The longest cutscene
I'd say video game movies get a bad rap for being subpar cinema, but the honest truth is that video game movies are pretty goddamn awful most of the time. That reputation makes it hard to greet the incoming onslaught of video game movies with anything but lip-twisting apprehension, especially when its earliest releases are tripping at the starting block.
But, true as that may be, it doesn't do much good to wallow in misery. We can spend our time lamenting the most rotten of the game movie crop, or we can turn away from the worst and focus on game-based films that are worth signing into Netflix over. Yes, I choose to be optimistic and think about the best video game feature films, even the ones that only made it to DVD. They aren't perfect, and they may make proper film buffs scoff, but each has a special something that makes microwaving another bag of popcorn worthwhile.
10. DOA: Dead or Alive
DOA: Dead or Alive wasnt exactly set up for success. It was released straight-to-DVD in the United States, though it deserved a full theatrical release over some other video game adaptations (were looking at you, Dungeon Siege movie starring Jason Statham). The story's what you'd expect from a fighting game franchise: combatants from around the world are invited to participate in a secret martial arts tournament where things are not what they seem.
It's a weak premise to be sure, but DOA neither needs nor wants to be deep and affecting cinema. It's a pure popcorn flick from start to finish, with cheesy dialogue and exaggerated fight scenes that make for some stellar so-bad-it's-good comedy. Plus, the fact that allies can instantly become enemies if their names are drawn out of a figurative hat of death pumps some juice into an otherwise stale formula, and actually gives an explanation for why everyone in the DOA universe is constantly kicking the crap out of one another.
9. Max Payne
Max Payne is a movie that dreams of being Sin City when it grows up, from the neo-noir setting to its oppressive, shadowy visuals. You could say that much of that style comes from the Max Payne video games, but Max Payne the movie uses its roots as a segue rather than a foundation, turning it into a straight-up private-eye thriller.
Of course, losing the more game-centric aspects of Payne's vendetta means the film misses out on bullet-time physics and comic-inspired visuals, which is a big part of what made Max's exploits so good in the first place. The film's plot feels almost entirely removed from all but the basic parts of the Payne mythology, so there isn't much for fans here. Still, it latches onto the grittiness of Payne first and foremost, making it perfect if you're looking for a mystery marinating in dark action. If that's your jam, make sure to grab a copy of the Unrated edition, as things were toned down for theatrical release - the exact opposite of what Max Payne should be.
8. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
If youre dying for a movie that juxtaposes excellent fight choreography and flashy CG with Ben Kingsley sighing internally for 116 minutes, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time better be in your shopping cart of choice. A loose retelling of the first game, The Sands of Time is filled with great action sequences and expert use of special effects for the sands time-warping properties, both of which make up for its so-so storytelling.
The elephant in the room is that none of the actors for the main characters are Persian, and the whitewashed cast is definitely a distraction. Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton's performances are decent enough though, with Gyllenhaal in particular channeling the Prince's struggles from Warrior Within and The Two Thrones into a faithful portrayal. Don't go in expecting Shakespeare, but if you're craving impressive fight scenes and sand-related magic, this won't be a waste of time.
7. Resident Evil
The first in a series of films based on Capcom's seminal zombie franchise, Resident Evil is a fun horror flick that knows where to focus its energy. It doesnt follow the story of the games, which can be impenetrable for non-fans, and would've been diminished if it was simplified for mainstream audiences anyway. Instead, RE follows new protagonist Alice (played by the lovely Milla Jovovich) and a group of Umbrella Corporation soldiers as they work to contain the outbreak of the T-Virus.
Alices main opposition isnt the virus itself, but rather the AI with a doomsday protocol, using its automated systems to exterminate the virus by killing everyone inside. This tech makes for one of the best gore scenes in horror history, as characters are sliced and diced by malevolent machinery in a shower of gore. The plot gets squashed to make room for all that violence and action, and tends to drag when it does get attention. But if gratuitous gore and fantastic gunplay are all you care about, Alice is a worthwhile stand-in for RE's iconic, zombie-slaughtering protagonists.
6. Batman: Assault on Arkham
It's Suicide Squad with an Arkham twist, dressed up like Batman: The Animated Series - and all of those things turn out just as good as they sound. Taking place two years before Arkham Asylum, Assault on Arkham focuses on the dysfunctional adventures of the Rogue Gallery's pinch hitters as they're forced to break into Arkham on the orders of Amanda Walker. Like I said, it's Suicide Squad with a few different faces.
Even if you haven't played the games (or scored every Riddler trophy), Assault on Arkham can stand on its own, with the sort of impressive animation and framing that's characterized most of DC's animated features in recent years. That said, it's heavy on fan service and light on explanation, so if you walk into this one with no Batman knowledge you're going to come out very confused. But for a film aimed squarely at building another piece of the Batman mythos into the Arkham series, Assault on Arkham it gets the job done by any means necessary (which includes exploding heads).
5. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was right to put Lara's name first, because that's what the movie's really about: the spelunking heroine of video game legend, and everything else is secondary. Angelina Jolie is the perfect actress to fill Lara's combat boots, and her action hero chops have made her virtually inseparable from old-school Lara in the minds of many moviegoers. Tomb Raider is an action-packed popcorn flick through and through, with excellent choreography and magnificently ridiculous fight sequences; Jolie's performance is the hot, buttery magic on top.
That doesn't translate to Tomb Raider being a good movie - the story is bare-bones at best, and when the movie does attempt to foster an emotional core through Lara's feelings about her dead father, it's painful in all the wrong ways. But don't worry about that - Lara just sliced a robot open with its own blade arms and popped her party mix into its disc drive, and you don't want to miss another second.
4. Mortal Kombat
Before taking the helm on the Resident Evil movies, Paul W.S. Anderson directed Mortal Kombat, one of the first video game movies that managed to appeal to a mainstream audience while faithfully adhering to its source material. The film follows the saga started by the evil Shang Tsung and his plot to destroy Earthrealm (i.e. Earth); the exaggerated fight moves of Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Liu Kang are the only thing that can stop him. It's incredibly cheesy in proper early '90s fashion (with all the bad hair and leather to boot), but commits to the premise so sincerely that it's hard not to love.
The quirky nature of the film fits right in with the characters themselves, who are constantly cracking jokes and switching between increasingly ridiculous outfits. Its fight scenes are genuinely exciting, made even better by regular overacting, and both capture the spirit of Mortal Kombat even without the gut-churning Fatalities. While Hollywood tried to bottle lightning again in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, it lacked the goofy soul it needed to succeed. In a battle between the two, the original Mortal Kombat scores a flawless victory.
3. Bayonetta: Bloody Fate
Capturing the scale of Bayonetta's battles is hard to do on film, and Bayonetta: Bloody Fate never really gets there. Even though it's replete with explosive battles and outrageously campy action, the anime interpretation feels toned down in comparison to the game, with a lot of stylized close-ups and music that has nowhere near the peppiness of Fly Me to the Moon. But as different as Bloody Fate might feel from its source material, it's still a stellar standalone, and that's not half bad for a video game film.
Through gorgeous animation that uses its bold color scheme as a storytelling tool, Bloody Fate recounts a simplified version of Bayonetta's tale, which is easier to make sense of when it's actually explained. Unlike other game adaptations that demand a thorough understanding of the original game from the start, Bloody Fate is a workable stand-in for the original game. You won't have to know anything about the seductive witch ahead of time to get the jist of what's happening, letting you enjoy the gleeful carnage on its own, beautifully rendered merits. Now if only they'd give Bayonetta 2 the same treatment (no Wii U necessary).
2. Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children
Advent Children is the ultimate in fan service, and it's not sorry. The impatiently awaited sequel to Final Fantasy 7, Advent Children comes bearing a plot that you need a reference guide, some diagrams, and a ton of red string to properly understand. Yet its stellar cinematography makes much of its narrative incoherence forgivable, and once you actually sort out what's happening, it's the perfect story for those in need of an FF7 fix.
Here are the broad strokes: two years after the end of FF7, three Sephiroth clones show up and start all sorts of trouble, so the gang has to get back together to stop them (and help Cloud get over his re-emerging survivor's guilt over Aerith's death). That's about all the explanation the movie offers up, which leads to a lot of head-scratching moments when the characters' motivations don't stretch farther than the next fight scene. But man are those fight scenes amazing: varied and gorgeous enough to stay interesting despite their frequency, with bits of character development in between that'll leave any FF7's fan's heart a-pattering. Dress it up with full CG that still looks fantastic ten years later, and you've got a solid gift for the fans that doesn't need to make sense to be enjoyable.
1. Silent Hill
Striking a balance between loyalty to the source material, mass appeal, and good filmmaking is the biggest hurdle video game movies have to jump, and very few manage to keep one aspect from overwhelming the others. Silent Hill isn't perfect in that regard (its no stranger to cheap horror gimmicks and clichs, for instance), but it's gotten closer than any other game movie to date. It takes what made Silent Hill so terrifying in the first place and captures it on film, feeding off that same fear that made the game successful so many years before.
Reimagining the story of Silent Hill with a female lead named Rose, the Silent Hill movie pulls from the game's otherworldly horror for its visuals and iconography, incorporating series touchstones like the cultish Order, psychic child Alyssa Gillespie, and nightmarish monsters at every turn (including Pyramid Head in one of the movie's best scenes). Most importantly, it doesn't shy away from the grotesque imagery that makes Silent Hill so affecting, so you never get the sense that it's been sanitized for Hollywood. It even takes things a bit too far at the end, so get ready to cover your eyes.