouths. Besides, after reading the title, you probably have the theme song stuck in your head.
What’s the best film based on a video game ever made? Tell us in the comments!
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