Since the revamp of the Lara Croft franchise is coming out this Friday, now is a great time to look back at the best of movies based on video games. In the last three decades, there has been a consistent influx of video game adaptations into film, ranging from kickboxing stories to the ever-burgeoning zombie genre. However acclaimed those video games may be in their own right, it is typically understood that most of the adaptations are, well, merely ‘tolerable’. Obviously, a ‘best of’ list would be a bit back-handed, as these are films that are by no means splitting the atom. Whatever your opinions may be on the sub-genre, one cannot help to succumb to a guilty pleasure every once in a while, especially if their console counterparts are those that one has personally played in their youth. Or adulthood. Or both! Let’s get to it!
#10: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Set in the backdrop of the deserts of Persia, a renegade prince and an enigmatic heiress battle against malevolent entities to protect the dagger that can unleash a power that can turn back time, allowing its owner to bend the world at their will. The film itself is overly dramatic and has its fair share dull moments. Nevertheless, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a solid performance as a vulnerable prince on a conquest for retribution and self-discovery, paired with some decent action sequences and supporting cast.
#9: Need for Speed (2014)
Interesting that this movie should come out a year after Jesse Pinkman’s final scene in Breaking Bad, as he’s drag-racing off the neo-Nazi compound, battered and beaten, laughing manically through the nighttime. Ha! He sharpened up his looks and took that car to the auto shop for this adaptation of the popular racing franchise. Teeming with exhaust fumes and high-pitched screeching, this film has dreams of being as big as the Fast franchise, but comes up short. Still, an indelible take at street-racing with some far-reaching car chases and a kinetic action that never lets up.
#8: Hitman (2007)
More of a dystopian take on the hitman for hire, this video game vehicle is based on multiple storylines within the franchise, following agent 47 as he clambers and wrestles with foes and henchmen, all who inevitably fall prey to his crosshairs. Timothy Olyphant stars as the titular character who is raised from childhood to be a professional killer for a paramilitary group simply known as the Organization, brandishing an infamous bar-code on the back of his neck as his insignia. Bombastic, boisterous and bald, this film is packed with the usual James Bond flare…without James Bond.
#7: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
One of the most commercially viable video game adaptations of all time, Lara Croft broke through barriers in appealing to a mainstream audience, attributed in due part to showcasing sex symbol Angelina Jolie’s chops as an action star. Manor-born and extremely intelligent, the film follows the British archeologist on her odyssey to discover two pieces of a mysterious apparatus that can be utilized to control Earth’s planetary alignment, and therefore, control the world. Rife with feminist underpinnings and a rambunctious supporting cast (oh hi dad), it’s a blockbuster that says what it means and means what it says, even if some of what its saying isn’t all that interesting. There is no wonder that this film’s being revamped.
#6: Street Fighter (1994)
With a script that was written overnight and a jacked-up cast, this movie is brimming with enough wacky costumes and cheesy one-liners to fill up a John Waters film. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme at the height of his action stardom, his character Colonel William F. Guile is put to the test, along with his squadron of mixed martial arts heroes in a battle at Shadaloo City against the tyrant and drug lord General M. Bison. Raul Julia’s portrayal of Bison, which was his valedictory performance before his passing, was made at the bequest of his two sons in a surprisingly restrained and dutiable performance, regardless of the rest of the film’s meretricious nature. And as tawdry and painfully American this movie is, one can’t help but throw it in for a good laugh. And Vega is the best, regardless of Ryu elitists (sorry, not sorry).
#5: Silent Hill (2006)
I will admit that I hadn’t ever played any of the Silent Hill video games before watching this film. But after first viewing, I was hooked. And though it caused countless nights in front of a screen, simultaneously haunted and mesmerized by the horrific imagery of the game, the film planted those seeds. Rose, the film’s protagonist, goes on a journey through the murky dimension that is the town of Silent Hill, initially going there in obscure hopes of curing her daughter’s sleepwalking. There, she gets into a car accident, losing her daughter, and is then on a mission to find her, all the while battling a group of zealots and the nightmares within.
However skeletal the plot and dialogue for the film may be, its strength truly lies in its atmosphere and production design, creating faceless monsters and featureless figures that wander through dreamscapes, in hopes that they may find themselves in yours.
#4: Doom (2005)
Okay, so this is a personal guilty pleasure, as this film came out right after Doom 3 was released for Xbox, which was such a great game for the time. And even though there are moments where the dialogue and the effects couldn’t be any more schlocky, it’s still a film that fits a formula that traditionally works. The year is 2046, and a research facility on Mars has been attacked by a nameless enemy. A group of marines (a la Predator), led by “Sarge” (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) travel there with larger than life weapons to save the day, only to find that the scientists have covertly been creating a genetically superior mutant race that gives the patients, how should one say, interesting makeover?
The plot is paper-thin as well as the characters, but come on! It’s The Rock! Wielding a BFG! Can this man do wrong! I think not! (We will disregard The Tooth Fairy as menial lapse in an otherwise state-of-the-art judgment).
#3: Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Despite the rampant amount of antipathy out there for this film, this movie has little to quibble about, considering the time. Isn’t it just another film that attempts to capitalize on its video game compatriot by adding a corporate element, blending the real world and fantasy? The film has a goofy spirit and it’s a blast.
It stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the eponymous heroes Mario and Luigi, respectively. They are underworked plumbers who happen upon another dimension with the help of archeologist Daisy, who opens the world to the main antagonist King Koopa, played with obsessive compulsive villainy by Dennis Hopper. And yes, the plot is thin and so are the characters and the set design is so blandly 90s and…I feel that, while I’m getting close to the number one on this list, I have to excuse the discrepancies of these films even more. Curse you, tasteless childhood! Anyways, it’s a bit of nostalgia for myself and maybe yours as well.
#2: Resident Evil (2002)
One of my favorite guilty pleasures, and the role that catapulted Milla Jovovich to action superstardom, Resident Evil is actually a decent film. Alice (Jovovich) wakes up with nothing more than a red dress, black boots and an unexplained case of amnesia. What follows is the descent into the Stygian Hive, where an artificial intelligence, aptly named the Red Queen, has murdered all its employees in order to safeguard its clandestine eugenics operations.
Part zombie thriller, part flimsy allegorical attempt at Alice in Wonderland, its heart-pumping race from start to finish, building anticipation with each bloodthirsty snarl. And although it suffers from a fledgling CGI and petulant character development, the movie does a great job replicating the atmosphere in the video games. The music, production design and atmosphere are the strengths. And, yes, the franchise is turgid and a cash cow for the last fifteen years. But, then again, there has to be a reason why it still beckons droves of avid fans to the theaters? This film helped ushered them in.
#1: Mortal Kombat (1995)
I distinctly remember watching this on New Year’s Eve with my family back in 1998. And, no, it didn’t captivate me and make me watch it over and over again. But I’m sure, like many action films I watched back in the day, I re-enacted several martial arts scenes in my room, in front of the mirror. Because that’s what kids do when they watch a movie that is simply about fighting good and evil.
The quintessential video game movie, this film paved the way for the rest. Like the video game, its heavy on the camp and light on the plot. Guided by mysterious electric god Raiden, a monk, an actor and a soldier are summoned to defend the planet from the nefarious sorcerer Shang Tsung in the titular tournament with players from both Earth and the fantastical Outworld. What makes Mortal Kombat work is that it is just as attention deficit as its video game; one doesn’t really pay attention to the story because the original games don’t really care for it either. One is there to see the fights, each one spurts for five or so minutes, then on to the next contender.
The set design and costumes are diligently administered to evoke the many dungeons that permeate the game. And urgency is balanced by a rave-inspired soundtrack, keeping the beats per minute up to snuff with the punches per minute. Some bits are cheesy, yes. But compared to the other movies based on video games, this one takes the cake. Flawless victory.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the top 10 movies based on video games? Comment down below!
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