It's fair to say that movies based on games have a pretty bad reputation, and not for an entirely unfair reason. Can they all be bad? Well, no. Just most of them.
Just like anything else, game movies have their good moments, too. In rare cases, they're well made and do the games they're based on justice. Sometimes they're kinda crap, but joyously entertaining regardless.
With that in mind, we've decided to put together a list of the best video game movies to date. Not all of them can be considered 'good movies', but every one of them aims to entertain and mostly gets away with it. We've added the new Sonic movie to this list, too, since it's pretty fun if you don't mind switching your brain off.
There are two kinds of video game movie on this list – those that are based on famous gaming franchises, and those that are about the world of video games. We've opted to leave out documentaries for the time being, as those could fill a (much more) respectable list all on their own.
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Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog is the newest attempt to bring a gaming icon to the big screen. Far from a direct adaptation of Sonic's weird world of animals trapped inside robot exoskeletons, it's about the blue hedgehog teaming up with a local sheriff (played by a very game James Marsden) to take down Doctor Robotnik (an extremely committed Jim Carrey).
Not being directly based on the games works in the movie's favor: it’s a vibrant, silly and surprisingly fun movie helped by Ben Schwartz’s performance as Sonic. This dedication to making a movie that’s simply fun to watch, rather than trying to faithfully adopt video game canon results in the best video game movie to date. And, trust us, if you’re a Sega devotee, you’re going to want to stick around for the post-credit scene.
Although Pokemon Detective Pikachu may not be based on the narrative of any particular game, Pikachu and all his pals are, obviously, based on Pokemon. The story is about a guy named Tim who wants to become a Pokemon trainer. He meets Pikachu who can talk and be understood by home – whereas everyone else hears "Pika!" when he says something. They then go on a clue-finding, mystery-solving adventure, which is mostly adorable and hilarious given that Pikachu is voiced by Ryan Reynolds.
Ready Player One
Not strictly a movie based on a video game, but a movie all about video games, virtual reality and technology. Ready Player One is an adaptation of Ernest Cline's popular 2011 science-fiction novel of the same name. It's set in a dystopia in which people spend most of their time hooked up to a virtual reality world called OASIS. Things are shaken up when the original creator of OASIS reveals there's a hidden game within the programme so Wade Watts (played by Tye Sheridan) embarks on a virtual adventure to figure it out.
The movie was met with mixed reviews and some of it as a little annoying at times, but it's worth the watch for the imagined virtual reality future and it's crammed full of pop culture references.
There are lots of different Tomb Raider movies to choose from. If you like your movies ultra cheesy and starring Angelina Jolie, you'll enjoy 2001's Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the follow-up two years later, Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life. These two movies aren't prime examples of film-making but are full of fun, action and some great set design.
The more recent instalment, starring Alicia Vikander as Lara, is a little better and breathes some life into the franchise, giving us a reboot that follows Lara on a mission to solve the mystery of her father's disappearance.
This movie didn't get great reviews or make what was expected at the box office. But it's still a good-looking adaptation with some interesting choices and visual effects. The story is set in the Assassin's Creed universe with some changes made for the big screen, like the redesigning of The Animus – a machine used to experience the memories of ancestors.
One big similarity between the games and the movie is the signature 'leap of faith' jump, which was a big deal in the stunt double world. Stuntman Damien Walters leapt 125ft for the shot.
Surprisingly, Warcraft is the highest-grossing video game movie of all time. (Although it'll likely soon be surpassed by the new Sonic the Hedgehog movie.) It's surprising because it got panned by many critics. But it's actually a really thoughtful and stunning movie with a few (admittedly) odd choices, but some great ones too. Or maybe we're just biased, because Duncan Jones is usually such a fantastic director.
Street Fighter: The Movie
Okay, here's the thing – the hate for the Street Fighter movie has got to stop. Commonly brought up in many 'worst video game movies' lists, Street Fighter: The Movie actually deserves to be recognized as one of the most entertaining video game adaptations of all time. Sure, as a representation of what the Street Fighter franchise stands for, it's an utter failure, but as a comedic martial arts adventure movie in its own right, it's a camp classic.
Never once is the movie boring. Jean-Claude Van Damme's portrayal of Guile is downright hilarious, with his rousing speech to his troops being a particular highlight. Also, the casting of Andrew Bryniarski as Zangief was a divine moment of inspiration that needs to be congratulated. It was also Raul Julia's final performance, and while that might strike many of you as a lame ending to a remarkable career, he clearly had a lot of fun with the role, despite being noticeably sick in many of his scenes. Do yourself a favour and revisit this film with a sense of humor in your heart – you're guaranteed to enjoy yourself.
Takashi Miike is a filmmaker whose output veers from downright terrifying to absolutely ridiculous and madcap, and it's safe to say that Ace Attorney fits squarely in the latter category. Miike's film is a note-perfect adaptation that captures the zaniness, the in-court yelling and the awe-inspiring haircuts of Capcom's uniquely hilarious series. Think you've seen your fair share of courtroom drama movies?
Well, these aren't your ordinary courtroom battles – these ones feature crazy characters (that look like they've just stepped out of an anime) performing special powers to win arguments. The film might be too wacky for some people, but fans of the game will get a huge kick out of it.
The Wizard is basically a giant commercial for Nintendo, and yet, we can't help but love it. Starring Fred Savage of The Wonder Years fame, The Wizard tells the story of a group of kids who undertake a dangerous cross-country road trip to California in an effort to compete in a video game championship.
Bonus points – they also get to play Super Mario Bros. 3 ahead of release. Featuring a stack of NES-era video game references (Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the freakin' Power Glove!), The Wizard is pure gaming nostalgia. Regardless of its commercial intentions, no other film has ever tapped into 8-bit gaming zeitgeist quite like it since. Pro tip – watch out for an appearance by a very young Tobey Maguire as a background extra.
Another film that's all about video games but isn't actually based on any real gaming franchise, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph is a loving ode to the medium which is filled with guest appearances by video game icons, like Sonic the Hedgehog, Q*Bert and M. Bison, with a copious amount of gaming references sprinkled throughout.
Much like a video game version of Toy Story, the characters live in their own world outside of playtime. Their individual journeys pull at your heartstrings, making us believe that a video game character's existence is a sad one, eventually leading to the kind of beautifully uplifting ending that Disney excels at. Easily one of the best video game movies ever made. The sequel didn't quite leave the same impact.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
While the big screen adaptation of Prince of Persia wasn't as great as it could've been, it was certainly handled with an immense level of respect and a keen sense of spectacle, with an enormous Hollywood budget that put the film in the same tentpole leagues as Pirates of the Caribbean and Harry Potter.
Visually, the film is flawless, with incredible cinematography, sets, costumes and production design. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer wanted to give Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time a Lawrence of Arabia-sized sense of scope, and in terms of sheer scale, he succeeded. Fans of the franchise may not have gotten the film they'd built up in their minds, but the finished product is far from the embarrassment it could've been.
While this film is probably not as good as you remember it, Mortal Kombat is nevertheless a respectful adaptation of the violent fighting game series that absolutely nails the game's premise and (most of) its characters. Director Paul W.S. Anderson gave MK fans exactly what they wanted – a tournament setting where their favourite characters could fight to the death. Featuring an absolutely wonderful techno soundtrack, memorable fight scenes and some of the most dated '90s effects this side of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie, the movie is about as good as a PG-13 Mortal Kombat adaptation could ever hope to be.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
Easily the best Street Fighter adaptation ever made, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie hits like a hadouken to the chest. Its beautiful animation does justice to the property, with gloriously realized battles that let the film stand head and shoulders above almost all of its anime contemporaries (sorry, Dragon Ball Z fans).
The film wisely focuses on Ryu and Ken as they take on the dreaded M. Bison, though Guile and Chun-Li also get their fair share of screen time (Chun-Li's fight scene with Vega is probably the best in the whole film). It also has a wicked soundtrack, with songs from the likes of Silverchair, KMFDM, Alice in Chains and Korn, making the English language dub of the movie the preferred version to watch in many fans' eyes.
One of the most visually impressive films of the early '80s, Tron pushed special effects into a whole new dimension. Famously denied a Visual Effect Oscar nomination on the grounds that using computers was 'cheating', Tron's groundbreaking computer graphics actually worked in service of the film's story, unlike most CGI blockbusters of today.
The idea of a computer hacker/game designer being abducted into a virtual video game world and forced to compete in gladiatorial games is an extremely compelling one, and was thought up by writer-director Steven Lisberger after playing the game PONG in 1976. The film eventually got a sequel in Tron: Legacy, though we believe that the original is still the best.