Everyone knows that movies based on video games are destined to be terrible—or are they?
Everyone knows that movies based on video games are destined to be terrible—or are they?
While there have been a lot of bad video game movies over the years, there have also been plenty of good ones. These adaptations aren’t limited to the big screen, either. Gamers also have plenty of good (and some great) TV shows to choose from as well. Here are the best video game adaptations.
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20 Best Video Game Movies and TV Show Adaptations
Mortal Kombat (1995)
This might not be a perfect movie, but it’s still a lot of fun. In 1995, New Line Cinema released Mortal Kombat, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. The film follows the events of the first game, although it focuses on Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, while sidelining Scorpion and Sub Zero.
The film has stiff dialogue, awkward action, some very dated CGI and is limited by its PG-13 rating. That being said, it’s still a lot of fun and captured the excitement that kids in the ’90s felt towards Mortal Kombat. Also, it heavily features the series’ theme song, which is basically just a guy screaming Mortal Kombat.
Netflix’s Castlevania debuted in 2017 and lasted for four seasons. It adapted the storylines from the games Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse and Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, so it focuses on Trevor Belmont, an ancestor of Simon Belmont, and Alucard, the son of Dracula.
Since it was released on Netflix, the show was free to fully explore the horrors of the Castlevania universe. Its animation style is heavily influenced by anime, resulting in a dynamic-looking show full of intense action and beautiful imagery. Also, as a TV show, it had enough time to fully flesh out its characters, resulting in a truly fulfilling ending.
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Pokémon Detective Pikachu
A movie starring Ryan Reynolds as Pikachu shouldn’t work, but Pokémon Detective Pikachu is a solid film from start to finish. It has a good sense of humor and fully embraces the world of Pokemon. The story revolves around a young man named Tim looking for his missing father. He teams up with his dad’s Pokémon, a Pikachu that can speak English, but only Tim can understand him. The film is a loose adaptation of the game Detective Pikachu, which came out on the Nintendo 3DS in Japan in 2016. While this movie isn’t groundbreaking, it’s a well-made film that will give Pokemon fans plenty to cheer about.
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Tomb Raider (2018)
Back in 2001, Angelina Jolie starred as Lara Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. While the film was successful enough to spawn a sequel, it was generally considered as fine, but flawed. In 2018, however, Warner Brothers rebooted the series with Tomb Raider, starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. This film was based on the rebooted video game series, which featured a younger, less experienced protagonist and was a bit more grounded (and at least a little less male gaze-y) than the original games.
Vikander does a great job as Croft and expertly portrays her as someone who is both confident in her abilities while also still unsure of herself. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic halted plans to start production on a sequel and the studio eventually lost the rights, ending this promising new franchise before it could really get going.
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The Last of Us
The Last of Us series had a relatively easy job. The game it’s based on is both hugely popular and very cinematic. While some viewers have criticized the show for sometimes just recreating scenes from the games, the show has still received mostly positive reviews. Fortunately, it also adds its own take on the game’s story when necessary, making it more than just a live-action version of the game’s cut scenes.
Like the game, the series tells the story of a man named Joel (international treasure and Internet daddy Pedro Pascal), who must help navigate a young girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) through a world devastated by a fungal infection that turns its victims into monsters. The stakes are high and the emotions match them, especially in a particularly stunning turn from Nick Offerman as Bill and Murray Bartlett as Frank in Season 1, Episode 3, “A Long Long Time.”
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Werewolves Within proves that a video game adaptation can make significant changes from the source material while staying true to the central conceit of the game.
In the game, players are tasked with figuring out which resident of a medieval town is a werewolf. The film version, however, takes place in the modern day and deals with a group of people sheltering from a snowstorm in a local hotel who begin to suspect that there might be a werewolf amongst them. While the film keeps the audience guessing as to whether there even is a monster, it maintains the mystery aspect of the game.
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Sonic the Hedgehog
Sometimes, it takes more than one shot to get things right. Sonic the Hedgehog will always be remembered as the movie that had to change the design of the main character after the massive backlash to the original trailer. Fortunately, the second attempt was much less visually horrifying.
The film is a solid representation of the character and while it never tries to be more than just a kids’ movie, it’s still a solid, fun film—and Jim Carrey looks like he’s having a great time as Dr. Robotnik.
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In Rampage, the player takes control of a monster and attempts to destroy a city while fighting or avoiding tanks, helicopters and gunfire. The game was popular in the arcade and on the original Nintendo back in the ’80s, but didn’t become a movie until 2018.
While the movie isn’t groundbreaking, it’s also a lot of fun. It takes the fairly simple concept of monsters attacking the city and then adds Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as the main character attempting to save the city. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to keep things simple.
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The Resident Evil film series is one of the strangest things to exist in mainstream cinema. Aside from the first two entries, the movies have almost nothing to do with the story from the games. Instead, they seemed to just take characters and monsters from the game and randomly insert them into the stories, often in ways that completely change elements of the games.
The movies are full of over-the-top and nonsensical action sequences, a lot of bad acting, and plot hole after plot hole. However, the movies have built up a fairly substantial cult fan base, not despite these flaws, but because of them.
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The entry is a bit of a cheat because The Witcher is actually based on a series of fantasy novels that were originally released in Poland starting in 1990. However, the books didn’t start to make their to the U.S. until 2007, coinciding with the release of The Witcher games for the PC and Mac. The video game series made the jump to consoles starting with The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings in 2011 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 2015.
The Netflix series starred Henry Cavill for the first two seasons Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter living in a fictional medieval world. Cavill’s performance on the show was highly praised, but he had to be replaced after leaving the show to star as Superman (a decision that ultimately didn’t work for him). Liam Hemsworth will star as Geralt going forward.
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Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?
This might be the most unique entry on this list. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is a 1985 computer that tasked players with capturing a team of thieves and villains by collecting clues related to geography. While the game series has been turned into multiple cartoons, the most popular television show is a game show that run from 1991 to 1996. The game was essentially a live-action version of the computer, with contestants answering questions about geography, hoping to track down various villains and ultimately, Carmen Sandiego herself.
The ’90s was a weird time for video games. Earthworm Jim was a bizarre side-scrolling action platformer released on the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. The star of the game was the titular Jim, an Earthworm wearing a super suit that grants him strength, along with arms and legs. The game was created to launch a multimedia franchise, similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so once it became a success, a cartoon was quickly put into production. Fortunately, the series maintained the same crazy sense of humor from the games and was a fairly popular Saturday morning cartoon for two seasons.
A reboot of the series was reportedly in development as of 2021.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
The Street Fighter series has not had much luck with live-action films. Both the 1994 film and the Chun-Li-focused reboot are generally considered to be some of the worst video game movies of all time.
While the 1994 film has built up a cult following over the years (largely thanks to Raul Julia chewing the scenery), fans will also fondly remember Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie. This animated film was produced by a Japanese studio and had a theatrical release outside of the U.S. As the name would suggest, the film is an adaptation of the second game in the series, although it does add plenty of its own lore. After the success of the film, many of these elements were then incorporated into the game series.
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Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is often dismissed by fans, but it’s worth checking out. On the surface, the movie seems like it should be a disaster. It’s an entirely CGI film from 2001 (long before the technology was ready) and as a result, features a cast of creepy-looking humans with lifeless eyes. The story also has nothing to do with The Final Fantasy games, and instead takes place on Earth in the year 2065 and lacks many of the fantasy elements from the games. The movie was also a box office bomb, which led many movie fans to ignore it. Despite that, it’s a fairly interesting story from the creator of the game series. Anyone that can get past the eerie eyes of the characters should definitely check this out.
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The Super Mario Bros. Super Show
In 1989, the Mario brothers came to life with The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. While the show was mainly a cartoon adaptation of the Super Mario Bros. video games, it also included live-action segments featuring Mario (a brilliantly cast Lou Albano) and Luigi running a plumbing business in Brooklyn. The result was a show that was half-animated adventure and half sitcom parody. While the show may not have aged well and the humor may come across as cheesy by today’s standards, it was still a hit with kids in the late ’80s and early ’90s and is arguably the best live-action Mario adaptation ever made—until the 2023 movie!
Need for Speed
Kid Cudi, Michael Keaton, Dakota Johnson, Dominic Cooper and star Aaron Paul team up in Need for Speed, which on paper is a bit similar to Fast & Furious franchise—but it doesn’t have all of those family values (or Vin Diesel). If you want fast cars without “Fellini-esque” scripting (ahem), this is a fun watch.
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Tom Holland is quite a charming Nathan Drake opposite Mark Wahlberg in Uncharted, which keeps the spirit of the video game series’ adventure going. Keep your eyes peeled for You star Tati Gabrielle in a true heel turn as well.
While widely reviled at the time of its release (and for some time afterward), Double Dragon, in retrospect, is actually sort of perfect. It’s so bad that it’s good, and it’s clearly very in on the joke—even if the joke went over the heads of the critics and audiences at the time of its 1994 release.
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Based on the video game series of the same name, Doom stars Rosamund Pike, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and The Boys‘ Karl Urban (who seriously does not age, ever) as the “Doom Guy.” Is it good in a traditional sense? Similar to Double Dragon, not really. But is it a good time? Yes, actually, it is.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge
Get over here! This feature-length animated film examines the backstory of everyone’s favorite Mortal Kombat anti-hero. It’s as gory as you’d expect from something based on Mortal Kombat, and the story truly does pull at the heartstrings.
Next, check out the best superhero movies yet.