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4 Completely Watchable Video Game Movies

Video game movies are notoriously bad, but there are a few exceptions. Emphasis on "a few."

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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.

Contributing Editor

From The Chatty

  • reply
    May 13, 2016 8:00 AM

    Cassidee Moser posted a new article, 4 Completely Watchable Video Game Movies

    • reply
      May 13, 2016 8:14 AM

      Silent Hill seems like one of the only movies Sean Bean doesn't die in.

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      May 13, 2016 8:23 AM

      Mortal Kombat (the first one at least) is totally watchable too! It's campy and silly but I wouldn't expect anything less from a game based on a fighting game from the early mid-90's!

      Now that 2nd MK movie was atrocious. Holy hell was it bad.

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      May 13, 2016 10:20 AM

      Man I still haven't seen Wreck it Ralph. Need to get on that

      • reply
        May 13, 2016 10:25 AM

        the hell? It's a great movie!

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          May 13, 2016 10:26 AM

          All of the recent Disney films have been pretty good

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          May 13, 2016 1:29 PM

          Yeah, I'm not sure it belongs on this list. It's not watachable, it's really damn good.

      • reply
        May 13, 2016 7:59 PM

        Oh man, it's really great. Loved it!

    • reply
      May 13, 2016 10:45 AM

      Prince of Persia should be added to that list. It falls clearly under watchable and probably qualifies as enjoyable too.

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      May 13, 2016 10:49 AM

      I agree on Silent Hill and RE. I saw that NFS movie a while back too and it wasn't horrible. Just some Aaron Paul driving and whatnot.

      I haven't seen Wreck-it yet but I'm not really into the TR movies. I wonder if this was supposed to be a top 5 list and Cassidee couldn't find a 5th that hit the mark for her.

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      May 13, 2016 10:51 AM

      Just don't make a movie about Battlefield 1, right?

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      May 13, 2016 12:13 PM

      That final Fantasy movie that came out in the 90s was pretty good.

      It was amazing technologically speaking.

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        May 13, 2016 7:50 PM

        Both FF movies were beauts, but both were entirely forgettable as films.

        I went to the theater for Spirits Within, SUPER HYPED, and walked away so, so, so disappointed. It allowed me to break through the reality distortion field that I had set up for Square and realized they were pressing harder and harder on the 'shit you will never like' pedal.

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      May 13, 2016 12:30 PM

      What makes a game enjoyable isn't necessarily going to be same thing if viewed in a linear way. A movie has about 90 to 120 minutes to explain the plot where as game can take long as it needs to to tell the story. Knowing that they end cutting of changing much of the actual story of the games in favor of "artistic liberties" with these adaptions.

      I found the best video game film to date to be the one that wasn't really based on a IP but something original that would be Wreck-it-Ralph. It basically provided you with a sampler of different types and respected the characters/games they were from. Pixels on the other hand was just a mess of Video game gags and totally didn't care if they respected the source material or not.

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        May 13, 2016 12:35 PM

        How do you count Tron?

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          May 13, 2016 12:40 PM

          I totally forgot about Tron but Yea I would rank that slightly higher at least for the original. Needless to say the best ones are ones that don't try to adapt a single game.

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            May 13, 2016 12:45 PM

            Interestingly the popular arcade cabinet for Tron was developed off of an early script for the movie.

            It holds a weird place in the history of game movies.

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        May 13, 2016 12:41 PM

        Trying to carry over a specific plot line from a video game to a movie is a fool's errand independent of how long it takes to explain the plot. In reality, the vast majority of video games have abysmal writing that would be completely unusable in any other medium. The best video game writing rarely rises above "mediocre".

        So if you want to make an acceptable movie based on a video game property you take the basic conceit of the game, and maybe a rough plot outline, then write everything else from the ground up.

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      May 13, 2016 12:38 PM

      The first Mortal Kombat movie was the best video game movie.

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      May 13, 2016 1:13 PM

      I love the Street Fighter movie. Unlike a love of game-to-movie adaptations that had no idea they were actually terrible, Street Fighter was self-aware and just wanted audiences to have fun.

      From M. Bison guiding missiles using a Super SF2 arcade console, to the characters winding up dressed in their videogame outfits and exchanging victory taunts from SF2, that movie was a blast.

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      May 13, 2016 1:34 PM

      Great article!

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        May 13, 2016 1:34 PM

        But you forgot to include the doom movie

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          May 13, 2016 1:57 PM

          You just made me remember they made that. Now I'm sad

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      May 13, 2016 6:46 PM

      I thought this was going to be about those youtube channels that just put together every cutscene in a game. "METAL GEAR SOLID 4: THE MOVIE"

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      May 13, 2016 11:44 PM

      4?

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        May 14, 2016 12:15 AM

        It's a good list though. I'm having trouble thinking of anything that would deserve to be added. Maybe Prince of Persia? It would be down in the RE tier though, pretty mediocre.