Whether it’s because videogame publishers are becoming more risk-averse than ever, movie studios discovering how terrible their track records have been, or the medium simply coming into its own, the movie-videogame adaptation is becoming more and more of a dying breed. That’s a bit of a shame, since there are many action stars that deserve better.
It’s not for a lack of opportunity in the past, though. With the last 30 years providing plenty of action flicks that translated poorly to gaming, most of the following actors have had their face or voice tied to some truly subpar efforts. Barring any of these men becoming as game-savvy as Vin Diesel and taking the reins on a title of their own, we can only hope they don’t work together to create a modern-day disasterpiece.
Best Effort: Jet Li was front and center in the Sony-developed Rise To Honor, which earned decent reviews upon release, though its analog-stick-only hand-to-hand combat controls failed to catch on amongst other developers.
Worst Outing: It should go without saying that The Expendables 2 Videogame sullied the reputation of many an action star, but we have to call out that Li’s Yin Yang is far and away the worst-playing character in the year’s worst movie game. You won’t want to bring his knives to the game’s awful gunfights.
Missed Opportunity: 2002’s Hero may have been a foreign film, but the high-quality combat would have been a natural fit for a video game. Heck, Li’s character’s signature attack, “Death at Ten Paces,” could kill enemies from afar, making it the perfect way to avoid testing for collision detection.
6. Jean Claude Van Damme
Best Effort: Universal Soldier was probably the most warmly-received of his few forays into the medium. However, the side-scrolling shooter owes none of its success to being a movie license. Publisher Accolade simply reskinned Turrican II and changed the bland story about mutant soldiers into a bland story about unfrozen futuristic soldiers.
Worst Outing: Unfortunately, JVCD did put up his Dux for Street Fighter: The Movie. Despite achieving unprecedented success in developing 2D fighters of the hand-drawn persuasion, Capcom felt the need to create a brawler filled with awkwardly-animated digitized representations of the universally-panned movie’s cast, with history’s most boring and inaccurate representation of Guile handled by JCVD.
Missed Opportunity: While many of JCVD’s film projects seemed ripe for a game adaptation, the action star’s biggest gaffe was passing on being the central character of what would become Mortal Kombat, in lieu of a collaboration with Sega on a game that never materialized.
5. Bruce Willis
Best Effort: Die Hard Trilogy was an adequate game based on Bruce Willis’ most popular work, but it’s only technically a Bruce Willis game in that the developers were able to use super-compressed audio clips from the movies.
Missed Opportunity: Willis was more involved with the Neversoft-developed Apocalypse, though that game had its share of tumult. Bruno was originally supposed to be a sidekick to the main character (since, you know, that’s a role he plays in movies all the time), but was eventually changed to the main character. The game didn’t turn out all that well, but the engine was put to good use in a little game called Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, so we can sort of consider THPS to be a Bruce Willis game.
4. Jason Statham
Best Effort: Even with the downturn of movie tie-ins in recent years, we’re still flummoxed that so few of Jason Statham’s action flicks have become a videogame, since the chap seems to have a new movie debuting every three months. He has lent his vocal talents to some pretty good first-person shooters; namely Red Faction II and the original Call of Duty.
Worst Outing: As the wheelman in the tepid 2003 update of The Italian Job, Statham has to shoulder a large part of the blame for the similarly dull videogame adaptation published by Eidos.
Missed Opportunity: Seriously, there isn’t a game based on The Transporter. But for as horrid as that is, the biggest missed opportunity of Statham’s oeuvre has to be the Crank series. Between the constant action and the many videogame-themed visual effects incorporated in the movies, Chev Chelios’ story of a man seeking constant action seemed like perfect fodder for a videogame adaptation.
3. Sylvester Stallone
Best Effort: There was a pair of Rocky games that came out in the early 2000s for some reason. Even stranger is the fact that both games were actually somewhat fun, even if the first of the two had some pretty insane glitches.
Worst Outing: Rounding out Sony Imagesoft’s trilogy of errors (which includes list-mates Hudson Hawk and Last Action Hero), Cliffhanger may not be tied to an absolute bomb of a movie, but the frustratingly-difficult game was every bit as bad as you’d expect from SI’s pedigree.
Missed Opportunity: 2008’s Rambo had a five-minute scene in which Stallone’s character liquefies dozens of Burmese soldiers with a truck-mounted machine gun. The only thing cooler than watching it would have been playing it.
2. Chuck Norris
Best Effort: In the wake of his resurging, meme-fueled popularity, Gameloft published Chuck Norris: Bring on the Pain. Despite the awkward subtitle, the game itself was, by most accounts, not completely terrible.
Worst Outing: In 1983’s Chuck Norris Superkicks, players could take the role of a splotch of white pixels apparently made to resemble the internet’s favorite action star. Even if it wasn’t based on a particular movie, it does deserve recognition as one of the first failed action-star videogame vehicles.
Missed Opportunity: Even though Norris’ Delta Force series could have been competent NES shooters during the late '80s, we’d love to have seen somebody try to tackle 1992’s Sidekicks, in which Jonathan Brandis is inspired to beat people up due to his Chuck Norris fandom.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Best Effort: Despite the fact that it missed a perfectly good opportunity to give Tom Arnold his playable debut, True Lies turned out to be an entertaining top-down shooter akin to Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Worst Outing: Last Action Hero was every bit as bad as the movie. Without the film’s ability to trade on camp value, it’s rightfully found its place amongst the worst 16-bit movie games. When Bebe’s Kids and Wayne’s World have you in their rear view mirrors, you’ve truly attained mediocrity.
Missed Opportunity: 1987’s The Running Man saw release on a smattering of lesser-known '80s consoles, but both the NES and Sega Master System were overlooked. It’s a bit of a shame, actually, as the movie is essentially a series of boss battles. Also, the fact that there hasn’t been a great Terminator game is deplorable.
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Action stars are huge personalities, and seeing them all wasted on "traditional" media seems like a series of missed opportunities. Maybe one day, more action stars will push to be game stars--but until then, we expect to see more awful movie tie-ins and flops.
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