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By David Young · March 1, 2023
Remember back in the day when video games were only for nerds? Now, everyone and their grandma is into them — as well as the film adaptations of them. However, you might’ve come to a stunning realization: video game movies aren’t always that great. They may be entertaining and they may even attract a large audience around the world — but many times they’re lacking in the storytelling department.
Some video game adaptations are absolutely amazing (ahem, The Last of Us) — and hopefully the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie will give the legendary character the cinematic treatment the 1993 version didn’t — but for this post, we’re going over the not-so-great video game movies in hopes of learning how not to adapt a video game.
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First up on our list of the worst video game movies ever is Mortal Kombat. Who can really think of a video game without remembering the ones that started it all? Arcades far and wide have featured long-standing one-versus-one games like Mortal Kombat since the beginning of time, it would seem.
Yet, this one is ultimately one of the most iconic, and that’s why it was also one of the very first video games to foray into the movie theater. Mortal Kombat (1995) is a terrible but enjoyable experience, capitalizing on the game’s mythology in a way that speaks to films of the 1990s. If you miss world-saving kung fu antics from the old-school Power Rangers, you’ll feel right at home watching this iteration of Mortal Kombat.
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning BloodRayne and director Uwe Boll, who built most of his filmography out of… not-great video game adaptations (which appear elsewhere on this list).
BloodRayne is unique because it’s not one of those “so bad it’s good” films, like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter — it’s just pretty bad. And most can forgive poor writing, performances, and special effects, but this film leans so heavily on excessive violence, heavy gore, and gratuitous sex scenes that it crosses into the realm of tastelessness.
Another “oldie but goodie” is the game Rampage, a dastardly installment from the ’80s that turns the tables on the usual savior role of the player. Instead, you take the helm in destroying a city as one of three monsters: a King-Kong-like ape, a mutant reptile, or a giant wolf-like creature.
Now, spin that premise on its head once more, and you’ll get Rampage (2018), a film that encapsulates the “crash ’n’ smash” appeal of the game series by bringing George, the ape, onto the humans’ side of the conflict. In an all-out kaiju war that is terribly written but fascinating to watch, you’ll see the iconic creatures George, Lizzie, and Ralph in a live-action standoff.
‘Yikes’ can’t be said enough for the first design iteration of Sonic’s face — something the production company had to reimplement to avoid horrifying their audience. Once they pulled the most famous hedgehog out of Uncanny Valley, though, we’re left with a film that was both self-aware and tugging at its audience’s heartstrings more than expected.
This film also became a worthy experiment for Jim Carrey’s signature style of exaggerated physical and expressionist comedy — something the world needed more of anyway. As expected, the film becomes a predictable cheese-ball that you can only really watch once. The story is not special, but it taught us a valuable lesson: Studios get rewarded more — and create better work — by listening to their audiences.
There’s not a lot about the movie that stands up to accurate scrutiny — but DOOM (2005) was made to make money, not to make gamers happy. This story about mutants and the discovery of an ancient civilization on Mars barely scratches the surface of the good old demon-ridden narrative that is iconic in the DOOM franchise.
That said, there are still some fun nods to the franchise that make it in — the best of all being the first-person shooter (FPS) scene. Even if the science, the dialogue, and the lore are not up to snuff, watching that five minutes was still fun for those familiar with the game and its spiritual cousins like Duke Nukem.
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Video game movies had been through a lot by the time 2010 rolled around. That’s why seeing an overall production value that exceeded the norm in a case like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was considered an improvement.
However, there were still many difficulties with bringing a game like this into existence. From starring white actors like Jake Gyllenhaal as Persian characters to how the hackneyed writing read on screen, it can be argued that this video game movie was dead on arrival. That said, it still fared better than many of those that came before it.
Yes, Angry Birds counts as a video game. As a mobile game, it opened itself up to an entirely different audience — but it still served the same commercial purpose. That said, there was a lot of room for the original story of the game to be built upon, creating a clearer relationship between the pigs and the birds.
There’s even an angle specific to the main character — an angry red bird, creatively enough, named “Red” — whose emotional turmoil is meant to set up conflict for the entire story. That said, the heavy-handed focus on colonial overtones and the “after-school special” themes make this film a predictable foray into films targeting a young audience in a “paint by the numbers” approach that only changes its aesthetic.
The Tomb Raider games leave us with memories of puzzles and dual-wielding guns, but what about the movie? Well, much like the series it’s based on, it gratuitously focuses on the mystique of some long-lost item that is about to be revealed and unleash devastating power.
In true game form, though, the film spreads its action out across multiple zones and even involves some life-or-death puzzle play, giving us the feeling and stakes of the original game featuring archeologist and adventurer Lara Croft. Much like her video game counterpart, Croft in this 2001 movie is also forced to hunt for treasure in unrealistic spelunking garb, a seeming trademark of the series (not unlike its trope-filled stories) that has yet to really be permanently remedied.
Anyone familiar with the Resident Evil franchise will know just how far a cry the movies are from the games. However, these adaptations receive honorable mention. Although the franchise undoubtedly won’t receive critical acclaim for its work, people have been attending sequel after sequel.
That’s probably something to do with seeing Milla Jovovich lay waste to T-virus zombies and other big baddies of this alternate version of Raccoon City and the world at large, be it by using a good ol’ shotgun or even killing a guard through a closed-circuit camera. It may not be realistic, and it may not be good, but the series made something that, if you don’t pay attention too hard, just might keep playing on the screen for the excitement alone.
Read More: 5 Things Video Games Can Teach You About Screenwriting
Video games are a permanent part of life as we move on — and inevitably, a growing source for TV and films alike. As films like The Super Mario Bros. movie become a part of the zeitgeist, though, just remember: They’re not meant to always be good. In fact, most of the time, they aren’t. Expect the worst, and when you watch one, you may actually be pleasantly surprised every now and again.