Video game movies. Yes, it’s a shame that when I string those three words together, you probably groan and roll your eyes. But honestly, they’re not all bad! In fact, some of them are pretty good. Detective Pikachu, for one, proved that with a straightforward enough plot line, a video game movie could churn out cinematic gold. And with the recent Sonic The Hedgehog movie coming very soon, we thought it would be fun to rank the best video game movies ever made.
Now, you may disagree with some of these picks because they're not “video gamey” enough. Or maybe, they’re TOO video gamey. But either way, these movies are a testament that a movie based off of a video game can at least be entertaining. And isn’t that what we go to the movies for in the first place? To be entertained? Here are 10 video game movies that are honestly pretty damn good.
10. Lara Croft :Tomb Raider (2001)
Yes, I’m aware that there was a recent Tomb Raider movie that may be even more faithful to the current games in the series, which one could argue are better than the older games. But I’m sorry, Alicia Vikander is no Angelina Jolie, and Angelina Jolie IS Lara Croft. It’s even right there in the title. See? Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Tomb Raider, at the height of its popularity, was a ridiculous game, having you scrounge through tombs and even fight dinosaurs. And the first film version of Lara Croft’s adventures is just as ridiculous. Hell, the first time we see Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, she's fighting a robot! What's not to love?
The plot of the film is silly as it deals with the Illuminati and planetary alignment, but it feels like something right out of a video game, which for the time—and even now—makes for a really fun romp. Plus, it has Angelina Jolie’s real dad, Jon Voight, playing her father in the film. It’s a fun time, and definitely better than its sequel, The Cradle of Life, which sucked.
9. Rampage (2018)
If we’re talking Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson movies, then Rampage is one of the best. It just also happens to be a video game movie, which is a plus. One would think that you couldn’t make a paper-thin plot about a lizard, a werewolf, and a gorilla destroying cities into a movie, but then, you'd be wrong.
A lot of times with video game movies, the plot feels contrived and only has certain elements of the video games that they're based off of, like costumes and special moves. But Rampage fully embraces being a big, stupid monster movie first, and a video game movie second, which is why it works. The story is great because it’s so minimal. A canister drops from outer space and sprays animals in the face that makes them grow really big. Calamity ensues. It also doesn’t hurt that the final battle is everything you could ever want from a monster showdown. Rampage is what I wanted the last two American Godzilla movies to be like, and I'm not even joking when I say that. Rampage is a movie that really lets the monsters fight.
8. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
There are six Resident Evil movies. Six! And they all mostly suck. Except for Resident Evil: Extinction, which is number 3 in the zombie series of films. When the first two Resident Evil movies came out in 2002 and 2004, respectively, they were nothing like the games, since the films were action-heavy spectacles and the games relied more on survival horror. But that all changed when the game, Resident Evil 4 came out in 2005, which switched the style of gameplay to be more action-oriented. And when Resident Evil: Extinction arrived in theaters in 2007, it all just seemed to click. The action didn’t seem so out of place anymore in the Resident Evil universe. It actually worked now.
It also doesn’t hurt that most of the movie is just a rip-off of Mad Max, either. There’s a story about clones and Alice having telekinetic powers that's fun enough to work, but the real star this time is the action, which actually looks much better than it did in the previous film, Apocalypse. The three movies after this one went more and more into B-movie territory, but this one is still wholly enjoyable. Out of all the Resident Evil movies, this is the only one that I can watch over and over again.
7. The Angry Birds Movie 2 (2019)
The highest ranked video game movie of all time according to Rotten Tomatoes (No, seriously), I wouldn’t go so far as to call The Angry Birds Movie 2 the greatest video game flick ever, but I would say that if you see it with your kids, you won’t totally want to blow your brains out.
What makes the second movie better than the first is that the pigs and the birds actually come together in this one, which brings about some pretty good humor at times. And it’s also a spy caper to a certain extent, so it’s at the very least engaging. I also really like Eagle’s love story since it’s sweet. Overall, you can kind of forget that it’s based off of a cell phone game and just have a good time with it. And while that might not seem like the most ringing endorsement, for a kids movie that’s not made by Pixar, Disney, or Dreamworks, that’s saying quite a bit.
6. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
There are people who will say that the very first video game movie ever super sucks, but those people are super wrong since Super Mario Bros. is super awesome! (Okay. I’ll stop with saying “super” now). At the time, you could make the argument that the movie was awful since it had very little to do with the most popular video game series of all time. But looking back, it’s incredibly bold, mimicking Blade Runner more than Mario Bros.
What makes the Mario Bros. movie so interesting though is that it actually does make sense when put into the universe of Super Mario. After Super Mario World, which introduced Yoshi the dinosaur, pretty much anything was possible, and this movie made the best of what it had to work with. Seriously, if the last time you saw this movie was in 1993 when it initially came out, then watch it again. It’s nowhere near as bad as you remember it, and it's actually pretty good for a video game movie. At least they tried to be unique.
5. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Let’s be clear. Mortal Kombat looks super 90s. Maybe even more 90s than Super Mario Bros., which came out two years prior. But Mortal Kombat was probably the greatest video game movie ever for awhile when it originally came out. It’s definitely one of those “you had to be there” kind of movies to fully appreciate it, though. Thankfully, there’s a new Mortal Kombat movie coming out soon, so this doesn’t necessarily have to be the greatest MK movie ever (And no, Mortal Kombat Annihilation never happened. What’s that?)
The best part about the movie though was that it so faithfully replicated the feeling of the game. Goro was menacing, Raiden was awesome, and that scene with Scorpion and Johnny Cage in the forest gave me goosebumps as a kid. It would be higher on this list, but I can’t in good faith call it a good movie if you weren’t a child in the 90s and Mortal Kombat wasn’t your life growing up.
4. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
While yes, the whitewashing in the Prince of “Persia” movie is pretty bad (even its star, Jake Gyllenhaal seems to agree) the movie itself is pretty good! Based off of the later trilogy of the Prince of Persia series, the movie adaptation had enough parkour action and magical mysticism to set it apart from all other video game movies at the time.
And being that this is a Disney picture, it has all the family-friendly excitement that you’d tend to see in their brand of live-action films. I mean, it’s way better than The Lone Ranger, that’s for sure. Ben Kingsley hams it up, and the Hassansins are one part silly, and two parts badass. It’s the kind of video game movie that is fun enough to fit in as a double feature to National Treasure, and National Treasure is awesome. And so is this movie.
3. Silent Hill (2006)
Unlike the Resident Evil movies which went full on action from the very beginning, the first Silent Hill movie stayed true to its psychological horror roots and is actually full on scary. Though it didn’t do well critically, most Silent Hill fans will agree that the first movie actually nailed the overall atmosphere and creepiness of the series. It helps that it has Pyramid Head, who is probably one of the scariest entities in horror video game history.
And this movie fully embraces its R-rating. One of the most gruesome and graphic moments of the whole picture is when Pyramid Head rips the skin off of a woman, and then throws her flesh right against a door. The video games are horrifying enough, but that first Silent Hill movie fully captures the vibe of the town itself. And it makes for not just a great video game movie, but a great horror movie in general. Just don’t watch the sequel. That movie is a mess.
2. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
There are many who will say that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a crappy movie because it’s nothing like the games. But I actually appreciate The Spirits Within BECAUSE it’s nothing like the games. And besides, any true FF fan will tell you that while there are certain key elements that usually travel from game to game, like airships and chocobos, all of the games are separate narratives entirely. I also really dig the whole aesthetic and tone of The Spirits Within. It plays more like one of the game's cutscenes, but greatly extended, which is fine by me.
Visually stunning at the time, the film actually needs to be watched a couple of times to make sense of the spirits and the barrier cities since it doesn’t make everything entirely clear. And the pacing is slow and deliberate. So while Conan mocked it, critics like Roger Ebert loved it. It was a box office bomb, but it’s one of the few video game movies that genuinely took itself seriously without winking at the audience, and for that, it should be praised.
1. Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)
There is no better video game movie than Detective Pikachu, mostly because it’s the closest to what a video game movie should try to be. First of all, it does CG animation right, and the Pokemon look like they really belong in the world that the movie is presenting. Secondly, the fights were done right and anybody who’s actually played a Pokemon game was impressed that they managed to enhance the feeling of the battles that always played like Rock, Paper, Scissors in the games.
But most importantly, Detective Pikachu is the most complete and fully realized vision of a video game taken to the big screen. Plus, with its simple (some might say "predictable" detective story) it was enjoyable enough for people who never even played a Pokemon game to enjoy, but also infinitely more enjoyable if you have played the series over the years. Like Prince of Persia, Silent Hill, and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Detective Pikachu is a good movie first, and a video game movie second. And that’s what all video game movies should aspire to be in the long run. Genuinely good films.
Time will tell if Sonic the Hedgehog is going to be more Detective Pikachu than Alone in the Dark, but here’s hoping that they can take the blue blur and make something special out of him. They’ve already fixed his look. Now, we just need a good movie to go along with it.
Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.