If there’s one other genre that gets more heat than comic book movies, it’s that of video game adaptations. Many of these pictures are met with negative reviews by both fans and critics. But are all these movies really that bad?
While none of them may be crowning achievements of avant-garde filmmaking, the purpose of video game movies is to provide entertainment. In adapting a work, the director and writer want to keep to the core value of what makes the original property so special. However, what comes forth from the movie adaptation may end up slightly different due to artistic vision. This being said, we shouldn’t just trash on a movie because it isn’t a 100% identical copy of the game.
There are plenty of video game film adaptations that are super enjoyable with drama and action, and these are just ten of the best.
Without further ado—let’s begin!
Mortal Kombat (1995)
The first Mortal Kombat movie is as corny as they come but, my word, does it make for fun action. It incorporates all of the original characters from the first game, including fan favorites like Raiden, Liu Kang, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero. While there’s an underlining revenge plot (along with the whole "saving the world from the powerful bad guy" thing), Mortal Kombat is all about the punches. Its campy dialogue gives way to plenty of laughs, while all the fighting provides all the thrills and drive within the story.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Honestly, even though I’m much more excited for the 2018 Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie made a killer Lara Croft. Her performance was equal in both brains and brawn, making her portrayal of the iconic adventurer interesting throughout her pistol-wielding journey. What the movie got right in my opinion was the sense of adventure that the Tomb Raider games were all about. The movie wrapped this up in a semi sci-fi twist, but was still able to present the entire package as an exciting tale of exploration and action.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
True die-hards of Resident Evil know that what made the game so special was its impact on survival horror video games. The movies (much like the latter releases of the game series), have been the farthest thing from that steady progression of survival, with the lingering tinges of terror hiding in the shadows. However, Apocalypse on its own makes for a badass action flick. Amongst all its fight scenes come plenty of winks in regards to characters within the game universe. Seeing the likes of Jill Valentine or Nemesis comes with great excitement, as we see these once boxy digital characters come to life on the big screen.
Silent Hill (2006)
The first Silent Hill movie is a rather interesting adaptation (and one I’ve defended in the past). Once again, the die-hard fans will pick up on the slight changes in the movie. While the movie borrows heavily from the first game in the series, it also borrows from the second entry. And what the movie ends up changing about the first game, ends up working out to make a concise progression in the plot. Given that the movie was to appear to a much wider range of mainstream audiences, these changes allow the movie to be more presentable (given some of the heavily dark aspects of the first game). Silent Hill the movie stands on its own as decent mainstream horror picture, offering plenty of chilling moments with an equally dark story to lure audiences into its shadows.
Among all the entries on this list, Doom is one of the movies I have to defend the most. The plot, the characters, and sci-fi elements are pretty cheesy, with the action being the main highlight… which is exactly the point of a Doom game. No Doom entry has ever had a profound story to it, for the only reason one plays Doom is to shoot some demons. If the movie missed anything, it’s that it could have included more action scenes. But there is no reason beyond that anyone should bash this picture as an adaptation, for it captures the tone and ideas that make for an actual Doom game.
The movie adaptation of the massive world that’s Warcraft was an interesting one. For longtime fans, there were plenty of nice nods to the world, its lore, and its characters. While the picture suffers from the acting of its human characters, it did a solid job of emotionally intriguing viewers with its orc characters (specifically our protagonist). What Warcraft does right is that of bringing audiences into its world; with this movie (if there are to be future releases) it helps set the tone for a world that could grow even more with more films. Oher than the winks to the series’ characters and lore, it’s the setting that makes for the most intriguing part of the work.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
This may be one of the more controversial (if not the most controversial) entry on this list. While the movie has the name Final Fantasy in it, The Spirits Within borrows barely anything (if nothing at all) from the actual game series. So, why then, does it make for a good video game adaptation? Can we even call it one with no strong ties to the Final Fantasy series? I would argue that even though there are no characters or setting lifted from the Final Fantasy worlds, there is one thing essential to this picture that works in correlation to the game series—being that its story and characters take place in their own unique world, presenting as much depth and emotion that the games do. Minus a couple exceptions, Final Fantasy games don’t typically act as sequels to one another, for they all take place in their own timelines and universe, sometimes characters sharing names (like the popular use of the name Sid). The Spirits Within presents itself with a grand existential story/theme that is common among the various entries of Final Fantasy. So in other words, The Spirits Within is a Final Fantasy movie that felt like it could have been a game first.
Pokémon: The First Movie (US release: 1999)
The first Pokémon movie is a stellar work that masterfully captures fan service and exciting storytelling. Bringing characters we love from the video games and anime, our protagonists go up against one of their biggest challenges yet (being that of Mewtwo). Taking such a legendary creature from the video games, and translating that emphasis of grandiose is no easy task, but the filmmakers were able to pull it off. Pokémon is a property that’s pretty easy to adapt, given that what’s essential is keeping the main characters involved, with the actual challenge being that of crafting the story around those characters. But in Pokémon: The First Movie, we see Ash, Pikachu, and friends, presented in an exhilarating adventure with tons of excitement and emotion.
Ratchet & Clank (2016)
Upon watching this movie, I could not find any immense differences between what was happening in the movie scenes, and what took place in the game’s story. Ratchet & Clank the movie, while slightly shifting some plot points, makes for a funny and enjoyable sci-fi ride. It’s tough to find any fault within it being an actual adaptation, unless you’re just someone who isn’t into the property’s use of child-like humor. But for a movie that’s supposed to convey the game’s sense of adventure and humor, the movie adaptation successfully captures all of this, and makes for plenty of chuckles.
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
Now I know I already mentioned a Final Fantasy movie, but there was no way I could ignore the gift that is Advent Children. This is the only adaptation on the list where a movie actually acts as a sequel to the game it is taking from. Final Fantasy VII is one of the series’ most beloved entries. Final Fantasy VII gave us some of the series’ best characters, and in Advent Children we get to see them talk and act right before our eyes. What comes from this sequel is a worthy continuation of the events that took place in the previous game. The movie captures the grand sense of fantasy, action, and drama that made Final Fantasy VII special. And for fans obsessed with the game, there was nothing more epic than getting to witness our protagonist Cloud fight his arch-rival Sephiroth before our eyes.
These ten video game adaptations stand as strong entries within the sub-genre; these movies either capture the essence of what made their games work, or are able to take elements of those games, and present them around entertaining stories.
Do you agree with this list? Do you think that video game adaptations just don’t work? Or if so, are there any titles you wish I had included? Sound off in the comments!
Michael Pementel is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program. When he isn't writing for Film Daddy, he writes full time for Metal Injection and New Noise Magazine. He has also written for Alternative Press, Film Inquiry, and The Curator. He's the Social Media Manager for death metal record label Ultimate Massacre Productions. When not writing, he enjoys a hot cup of black coffee, a good book/video game/film, and to cuddle with his fiancée and cat.
Follow Michael on Twitter @pementelm.