With plenty of new video game film adaptations on the way, fans are excited to see their favourites show up on the big screen. Will video game films replace comic book movies in the coming years?
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For over a decade, Marvel and DC have ruled the cinematic landscape. They have brought us some impressively shocking moments that might define the cultural zeitgeist of our generation. Whether it was Batman and Superman facing off on screen for the first time in live-action or the first time we saw the Avengers assemble, it’s fair to say that comic book films have redefined the world of modern entertainment.
However, as has happened time and time again, the spark of the comic book movie genre seems to be in a steady decline. While they are not dead by any extent of the imagination, people just don’t see them in the same light they did four years ago.
I believe this is because of two things, both of which affect each other greatly. The first one would be the quality of film releases from these studios; there seems to be an almost constant stream of movies being released based around superheroes or comic book lore, which inevitably leads to them feeling more like entertainment products instead of carefully-crafted cinematic experiences.
The other reason is that, for better or for worse, superhero flicks have just run their course. Avengers: Endgame could have been the last MCU film to ever hit theatres, and no one would have been mad. Much like the comic books they’re based on, these cinematic universes have become too convoluted for some moviegoers who would rather watch a standalone film than devote their time and money to yet another complex movie franchise.
That’s where the sudden stream of video game films comes in. What once was considered a death sentence for a franchise among video game fans has now proven itself to be a viable source of storytelling for major studios. Video game films have made the transition from old-school electronic entertainment to feature films with surprisingly high success rates, as we saw in 2020’s Sonic The Hedgehog.
A movie that, according to every piece of empirical evidence, should have been a mess turned into one of the most surprising success stories of the pre-COVID film season. For many, the reason why Sonic The Hedgehog succeeded even where more ambitious flicks had failed was that it listened to what its fans wanted, and delivered a product that could be easily enjoyed by someone coming into the story fresh, without having to study the lore and history of the blue hedgehog.
Many of these projects are also successfully tapping into the nostalgia of older generations. In a few words, video game movies elicit memories of simpler times, when blockbuster flicks could stand on their own two feet while being completely consumed in escapism.
These days, people crave simple pleasures. It seems that people prefer something that does not require much brain power, and the vast majority of filmgoers want nothing more than to immerse themselves in a story that can transport them away from the realities of everyday life. That is exactly what many video game movies do well: they give audiences a sense of homecoming because they bring them back to a time when entertainment was good for the soul. And there is hardly anything more satisfying than spending 2 hours or so getting lost in a fantasy world.
So, as we get closer to the release of the animated Super Mario Bros. film, we should ask ourselves if maybe these 8-bit characters we’ve known and loved for so many years could dethrone the monolithic dominance of comic book films at the box office. Who knows – maybe in a few years we’ll all be talking about where the Nintendo Cinematic Universe is headed. After all, the “NCU” has a nice ring to it.
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Video Games & Movies: The Best & Worst Of All-Time
For the longest time, video games and movies have had a difficult relationship. The two platforms have struggled to crossover and deliver a good video game movie or a good movie video game. Of course, that didn’t stop Hollywood and gaming studios from trying.
It’s been the same story over and over again. A great video game is released and gains a large fanbase following. Hollywood attempts to cash in on the audience’s devotion to the franchise and creates a movie adaptation. The filmmakers aren’t gamers and don’t understand how to translate what’s in the game into a film universe. The end result is films like Assassin’s Creed, Tekken, Max Payne, Need for Speed, Resident Evil and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.
However, there’s been a change recently. The last few years have had video game movie adaptations that actually worked. Films like Sonic The Hedgehog have defied the video game movie curse and launched a successful franchise.
Popular Movies Based On Video Games
For the longest time, it seemed like the words “good video game movie” were the perfect example of an oxymoron. However, some moviemakers see the potential that video game narratives hold, resulting in some genuinely compelling films that transcend the limitations of their mediums.
In this list, we’ll take a look at the 10 most popular movies based on video games. Let’s see which of these films can actually break the curse of adapting a video game into a movie, and which of them are so bad they’re good.
10. Silent Hill (2006) – Average
The franchise that redefined psychological horror in consoles, Silent Hill got its own movie adaptation in 2006. The story follows the events of the first game very loosely, using some new original characters and introducing monsters from different games in the franchise to appease fans.
Perhaps the best part about the Silent Hill movie is that it is a very competent horror movie of its own. You don’t need to have played any of the games to understand what’s going on with the story, which is always a plus in these kinds of films. Also, some of the monster designs look amazing in live-action, so there’s that.
9. Warcraft (2016) – Average
The 2016 adaptation of Warcraft was perhaps too ambitious for its own good. The movie chronicles the ongoing war between humans and Orcs in Azeroth and the unlikely alliance that emerges between them to fight the fanatic members of the Horde.
One thing is for sure: the visual effects in this film are outstanding. Bill Westenhofer, the lead visual effects supervisor, is also a die-hard World of Warcraft player. He had to help his guild during raids in the middle of filming the movie, so at least you know that the character designs were made by someone who knew quite a lot about the game.
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8. Super Mario Bros. (1993) – Bad
1993’s Super Mario Bros. is the video game movie that started it all – and the one that also began the rumours about the curse of adapting a video game into a film. The flick holds very little resemblance to the real Super Mario games, being a gritty cyberpunk dystopia that looks straight out of Robocop instead.
Everyone involved in the production and filming of Super Mario Bros. has a terrible story to tell, from Bob Hoskins, who played the titular Mario, to Dennis Hopper, who played a very strange version of Bowser. The film is not good by any means, but it has become something of an icon of terrible movie ideas, so at least it deserves some props for that.
7. DOA: Dead Or Alive (2006) – Bad
Speaking of terrible movie ideas, we have 2006 DOA: Dead Or Alive. A film based on a game that’s well-known for its “jiggle physics,” DOA is all about scantily clad women fighting in a martial arts tournament. A combination between Charlie’s Angels and Enter the Dragon, at least DOA is fun enough to justify the cost of admission.
Don’t expect a solid film, though: this movie is all about having a good time and shutting down your brain for your own good. It’s not even the flick’s fault, though: why would anyone choose to make a serious live-action movie based on Dead or Alive is anyone’s guess.
6. Resident Evil (2002) – Average
The first entry into this long-running film franchise was released all the way back in 2002. Based on Capcom’s iconic survival horror series, the first Resident Evil movie features a wholly original story set in an underground lab with tons of Alice in Wonderland references sprinkled everywhere.
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (remember that name,) Resident Evil would become one of the most successful video game movies of all time, spawning a franchise that was only recently completed. A reboot of the series has just been released, titled Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, but that movie is nowhere near as good as the original.
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5. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) – Average
Based on the game of the same name, Prince of Persi: The Sands of Time stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Prince Dastan in a quest to save his kingdom from the machinations of the evil vizier Nizam. The movie is tons of fun and holds the distinction of being one of the only video game movies produced by Disney.
Even though the ending might be somewhat disappointing, the rest of the movie is a great throwback to a bygone era of adventure films like Indiana Jones and Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy.
4. Mortal Kombat (1995) & Mortal Kombat (2021) – Good
Who doesn’t remember the iconic Mortal Kombat theme? Released during the boom in popularity of violent video games in the mid-90s, the Mortal Kombat film is pure, unadulterated campy fun. In fact, I think this might be my favourite video game-based movie of all time, just because it is so fun to watch.
The movie builds an entire narrative about the warriors of Earthrealm and their fights in the Mortal Kombat. Remember, this was before any of the Mortal Kombat games had any sort of story mode, so what Paul W.S. Anderson achieved with the plot of this film is nothing short of commendable.
The 2021 reboot is just as fun and definitely deserves a place on this list.
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3. Monster Hunter (2020) – Good
Also directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (like Resident Evil), starring Milla Jovovich (like Resident Evil) and also based on a Capcom franchise (just like Resident Evil), 2020’s Monster Hunter is the obvious next step in the Anderson cinematic universe. A loose interpretation of a game that’s never been famous for its gripping storylines, Monster Hunter is about a soldier from Earth that’s transported to a world where giant monsters live.
Monster Hunter is much less campy than the usual Resident Evil movie, though not by much. Milla Jovovich is great as ever, though.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020) – Good
2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog is the proof that, sometimes, fans know best. When the original Sonic design was revealed in the movie’s first trailer, fans were in an uproar over how awful it looked. Luckily, the producers heard the dissatisfaction caused by the original Sonic design and changed it into a form that’s more closely based on its video game counterpart.
The movie is a lightweight comedy that’s great for what it is. We’re getting a sequel pretty soon, this time introducing some fan-favourite characters: all done in the same style as the movie Sonic.
1. Werewolves Within (2021) – Good
With names like Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog adorning this list, it’s impressive to see that the best movie based on a video game of all time is actually Werewolves Within. Never heard of the game? Don’t worry: most people haven’t. The game is a VR exclusive that only works with a very limited selection of VR peripherals, so unless you have an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or a PlayStation VR, chances are that you have never played this game before.
The film is an excellent horror comedy set in a small town besieged by werewolves. Gory, intense, and undeniably fun, Werewolves Within is a great indie film that can be enjoyed by any horror fan out there, even if they don’t have a VR headset.
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The 10 Best Movies About Video Games
Video games as an industry is now almost as big as Hollywood, if not bigger in some markets. While some movie studios have focused their efforts on trying to bring popular games to the silver screen (often with mixed results,) there have been some iconic films that are about video games, not based on them.
That’s why on this list, we’ll take a look at the ten best movies about video games in general.
10. 8-Bit Christmas (2021)
A comical holiday story that centres around the Nintendo Entertainment System craze of the mid-80s, 8-Bit Christmas is all about the magic of the Christmas season, and the marketing powers of Nintendo. Starring Neil Patrick Harris as the present-day dad retelling the story of how he finally got an NES.
Although it’s not as immediately memorable or idyllic as Home Alone or some other Christmas classics, 8-Bit Christmas remains a great holiday film that perfectly captures the love for video games that has remained the same throughout generations.
9. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (2014)
Based on the popular internet show of the same name, the Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is a film that’s explicitly for fans of the YouTube celebrity. The plot has the titular Nerd going on a quest to find the legendary landfill where supposedly, millions of copies of E.T. The Extraterrestrial for the Atari 2600 were buried.
AVGN: The Movie is hard to recommend for someone who has never seen James Rolfe playing the character on YouTube. On the other hand, if you have even a passing interest in video game history, and the many urban legends that surround it, definitely give this one a watch. Be warned, though: the movie is nearly two hours long.
8. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
The classic Jumanji reinvented itself for a new generation with 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Gone are the dies and board games of the first movie, and in comes the video game nostalgia of the 90s. And also Dwayne Johnson; can’t make a modern action flick without The Rock.
Welcome to the Jungle is more action-centric than its prequel, which actually works surprisingly well in this context. The movie pays homage to tons of video game tropes and stereotypes, but never veers too much into the self-referential territory. Another great watch, even if you’re not that much into video games.
7. Pixels (2015)
When an army of aliens invades Earth, they take the form of 80s video games mascots to inspire terror upon the masses. Pixels is not a great film, maybe it’s not even a good one, but what it has is some of the more visually pleasing graphics in any Adam Sandler movie so far.
As is to be expected from Sandler, the comedy ranges from unfunny to plain stale. The short film that inspired this movie (also called Pixels) was much better in comparison, but you have to commend Sandler and Chris Columbus’ determination of turning a two-minute-long short film into a feature film.
6. The Wizard (1989)
1989’s The Wizard can be seen more as a feature-length ad for Nintendo rather than a movie. Infamous for its extensive use of product placement, and for introducing North America to Super Mario Bros. 3, The Wizard is about three kids that dream of travelling to California to compete in a video game competition.
As I said, The Wizard is mostly just an excuse for Nintendo to publicize some of its most recent products at the time, like the infamous Power Glove. However, there’s no denying that the movie is not without its charm, and has become somewhat of a cult classic because of it.
5. Ready Player One (2018)
Directed by Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One offers us a futuristic look into what the Facebook Metaverse could eventually become. Set in a world where virtual reality is so advanced people prefer living in it rather than the real world, the movie is a love letter to all things pop culture, with gaming being front and centre at all times.
The sheer amount of cameos by some of the most recognizable gaming icons in the industry is astounding. Though the movie was criticized for its somewhat predictable plot, the quality of the visuals and the music is something that only a filmmaker like Spielberg can achieve.
4. Tron (1982)
Released back when video games were still a novel concept, Tron is an often overlooked Disney classic with a unique visual identity that rivals what some of the best sci-fi movies were doing at the time. The film’s comprehension of what a video game is or what it can do is somewhat vague, but there’s an undeniable amount of charm and dedication put into any of the film’s epic set pieces.
The movie was considered a cult film for a time until it received a proper sequel in 2010 with Tron: Legacy. There are rumours of a third film being made, though not much has been said about the project.
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3. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
When it comes to Disney movies about video games, none of them is as good as 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. Not even its sequel managed to capture the essence of video gaming so perfectly as this movie did: it is a real celebration of arcade culture, and a nostalgia blast for all the people who grew during that era.
Starring John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of Ralph: a video game bad guy who’s actually pretty nice. In hopes of escaping from his duties as a villain, Ralph flees from his arcade cabinet and into other games, searching for a way to be seen as the good guy.
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2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World perfectly encapsulated the gamer subculture of the early 2010s. From comic book references to sitcom shows and video games, of course, Scott Pilgrim is all about the geeky things in life. The movie is a loose adaptation of the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, though it changes many things from the comics to make it work as a standalone film.
The hyper-energetic direction of Edgar Wright gives the movie a unique look and feel. It’s not timeless by any stretch of the imagination, but that slightly dated style might be one of the reasons why people love Scott Pilgrim so much. Definitely give this one a watch: you’ll be surprised by the exorbitant amount of video game easter eggs sprinkled throughout the flick.
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1. Free Guy (2021)
The most recent entry in our list might also be the best of them all. Starring Ryan Reynolds, Free Guy is the story of a video game NPC that suddenly becomes aware of the fact that his life is just a game. What happens when a computer program falls in love? You get either Her or Free Guy, and I think I like Free Guy just a bit more.
One of the great things about this film is that it doesn’t feature too many cameos by other real-world gaming franchises. Sure, there’s the odd Fortnite reference here and there, and the real-life Twitch streamers can be a bit cringy, but, in the end, Free Guy is a fun and exciting experience that’s sure to please any gaming fan.
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Tell us, what’s your favourite video game movie or movie about video games?