8 Video Game Movies That Are Actually Good
Video game adaptations have a bad rep for a reason, but these ones are fun.
Despite some noble attempts, the video game movie has not been perfected. While it's easy to fire off a list of excellent movies based on novels, comic books, and even TV shows, coming up with a similar list of the best video game adaptations requires a bit more thought. They're not all bad, right? Even as video games continue to explode in popularity and action movies absorb visual tics from the world of first-person shooters, the film industry remains relatively gun shy about adapting specific titles. Maybe the memories of projects like Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time are still too fresh.
However, contrary to the genre's dinged-up reputation, some video game adaptations do inspire loyalty, reward close attention, and deserve a second look. These rare few might not capture the immersive, eyeball-draining experience of actually spending an entire afternoon (or week) playing your favorite game, but they find excitement, joy, and, in some cases, goofy pleasure in the material. For the purposes of this list, we're sticking only with adaptations—so no movies about gaming like Tron, The Last Starfighter, or Ready Player One—and we tried to highlight our personal favorites, movies that we'd be willing to travel on a boat to a distant realm to defend the honor of.
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Mortal Kombat (1995)
*Mortal Kombat guy voice*: MORTAL KOMBAT!!! You hear those two words before the credits even hit the screen in this gloriously hokey, unapologetically schlocky fight-fest based on the wildly popular Midway Games franchise. Is it cheating to call Mortal Kombat, a film where Highlander's Christopher Lambert plays the mysterious sorcerer Raden like he's about to start giggling in every scene, a "good" movie? There's certainly room for debate. The exposition-packed plot follows Liu Kang (Robin Shou) as he fights to protect Earth from the threat of invasion from the sinister Outworld, but it's perhaps best remembered for moments like the scene where Hollywood action hunk Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby) punches four-armed monster Goro in the nuts. Director Paul W.S. Anderson, who would go on to bigger and better video game adaptations, throws round-house kicks (and ice bucket spears and balls of fire) at your conception of "good" or "bad" taste. It leaves you reeling.
Viewed over 25 years since its initial release, Mortal Kombat now calls to mind another New Line–produced hit from the '90s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For most modern viewers, there's obviously nostalgia at play—Mortal Kombat, like the Turtles movie, was a sleep-over classic for many—but the movies also showcase imaginative production design, charming special effects, a propulsive techno soundtrack, and a handful of entertaining (though largely bloodless) fights. It doesn't stand the test of time, or rival the classic tournament fight movies of the '80s like Kickboxer or Bloodsport, but it remains a fascinating precursor to Hollywood's IP and fan service era. —Dan Jackson
Mortal Kombat (2021)
As far as video game adaptations go, Mortal Kombat isn't merely one of the better ones, but actually makes the case for building its own franchise (mainly because there is no, uhh, Mortal Kombat in this Mortal Kombat). The heroes of Earthrealm are set to go up against the villainous Outworld warriors led by soul-eater Shang Tsung in a legendary ceremonial battle, but the Outworlders have spent centuries picking off Earthrealm's heroes, leaving only a ragtag group of beefy dummies (and one lady who actually gets what's going on). MMA fighter Cole Young must team up with special forces soldiers Jax and Sonya Blade and mercenary Kano, journeying to the ancient Earthrealm temple where Lord Raiden promises they'll find their arcana superpowers and learn how to defeat Outworld. Really, though, the vicious matchup between Sub-Zero and Scorpion is what you spend the entire movie waiting to see, and it delivers. —Emma Stefanksy
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Detective Pikachu sent the internet into a frenzy before it hit theaters. The first-look images of a CGI Pikachu with all of his yellow fuzz in a Sherlock Holmes hat were so hyper-real that they were too cute to handle. And then there was the fact that when he opened his mouth in the trailer, Ryan Reynolds' voice weirdly came out of his tiny body. None of the fervor around this adaptation of a Pokémon adventure game could anticipate just how wonderful the blockbuster really is, though.
The second highest grossing video game adaptation after Warcraft, Detective Pikachu excels in making its splashy, whimsical world not just a dream come true for franchise fans to lay their eyes on, but the setting for a whirlwind of a mystery. Half the fun is basically being able to throw a Poké ball at the screen every time another life-like little guy appears, but insurance adjuster Tim (played by the charming Justice Smith) and titular investigator's quest to save the Pokémon and their harmonious life in Ryme City keeps you as engaged as a Trainer in battle. Some characters and plot points fall flat in typical kid movie fashion—and there's a fundamental strangeness to Reynolds' voice work—but it all pays off in the end for what's no doubt the cutest video game movie out there. —Sadie Bell
Resident Evil (2002)
For his second high-profile video game movie, director Paul W.S. Anderson applied elements from his previous two films, the slimy gross-out terror of 1997's Event Horizon and the stoic science-fiction grandeur of 1998's Soldier, to this violent adaptation of the Capcom zombie shoot-em-up. The playful cheese of Mortal Kombat isn't totally gone—the presentation of the menacing Umbrella Corporation can be silly and the acting can be over-the-top—but the movie displays a more even command of tone, jumping from one grisly haunted house set-piece to the next. Anchored by Milla Jovovich's commanding performance as Alice, Resident Evil has a visceral emotional immediacy and a slick pulp style that most video game movies simply lack.
Anderson's visual aesthetic has evolved over the years—he directed multiple Resident Evil sequels and last year's Monster Hunter adaptation—but he's always had a keen understanding of how to build suspense. The infamous laser slicing scene, particularly the memorable final shot of Colin Salmon's character dissolving into fleshy mush as the focus shifts to Jovovich's pained reaction in the corridor behind him, is a brilliant example of a filmmaker applying the conventions and logic of gameplay to a traditional narrative beat. The rest of the often spiky, satirical movie has a similar grisly finesse. —DJ
Silent Hill (2006)
Your mileage will vary on Christophe Gans' loose adaptation of Konami's survival horror/demonic cult game Silent Hill, specifically the first in the studio's notoriously creepy franchise, depending on your tolerance for wonky video-game logic and excessive gore. The 2006 film's strength is not its script or plot—about a young girl, Sharon (Jodelle Ferland), who goes missing after becoming lured by the mysterious siren call of the abandoned West Virginia town Silent Hill, and her mother Rose's (Radha Mitchell) fraught quest to find her—but in replicating the game's unsettling tone and saturated, high-contrast visual language that directs its characters to their next clue with a crack of light shining in just the right spot or a door left ajar.
Be warned about what comes next, though: Silent Hill doesn't mess around with its psychological torture, using swarms of giant bugs and flanking its copious chase scenes with some of the games' more iconic characters (helloooo, nurse!!), or body horror, stringing up mutilated bodies with barbed wire or ripping someone's entire epidermis off in one go. It's far from a perfect movie, and the two hour-plus runtime drags in places, but if you're looking for the promise of seeing some fucked-up shit, Silent Hill delivers. —Leanne Butkovic
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
The first Sonic the Hedgehog movie weathered initially horrifying designs to emerge a bonafide hit before the world into lockdown for COVD-19. Rushed into production, the sequel, uncreatively titled Sonic the Hedgehog 2, is looser and zanier and all around a better time. Is Sonic the Hedgehog 2 a Good Movie? Unclear, but it is for the most part a blast. In this follow-up, Sonic (Ben Schwartz) is left home alone by his adoptive parents (James Marsden and Tika Sumpter), who go to a wedding in Hawaii that is basically entertaining enough to be its own movie. (Shout out to Natasha Rothwell and Shemar Moore for interacting very little with the animated aliens and stealing the show.) While Sonic is partying, the evil Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) escapes from his mushroom planet prison and recruits Knuckles (a committed Idris Elba) to help him take down our blue hero. Luckily a new friend, Tails (Colleen O'Shaughnessey), has come to Earth to help Sonic save the day. It's a lot of gobbledygook with some lame one-liners mashed up with actually funny gags. I don't know what to say other than I had a good time. —Esther Zuckerman
Tomb Raider (2018)
The 2018 Tomb Raider reboot starring Alicia Vikander was not an enormous box office success, and its sequel has been languishing in development hell since then. But this is—dare I say—an understated take on the Indiana Jones-esque hero previously embodied by Angelina Jolie in two bombastic films that didn't always reach their potential. Tamping down the gunplay, this Tomb Raider, directed by Roar Uthaug, casts Lara as a millennial bike messenger who gets into a life of adventure to search for her father, played by Dominic West. The Oscar-winning Swedish actress was seen as an unconventional choice for the character who has been unfortunately defined by her boobs more than anything else, but Vikander's Lara emanated strength and determination and grit. The best set pieces were just her against the elements. —EZ
If any movie on this list deserves another shot, it's Warcraft. Duncan Jones' adaptation of Blizzard's long-running franchise was perhaps too ambitious, too dense to have been a hit with fans or with critics, but it's much more than the weirdly uneven epic fantasy it seems to be on the surface. When the home realm of the orcs dies, their leader, an orc warlock named Gul'dan (Daniel Wu) who wields sinister green fel magic, opens a portal to the world of Azeroth, populated by humans, dwarves, and elves. Obviously, the humans can't have this, and the armies of men declare war on the invading orcs. Because Jones wasn't interested in a rote humans-vs-monsters movie, the story is deliberately told equally from the perspective of the humans—warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel), runaway mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), Stormwind's King Llane (Dominic Cooper), and the Guardian Medivh (Ben Foster)—as well as the orcs—Frostwolf Clan chieftain Durotan (Toby Kebbell), his pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin), and half-orc Garona (Paula Patton).
It all results in an overly complex plot that's enough for three or four movies, and the huge downer ending practically begs for a sequel that will probably never be made, given Warcraft's lengthy production and its lukewarm reception when it finally opened. Warcraft relies heavily on CG, with entire environments and cities created with computerized imagery and motion-capture transforming half its cast into beefy orcs. The post-production alone took almost two years to complete, but those two years were absolutely worth it. Every bit of visual effects is so striking you forget you're not looking at something real; the orcs themselves are distinct individuals, the mo-cap cameras capturing and rendering even the most subtle micro-expressions to give depth to characters that, in other movies of this kind, would be relegated to disposable villains. Warcraft may have jumped the gun with its plot, trying to put so much into one movie it turned out bloated and messy, but there's enough to appreciate in that mess to make it worth revisiting. —ES