I don’t do two lists in a week a lot lately, but seeing as this weekend is both St. Patrick’s Day and the debut of a new video game adaptation I couldn’t help myself. It would be easy, REAL easy in fact for me to produce a list of the worst video game movies of all time. There’s so much to pick from it’s not even funny. The real challenge is picking those that are worth viewing. With “Tomb Raider” coming out this weekend and “Rampage” to be released next month I decided to tackle both the good and the bad of video game cinematic films, starting with the good. The bad will be explored later. So in anticipation of “Tomb Raider”, here are my picks for the Top 10 Best Films Based on Video Games.
For this list I looked at any movie based on a video game property. The only other limitation: one film per franchise. These are not films that are themed after video games but do not originate from a specific game series, which have their own list upcoming, or movies that led to the creation of a video game themselves. These are films that are based on video game franchises and are notable for being among the better selections of a subgenre that has yet, as of this post, to see any entry score above 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. As you can imagine these movies aren’t perfect, but in the pantheon of video game movies these films stand out as the best and are at least watchable to some extent even if only as sources of unapologetic escapism. Some are even better than the critics thought they were, containing their own campy charm and memorability.
What is your favorite movie based on a video game? Let me know in the comments below and look for my review of “Tomb Raider” this weekend.
10. “DOA: Dead or Alive”
Based on the long running fighting video game, “DOA: Dead or Alive” offers action thrills that some compared to “Charlie’s Angels”. Playing off the sexualization of female characters in the game series, “DOA” features a slew of beautiful women including Devon Aoki, Holly Valance and Jaime Pressly who are invited to participate in a martial arts tournament and start off as rivals but slowly become allies to uncover a hidden secret of the competition’s organizer. Featuring appearances by numerous characters from the games, “DOA” might not be a good movie, but it captures a lot of the charm of its source material in a campy and somewhat over-the-top way. The choreography is great, and the movie was praised for following the plot of the games making it one of the more respected video game adaptations by critics due purely to respect for origins where other such films usually try to tell their own tale. In the end many gamers only really play “Dead or Alive” for the overly stylized women and the glory of battle and you get both in droves here. It even has a volleyball scene and if you know the games you know why that’s a big deal.
9. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”
Before Alice became a certified badass in the “Resident Evil” films and “DOA” adapted the sexuality of its characters, there was this movie, the first female-led video game film “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider”. While the reboot being released this weekend is heavily based on the PlayStation 3 and 4 games, this film was adapted from the original PlayStation hits that featured the famously busty heroine as she explored caves and tombs looking for riches. While not a very celebrated film, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” pretty much launched Angelina Jolie’s career as an action actress and made her a household name as she fit the body type perfectly, bust and all. But sex appeal wasn’t all that made this film popular. Jolie’s performance was praised, and many fans seemed to enjoy the action elements, even though critics didn’t quite agree. A sequel was released called “The Cradle of Life” which was slightly better received by critics, but while it’s outdated today “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” remains the most memorable of the two and is a fine example of campy early 2000s action and showed that video game adaptations could still be marketable after numerous flops. It also showed that a leading female badass was still marketable as well and, I will admit it’s a whole lot of fun despite it’s flimsy plot and outdated special effects.
8. “Pokémon 3: The Movie”
You knew you were going to see a Pokémon movie here, the question was which one. Of the five theatrically released Pokémon movies to date in North America, “Pokémon 3: The Movie” is the most celebrated critically on Rotten Tomatoes in the original canon surpassed only by 2017’s standalone story “Pokémon : I Choose You” which received ridicule from fans. This film, which explores Ash Ketchum’s encounter with the mythical Pokémon Entai and the letter-based Pokémon Unknown, is one of the darkest in the series and took the story in a direction it had yet to explore with upgraded visual effects and a narrative that revolved around a young girl who longs for her father’s return and is assisted with her wishes by the Unknown who create an Entei to replace him in her life. While the first two films have their merits, one exploring the origin of the legendary Mewtwo and the other making Ash a hero of legend to stop the preverbal apocalypse, this movie was decidedly darker and focused on the mental damage of losing a loved one as well as featuring a legendary Pokémon that rode the lines between good and bad in a more subtle way than previous legendary antagonists. The first and second movies will always have a place in the hearts of Pokémon fans like myself forever, but it was the third one that earned the most respect critically and contained a better plot while matching the more mature tone of the first two films.
Back when The Rock was still trying to find his footing as an action star, he co-starred in this 2005 version of the classic first-person shooter “Doom” alongside Karl Urban and Rosamund Pike. The three are part of a group trapped in a research facility on Mars when genetically engineered monsters begin to kill off the marines and scientists one by one. A box office bomb, this movie actually has some redeeming qualities. It’s fun, it’s campy, it embraces the tone of the video games it’s based on and it features an amazing first-person perspective scene that emulates the action of the actual video games. It’s far from perfect and does deserve the critical hate it received, but sometimes even a bad movie can be fun if it hits enough of the right notes. I’ll admit this is a film I’ve seen many times and it’s a guilty pleasure. It takes the “based on a video game” schtick and pretty much embraces it full throttle giving us a relatively fun experience that makes us wish we truly were playing right along and it does so while blending horror and science fiction elements with relative ease.
6. Silent Hill
Horror games and cinema seem to be a match made in heaven on paper, but really “Silent Hill” is the only one to truly shine in any way. Based on the acclaimed horror game series of the same name, “Silent Hill” follows a woman named Rose who takes her adopted daughter to the titular town after the daughter continuously cries its name in her sleep. A car accident leads Rose on a search for find her missing daughter and forces her to face off against a cult and experience a revelation about her daughter’s past. This movie captures the feel and the spooky nature of the games it was based on and was praised for many of its horror elements including its atmosphere and visuals. While it was still a critical failure and barely shined at the box office, this is a video game adaptation that takes its time and makes a valiant effort to be as scary as its source material. In some ways it even tops the games in terms of the fright factor. It’s also the film that brought us the live action depiction of the legendary creature Pyramid Head and for that reason alone this is a film worth enjoying. While it can’t quite live up to the suspense of playing the story yourself, even with this disconnect “Silent Hill” is among the better video game movies and is one of the best purely horror adaptations of a video game to date.
5. “Resident Evil”
A film that spawned a massive franchise, “Resident Evil” is one of those movies that might stray from the source material, but that doesn’t make it bad. Featuring two now certified female badasses, Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez, in leading roles the first “Resident Evil” is still the best, even after six films, for setting up the tone and lore of the entire series. Borrowing elements from the first two “Resident Evil” video games, this first film follows Jovovich and an amnesiac scientist named Alice who teams with a group of commandos hired by the Umbrella Corporation to contain the T-virus, a chemical released into a lab that turns its victims into mindless zombielike entities. Featuring brutal kills and a mystery that expands most of the film, “Resident Evil” may not be the most action-packed movie of the franchise but it’s one of the most controlled and one of the most fun. It at least tries to capture the tone of the games it was based on through a mix of subtlety and suspense. It remains the best reviewed film in the series and for good reason and while it’s effects might be outdated this is a fun horror sci-fi ride that is worth the trip.
4. “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time”
This was a movie that had a lot of promise and while some felt it didn’t pay off “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” somehow became one of the most respected video game movies ever. A Disney movie and Jerry Bruckheimer production, this film follows Prince Dastan, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who acquires a dagger that allows him control over time before he has to go on the run after his father’s death and hunt down the killer. Borrowing elements from all three of the games in the “Sands of Time” trilogy the cinematic “Sands of Time” story received mixed critical reception, but it earned $336 million at the box office which, at that time, was the highest of any video game adaptation until “Angry Birds” and “Warcraft” topped it in 2016. Marked as an entertaining swashbuckler of a film, this was the movie that made people believe that video game adaptations could truly work as it was celebrated by some critics as the best in the genre to that time and in fact it was and remains (barring better reviews for “Tomb Raider”) the best reviewed live action video game adaptation of all time. Only animated movies have been seen as more celebrated offerings. It’s not very memorable and is often overlooked, but “Sands of Time” offers action and fun and, honestly, shows just how much better a movie like “Assassin’s Creed” could have been in better hands.
3. “Angry Birds”
A fine example of cinematic pandering, “Angry Birds” is probably one of the most shameless of video game adaptations. Based on the popular mobile video game, this movie features Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride and others as different birds from the game who go toe to toe with a group of green pigs who arrive and steal their eggs with intent of enjoying a tasty meal. The movie stretches the premise of the video game into just over an hour and a half of actually pretty well animated fun which earned it mixed reviews (it’s one of the best reviewed video game movies actually) and nearly $350 million at the box office as well as a planned sequel. “Angry Birds” packs a lot of charm and whit into a short timespan and might be a middle-of-the-road movie that doesn’t work on every level, but it works enough. It’s funny, it’s fun and it does manage to embrace the goofy nature and ridiculousness of its source material quite well. I mean there’s only so much you can do with the concept, right? It promises to be pretty outdated down the road, but it also has that feel that it will live on as a nostalgia piece beloved by those looking for a reminder of the impact of the cultural phenomenon that is “Angry Birds”.
2. “Mortal Kombat”
While not the first movie based on a video game, “Mortal Kombat” was the first that could have been considered “good” by any definition of the word. Scoring a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes and earning $122 million at the box office (staying at #1 for several weeks), it was by far the most successful attempt to turn the video game craze into a theatrical money maker to that point and has since gone down in history as one of the more enjoyable of such movies. The film brings many of the famous characters from the controversial violent fighting game series to life with the likes of Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade and Liu Kang all taking part in the titular fighting tournament for the fate of Earth. It’s campy and corny and contains some of the most outdated effects, dialogue and fighting choreography you’ll ever see, but honestly that’s part of its charm. “Mortal Kombat” redefined the video game film and showed that you could take chances with the story and plot while also mixing in elements of the games to create something unique and original whereas previous films had gone to only one extreme or the other. While a reboot is on the way as of 2011, it’s hard to overlook the original motion picture that showed the world that video game films were not only marketable, they could be a heck of a lot of fun too and let’s not forget it was based on one of the most controversial video games series of all time.
1. “Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within”
A 2001 computer-animated film this is by far the best of the best in terms of video game adaptations so far. “Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within” is not only inspired by and based on one of the most legendary game franchises ever, it was actually directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the “Final Fantasy” games. The first movie to utilize photo-realistic computer animation, this was not only a high quality video game movie it was also a landmark animated feature that helped revolutionize the industry as a whole. Even by today’s standards this story about scientists trying to free a destroyed Earth from an alien race by collecting a series of spirits still holds up and is not only beautifully animated but impressively acted (for a video game movie) and is the highest rated video game adaptation as of this countdown. Sadly the movie was a box office bomb due to the increased costs of its ambitious animation style and ended Square Pictures, an offshoot of Square Co., now Square Enix, that produced and continues to produce the “Final Fantasy” games. Thankfully however we were able to enjoy this gem before the company closed its doors and while this particular film may not follow the story of “Final Fantasy” to a T, it was inspired by and adapts many of its elements making it a must watch for video game fans everywhere. It’s a fun, beautifully rendered animated movie made more for adults and is by far the best video game movie to date.