Think you can top me?
With the release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of
Time into multiplexes across the country, it’s probably as good a time as any to
take a nuanced look at the history of the videogame-to-movie adaptation.
It’s not really that admirable a collection, as even the most generous Top Ten
listing of the genre is usually cluttered with sympathy inclusions for lack of
competition, with titles like Double Dragon (1994) and DOA: Dead or Alive (2007)
are best left forgotten. While many have been high-profile litmus tests to
help Hollywood gage the market, such as Capcom’s Street Fighter (1994) and
Hitman (2007), most seem perfectly comfortable to muddle in their own
mediocrity, as many often the same actors, directors, and other sub-level
I’m always amazed to hear film critics bemoan the
genre as a worthless endeavor, as though it’s simply impossible for a good movie
based on a videogame to even exist. Among their chief complaints are the
relatively shallow plots of most games, derivative use of stereotypes, and
constant pinching from other sources for inspiration. But those complaints
could also describe just about any Hollywood blockbuster, and there was a time
when the same things were being said about the ‘futile’ effort to translate the
world of comic books to film, and thanks to proper works like X-Men, Spiderman,
and The Dark Knight, they’ve become all the rage.
If Prince of Persia is to become the one to buck
the trend and finally convince Hollywood to green-light each and every game
license in the known universe, so be it. But whatever movie that comes
down the line won’t coast on its name alone, as the following list demonstrates,
and most will succeed or fail on their own merits. Like any good movie a
good story, solid acting, and fun adventure will go a long way to making the
whole thing tolerable, and possibly transcend into “legendary” status. Get
the right people and put them in the right places and watch the magic happen,
just as with any other movie production. To help spread the love, I’ve
detailed what I feel are the best game-to-movie adaptations (so far), and for
more fun have included both honorable/dishonorable mentions to flesh things out.
Special Note: I’ve purposely excluded most
animated features from the list, as most were produced for home video and/or
foreign box-office consumption. So don’t worry if you don’t see favorites
like Street Fighter: The Animated Movie (1994) or others like it included.
I’ve got more respect for the animated form than you could possibly imagine, but
I’ve limited the examples to big-budget productions that aired in North America.
Videogame-to-Movie Adapations (So Far)
Pokemon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back (1999)
In full disclosure mode I’ll admit that I’m as
hardcore a game fan as you can get, but this is one series that I’ve never been
able to get into. Still, one of my fondest memories is taking my
kid-sister to see this opening day, and she was simply entranced by the
spectacle of it all. While much of the plot was foreign to me, there’s no
denying the thrill of seeing Nintendo’s big, juicy red logo plastered just
before the opening credits. In a flash, the travesty that was the
live-action Super Mario Bros. was gone in a puffy cloud of Pikachu-colored
smoke. The first movie was a huge box-office smash, breaking (then)
records for an animated film opening and helping introduce millions of kids to
the joys of anime on the big-screen.
There would be several more Pokemon animated movies
to follow, but none of these would have quite the immediate success or
excitement of the first, and most were OAV (original animation video) fare.
The Pokemon game franchise, incredibly, has only become more popular since, and
regularly continues to sell millions of copies with each new and re-release that
Nintendo puts on retail shelves.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Paul S.W. Anderson’s first (of several)
game-to-movie adaptations was also the first true blockbuster of the genre, as
his take on the world’s most popular fighting game that wasn’t Street Fighter
was able to achieve something that Capcom’s World Warriors couldn’t – celluloid
success. Featuring wild fights and costume-appropriate approximations of
their videogame inspirations, the first Mortal Kombat movie was exactly what
fans expected, and nothing more. Cheesy to a fault, this PG-13 version of
one of the most violent and controversial videogames ever made was a great mix
of Enter the Dragon meets straight-to-video cheese, and yet somehow it all
Heck, even a little race-bending with main
characters like Christopher Lambert as Raiden was tolerable, and the movie even
positioned Robin Shou as the next major action star (before he became stuck in
his own game-to-movie adaptation hell). But even low-rate effects and
horrendous acting couldn’t keep this one down, and the famous theme song “Techno
Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)” by The Immortals can still get the dance floor jumping
to this day.
It’s tragic that one of the very best
game-to-movies was followed by one of the worst, as Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
not only helped kill the movie franchise, but the very game it was based on.
The series never really covered after that sad tragedy, and despite some
well-intentioned efforts to revive interest, its fate remains unknown.
Silent Hill (2006)
Directed by Christopher Gans, who also helmed the
amazing Brotherhood of the Wolf, the Silent Hill movie is considered one of the
most faithful and respected of all game-to-movie adaptations yet, as it
generally follows the original games uncomfortable look and feel right down to
the last demonic finger. Gans was insistent that his crew become familiar
with the series unique camera styles and thematic elements before diving in, and
music fans will delight in hearing some familiar themes sprinkled in there for
good measure. Screenwriter Richard Avary (Reservoir Dogs/Pulp Fiction)
helped make his macabre world even more believable, and a good cast, led by
Radha Mitchell (Nip/Tuck) and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings) didn’t hurt.
The film was a box-office success and did even
better on DVD, and there’s been talk of future sequels ever since. Whether
this means it’ll follow fellow game-to-movie series Resident Evil to sequel
heaven remains to be seen, but thanks to Konami’s renewed interest in keeping
the videogame franchise alive, I’d say the chances are good that we’ll get
another sojourn to the (digital) world’s creepiest town.
Resident Evil (Series) (2002 – Present)
For a series that only shares the thinnest of ties
to its original inspiration, the Resident Evil movie series has been remarkably
consistent in delivering the post-apocalyptic zombie goods. In true horror
movie fashion at the center of all the madness is the ultra-hot Milla Jovovich
as Alice, who surprisingly became the unlikely successor to Linda Hamilton’s
bad-ass Sarah Connor. And with another film on the (Event) horizon, it
doesn’t look like she’s ready to put down the explosives anytime soon.
While director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson may be
chided by the nerdiest of critics, he’s miles ahead of his closest game-to-movie
competitions, the disastrous Uwe Boll, and at least seems to show some respect
for the source material he’s adapting. Plus, he’s married to Milla, which
doesn’t hurt in keeping his famous star from moving onto other things.
It’s somewhat ironic that while some have criticized the series for straying too
far from the game’s horror/zombie motif and essentially became an action-fest,
so have more recent Resident Evil games. Since when do zombies ride
motorcycles and wield rocket launchers, anyway?
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (Series) (2001 – 2003)
Helmed by two of the most consistent action
directors in the business, Simon West (Con Air) and Jan de Bont (Twister), the
Tomb Raider series isn’t just one of the most high-profile adaptations of a
videogame series, it’s almost the most popular (and profitable), having grossed
nearly $500 million at the box-office and receiving (generally) favorable
reviews from most critics and fans.
You can thank Angelina Jolie for much of that
success, as the Academy Award-winning actress was the living embodiment of Lara
Croft in luscious flesh, blood, and increasingly skimpy outfits. Rocking
the character’s poses, duel pistols, and British accent to a spectacular
soundtrack you simply couldn’t ask for more perfect casting. And how cool
was it to include her real-life father Jon Voight in the mix? Just like
the game, she skipped across the world in true Indiana Jones fashion, solving
ancient mysteries while shooting the baddies, and even sucker-punched a shark in
the second movie. Whatever stupidity that may have ensued was more than
made up for by two-piece bathing suit races on jet skis.
Plus, it’s hard to hate on a series that helped
introduce the world to future stars Gerald Butler (300) and future James Bond,
TRON (1982) – One of the earliest films to
appreciate the growing role of videogames is also one of the best, featuring
ground-breaking effects and a superb performance by Jeff Bridges. Although
it was once thought impossible, the TRON franchise is set to be reactivated with
a big-budget sequel called TRON: Legacy, directed by Joseph Kosinski, who rose
to fame with commercials for Gears of War (Mad World) and Halo 3 (Believe).
The Wizard (1989) – Essentially a giant commercial
for Nintendo (and Super Mario Bros. 3), this one gets sentimental credit for
becoming a true cult-classic. You know what I’ve gone? I’ve got the
Power Glove, baby.
The Last Starfighter (1984) – For anyone who ever
braved an arcade and fought like hell to get their initials in the top-spot of
the board, this one’s for you. Nearly twenty years after it was released,
it’s pretty incredible how thoughtful and accepting Hollywood was to this
emerging pastime. Seek this one out immediately if you haven’t already, as
it’s a bona fide classic.
Crank (Series) (2005 – 2009) – Probably the closest
thing you’ll ever see to a Grand Theft Auto movie, the two Crank movies are
practically videogames themselves, with energy drink power-ups and the most
inappropriate shotgun use ever filmed. Keep those eyeballs peeled for
every sprite reference and you’ve got yourselves one heck of an achievement.
Sublime – and mindless – fun in its lowest form.
District 9 (2009) – The dissolution of the
anticipated Halo movie was probably the best thing to ever happen to director
Neill Blomkamp, as this gave him the opportunity to put allocated resources
(along with Peter Jackson) to good use by expanding his short film “Alive in
Johannesburg” into a feature-length epic. The result was one of the year’s
best movies, a major box-office success, and was even nominated for Oscar’s Best
Picture. A true science-fiction classic the likes we haven’t seen since
the original Robocop.
City Hunter (1993) – Most famous for featuring the
best Street Fighter live-action movie sequence ever made, and has Jackie Chan as
Chun-Li. It’s hilarious, and simply amazing what can be done when efforts
Super Mario Bros. (1993) – The world’s most famous
videogame series finally gets its very own movie, which has absolutely nothing
to do with the series. The beauty and imagination of the games was
replaced with a desolate and scary nightmare-inducing world that had more in
common with Mad Mad than the Mushroom Kingdom. Yoshi was turned into a
scaly dinosaur, Dennis Hopper was Bowser (complete with Super Scope), and the
Mario Brothers needed boots to super-jump. What’s even more incredible is
the Back to the Future-style ending that suggested a sequel was coming
soon…yeah, in your dreams.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) – The sequel
that essentially killed future interest in the Mortal Kombat movie franchise
(and some say the actual game), and one of the worst movies ever released.
This one has become notorious for its stupidity, including killing major
characters both on/off screen, ridiculous dialogue (“It is glorious!”), and
introducing a bleached-blonde Thunder God Raiden. A complete and utter
travesty from beginning to end, although it did feature early stunt work from
future action-star Tony Jaa. Thanks for that.
DOOM (2005) – The long –awaited adaptation of the
game may have featured future Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Dwayne “The Rock”
Johnson with guns, but that’s about it. Minus one billion points for
shying away from the game’s demonic theme and introducing an unnecessary ‘virus’
element to the plot. The Imps may have looked the part, but practically
nothing (save for a quickie FPS scene and the BFG) did. What’s even more
interesting is how director Andrzej Bartkowiak was allowed to ruin another game
adapation with The Legend of Chun-Li. Do companies actually want these
movies to fail?
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) – This
should have been the best adaptation ever, as Sony’s joint venture with Square
was directed by series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and essentially looked just
like its source material. But for whatever reasons the actual movie
discarded almost everything that helped make the never-ending series
interesting, and the result was a disjointed blend of near-photorealistic CG and
one of the most boring storylines in history.
Anything by Uwe Boll (2003 – Present) – The scourge
of the entire game-to-movie industry (and possible German tax shelter), the good
Doctor Boll has become the Ed Wood of his generation by putting out some of the
most astonishingly bad movies ever filmed. But most amazing is his ability
to continually attract big-name stars and budgets for these atrocities…almost as
if publishers are unfamiliar with his unbroken track record of celluloid garbage
and notorious reputation for failure. Anything he touches turns to sludge,
and it would be sage advice to keep him far, far away from any future adaptation.