Video game movies have a long history, but it’s not a particularly illustrious one. While there have been some fun hits over the last few years, there’s also been countless bombs. So many, in fact, that video game adaptations have developed a gnarly reputation for being bland, poor interpretations of their source material.
But despite the relative lack of success for video game movies, more come out on a yearly basis. It’s a train that never stops. These adaptations are rarely good, but the occasional success gives hope to loyal fans. From the good to the bad and the very, very ugly, let’s rundown the best and worst of modern video game adaptations.
First, let’s kick off with the top five worst video game adaptations of all time.
The Worst Video Game Movies Ever
5. Doom (2005)
Doom‘s 2005 film adaptation stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike — but as talented as each of these actors are, none of them could carry this schlocky, boring hamfest of a film. Doom is a movie that writes itself. Go to hell, fight demons. What did we get in this military thriller instead? A military operation on Mars and a silly alien breakout.
The film is basically a checklist of bad movie tropes: bad dialogue, bad action, bad CGI, bad acting. It’s better if we all forget Doom and its equally terrible sequel.
4. Max Payne (2008)
The original Max Payne game is a grim tale about a man whose wife and child are brutally murdered in a home raid. It’s pulpy, brutal and very gritty — but it’s certainly not as dour as its 2008 film adaptation. While the game is an excellent action thriller that asks big questions and forces audiences into its dense, drug-fuelled world, the film is just your standard action crime-thriller with not much to mark it out from every other film out there.
Mark Wahlberg is extremely miscast here, and the entire plot is a shambles. The Max Payne universe is filled with potential, but none of it was realised here.
3. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
The live action adaptation of Super Mario Bros. was so critically reviled that it meant we didn’t see another live action Nintendo movie until Detective Pikachu in 2019. While it’s gained a cult following since it released in 1993, Super Mario Bros. is so abysmally bad it’s easy to see why people love it ironically.
From terrible character designs to an unexpectedly gritty New York setting, there’s no choice made in this movie that isn’t baffling. It did give us the factoid that Mario and Luigi’s surname is Mario though, and maybe that’s enough to redeem this terrible, terrible film.
2. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Oh boy, where to start with Mortal Kombat: Annihilation? While the first Mortal Kombat was good-bad, this sequel was terrible through and through. There’s no sin this movie doesn’t commit. There’s bad costumes, bad performances and terrible CGI galore.
The performances and action are also laughable at best. Like other films it’s gained a cult following in recent years, but mostly this is based on a fascination with just how bad this movie is.
Someone wrote this, then people acted in it. Then people edited it and released it into an unknowing world.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation is a crime, and we’re all victims here.
1. Postal (2007)
Uwe Boll might be the most fascinating filmmaker alive. In his career, he’s released dozens of video game movies and they’re all, to put it politely, fucking terrible. In 2008, Boll tried to petition Blizzard to direct a World of Warcraft movie. Its response? “We will not sell the movie rights, not to you…especially not to you.” That should tell you all you need to know.
Postal is just one example of how bad Boll’s films are, but really this entire list could’ve been filled with his directing library.
Postal in particular is crass, awful and extremely offensive. But it’s not just “edgy” humour that carries Postal, it’s “go directly to jail” type stuff. It’s “never direct anything ever again” levels of bad. Uwe Boll’s career is baffling, and this film is just the tip of the iceberg.
Luckily, not all video game movies are as bad as Postal. In fact, there’s even some that are downright good.
The Best Video Game Movies Ever
5. Monster Hunter
Monster Hunter isn’t a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it does benefit from wild, over-the-top action sequences, a fantastic score and beautiful visual effects. This is the kind of movie you put on to switch your brain off, and that’s a perfectly good way to entertain yourself.
Even without a particularly good story, Monster Hunter excels because it chooses to focus on what it needs to: monster hunting. Wooden performances and poor dialogue is no barrier when you’ve got massive monsters popping out of the desert and machine guns firing at high speed.
4. Mortal Kombat (2021)
Mortal Kombat is the newest entry on this list, and barely scrapes into the top five video game movies of all time — mostly because there’s not a whole lot of competition.
The over-the-top action of this adaptation is an absolute blast and while it’s held back by a boring plot, dull exposition and some unnecessarily grandiose acting, it’s mostly saved by brief moments of self-awareness and an absolute gut-blasting performance by Josh Lawson as Aussie mercenary Kano.
It’s these moments that elevate Mortal Kombat and make it such a fun, gory romp.
3. Detective Pikachu (2019)
Detective Pikachu is a fun, heartwarming adventure about one kid’s search for his father. It’s also a slightly weird body horror story, but if you don’t think too deeply about the DNA-spliced ending of the film, it really is a beautiful story.
It also represents the first time the Pokémon world has been brought to life in live action — and what a world it is. Detective Pikachu is totally eye-popping and features a bright, vibrant world filled with well-realised Pokémon designs.
While its story is nothing to write home about, it’s still a visual spectacular.
2. Tomb Raider (2018)
Lara Croft’s had a bit of a rough go of it onscreen.
While the two original films starring Angelina Jolie are entertaining affairs, they’re not exactly good. But 2018’s Tomb Raider with Alicia Vikander changed that. In place of poor CGI monsters and titty shots was a gritty tale about survival, epic action sequences and a genuinely intriguing jungle adventure. Lara Croft is a more modern hero here, and has enough strength and determination to carry this movie on her back.
While the film does briefly dip into zombie territory around the middle, there’s still plenty of other reasons to enjoy this film.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Sonic the Hedgehog is hands-down the best video game movie we’ve gotten so far.
Most of that is down to the near-perfect characterisation and design of Sonic (including Ben Schwartz’s vocal performance) but the real reason why Sonic is so good is Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik. While he frequently threatens to steal the show, he’s the perfect foil for the speedy, over-enthusiastic hedgehog — and it makes the entire movie a rocket-powered blast.
It’s also surprisingly funny, and is backed by both a script and performances that understand exactly what the assignment is here.
All this movie needed to be was fun, and Sonic the Hedgehog understood this extremely well.
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