As adaptations go, video game movies have long lived in infamy, with films ranging in quality from average to steaming piles of unwatchable trash.
The majority tend to fall into the latter category, going on to become memes and jokes of themselves while providing filler for top worst movie lists and Razzie awards.
But there will always be outliers in a group, and although the ratio is practically 5:1, there are a handful of video game adaptations that managed to rise above the rest. As films, the majority of them are objectively average or middling at best. But, they managed to take a video game and convert it into something actually enjoyable. Watchable, even!
In honor of the recent (and somewhat promising-looking) Assassin’s Creed trailer, let’s take a look at the gems that do exist in the video game adaptation world.
Tomb Raider (2001)
Simon West’s 2001 adaptation of the Tomb Raider games was a decent movie adaptation first and a so-so action movie second, but it is an overall fun watch.
Angelina Jolie stars as Lara Croft, and it’s Jolie’s performance that really helps heighten the film. She embodies so much of what made the Lara Croft character as we knew her in the ‘90s; smart, brash, logical, and driven, with a penchant for adventure and an impressive knowledge of history.
It’s not perfect. The dialog edges on hammy, and some of the decisions made by characters in the film are inconsistent, and a lot of the visual effects have not aged well. But it’s still a mostly serviceable film, especially for one based on a game.
Following the series reboot, a movie reset is in the works starring Ex Machina's Alicia Vikander as the new Ms. Croft. We can hope for a little less ham this time around, but as long as they get the lead's adventurous spirit right, it will go a long way.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
If ever there was a perfect example of how to make a video game film, it’s Wreck-It Ralph. It’s not based on any video game; it’s based on all games, a smorgasbord celebration of video games and the culture they inspire. Varying famous characters make cameos, classic games become the backdrop for several scenes, arcades are re-imagined as entire worlds inside the cabinets, and we see these characters interacting in ways copyright previously never would have allowed.
The film’s strengths are in commenting on our modern perceptions of video games, along with inventive riffs on the as a medium. This is especially true of the parts where Ralph is entering into different games as part of his quest to become a hero.
Things slow down and shift focus for Ralph once he meets Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) in the candy-themed kart racer Sugar Rush, but the core of Wreck-It Ralph is so inspiring and respectful of video games as a whole.
Silent Hill (2006)
Of all video game adaptations, horror makes the most sense. Both video games and horror movies share a lot of similarities: they both emphasize the use of camera angles, specific designs, effects, metaphors, themes, and essentially de-powering the main character to create feelings of hopelessness.
Silent Hill actually does a great job translating this spirit to the big screen, which only makes sense considering the games borrowed liberally from film scares as well. Combining elements from the series’ first few games to create a lovingly-crafted, spooky film dealing with a trouble mother-daughter relationship and a town turned plaything for a little demon girl.
Practical effects give everything a gross, unnatural feel, the lightning and set design help blend together four different worlds into one, and the themes behind the awful manifestation within the town are purely Silent Hill.
What’s more, the music is great–taken straight from the games–and integrated to heighten already tense moments. Plus, many callbacks to the video games highlight how director Christophe Gans actually respects the franchise. Video game movies are often bad, but they could definitely be worse than Silent Hill.
Resident Evil (2002)
Resident Evil is not a great film. In fact, I’d easily argue it’s objectively the worst on this list. But, it does just enough right to remain enjoyable.
There are only a handful of elements that carry from the games to the film, but it’s enough to earn it the Resident Evil title. It doesn’t take place in an old, abandoned house, but it does have zombies, the Umbrella Corporation plays the shadowy villain, zombie dogs burst forward through windows, and a special team of military operatives are dispatched to deal with an issue in a lab.
What makes it worth watching? It’s outlandishly ridiculous; the team members all make nonsensical choices, story twists emerge our of practically nowhere, and no one on screen is particularly interesting to watch. In other words, it's a perfect adaptation of Resident Evil.
It has a hammy, goofy charm to it, especially as an action/horror flick with decent practical effects and just enough connection to the games that it remains watchable. Also, a man is diced into a thousand cubes by laser, and that sequence alone makes the hour and a half runtime worth it.