Video game movies have an unfair reputation. Sure, they might not always stand shoulder-to-shoulder with comic book adaptations or films based on books, but they offer unique, entertaining, and often surprising takes on some of our favourite gaming franchises and stories.
The best video game movies even go beyond that – taking the essence of what we love about a certain series, be it from our childhood right up until today’s biggest names and games, and projecting it onto the big screen for all to see.
This is a celebration of those movies, all the way up to 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog. From the kitschy mid-‘90s so-bad-it’s-good retelling of Mortal Kombat, to Ratchet and Clank’s animated adventures, through to Resident Evil and Silent Hill’s very different takes on horrors, the best video game movies come in all shapes, sizes, and styles. What follows is 10 of the greatest video game movies, complete with a brief rundown on why you should revisit them or watch them for the very first time.
10. Ratchet and Clank
Despite only being released in 2016, it seems time has forgotten Ratchet and Clank’s movie debut. Yes, it made a loss and, yes, it’s packed with weird casting choices (Sly Stallone appearing in a Ratchet and Clank movie is a sentence I thought I’d never have to type) but it’s actually not that bad once the retooled origin story is let to stand on its own two feet.
It may lack the charm and humour of the PlayStation platformers and it’s definitely not Pixar-level when it comes to the animation, but it’ll kill 90 minutes. As much of a backhanded compliment that sounds, it’s really not: Ratchet and Clank is an energetic family-friendly movie that delivers on bringing the unique pairing of a Lombax and a robot to the big screen – and makes it fun. Imagine that.
9. Silent Hill
Sure, it’s needlessly clunky in places but it certainly bring the chills. In hindsight, Silent Hill was a perfect fit to cut through the thicket of below-average video game movies that seemed to come out every few months in the mid-‘00s. Packed with a decent cast (including a rare sight: Sean Bean surviving!) and more than its fair share of scares, Silent Hill may not stack up to its horror peers but, for a video game effort, it’s more than good enough. Bonus points for including Pyramid Head; just as terrifying (perhaps more so) than its video game counterpart and a sight that will be sure to have you hiding behind the sofa long after the credits roll.
8. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within shouldn’t work. Boasting Hollywood actors that, normally, would just be there to pick up a paycheque, a look that leans too heavily on then-new technology, and focusing a brand-new story in a beloved franchise, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within takes all of that and somehow squeezes it into one of the best video game movies to date. It may look a little sterile now but, at the time, The Spirits Within was a genuine marvel, with a fittingly bananas Final Fantasy plot for good measure.
In many senses, then, it pays due respect to its source while leaping forward in ways that video game movies of the past (and future, let it be said) were only too keen to remain stagnant in. If nothing else, let this risk-taking serve as a lesson: The Spirits Within should be the definitive template for how to make a very solid video game movie: be different and always be daring.
7. Mortal Kombat
Not all video game movies have to be good to be worthy of a place on this list. Perhaps the best example of this is Mortal Kombat, a cheesy retelling of the events of the original game that is heavy on the action and goes all-in on the groan-inducing lines that are still memes a quarter of a century later.
For better or worse, though, it sticks to the source material throughout. That means larger-than-life characters, overblown rivalries, and some sickening fatalities. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a man’s skin melted away and their skull chopped in two, let me tell you. If you’ve got friends over and have had a few drinks, you won’t find a much better way to kill 90 minutes than with the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie.
World of Warcraft was just ripe for being picked up by Hollywood. Being brushed aside as Lord of the Rings-lite, Blizzard’s jewel in the crown is packed with lore in abundance and it’s all guided under the steady hand of indie darling Duncan Jones. It’s not only the best-performing video game adaptation of all-time (as of writing) grossing $433m, it chooses to give the world of Warcraft (heh) a pedestal to stand on – and it is beautiful.
The film does fall down by over-egging the pudding under the creaking weight of its ensemble but it’s still an outlier in the video game movie world: a movie that isn’t scared to take a chance, chuck a massive budget at an acclaimed director and just letting him run riot with the world. More of that, please.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog
The early signs for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie didn't look good. Fans reacted badly to initial designs for the blue blur, so much so that the filmmakers went back to the digital drawing board. When the movie was finally released this year, it won over audiences with Ben Schwartz's enthusiastic voice-over work and Jim Carrey hamming it up as Dr. Robotnik. The movie follows Sonic and a Montana sheriff as they try to evade Robotnik and track down Sonic's iconic rings. Sequels are already planned.
4. Resident Evil
Resident Evil has so many movies (six by our count) that it’s hard to pin a single one down to present a dead cert for this list. They range from the shambling effort that is Afterlife to, this, the original and (probably) the best. It’s streamlined and only pokes around at the edges of Resi’s sprawling lore, and with good reason: the emphasis is on the action. That may grate with some but, back in 2002, a slow-burn experience through a mansion just wouldn’t have turned out as kinetic and overly entertaining as this first effort – and it still holds up well today.
Milla Jovovich is exceptional in her role as Alice (and, honestly, doesn’t get enough credit) and the set-pieces come thick and fast. It’s also notable in that it looks to set-up sequels and sprawling universes long because Iron Man heard about the Avengers Initiative. Well worth a re-watch.
3. Assassin's Creed
Assassin’s Creed felt like the moment video game movies stepped into the spotlight for the very first time. Where others were dismissed as oddities or only for a certain audience, Assassin’s Creed attempted to put that all to bed with a compelling take on the eternal struggle between the Creed and the Templar Order.
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Michael K. Williams, Assassin’s Creed is a movie that doesn’t lack for stars. It gives the movie a real legitimacy and it is flanked by an impressive-looking Animus adventure in 15th Century Spain and a parkour-heavy style that pays homage to the series without – as some movies do – going too far on the fan-service. It may have disappointed some fans and filmgoers but give it another go. It soars higher than you might think.
2. Tomb Raider (2018)
Following in the footsteps (and ice pick) of the 2013 rebooted game, Tomb Raider returns to the big-screen by giving us a newly-vulnerable Lara and a movie that – while it doesn’t quite break out into an all-time great action flick – is a welcome homage to one of the finer games of its generation.
While the movie riffs on rather than directly pulls from the games, Alicia Vikander gives us a Lara that is bursting with life and, interestingly, a character who appears more at home in London than raiding the tombs of a lost kingdom. Tomb Raider certainly marks a watershed moment for video game movies: no longer content with being kept to the shadows, this is a forceful entry filled with star talent that might open up the door for even more video game treasures down the line, particularly in the forthcoming Ben Wheatley-directed sequel.
1. Detective Pikachu
Here it is: the best video game movie: The minute we found out Ryan Reynolds – Deadpool himself – would be voicing the fuzzy little yellow guy, we knew Detective Pikachu would do justice to the Pokemon brand. The movie focuses on 21-year-old Tim Goodman, who just wants to find his missing private investigator dad Henry and teams up with Pikachu in the process. Cue lots of CGI, lots of sentimental stuff about family, and – most importantly – enough jokes to tickle a Snorlax.
Goosebumps director Rob Letterman is in charge of an eclectic cast that includes pop singer Rita Ora, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe, and the DJ Diplo, but it's the love and care given to the Pokemon world-at-large that stands out most.