The immediate things that spring to mind when you hear “video game movie” are not very likely to be positive. The history of video game film adaptations is a nightmare wasteland of over budget, underperforming movies that don’t work well either as an adaptation of the game or as a movie. For whatever reason (that reason is usually Uwe Boll), they just never seem to work out.
They’re not always complete failures, though, and being the great fans of trash that we are here at PEDESTRIAN.TV, we thought we’d wade through the garbage to bring you the highlights.
We’re here to build things up, not tear them down. Well, at least until we get to the second section. Sometimes, probably by freakish accident, an actually enjoyable movie emerged from the usually disaster-prone realm of video game movies. This list is not exhaustive but, I mean, it’s not far off being exhaustive – there are really not a lot of good ones.
SILENT HILL (2006)
The core mechanics of the Silent Hill video games were genuinely fucking terrifying: you have a radio that crackles when monsters are near and you have a flashlight, that lets you see monsters. The problem is, the flashlight also attracts monsters, so you’re encouraged to turn it off. This means most of the game you are wandering around completely blind, knowing that something is near thanks to a static-y sound that soon becomes completely horrifying.
While the movie never quite reaches the insane creepiness of the games, they did a great job of adapting Pyramid Head to the screen and the ending is straight up haunting.
SUPER MARIO BROS. (1993)
The second video game movie ever made (the first was an animated Japanese Super Mario movie from 1986), ‘Super Mario Bros.‘ is fucking weird as shit. There were huge conflicts between the directors, writers and producers about whether the movie was meant to be for children or adults, and it definitely shows.
Featuring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario Mario and Luigi Mario (they are, after all, the Mario brothers) – two plumbers who get sucked into a parallel universe ruled over by Dennis Hopper as the startlingly Trump-like King Koopa. This movie is so bizarre that there’s no way it couldn’t be completely entertaining.
For just a taste, here’s what the Goombas look like:
MORTAL KOMBAT (1995)
There are two directors called Paul Anderson, one who is insanely good and one who is, well… not that. This is directed by the latter. Paul WS Anderson‘s ‘Mortal Kombat‘ is not a ‘good’ movie in the traditional sense, but it is a fantastic b-grade movie. Featuring heaps of rotoscoped lightning and an amazing cast of weirdo character actors, this is just a perfect piece of 90s nostalgia, ideally watched drunk at about 3 in the morning.
This might just be the result of my weird obsession with both Christopher Lambert and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, but this movie is a blast. Also, check out this absolute banger of a theme song:
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (2001)
This is less of a video game adaptation than it is an adaptation of a video game series. In the same vein as each of the games, it is set in its own universe but shares a set of common themes, visual motifs and language choices with the overall franchise. Although the animation has dated considerably (this was before we really figured out how light travels through the skin, so everything looks like plasticine), it’s still a solid movie.
‘Advent Children‘, a film sequel to ‘Final Fantasy VII‘ also exists and looks absolutely stunning, but plot-wise it’s a bit lacklustre.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002)
Old Mate Paul WS Anderson makes a reappearance with this adaptation of the horror / survival games of the same name. Again, not a particularly beautiful bit of cinema, but Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez are a pair of incredible badasses and this was from before the time that we were oversaturated with zombie movies and other zombie-related content.
I really, really enjoy that a movie positioning itself as a gritty reimagining had to have a police force called the Raccoon PD, which sounds just adorable.
Alright, enough of that feel-good shit, it’s time to get down to the good stuff: which movies absolutely suck ass. This isn’t even close to being a complete list, but you don’t have the time to read an article about every single bad video game movie and I don’t have the time to write it. Instead, here are some highlights.
How the fuck do you make a movie about relentlessly exploding vicious demons from Hell boring? Quite easily, it turns out: you remove the demons and also remove the Hell. For some absolutely baffling reason, this adaptation of the iconic FPS decided to completely excise one of the coolest things about the games.
It’s noteworthy for having an extended sequence where it plays out from first-person with the gun positioned as it was in ‘Doom‘, an experience that noted video game fan and film critic Roger Ebert described as “like some kid came over and is using your computer and won’t let you play.”
I’m a big fan of our Kiwi mate Karl Urban whenever he pops up (‘Chronicles of Riddick‘, ‘Dredd‘, ‘Lord of the Rings‘, the new ‘Star Trek‘ movies), but even he couldn’t save this.
I could have written an entire article about German director Uwe Boll‘s many, many fucking atrocious video game adaptation but, instead, I’ll just use his worst one as an example. Boll is a deeply incompetent director who has managed to make a whole lot of movies thanks to his own personal wealth and Germany’s (now discontinued) insanely generous tax incentives for films made in the country. All of those movies he made are bad.
Despite the appearance of actually, genuinely good actors Udo Kier, Billy Zane, Sir Ben Kingsley and Michelle Rodriguez, this movie is a confusing, schlocky, shitty mess of absolute cinematic diarrhea. It’s bad, is what I’m trying to say.
Boll is also responsible for ‘Far Cry‘, ‘Alone in the Dark‘, ‘Postal‘, ‘House of the Dead‘, ‘In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale‘, and, improbably, the list of terrible adaptations goes on. He famously challenged his more prominent critics to a boxing match and managed to beat the shit out of at least one of them. Here’s a video of him lashing out at everyone in the world because his crowdfunding efforts all failed:
WING COMMANDER (1999)
I could put this movie in the ‘bad’ category alone for how irritating I find Matthew Lillard (although he’s not too bad in the new ‘Twin Peaks‘, I will admit), but on top of that, this movie is just incomprehensible, hideous looking garbage. Not all 90s special effects look bad, they only ever looked bad when movies got cocky about what they could do with the budget and technology available to them.
Have a look at just how terrible everything looks:
I am still perplexed by this one. Directed by Duncan Jones (the son of David Bowie and director of ‘Moon‘ and ‘Source Code‘) and with a budget of $160 million, you’d think that at least part of this movie would be fun to watch. Nope. Somehow, with a great director and all the money in the world, they couldn’t make a crazy, high concept fantasy movie fun.
It seems a bit like they were paralysed with indecision about whether to make it only accessible to fans or to explain everything for the benefit of an unfamiliar audience, but in the end, they kind of did neither? None of this movie makes sense, all of the acting is fucking terrible, and the dialogue never quite hits that sweet spot of taking itself seriously but knowing that it is absolutely ridiculous.
Duncan, why did you do this.
MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION (1997)
There is only one hard and fast rule in the world of cinema: never, ever replace Christopher Lambert with James Remar. While the first one (see above, in the good section) is a fun romp with a fun cast and some fun special effects, this sequel is no fun with a not fun cast and some special effects that look like either a terrible video game cinematic or a Skitzmix ad.
It’s a confused mess that introduces characters that never appear again and plot lines that go nowhere. As an example: at one point a character is told they must undertake three trials – they go through two and then movie just happily moves on. I tried to give this movie another try recently and it’s so offensively bad I could feel the years being actively drained away from my life. Do not watch this, I urge you, you have so much to live for.
The theme song to this one, however, remains an absolute goddamn banger.