6 movies that look and feel exactly like video games (but aren't actually based on games)

6. Total Recall (remake)

The vacuous 2012 remake of Paul Verhoeven and Arnie’s masterpiece of existentialism and explosive gore plays out less like a real film, more like the video game adaptation of a film. It adopts the worst, most narratively reductive elements of video games and boils down its story into several piles of CG goop strung together with only the vaguest impression of a plotline. Total Recall 2012, you see, seems to miss the awkward truth that games only get away with crap storytelling structure because they have the interactive element as a distraction.

The gorgeously grimy production design creates an enticing, lived-in world (despite a jarring obsession with desaturated colours more overbearing than that of current-gen gaming). But like the backdrop of most action games, it’s there as scenery alone. Where the original film’s world was fleshed out and explored, the remake’s version, although superficially less cartoonish, exists only as a background for Colin Farrell to be chased through. The world and its supposed narrative texture exist only to facilitate action scenes. And even within the context of the action movie genre at large, Total Recall 2012 is utterly transparent with it.

It’s a problem exacerbated by the fact that the film is so functionally segmented into themed sections, in exactly the same way a licensed video game would turn the stand-out settings and set-pieces of a movie into novelty game mechanics for individual levels. There’s the shooting and chasing stuff of course, which makes up most of the film’s running time. But then, just like the ‘80s Ocean movie adaptations of old, there’s the token driving bit, the token sneaking bit, and even a platforming section shoehorned in for reasons I still can’t explain in terms of either plot or situation.

And of course, none of it ultimately matters, because in the end the whole thing boils down to a boss fight. Hordes of increasingly tough enemy lackeys dispatched, days of existential crisis dealt with, every issue in the entire film’s (admittedly barely detectable) plot is resolved by way of a one-on-one fist fight with Bryan Cranston amidst a tower top setting that wouldn’t look out of place as a Tekken arena. Though obviously not before the obligatory mini-boss battle with a troublesome robot.

And much like most climactic video game showdowns it’s a case of a hopelessly outgunned hero winning despite utterly implausible odds. Because let’s face it, Bryan Cranston would kick the crap out of Colin Farrell in real life.

Oh, and did I mention that every single shot is obscured halfway off the screen by artificial lens flare? Yeah, every single shot is obscured halfway off the screen by artificial lens flare. Syndicate has a lot to answer for.

So there are six of most gamey non-game films around. But are there any more? Have you spotted any of gaming's influence start to creep into any other not-officially-game-based movies over recent years? Let us know. And while we're on the subject, why not learn why the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie is the greatest and most accurate game adaptation ever, and check out what we want from the (hopefully inevitable) sequel to Wreck-It Ralph.


film movies


  • LEGOMatrix - November 17, 2012 8:09 p.m.

    OMFG, it's Chev! Chev Chelios! As in "F**k you Chev Chelios" repeated multiple times throughout both films! -10 man points, Hooters! Death Race 2000 was Carmageddon before Carmageddon. Run Lola Run is like replaying levels differently each time. Shaolin Soccer. Just... Shaolin Soccer.
  • OICJC - November 17, 2012 11:09 a.m.

    Nintendo365 got it right, but the article gets it wrong; the character in Crank is named Chev, not Chet.
  • n00b - November 14, 2012 6:13 p.m.

    why you game journalist always get up tight about skimpy outfits? I think the outfits in sucker punch look cool and fit well the visual style and universe.
  • Apastron - November 14, 2012 2:34 p.m.

    Cloverfield is my favourite movie, a lot of that due to the first-person view which seduced me the same way Half-Life 2 did. District 9 and Battle Los Angeles were recommended to me off the back of this; the former was the worst movie I have ever seen, the latter wasn't a lot better. I think there's a movie called Super8 which is apparently quite game-like too. Don't know if I dare watch it having been burnt twice by this similarity.
  • winner2 - November 14, 2012 6:13 a.m.

    Sucker Punch was freakin' awesome. Especially that soundtrack, holy shit.
  • wheresmymonkey - November 14, 2012 1:36 a.m.

    Good list. I would of Added Dredd, Old Boy and The Raid to the list.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - November 14, 2012 9:06 a.m.

    Old Boy very nearly made it, just for that side-scrolling sequence.
  • Peguin - November 13, 2012 8:34 p.m.

    That article was a long time coming (i remember you discussing it on a podcast way back) but a very enjoyable read. Good work
  • FuzzyDeath - November 13, 2012 3:37 p.m.

    When I first saw the trailer for Sucker Punch, I was ZOMG! Went to watch it in the cinema, and I wanted to walk out after thirty minutes of bullshit. -_- Movie sucked so bad. I hated it.
  • alex-roy-bristol - November 13, 2012 3:51 p.m.

    Dude, that movie was literally one of the best thinking movies I have ever seen, or even HEARD of... Where you just going to see boobies?
  • christoffer-karlof - November 13, 2012 12:03 p.m.

    Children of men, very much inspired by half life 2, and the whole movie is basically about level progression. Also one of the best damn movies in a decade
  • nintendo365 - November 13, 2012 11:46 a.m.

    Crank was unexpected, but PERFECT. It is exactly like a GTA/Saints Row Crossover. And plus Chev Chelios is a Niko Bellic looking mofo.
  • RedHarlow - November 13, 2012 11:21 a.m.

    I loved the girls and the Steampunk World War I scene in Sucker Punch. I could do without everything else.
  • Fuzunga - November 13, 2012 10:53 a.m.

    Speed Racer, man. All I could think when watching that movie was "I want to play this".
  • BladeBlur - November 13, 2012 11:54 a.m.

    Words. Of. Truth.
  • GR_DavidHoughton - November 13, 2012 10:36 a.m.

    Re: Scott Pilgrim, Tron, Gamer etc. They were deliberately left off because they referece gaming too explicitly, or are directly built around it as a plot point. The point of this list is to discuss films that are just influenced by the aesthetic or structure of games without games being their primary theme or subject matter. Same reason things like Wreck-It Ralph and The Last Starfighter aren't applicable.
  • cgriff63 - November 13, 2012 10:21 a.m.

    Not sure why scott pilgrim didn't make it on the list..
  • christopher-renfrow - November 13, 2012 10:10 a.m.

    Er... not sure about this but how about Tron? Especially Tron Legacy...
  • Exiled Reaper - November 13, 2012 9:49 a.m.

    Loved Sucker Punch, all the action was brilliant despite the semi-rubbish plot. Surprised not to see a couple others on here, like Terminator or Cameron's Avatar. Also very, very surprised not to see the 2009 movie Gamer on here. A good article overall though!
  • b-dog1991 - November 13, 2012 7:50 a.m.

    I'll chime in with the obligatory Scott Pilgrim mention, although to be fair, the film takes its cues more from the source material rather than videogames themselves. Still, a lot of shots in that film are framed in the side-on Street Fighter stance and it's story structure couldn't be more gamey if it tried.

Showing 1-20 of 26 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000