It seems odd that video game movie adaptations struggle getting it right time and time again. One would think that video games are the perfect medium to adapt. Yet, the legacy of bad video game movies is pretty long. Whether it’s the casting, story telling, or both, many of these movies are disasters. Some are just so-so (such as Rampage, Assassin’s Creed, Hitman), but the worst are truly awful.
So it’s more impressive when a video game makes it work right. They get the spirit of the game, make the right choices in cast and storyline and the action can fit too. With Five Nights at Freddy’s coming out to poor reviews but good buzz from fans, here’s a look at the worst and best video game movie adaptations to see where it may fall in the future.
The worst video game movie adaptations
Super Mario Bros.
When it comes to epic video game movie adaptations, few can top this 1993 entry. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo (neither remotely Italian) cast as Mario and Luigi set the weird tone. Then there was Dennis Hopper as Bowser and a bizarre other-dimensional adventure with stupid action sets, bad music, strange turns and more. A huge box office flop that its own stars have bad-mouthed over the years, it’s a go-to reason video game fans are wary of movie adaptations.
Fans of the smash hit fighting games had no idea what they were about to get with the 1994 movie. It was basically a live-action GI Joe film, only not as fun, trying too hard to push so many characters together. Jean-Claude Van Damme is miscast as hero Guile amid bad dialogue and poor fighting.
The only saving grace is Raul Julia, in his final performance as villain M. Bison, who nicely chews up the scenery. The moment he tells Chun-Li that killing her father may have been a big deal for her, but “for me, it was Tuesday” is terrific and far more fun than this movie deserves.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li
Amazingly, the movie got a spin-off focused on the popular heroine, a top Chinese agent. So, casting Kristen Kurek was a bad move off the bat. That was matched by terrible action and a nonsensical plot that wasted characters like M. Bison and a movie that would be bad for direct-to-video, let alone theaters and an insult to any fan of the games.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
The first Mortal Kombat movie was praised for nicely adapting the games and some fun dialogue. The sequel is another story. First, getting rid of half the original cast was a poor move. Then there was a silly storyline and, oddly, too much focus on the fight scenes rather than a real plot. Throw in the lousy CGI and laughable dialogue and it’s a huge comedown from the fun of the first movie to throw the MK mythos off.
Alone in the Dark/Bloodyrayne/Postal
It’s as if infamous director Uwe Boll made a bet with himself he could make each of his video game adaptations worse than the last one. Alone in the Dark has Christian Slater and Tara Reid fighting a strange zombie-like strain with some truly lame action. Bloodrayne stars Kristen Lokken as a vampire battling evil, which isn’t anywhere near as cool as it sounds. Postal is the topper, beginning with a tasteless 9/11 joke and going downhill from there. Throw in the Dungeon Siege-inspired In the Name of the King and it’s little wonder Boll is public enemy number one among video game fans.
The original PC Wing Commander games are already fantastic sci-fi action with Mark Hamill starring in well-written filmed scenes. The 1999 movie loses all that with Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard as the hotshot pilots facing an alien invasion. The CGI looks like it’s from the ’80s, not nearly the 21st century, with plot holes and bad acting abounding. Skip this movie and just play the PC games for a better space adventure.
Even Dwayne Johnson mocks this 2005 flop based on the groundbreaking first-person shooter. Having his character turn out to be the villain gets points and the sequence filmed in first-person mode is cool. But that’s where the good ends, as the rest of the movie is a disaster of horrible dialogue and bad effects and shows how this was a game that just didn’t translate well to a movie version.
In some ways, it’s not a bad adventure film (the sequence of pirate ships hanging from helicopters is great). It’s just not an Uncharted movie, without the wit and charm that made the Playstation games hits. The key problem is the casting as Tom Holland is far too young for Nate Drake, lacking the snarky attitude and not believable in fight scenes. Mark Wahlberg is even worse as mentor Sully and Antonio Banderas is wasted as the baddie. With different actors in the roles, this might have ended up better rather than be such a disappointment.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
This 2001 movie was pushed for its fantastic CGI animation. Too bad they didn’t spend as much care on the story. Adapting the beloved video game saga with an original tale should have worked, but instead, the story ranged from cliche to incomprehensible. The visuals are terrific but mean nothing if the story doesn’t match it and the movie was a flop so huge it put its animation company out of business and long forgotten by FF fans.
The best video game movie adaptations
The Super Mario Bros Movie
There were concerns over this film from Chris Pratt cast as Mario to the tone. Thankfully, it all came together into a wonderful love letter for fans of the franchise. They got what they wanted: the super suits, a Mario Kart-style race scene, Donkey Kong, Bowser, Peach and more. The nods to the game were fun, the humor terrific and its monster box office finally erasing the memories of the 1993 mess for one of the best video game adaptations ever.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
It’s still amazing how well this worked. Rather than mess with the hit fighting game, the producers embraced the action with the classic tournament storyline. The fights themselves are great, done for real without CGI or wire work and the soundtrack adds to the excitement. The cast is fun (especially Christoper Lambert as Raiden) and it respects the source material to rank as the one live-action Mortal Kombat property that truly works.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
The rare case of a sequel even better than the original, this hit was great, pushing the Sonic mythos up. Sonic himself was smart and fun trying to be a hero, but even better was Jim Carrey finally allowed to go wildly over the top as Dr. Robotnik (complete with iconic mustache). Adding in beloved side characters Tails and Knuckles (Idris Elba an inspired choice to voice the latter) and better action made this a wonderful addition to the Sonic franchise and a great film in its own right.
Who knew this 2002 movie was going to birth the most successful live-action video game movie franchise ever? It can be forgotten how tight this original film is with the plotline Alice (Mila Jovovich) trying to escape a mansion/laboratory packed with zombies, dogs and an evil AI. Scenes like the laser hall are great and the plot actually has good twists. It’s Jovovich who makes it work with her fun drive as the original Resident Evil set a bar for success few could have imagined.
It’s amazing a VR game managed to become such a terrific movie. Fans of the cult comedy classic Clue will get a kick out of this tale as a group of people are trapped in a manor, supposedly by werewolves. As more bodies pile up, the question is if the beast exists or not. The jokes are great, the characters terrific with a sparkling cast and a terrific final twist. Mostly ignored on release, it deserves more attention as so much better than the actual game and great as both horror and murder mystery-comedy.
Pokemon has had a so-so take in movies so it’s amazing this was one of the best. Ryan Reynolds had the same Deadpool energy for the title character as the idea of him as a private eye was genius. The CGI and live-action mixed up well for a sharp story containing some good turns. It uses Pokemon well without going overboard with it and connects to the property, but it’s Reynolds who makes it work to show his voice talents are even better than his live-action adventures.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life
In terms of perfect casting of video game characters, it’s hard to top Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft. The first Tomb Raider movie wasn’t bad, but the 2003 sequel is better. The story is sharper as Lara has to find an artifact that could either prevent or cause a deadly plague on the Earth. Gerard Butler is a good match for her as a reluctant partner with some fun action scenes. Jolie is spectacular in the lead role with her own action vibe, so while this wasn’t as big a hit as the first film, it was a better adventure for Lara Croft.
The quirky Ace Attorney games may seem difficult to work in live action. This 2012 Japanese film proved it wrong, nailing the crazy humor and often cartoonish antics. Hiroki Narimiya was perfect as Ace, trying to win a seemingly impossible case while also dealing with a variety of oddballs and weirdos and that’s his own staff. The movie is more episodic, with Ace handling a variety of cases before a big murder trial, and is worth tracking down to show a movie that manages the rare feat of getting the video game motifs right.
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie
As noted above,the live-action Street Fighter movies leave a lot to be desired. So it’s telling that the best tie-in property is the best movie. True, it’s not as much tournament fighting but a fun plot of M. Bison brainwashing people like Cammy into his underlings and Guile out to avenge his friend’s death at Bison’s hands. The animation is glorious, every character looks like they stepped out of the game and the fight scenes are frantic. It’s the best turn yet for the Street Fighter franchise and still holds up 30 years later.
So, where will Five Nights at Freddy’s fall on these lists in the future? Time will tell, but it shows how tricky it can be getting these things right.
Five Nights at Freddy’s now streaming on Peacock.