The Best And Worst Video Game Adaptations Ranked, From Fallout To Warcraft

The Best And Worst Video Game Adaptations Ranked, From Fallout To Warcraft

With The Legend of Zelda movie adaptation on the distant horizon and recurring discussion around ideal (and cursed) casting, it’s time to take a look back at the good, the bad, and the ugly of video game adaptations over the last few decades. As video games become more and more mainstream, filmmakers increasingly look to gaming IPs for content they can bring to the masses. As we know, games that have made the leap to screens big and small have met with varying success (and a few astronomical failures). 

The last few years, however, have seen more successes than failures. Family hits like 2020’s Sonic The Hedgehog raised the bar (after changing Sonic’s initially very cooked-looking face), and the Super Mario Bros Movie blasted by a billion dollars at the box office. Even in the years when video game adaptations weren’t all that, there were still a few diamonds amongst the garbage, too.

Join us as we dive into what we think are some of the best and worst video game adaptations to grace (or burn) our collective eyeholes and look at exactly why they worked, or crashed and burned. 

The Worst

Let’s start off with the bad news: the video game adaptations that, in some cases, failed so spectacularly that they almost wrap back around into cult-classic status.

5. Monster Hunter (2020)

Monster Hunter had a big budget, Resident Evil director Paul W. S. Anderson, Milla Jovovich (Resident Evil film franchise royalty), and big monsters, but it just falls short of being anything great. While definitely not the worst video game adaptation on this list, this movie leaves me wanting something more – and not more Monster Hunter.

4. Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023)

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a fresh addition to the poorly-received video game adaptation list, although might be one of the more polarising choices on here. Some super fans love it, some hate it. Most can agree that the focus on Mike’s character, as opposed to ratcheting up the tension and horror of Freddy Fazbear and his animatronic gang, does let the film down. Maybe gunning for a PG rating rather than going full horror was not the right move here, but you’ll have to make your own mind up on whether this one was a boom or a bust — critics seem to think it sits more comfortably in ‘bust’ territory.

3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)

Casting Jake Gyllenhaal as the Persian lead, Dastan, in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was certainly a choice. It’s not the only interesting choice made in the creation of this adaptation, of course, given the movie also seemingly had just about nothing to do with the game that inspired it. Fans of Prince of Persia were particularly brutal in their assessment of the movie, which shoehorned a romantic plotline in (because of course they did), but the real stumbling block was the sheer level of whitewashing for a game literally set in Persia. 

2. Assassin’s Creed (2016)

Starting strong with an 18% approval rating out of over 220 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, Assassin’s Creed really dropped the ball despite the solid cast led by Michael Fassbender (who also produced) and Marion Cotillard. The 2016 live-action adaptation of the Ubisoft franchise introduces an original character, but that’s about where the creativity behind this absolute slog of a movie ends. With so much potential, it’s almost more disappointing just how much this movie flopped. We can only be thankful a planned sequel was cancelled due to the first instalment’s poor reception.

1. Warcraft (2016)

Adding to the list of poorly received video game adaptations from 2016, clearly the dark ages for gaming-inspired media, Warcraft gets a resounding “meh” despite the source material being exactly the opposite. Despite clearly blowing a huge portion of the production budget on blockbuster visual effects, the overall story fails to land or to lean into the campy nature of the high fantasy World of Warcraft. Given Blizzard’s penchant for solid cinematics pertaining to the Warcraft universe and story, this movie falls considerably short of the mark. Mention it to any WoW fan and you’ll likely be met with a grimace, which is pretty telling of just how universally disliked it still is to this day. Despite this, Warcraft somehow managed to become the highest-grossing video game film adaptation, holding that title until The Super Mario Bros. movie unceremoniously bumped it off of the top spot this year.

The Best

Now that we’ve suffered through wandering down memory lane for some of the worst video game adaptations out there, let’s take a look at some shining examples of the best. Most of these are recent releases, with quite a few series ranking amongst the top picks – perhaps a telling sign that it’s a sisyphean endeavour to distil an entire video game worth of story into around two hours of screen time.

6. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Look, I think Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is iconic and I simply won’t be budged on that opinion. Angelina Jolie put her whole Croftussy into this performance and solidified her legacy as the face of Lara even to this day. It’s action packed, and still ranks as a great video game adaptation and one of the few outside of the last five years to really nail it, depending on who you ask of course.

5. The Witcher (2019) (kinda)

The Witcher, the ongoing Netflix series, is based on the books that inspired the game, but it still gets a look in here given how intertwined the game is in fan perceptions of the show. It’s another polarising one, given how successful the first season was in capturing a lot of the spirit that fans of The Witcher games were looking for in comparison to the slight faltering of further seasons (and this is before Henry Cavill even makes his big departure from the role of Geralt). For the sake of rationalising its place in the best of section of this list, I’ll be focusing on the debut season which had it all – slick action, the right level of comedy (thanks, Jaskier), an earworm of a song (again, thanks Jaskier), and some solid performances from the main cast as the storylines and timelines began converging. It does get a strike against it for the criminal costuming of some characters, though. Following seasons are up for debate in the comments as to whether they bump The Witcher more into mid adaptation territory.

4. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

After getting absolutely reamed on the internet for how cursed Sonic looked in the trailer (he haunts my dreams at night) and then completely reworking his design, Sonic the Hedgehog managed to absolutely smash it as far as video game adaptations go. Jim Carrey’s interpretation of Doctor Eggman is honestly iconic and camp in exactly the ways it needed to be, and the movie as a whole employs just the right amount of humour and heart to solidify itself as a rare (although becoming more common) win for gaming movies. Perhaps Sonic the Hedgehog is a prime example of why, just sometimes, listening to fans and audiences is actually helpful when working with a pre-existing source material.

3. The Last Of Us (2023)

Another series, this time live action, The Last Of Us delves into the much-loved Naughty Dog story in a way that captures the essence of the source material in all its grim, yet hopeful, glory, while still bringing viewers something fresh and new. Characters are explored and developed in new ways that still feel consistent with the game, while Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey offer performances that show depth and vulnerability like you’d expect from Joel and Ellie. Whether HBO can stick the landing with the second season is a nail-biting unknown, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll be thinking about Bill and Frank for a long time to come.

2. Fallout (2024)

Amazon Prime’s recent dip into Fallout territory went down a treat, managing to stick the landing when it comes to maintaining the overall tone of the game franchise while dipping into new territory – capturing the attention of dyed in the wool fans and newcomers to the Fallout universe alike. Equal parts heavy, satirical, and gory, the show takes the risk of exploring a totally different story to any of the games while still situated comfortably within post-nuclear America. And while that’s a risk most adaptations, like The Last Of Us, shy away from taking, it’s paid off handsomely with a totally new perspective on the world many fans of the franchise know and love. There’s all the niche references you could hope for, and while it does steer in a new direction with the stories of Lucy, Maximus, and Cooper, comes full circle to tie everything together in a neat bow (although that finale has us wanting more ASAP).

1. Arcane (2021)

Arcane of course gets a top spot in this list for the masterful animation style, cast performances, and gripping storyline of Vi and Jinx amongst the conflict of Zaun and Piltover. It’s no wonder this instant hit was renewed for a second season the same month it premiered on Netflix, and even picky League of Legends fans were mostly pleased with the result of Riot Games and animation studio Fortiche’s efforts.

There’s a whole heap of other movies and series that could sit pretty comfortable at either end of the spectrum, given the now breakneck pace at which games-inspired media is being announced, made, and released. Honourable mentions for other great video game adaptations go to Castlevania for the fantastic story, character work, and animation, Super Mario Bros. (1993) for being the perfect amount of exceedingly absurd, and Detective Pikachu for having the perfect amount of Ryan Reynolds. Dishonourable mentions for terrible versions go to Alone in the Dark, Hitman, and unfortunately, Uncharted. Where the Borderlands movie would sit if we ever, ever, hear anything about it again is anyone’s guess, but I’ve got a pretty clear idea of where if I’m being honest with you.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on The Legend of Zelda movie as production moves forward, and crossing everything imaginable for a win given just how loved the game franchise is. 

What other adaptations do you think deserve a spot in the best or worst list? Let us know in the comments.

Image: Prime Video / Netflix / Kotaku Australia

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