The Best Video Game Movies

It's a well-worn cliche that movies based on (or around) video games are just the worst, but that's not always the case. Usually, yes, but not always.

This story originally appeared in August 2015.

I mean, yeah, there's Chun-Li, and Hitman, and Super Mario Bros., and Bloodrayne, and Doom, and Need For Speed, and Alone in the Dark, and Max Payne, and Double Dragon...all terrible. Awful. Dreadful.

But there are precious exceptions! Films that, despite their need to be based around a video game (whether an actual one or one conjured for the flick), are actually pretty good. These are the best of them.

SUMMER WARS

The best of the bunch. It's an anime set in the near future, where essential services and leisure time have combined inside the virtual world OZ, where people hang out, play games and...do their banking and stuff.

It's a really good movie. The video game action stuff inside OZ is fantastic, yes, full of colour and vibrancy and cool ideas, but the stories of love and family going on in the real world are just as compelling.


LAST STARFIGHTER

This used to be my favourite, at least until I saw Summer Wars. A pioneering movie in the history of computer graphics, Last Starfighter had some cool ship designs, great special effects and a super-corny (in an endearing way) 80's tale of rags-to-herosim.


STREET FIGHTER II: THE ANIMATED MOVIE

As covered recently, this is not, in many parts, a great movie! But select parts of it are very good, which elevates the whole package. Loads of bad voice acting and moments of reflection are saved by some of the best fight scenes to ever grace an animated feature. I'm looking at you, Chun-Li vs Vega.


MORTAL KOMBAT

What a dumb movie! Lucky it was dumb in a good way, with this movie somehow turning out OK, arriving at the precise moment in time — 1995 — when its brand of low-fi action and bad acting was close enough to the source material that it was a fun movie to watch.

Also, that theme song...


WRECK-IT-RALPH

It gets so boring towards the end, but the opening sections of this movie, where we're taking on a whirlwind tour of video game history (and some fine cameos), is exceptional. The "Bug Hunt" sequence especially: every time you look at it, you can see where Halo, StarCraft and Call of Duty intersect seamlessly, and it's both hilarious and tragic at the same time.


PRINCE OF PERSIA

Holds the title of "Second-Least Terrible Adaptation Of Actual Video Game After Mortal Kombat", beating out other deeply average films such as Tomb Raider and Silent Hill. Congratulations, Prince of Persia, for sucking the second-least.

Also, Chesty Jake was super dreamy in that movie.


WARGAMES

Or, "Matthew Broderick Fucks Up And Nearly Destroys The Planet". Might be my favourite movie about hacking ever made, if only for the fact its hacker is an arsehole teenager — who only wants to steal some video games — instead of a sexy criminal.


FINAL FANTASY: SPIRITS WITHIN

Shut up. This is a good movie. OK, so there's some weird stuff going on with people's lips, and it drags in parts, but for a 2001 animated film, this was ground-breaking. Also, James Woods! Y'all just hated it because it didn't have Cloud Strife in it. Give it another chance.


TRON

Jeff Bridges gets stuck inside a killer video game, which has an art style (again, a pioneer in computer graphics) that endures over three decades later? Yeah, Tron makes the list.


SCOTT PILGRIM vs THE WORLD

Not strictly about video games at all, but rather a love story injected up to its eyeballs with video game imagery. Which, you know, good enough. Wasn't as good as the comic, of course, but a valiant adaptation nonetheless.


Comments

    What, no mention of Pixels?

      If you're NOT joking, I will hunt you down and beat you to death with a Donkey Kong plushie. And as you can imagine, that will take a LONG time.

    Fuck yeah! Loved me the Spirits Within so under-rated.

    I think the real reason people didn't like it was because the characters weren't whinny 14 year-old angsty bastards that use cement based hair-gel.

      I'd never played a Final Fantasy game when I saw it and so had no desire to have teenagers running around saving the world, but... even without the video game preconceptions, the whole thing was a bit of mess. An achievement for computer graphics, definitely, but the plot, the characters, the premise... they're just not that terribly interesting. The "antagonist" in particular so clearly behaved like an irrational moron when he was supposed to be a smart tactician.

      It was a geeky popcorn movie. You can sit back and enjoy the fact that it's a movie that is "A Video Game Movie" (sort of), and it had pretty full CGI... but once you get past that, it really feels like it's lacking substance.

      For me, the problem was that they took a FF-style plot... and squeezed it into less than 2 hours. So all the character motivation, actual detail and explanation with the philosophy and so on for FF stories that usually gets upward of 50 hours for people to take in and accept got pureed.

      "Earth got pissed off, and summoned a moon full of alien ghosts to teach Humans a lesson, by infecting them into angry ghosts. But if the Gaia spirit is awoken, and handled respectfully, without Angry Military Guy's meddling, everything will be alright. Or something.." I'm sure if I watch it again on DVD with subtitles, I'd have a better idea... but that was what I understood after I saw it at the cinema.

      Now that you mention it, I think Advent Children should have had a spot on this list, just for having the greatest action scenes in the history of mankind.

      I liked it for what it was.. a decent animated Sci Fi film....

      But it honestly was less about the whiny 14 year old angsty kids and really just the film barely had anything "Final Fantasy" in there. No summons, No Chocobo, No Moogles just a generic marine squad w/ a scientist.

      Sure you can go sci-fi like FFVIII or blend it ala VI but there really just wasn't anything "FF" in there which was a bit of a let down =(

        But at least it had that one recurring guy we all know and love in Final Fantasy... Sid.

    I quite enjoyed Spirits Within as well, but to be fair I have never played any of the FF games...

    I'm also going to go out on a limb and say Uwe Boll's Postal is probably his best adaptation, for a game that had no plot to begin with I think he did a rather decent job at making a movie that accurately reflected the game... It was still a pretty crap movie, but when you realise you're not meant to take it seriously it becomes enjoyable.

      Uwe Boll's Postal is probably his best adaptation

      Being the best movie by the world's worst director does not make it a good movie. Although, I've heard Rampage isn't terrible, but I hate the guy so much that I don't want to give him the benefit of the doubt.

      Halo: Forward Unto Dawn wasn't too bad, and was compiled into a movie for the DVD release if I'm not mistaken.

      I really liked the Tron movie - visually is was amazing, and the Daft Punk soundtrack was 10/10.

      Also... no love for the Pokemon movies?

        I wouldn't go so far as to say the soundtrack was 10/10. Daft punk are gods to me but that soundtrack was a bit of a mess. Patchy.

          tfw you get replies to a 2 year old comment :D

      I've never played the Postal games, so I can't comment on what the movie was like compared to the games.

      But judged on its own I thought the movie, while incredibly stupid and certainly not oscar-worthy, worked pretty well in parts as a parody of typical life (with a first-world western country in mind anyway). The job interview scene in particular I found to be memorable.

    Wreck It Ralph is fantastic. Love that movie. So much fun.

      It is an amazing movie. "So boring towards the end"???? Nonsense!

      When Ralph does the falling fist-pound into the Mentos/Cola volcano, I always cry a little. EVERY TIME. I would fall into a Mentos/Cola volcano for my daughter too... sniff.

        Also Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz. She's great.

        When he destroys Vanellope's car does it for me. That scene is just heartbreaking.

        When Ralph does the falling fist-pound into the Mentos/Cola volcano, I always cry a little. EVERY TIME.This. So much this.

        That scene is suuuuuuuuuuuuch a good climax to the movie! And he recites the bad guy oath as he does it and jeez it even makes me well up a little thinking about it :P

        Agreed. Him repeating his silly bad-guy mantra as he did, somehow added to the gravitas of the scene.

        yeah i dont think the 'so boring towards the end' is justified at all, especially with italicized boring.
        i enjoyed every second of the movie!

      I went in expecting something different, what I got was a movie so full of heart that I shed manly tears

    I really liked Prince of Persia

      Yeah, I thought it was about as good as you could expect it to be. Which doesn't sound like a glowing recommendation, but it's certainly several steps up from any other game adaptation.

      I wish the action had been a little more grounded. The reliance on VFX over raw parkour ability was disappointing and disengaging for me, but it was certainly fun.

      Same, I thought it was pretty great except for a couple of small niggles, the main one of which that seems to stick out in my mind the most was when it was doing the whole "explain the mechanics of the dagger" bit. Where Jake more or less goes and does the "so you're saying that [repeats back exactly what was just said TO MAKE SURE THE AUDIENCE GETS IT BECAUSE YOU'RE ALL A PACK OF MORONS]?" thing.

      But yeah, I thought it was a pretty good movie adaptation of a game.

    Silent Hill was actually quite good - with a few strange exceptions from the source material (movie has only 2 male characters, swapped the male character with a female character - which actually worked out alright - and that strangely insulting bit towards the end where the movie just stops and tells you everything like you havent been following it) and the sequel, while not fantastic in any stretch, was pretty close to the source material as well (SH3) and has a young John Snow, who strangely knows something rather than the usual 'nothing'

      Was that the first one with Radha Mitchell? I actually didn't mind it either. Thought it was decent.

    I'd have Scott Pilgrim vs The World in there. For my money it's the best video game movie ever, even though it's not based on a video game :P

      It dragged on a bit, but otherwise I'd have to agree. Really fun, took the video game aesthetic and ran with it.

      Probably my favourite memory of it was seeing it in the cinema and after the credits hearing a guy up the back yell really loudly to the girl beside him "Oh my God, did you not get it? The coins thing is from Sonic! How could you miss that?".

      Being a total jerk is bad enough. Being that wrong while doing it? What a tit.

        Not really jerk or game related, but the funniest movie theatre reaction I saw was during inception.

        Two thirds of the way through I hear "Nah......nah man, fuck this" and turned to see a guy getting up and storming down the walkway. As he passed by the front of the cinema he looked at us all and said "Does anyone know what the fuck is going on?!" There was a bit of laughter and he just grinned while waving his arm and walking out the exit.

        Last edited 31/08/15 3:06 pm

          Haha... closest I've seen to that was during a screening of "The Raid" (a subtitled Indonesian film). The guy behind me got about 5mins in before muttering "I'm not reading a fucking movie" and storming out.

      When I first saw the trailers for it I thought "holy shit it's No More Heroes: The Movie!", so for me it'll forever be that :P

    Does "The Wizard" count?
    Its the movie what taught me where to get the magic whistles in SMB3.

    Legit, Need for Speed was one of the best uses of a game license. So much better than anything in the Fast & Furious Franchise

      My expectations where so low for Need for Speed the movie I was pleasantly surprised when it was decent.

      Come on it was terrible. As are all of the F&F films.

    I love The Last Starfighter. I had it on VHS as a kid and I watched it so much the picture got all fuzzy.

    I don't know if you'd be willing to accept it as a movie based on a game, but "Assault on Arkham" was quite good.

    Also Pirates of the Caribbean, which was enough of a Monkey Island movie that the writer went on record to say that it wasn't based on Monkey Island.

    Last edited 31/08/15 11:53 am

    Tron Legacy and Wreck It Ralph shit on everything else from great heights.

      You should probably watch Summer Wars. I love me my Tron and Disney, but Summer Wars is such a good movie that doesn't rely on pop culture references like Ralph did.

      Warning, though: The trailer up there gives pretty much everything away.

    I can't be the only one who loves the Jean Claude Van Damme Street Fighter film, it's beautifully cheesy and really takes that cheese in its stride, it makes no claims to be more than what it is.

    Also Raul Julia's M. Bison is fantastic, everything that comes out of his mouth is pure gold.

    Last edited 31/08/15 11:58 am

      Agreed it is entertaining if you see it that way

    I'd add Doom and the first Resident Evil (never did get around to seeing the rest) to that list. Neither are good films by any stretch, but they're both easier to sit through than Spirits Within.

      +1. Doom is fantastic fun when you realise it was all a Doom movie was ever going to be. So much fun. And the Resident Evil films always knew what they were and never pretended to be much else. Dumb fun. Same logic can be applied to just about any film based off a video game - realise they're different mediums, completely - and the film is never going to be the video game, rather an interpretation - you can stand back and often have fun with it.

    My picks...

    Wreck It Ralph - cannot deny this is #1.
    Silent Hill - all the games are different so why shouldn't this be? I thought it was great.
    Book of Eli - because they couldn't name it "Fallout the Movie"

    No love for City Hunter?
    Should be worth a mention just for Jackie Chan's Chun Li victory dance

    Makes me realise just how many video game movies i have missed seeing. Love Wreck It Ralph and Mortal Kombat but the others i have not seen :( (i may have seen the streetfighter animated movie but not 100%).

      In all seriousness, don't bother catching up. Anything else you can do with your life would be more worthwhile.

      Particularly playing the games that the movies are apparently based on. Spend your two hours doing that instead.

    None (I'm difficult) but fingers crossed for Assasin's Creed

    I enjoyed Wargames. "Son I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it'd do any good"

    Also the stuff they did for the main characters hair in the Final Fantasy movie was crazy.

    Super Mario Bros was awesome, screw anyone who says otherwise!

    Also, I'll throw in a vote for the movie adaptation of Teleroboxer - ie, Real Steel. Loved that one :P

      I always thought of that as the Rock-em Sock-em Robots movie :-)

      I wouldn't say that I loved it, but it was definitely way better than I expected. Being surprisingly good is enough to earn a recommendation.

    Spirits Within would have been considered a decent movie if it hadn't made any reference to the words "Final Fantasy". It didn't need, nor should it have tried to draw on, the popularity of a gaming franchise to tell the story it had. It was fine, but trying to appeal to an audience of something that it had nothing to do with was its downfall.

      Yeah, to be fair, none of the Final Fantasy has had anything to do with the others. Spirits Within was actually pretty in-keeping with that.

      Anyone who was looking for Advent Children-style spin-off was bound to be disappointed.

        True, but it didn't really even keep with the typical tropes of Final Fantasy that each game tends to have even when they're not related. There were no chocobos, no moogles, no summons, no swordfighting. Sure, there was a big glowy thing reminiscent of the Lifestream, but that was about it. Oh, and a small team of people fighting a rogue general to save the world. Ok, it had a couple of tropes, but not really enough to warrant calling it a Final Fantasy movie, in my opinion.

    No Resident Evil?
    Surprising, I thought the first was pretty awesome as far as game adaptations go, 2nd not so good, but ok after that.
    Am I wrong?

    So glad to see Summer Wars at the top of this list! I never really considered it a "video-game movie" but I can see why it's in the list... But yeah, it's just such a lovely, fun, family friendly movie. I've watched it quite a number of times and it makes me smile every time!

    I thought the first Tomb Raider was neat. Same goes for Silent Hill - I loved that movie. Big fan of the Resident Evil flicks too - the second is my least favourite, but I've enjoyed every other one. Agree with Mortal Kombat and Final Fantasy: TSW. Also, the Mario Bros movie isn't all that bad - it's definitely not the Mario Bros we know and love, but it's a lot of fun all the same.

    I never understood the love for Wreck-It Ralph though... it was enjoyable, but I found the last half of the movie a real slog. Although, I gotta admit, I'm not at all into the whole Pixar/Disney/Whoever-else CG animated stuff. I like Wall-E, Up, Ice Age, Tangled & Frozen, Toy Story 1 and that's about it... everything else seems too same-same to me.

    Also, not having Scott Pilgrim vs. The World in this list is a bit of a shame - it's definitely a 'video-game' movie, and a really, really neat one at that :)

    I strongly disagree with Need For Speed being in the 'terrible' list.

    OK its not like it had the world's best story or characters at all. But for what it was mainly meant to be, a whole bunch of car chase and racing scenes, it was actually pretty damn good. The driving in it was really well done, with good focus on actual driving instead of relying too much on CG (something the F&F movies can go a little crazy with).

    Has anyone seen the Dead Rising telemovie, Watchtower? That looks like it might be amusing at least.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPuK9GtxLM4&feature=youtu.be

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