Beginning with a relatively simple survival horror game in 1996, the Resident Evil media franchise has become one of the most recognizable in contemporary pop culture over the past two decades. Movie adaptations have been quite consistent in that time and it looks like they will be for some time to come.
There are ten movies to date from the billion-dollar live-action franchise helmed by Milla Jovovich and the animated movies from original video game producers Capcom. They can be hard to keep track of, even for long time fans, so we’ve ranked all ten from worst to best for your reading pleasure.
The latest Resident Evil movie was a swansong to an era that had been going for a little too long. That isn’t to say that there isn’t anything nice to say about it. A lot of fans enjoyed the collection of so many of the game franchise’s top faces and the improvements made on the motion capture side of the things allows for some impressively choreographed fight scenes.
The problem is that, while the choreography may be good, it’s an animated movie and the surroundings and settings for each scene are all so boring. Animation can go anywhere and do anything, Resident Evil: Vendetta mostly chooses blank environments and action sequences recycled from a thousand cheap movies or video games.
The last of the live-action movies – for now – is as convoluted by the preceding characters and events of its own timeline as the last of the animated movies is. It comes with the same air of tired fatalism too. Paul W.S. Anderson’s final stab at the franchise that he spearheaded and nurtured over the course of fourteen years feels more like a funeral march than a celebration.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter doesn’t even really feel like a victory lap, more like a run on the bank one last time before it closes for good. You could complain for a long time about the wasted opportunities and rehashed ideas that had already been rehashed but it’s hard to notice much beyond the atrocious editing. Like Vendetta, it’s really for hardcore completionists only.
The first of the recent slew of feature-length animated Resident Evil movies, Degeneration is nothing to write home about but it is, at the very least, competent. The story isn’t really ambitious in any way for what it is but that also means that it never over-complicates itself.
Unlike Vendetta or The Final Chapter, which are frantic action movies trying to hold your attention, Degeneration has an almost laidback quality to it. The motion capture doesn’t allow for movements as fluid as those in later movies so a lot more scenes are based around conversations, there’s even mystery and detective elements thrown in; harking back to its roots.
Resident Evil: Damnation may not be any smarter than Degeneration or Vendetta, or even better animated, but it does strike a better balance between the necessary Resident Evil fan service and being entertaining for a more general audience.
Fan favorite character Leon S. Kennedy is still in the lead role but he’s noticeably a lot more quipy than in the previous instalment and he’s given some new characters to bounce off of. Similarly, the usual parade of video game monsters is going strong but some overlooked favorites make overdue appearances in action sequences that keep looking for new ways to be more and more ridiculous.
Resident Evil: Extinction was the film series’ first real departure from the video games, with the first two live-action movies arguably being adaptations, and it was a stumble out of the gate.
The movie opens with a massive change to the stakes of the story and the world that it’s set in. Humanity and civilization are all but dried up offscreen along with the world’s ecosystem, apparently. You assume that this is so the movie can explain its Mad Max aesthetic but it’s set almost entirely in Death Valley anyway, making the whole planet turning to desert of no consequence to anything. As you may have guessed, Extinction was also the point where the events of previous movies started to matter less and less; unless they were being recycled.
Though a lot of the effects and even the action sequences are done better in Resident Evil: Extinction, Apocalypse is the type of movie that’s constantly trying to entertain you in spite of its shortcomings. It zips along a lot more readily than most of the Resident Evil movies, using zombies in as many scenarios and setups as it can think of.
Apocalypse came out during the moment when Resident Evil as an overall brand was transforming from a horror series with science-fiction and action elements into being mostly about sci-fi action. It was also the moment when the films were rebranded more as comedies that were trying to one up themselves in terms of ridiculousness. The results were still entertaining.
Following down the road started by Apocalypse, Resident Evil: Afterlife is when the series finally gave up all pretensions and doubled-down on being as ludicrous as its budget allowed it to be. After opening with an army of Milla Jovovich clones storming a secret underground facility, the movie does sadly take somewhat of a break while it gets that pesky story out of the way.
As usual, fan service favorites make their appearances before disappearing in the next movie but it’s really just occupying time while the movie recharges for its final action sequence, involving some delightfully hilarious kung-fu and enough slo-mo to make Zack Snyder blush.
Paul W.S. Anderson’s first crack at the series was, for all its foibles, the hardest that it ever tried at being about the horror. The hallway laser grid scene became so instantly iconic for the series that it was reused three more times. Video game movies never had a track record for excellence and, realistically, they still don’t but the original Resident Evil was a relative landmark for creative success in video game to movie adaptations.
Mostly confined to just one location, there’s a rare simplicity with Resident Evil that was never even close to recaptured in any of the movies. Its slower parts actually feeling like effective build up rather than just filler.
The purest representation of what Paul W.S. Anderson wanted the live-action Resident Evil franchise to be and the most wildly entertaining of his attempts. Resident Evil: Retribution opens with an elaborate action sequence played in reverse and only gets stranger from there.
Not content with blasting the audience with every fan-favorite character that hadn’t appeared yet, Retribution even brings a host of previous ones back to life for an extravaganza that really should have been the last entry. As mentioned, The Final Chapter loses its vigor and completely cops out of fulfilling the setup of Retribution’s gigantic final shot.
Biohazard 4D-Executer is the shortest and least well-known of the Resident Evil movies, which is quite a shame because it captures the essence of the original games better than any of the other movies. Within its meager 17 minute running time, Biohazard 4D-Executer elicits more genuine horror, threat, and tension than all of the other movies combined.
The Playstation One quality of the 3D graphics within the movie are enough to give you all the nostalgia you could want but the macabre little short story really evokes the tone that made the Resident Evil games as popular as they are.
Never officially dubbed into English (Biohazard is the original name that the Resident Evil series goes by in Japan), it's overdue a remaster but you can find copies floating around on YouTube. If you’re a fan of the title and you’ve never experienced it before, it’s heartily recommended.