It’s hard translating a video game into a live action movie. For decades, filmmakers and producers have tried to capture the popularity of video games. Most of these attempts are abject failures in almost every sense. Sometimes filmmakers don’t understand what made the game successful in the first place. Sometimes the story is not adapted properly, missing key elements or characters that made the game work. Sometimes the writing and acting are terrible, driving down the quality. For whatever reason, it’s hard to make a good live action adaptation of a video game. But every once in a while, a film is able to capture and mirror the success of a video game and give us a truly entertaining, enjoyable experience. But for every one of those, there’s a dozen “Max Paynes.” So here are 4 great video game (live-action) movies, and 4 not so great ones.
Great: Mortal Kombat
The 1995 film adaptation of Mortal Kombat was one of the first video game movies released. The film drew inspiration for plot and characters from the original Mortal Kombat game, and its sequel Mortal Kombat II. The film was far from perfect. It directly adapted the plot of the game: a martial arts tournament to determine the fate of the earth. The plot, while full of potential, lacked depth and substance. The writing and dialogue was pretty cheesy. The cast was comprised mostly of B-list actors, a fact painfully obvious from their performances.
But, despite its flaws, it was still a fun, entertaining movie. It brought some of our favorite characters to life just how we would imagine them. (Although, it definitely didn’t do justice to Sub-Zero and Scorpion.) It featured great settings and production values. It had awesome action with great martial arts. And it has arguably the greatest theme song of any movie ever. The movie was a commercial success too. It was the number 1 movie in America for almost a month. It also earned almost seven times its budget at the box office alone.
Not Great: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
The first Mortal Kombat film may have been flawed, but it was redeemable. This wasn’t the case for its terrible sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. The sequel just rehashed the already thin plot of the original. Somehow, the acting was even worse than in the first. Several characters were recast with new actors. Johnny Cage, one of the heroes and fan favorite characters, was unceremoniously killed off early in the film. It lacked the production values, and general enjoyability of the first film.
While it did add some new characters and add to the overall mythology of the universe, it all felt like a jumbled, rushed, cash-grab that resulted in a dumpster fire of a sequel. It failed to match the financial success of the original. The sequel was critically panned, and maintains a 2% Rotten Tomatoes score. It was so bad that it got the planned second sequel cancelled altogether.
Great: Detective Pikachu
Pokémon is a massive franchise that spans television, anime, toys, merchandise, animated films, comics, and manga. But it all started as a video game. Surprisingly, despite all the success and popularity, the franchise has had only one live-action film: Detective Pikachu. Based loosely on a game in the franchise of the same name, Detective Pikachu is quite different from what we have come to expect from Pokémon. The film managed to take advantage of not only its recognizable brand, but of the viral Pokémon Go craze of a few years earlier.
Anchored by a good story, humor, impressive visuals bringing to life some of our favorite pokemon, and a great voice performance by Ryan Reynolds, Detective Pikachu is one of the most successful video game movies ever, both commercially and critically. The film grossed almost half a billion dollars and maintains a 68% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. It is a funny, entertaining, and sometimes heart touching film that pleases both casual and diehard fans alike. A sequel is already in development.
Not Great: Street Fighter
The Street Fighter video game franchise is almost as ubiquitous as Mortal Kombat. The games have enjoyed massive international popularity and success. The movie: not so much. At its best, the Street Fighter film made us laugh at how bad it is. At its worst, it made us cringe and question why we’re even watching it. Where to even start with this train wreck of a movie?
The movie featured the thinnest and most cliched of plots. The casting and acting was hilariously bad. It made a mockery out of some of our favorite characters. The writing and dialogue was campy and cheesy, and not in a good way. Even the action was unimpressive. Perhaps the only redeeming factor was Raul Julia’s eccentric, flamboyant, over the top portrayal of villain M. Bison. Although commercially successful, the movie was universally lambasted by critics and fans alike. It was so bad that it pretty much killed the film franchise even to this day.
Great: Tomb Raider
Ok so 2018’s Tomb Raider reboot wasn’t a great movie. But it was still pretty good. A little better than the original 2001 film with Angelina Jolie. And a lot better than most other video game movies. The reboot replaced Jolie with Alicia Vikander, who did a good job. It had a talented cast that gave good performances. The story was definitely lacking. But it was a more grounded and character centric adaptation of the Tomb Raider games. Maybe it wasn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it was an entertaining adaptation of a popular game series that has lost some of its relevance.
Not Great: Double Dragon
Early video game movies usually failed to capture what made the inspiration game popular, then translate it to the screen. Double Dragon, released in 1994, fell victim to a lot of the mistakes that made video game films such flops. Because of the novelty and perceived frivolity of these movies, it’s often difficult to obtain the best cast and crews. This is reflected in the final product. Bad acting, bad writing, and shoddy action sequences can take an audience out of the film almost instantly. Double Dragon suffered from all three. It also had a hilariously bad plot that only accentuated all the other deficiencies. Albeit, there wasn’t much source material to draw from. The adaptation of the once popular Japanese arcade game was a critical failure, with a 13% Rotten Tomatoes score. It also bombed financially, unable to make back its $8 million budget.
Great: Sonic the Hedgehog
Apparently movie studios have found the formula for making a successful video game movie: Take a popular animated video game character from the 90s. Make him witty and funny and voiced by a hilarious actor. Partner him up with a goofy, but good hearted guy facing some personal struggles. Then, just bank on nostalgic millennials trying to recapture their youth and pass it on to their children, siblings, or nieces and nephews. It worked for Detective Pikachu, and it worked for Sonic the Hedgehog too. Sonic was also helped by an interesting story, a good cast, and breathtaking visuals.
Based on Sega’s flagship franchise of the same name, Sonic the Hedgehog also features another 90s icon. Jim Carrey recaptures all his manic eccentricity of the last century to play a truly entertaining and interesting villain, which separates the film from so many other video game movies. The movie even proved that fans can affect some change, as the design of the titular character was overhauled before release due to fan backlash based on promotional material. Sonic the Hedgehog was a commercial and critical success, raking in over $300 million at the box office, and being favorably reviewed by fans and critics.
Not Great: Assassin’s Creed
Released in 2016, Assassin’s Creed wasn’t a terrible film per se. But based on its inspiration, the Assassin’s Creed video games, it is an enormous disappointment. The video game franchise is one of the most successful, most popular, and best made of all time. It has built a rich, detailed universe with interesting characters taking part in real history. The film does very little to bring that magic to the big screen.
Despite a stellar cast, an established and loyal fan base, and a massive budget, the Assassin’s Creed film fails to do justice to the greatness of the video games. The adapted plot seems both silly and convoluted. The cast, although talented, seems disinterested and hardly believable as their characters. This could be a result of the sophomoric writing and dialogue. The poor reception was likely also compounded by the vast potential and expectations based on the source material. Although it was profitable, it didn’t get the returns the studio expected. It maintains an 18% Rotten Tomatoes score. Disney also cancelled the scheduled sequels when it acquired 21st Century Fox.