Video game movies haven't had a great time historically, and it makes sense—It's hard to conform the appeal of video games to a larger audience. Video games often already portray a deeply complex world, and its often difficult to adapt that to a two hour film.
On top of that, gamer fans are sometimes put off if even one thing changes, finding inconsistencies with every single changed plot point or character arc. And you have the new fans who know nothing of the world and just want to be entertained without getting too involved. It’s hard to find a compromise.
Filmmakers want to keep the game’s fan base but they have to attract new viewers as well, since the fan base is often too small to make the kinds of profits Hollywood demands. Still, there have been good video game movies here and there. The most recent ones have done wonders for the genre and we take a look at the best ones throughout the years.
1. Mortal Kombat (1995)
There were a few video game movies before Mortal Kombat came out in 1995, but it's one of the first to actually do well in the box office. While Mortal Kombat may not have aged very well, it's turned into somewhat of a cult classic over the years. The CGI was impressive for its time and the fight scenes were done well. The movie stayed faithful to the franchise and captured the essence of the characters, with the relationship of Liu Kang and his brother at the heart of the story. In the action-packed '90s, Mortal Kombat made the quintessential Kung Fu martial arts film and had high entertainment value.
2. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Even with the video game movies of the '90s, Tomb Raider really brought video games into the public eye in the 2000s. Angelina Jolie had an uncanny resemblance to Lara Croft, making her the perfect cast, and her appeal resonated across Tomb Raider fans and new viewers alike. The movie itself admittedly suffered from a weak plot and writing, but plot points aside, Jolie's performance as Lara was spot on. Tomb Raider may not be the pinnacle of filmmaking, but it made a decent action flick on its own. And we can't forget that it also introduced us to Daniel Craig.
3. Silent Hill (2006)
While the movie may have simplified the game's plot, it managed to retain the incredibly creepy atmosphere and ambiance of the game series. Silent Hill actually incorporated a mix of the three games into the movie, which may have left fans feeling a bit disconcerted plot-wise, but they nailed the fear and horror of the game. Some fans took exception with the story elements, such as the use of Pyramid Head as fan service that distracted from the story. Silent Hill stayed faithful to the game series as a whole, rather than the individual games themselves. All in all, it makes a very good horror film.
4. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Ok, so this is not technically a video game movie, but it so perfectly captures the essence and action of video games that I couldn't exclude it. The premise follows a futuristic version of our world, where aliens have invaded and the armies of Earth are desperately trying to keep them at bay. One soldier finds himself living the same day over and over, resetting back to a certain point every time he dies.
The entire time I was watching it, I marveled at how well it portrayed endless boss attempts: wiping early, starting over each time, finding the right strat, making a little progress with each attempt until finally one goes right. Which makes sense, the author of the original manga actually based the story off a player's recount of playing in a video game and trying to make progress while dying. Except he put a twist on it, making the story about the hero of the game being played over and over. Surprisingly this movie is not that well-known, since it suffered from mediocre marketing. If you haven't seen it I definitely recommend checking it out. It's even getting a sequel.
5. Warcraft (2016)
Warcraft is perhaps the best video game adaptation to date. There were moments where the pacing did feel off, but filmmakers had a lot of work in trying to flesh out the world for new viewers and still get to the main story. The story perfectly captured what Warcraft is about. As a fan, Duncan Jones did an amazing job. He was able to fit in small elements that only World of Warcraft fans would notice, keeping true to the game, but not enough to distract or confuse new viewers. There are plenty of easter eggs scattered throughout the film.
The magic was breathtakingly beautiful and the story was emotional and also humorous. The lore was understandably adjusted for film media, but a lot of the changes that were made actually simplify the story for the better and make me wish the game itself would adopt some of the changes. This is one of the rare video game movies I would feel comfortable showing my parents without having to worry about explaining it.
Honorable Mention: Assassin's Creed (2016)
We can’t judge this one yet, since it won’t be coming out until December, but the trailers so far look fantastic. The film takes a different approach to the lore issue: rather than retelling the story or trying to adapt parts to a movie, it simply creates a new story within the universe. It doesn’t interfere with the game lore itself but it sticks to the game universe and gives you the feel of the game on the big screen. Like Warcraft, it looks to be another successful video game adaptation, bringing video games mainstream. Hopefully it will do the same for video games that Marvel Comics Universe has done for comic books.