Video game adaptations may just be a most wretched group of movies in all of cinema. The sheer number of bad films based on or inspired by video games is appalling. German shlockmeister Uwe Böll alone has made enough bad video game movies to fill an entire list. But things may finally be changing.
There are four video game movies set to premiere in 2016. This spring will see the release of kid-friendly animated films Ratchet and Clank and The Angry Birds Movie, both based on popular game franchises. In June comes the long-awaited Warcraft, helmed by English director Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and based on Blizzard’s highly popular World of Warcraft games. Finally, in December debuts a movie adaptation of Assassin’s Creed.
With that in mind, we searched through almost four decades to bring you Screen Rant’s list of the 9 Best Video Game Movies Of All Time.
Keep in mind, this list isn’t necessarily limited to video game adaptations. We’ll also be looking at movies inspired by video games.
10. Need for Speed (2014)
Based on a series of racing video games, Need for Speed follows Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad), a race car driver who just spent two years in prison. Tobey wants to win an illegal super-car race and use the prize money to re-open his family’s business. In order to register for the race, Tobey first needs to drive across the entire USA in less than 48 hours. But he is racing against his long-time rival Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper), who is rightfully scared of Tobey’s racing skills.
Need for Speed boasts impressive car stunts, courtesy of the movie’s director Scott Waugh, who is a former stuntman himself. Waugh insisted on using practical effects instead of CGI-animated shots. Unfortunately, Need for Speed spends too much time on a clunky drama, falling short from a visceral guilty pleasure it might have been. Despite that, recognizable brand did its magic and Need for Speed grossed over $200 million at the worldwide box office.
Based on that worldwide success, a sequel is on the way, being funded largely by three Chinese production companies.
9. Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Made by an Australian director Richard Franklin, Cloak & Dagger is one of the earliest cases of the video game and film industries working together on a project. Originally developed by Atari under the title Agent X, game was renamed Cloak & Dagger after the film producers and Atari executives agreed to join efforts.
The hero of the film is Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas), a child who lives with his recently widowed father Hal (Dabney Coleman). Davey is a big fan of an Atari game called Cloak & Dagger and likes to imagine its fictional super-spy Jack Flack (also played by Coleman) to be his real-life friend. After he accidentally witnesses the murder of a real spy, Davey is given a special Cloak & Dagger cartridge containing important military secrets. Advised by his imaginary friend, Davey tries to avoid capture by the enemy spies and bring the cartridge to authorities. Cloak & Dagger was originally released as a double feature, together with the better-known The Last Starfighter.
8. Ace Attorney (2012)
Japanese director Takashi Miike regularly stirs controversy with his depictions of extreme violence, like in his cult classic Ichi the Killer. So far, his prolific career includes almost a hundred titles, containing everything from disturbing horrors (Audition) to subdued dramas (The Bird People in China). In 2012, Miike turned Capcom’s highly popular visual novel/adventure game Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney into a successful feature-length film.
One of Miike’s more madcap comedies, Ace Attorney takes place in a world where crime is so rampant that lawyers have only three days to face each other in the individual case. Their courtroom battles are a popular sport where over-the-top lawyers use preposterous powers to win arguments. Phoenix Wright (Hiroki Narimiya) is an up-and-coming young lawyer who, with the help of a spirit medium Maya Fey (Mirei Kiritani), tries to defend his childhood friend and professional rival Miles Edgeworth (Takumi Saito) after he gets accused for murder.
7. Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie (1994)
1994 saw not one, but two Street Fighter films. The first one was a Hollywood flop starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia and Kylie Minogue. The other was Japanese anime based on the Street Fighter II game. Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie boasts fluid animation and fight scenes choreographed by the K-1 founder Kazuyoshi Ishii. The English-dubbed version includes Bryan Cranston as a voice of Fei Long as well as a soundtrack containing music from such bands as Alice in Chains and Korn.
In Street Fighter II – The Animated Movie, Interpol agent Chun-Li (voiced by Miki Fujitani in the Japanese version and Lia Sargent in the English dub) hunts down notorious M. Bison (Takeshi Kusaka/Tom Wyner), leader of the crime syndicate known as Shadowlaw. Bison wants to make some of the best fighters in the world join his organization, especially martial arts champion Ryu (Kojiro Shimizu/Skip Stellrecht). Bison deliberately brainwashes Ryu’s old friend and rival Ken Masters (Kenji Haga/ Eddie Frierson) and sends him out to defeat Ryu.
6. Silent Hill (2006)
In 2006 all the grotesque body horror of Silent Hill was gloriously brought to life by the French director Christophe Gans. His movie follows Rose Da Silva (Radha Mitchell), whose adopted daughter Sharon (Jodelle Ferland) suffers from nightmares about a town called Silent Hill. Rose finally takes her to visit this mysterious place, only to have Sharon disappear after a car accident. As Rose explores the eerie town, which is perpetually clouded in a smoke from the nearby coal mine fire, she begins to encounter its denizens – grotesquely deformed humans.
A long time fan of the Silent Hill survival horror games, Gans spent five years trying to convince their Japanese publisher Konami for an opportunity to turn these games into a movie. Despite the solid cast that includes Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Alice Krige, Silent Hill is, frankly, not all that great. However, it more than makes up for all of its flaws with its amazing style and its morbidly unsettling monsters.
5. Summer Wars (2009)
Japanese animated film Summer Wars is a unique combination of cyberpunk and coming-of-age story. In it, we follow Kenji Koiso (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki), a brilliant math student who gets mistaken for a notorious hacker known as Love Machine. However, Love Machine is in fact a megalomaniacal artificial intelligence that intends to destroy all-pervading artificial reality known as OZ. Now, Kenji wants to set things right and prove his innocence by defeating this rogue AI within OZ itself.
In 2006, Mamoru Osoda directed The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an animated film about a high school girl exploring her time-traveling powers. It was a story that blended its sci-fi premise with a comfortably mundane world of Japanese suburbs. Osoda’s Summer Wars offers a similar mix of science fiction and everyday life as its introverted hero not only battles renegade computer programs, but also meets new friends and their families who help him not only win the day, but also to become a better, more mature person.
4. The Last Starfighter (1984)
For a generation of gamers growing up in the 1980s, The Last Starfighter was the ultimate fantasy: a story about a kid whose gaming skills turn him into an interstellar hero. Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is a teenager growing up in a trailer park. After beating the high score in the arcade game Starfighter, he’s approached by the game’s inventor Centauri (Robert Preston). An alien in disguise, Centauri invites Alex to become a real spacecraft pilot and help defend Centauri’s home planet from the armada of the evil warlord Xur (Norman Snow).
Along with Tron, The Last Starfighter was one of the earliest movies to use computer graphics. Despite receiving mixed reviews, movie was a financial success leading to a computer game developed by Atari.
3. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Wreck-It Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) is tired of being main antagonist in the old arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr. Searching for a way to become more heroic, he leaves his game to discover strange new gaming worlds such as the cutesy kart-racing game Sugar Rush and the hyper-violent first person shooter Hero’s Duty. When Ralph’s journey of self-discovery starts to cause trouble, it’s up to him and his new friends Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) and Sergeant Calhoun (Jane Lynch) to fix it all up.
Released in 2012, Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph is a loving tribute to old 8-bit computer games such as Donkey Kong. One of the best scenes sees Ralph in a villain-support group with other classic villains from video games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Pacman. With its combination of video game nostalgia and kid-friendly action, Wreck-It Ralph was highly successful: not only did it earn over $470 million at the box office but it also won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
2. Mortal Kombat (1995)
For a film based on a popular series of fighting games, Mortal Kombat is far better than it has any right to be. The movie follows a group of martial arts champions chosen by the immortal deity Raiden (Christopher Lambert) to defend our planet from the forces of evil led by sinister Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Liu Kang (Robin Shou), Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) and Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson) will face their greatest challenge ever battling Tsung’s warriors.
English director Paul W. S. Anderson made a name for himself by turning video games into movies. He’s by far most well-known for his work on the Resident Evil franchise, starring his wife, Milla Jovovich. However, Mortal Kombat is by far the most entertaining among his video game adaptations. From its pulse-pounding techno soundtrack to the very game it’s based on, Mortal Kombat is a time-capsule of the 1990s that will bring a warm feeling of nostalgia to all the gamers who grew up at that time.
1. Tron (1982)
The oldest video game movie still remains one of the best. Even today, there’s a certain charm to the premise of Tron and its clunky 1980s computer graphics. Jeff Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a software engineer and a game designer cheated out of his share of profits. Flynn gets uploaded into The Grid – a virtual reality created by the Master Control Program in which individual programs exist as its unwilling subjects. The only thing giving programs hope is their belief in a higher reality inhabited by the computer users.
Tron was written and directed by Steven Lisberger in 1982. Lisberger was inspired by Pong, one of the oldest computer games ever created. Visually, Tron was revolutionary for its time, so much so in fact, that Academy refused to nominate it for special effects due to its usage of computer graphics. Visual design of Tron was at least somewhat inspired by the storyboards and concept designs made by the French comic book artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud. Tron was well-received by the critics of its time and went on to influence a whole generation of computer animators.
Can you think of any other video game movies that should be on this list? Let us know in the comments!