Video Game Movies: The Good, the Bad, the Unwatchable

Forewarning this article may contain spoilers for games or movie plots.

Whether they’re on a phone, console, or pc, video games are ubiquitous. The popularity of video games have made them an increasingly sought after source for filmmaking. Since 1993 Hollywood, and other film markets, have been trying to cash in on them by making big name movies. But almost all of them have been pretty awful, oftentimes relying more on brand recognition than respecting the premise of the game. There are three standard types of video game movies: the tie-in, the derivative, and the youth market.

While most companies focus on producing games that are tie-ins for movies, there are a few movies that tie-in to a base game. These pick up either where the game's left off or show a plot point that may have been skipped or released long ago. And they're released to various levels of success. Final Fantasy: Advent Children and Warcraft are examples of the two most common types of tie-in games.

Final Fantasy 7 Advent Children takes place after the end of the PlayStation classic Final Fantasy 7. In the game we see that the heroes of the Avalanche Party have succeeded, Septhiroth has been defeated, and the planet will be saved. However, two years after the events of FFVII, when the movie takes place, a new issue has arisen: a mysterious disease known as 'Geostigma'. And on top of this the fragments of Septhiroth's soul have manifested into three evil clones who are using the disease to bring back a God. Confused yet? As great as this movie is visually, at least when it came out, and as visually entertaining, the movie falls into the same trap and issue the game has: no one can follow the plot line. The game leaves off in a pretty confusing ending. The film feels ultimately more like a cash grab than a serious attempt at filmmaking.

 Advent Children" courtesy "Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children" courtesy

Warcraft the movie is a precursor to the hit MMORPG World of Warcraft. The movie is supposed to set up the main game and all extended content for it, showing why the war between Orc and Human is happening. It sets up the different factions of Horde and Alliance, mainly showing off who joins the Alliance with Humans, Elves, and Gnomes banding together towards the end. The movie relies on viewers knowing the extremely extensive lore of WoW while not explaining to someone unfamiliar with the game. And while it has stunning visuals, the film cannot lean into the insane amounts of customization that the games are so known for, making the film seem like a very limited look into what the game experience is really like.

"Warcraft" (2016) courtesy Universal Pictures "Warcraft" (2016) courtesy Universal Pictures

The most common of video game movies are the ones that use loose plotlines or even just elements of and the names of the games to make audiences excited to see it. And more often than not these become one of two things: cult classics or big flops. Two movies that fit into these categories are the Resident Evil franchise and Silent Hill.

The Resident Evil movies follow the made for movie character of Alice, played by Milla Jovovich (“Fifth Element,” “Monster Hunter”), fighting the evil Umbrella Corporation during and after the release of their zombie virus. These movies have been high-grossing video game adaptations as well as the longest running video-game-based film series. While these movies are not the best movies in the world, they're entertaining to watch without ever feeling serious. The zombies, while some are close to the game’s portrayal, get more ridiculous as the movies come out; the plot normally doesn't make a lick of sense in the best ways and normally you don't have to watch them in any order. Each film can be watched as a standalone. These movies succeed because of the non-stop over to top battles that never take the storyline too seriously.

 Infinite Darkness" courtesy Netflix "Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness" courtesy Netflix

And as a side note, Netflix is rebooting the Resident Evil franchise with an anime and a live action series.

On the flip side of Resident Evil is the psychological horror film series Silent Hill and its sequel Silent Hill: Revelations. Where people loved the not rightness and off feeling that the games gave with the characters seeing the effects of their life choices being brought into grotesque and monstrous forms, the movies make everything feel forced and try to be scarier than even the games. The movies more or less follow the plot lines of the first three games in a weird amalgamation similar to the monsters in the movie. The plotline follows the Da Silva family and the connection their adopted daughter has to the small abandoned town of Silent Hill, and the strange mysteries that happen there. The movies have cults/cultists from the first game; the Nurse from the game second and third games; Pyramid Head, who plays an odd role of occasional protector from the second and third as well; and various grotesque monsters, which are truly the best parts of the movie. This may be because they hired a contortionist to play them; adding the monster prosthetics makes for pure nightmare fuel.

And the third type of game-based film is made with children in mind. Gearing a movie for children is something Hollywood does well; gearing a video game for children is something video game companies do extremely well. Making those two things into a successful entertaining product? Hit or miss. Two movies that express this sentiment are Detective Pikachu and Super Mario Bros.

Detective Pikachu derives from a fan favorite Pokémon game of the same name. When a prominent detective, Harry Goodman, goes missing, his son, Tim, joins forces with a talking Pikachu that only he can understand. And while searching for his father, Tim and Pikachu have a web of mysteries to untangle. This is one of the best video game adaptation movies a fan could want. The acting is great, the CGI is well done. And even though it's not line for line the game, it's close enough with a believable plotline that it doesn't deviate much from the premise of the game.

"Detective Pikachu" courtesy Warner Bros. "Detective Pikachu" courtesy Warner Bros.

Super Mario Brothers started it all. When Hollywood takes two beloved characters of Mario and Luigi and puts them not only in Brooklyn but also a parallel dinosaur world, things are bound to go strangely. This movie was meant for kids to feel like they were watching their favorite game come to life. Instead, they get the weirdest movie possible. After watching it now, it’s a surprise that any video game got a movie after it.

"Mario Bros. The Movie" (1993) courtesy Disney "Mario Bros. The Movie" (1993) courtesy Disney

Fans of video games do want to see the games they love turned into movies. But they want these movies done right, not changing plots for the sake of dramatic effect. Fans want to see the same amount of effort that goes into the game go into the movie.