With Gamescom 2022 coming to a close, it seems like a good time to take a look back at some of the best films where gaming (or gamers themselves) are the main focus. Compared to video game adaptations, these films are in short supply, even more so when looking for half-decent ones.
That said, we slogged our way through the genre in an attempt to bring you the best of the bunch, from back in 1982 with Tron to the more recent 2018 Ready Player One.
“When talented computer engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) finds out that Ed Dillinger (David Warner), an executive at his company, has been stealing his work, he tries to hack into the system. However, Flynn is transported into the digital world, where he has to face off against Dillinger’s computerized likeness, Sark, and the imposing Master Control Program. Aided by Tron (Bruce Boxleitner) and Yori (Cindy Morgan), Flynn becomes a freedom fighter for the oppressed programs of the grid.”
One of the oldest, or perhaps the oldest films involving gamers, Tron was a revelation at the time, with groundbreaking special effects and a story focused around the hobby once and still seen as one for lazy, unwashed man-children.
Jeff Bridges did return to the less critically acclaimed sequel Tron: Legacy in 2010 and plans were for the third film after this. Audiences didn’t react to the sequel as expected, with box office takings well below expected, and as such, the third film is yet to materialize. That won’t take away from the unique, ingenuity of the first though.
Ready Player One (2018)
“In 2045 the planet is on the brink of chaos and collapse, but people find salvation in the OASIS: an expansive virtual reality universe created by eccentric James Halliday. When Halliday dies, he promises his immense fortune to the first person to discover a digital Easter egg that’s hidden somewhere in the OASIS. When young Wade Watts joins the contest, he finds himself becoming an unlikely hero in a reality-bending treasure hunt through a fantastical world of mystery, discovery, and danger.”
Based on a book of the same name by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One is set in a future not too different from our own. Thanks to economic ruin and climate change, the world is in ruins, and people take solace in their virtual worlds.
The film is one CGI scene after enough, with a frankly huge amount of easter eggs to all sorts of gaming and movie icons, from Pac-Man to Jason Voorhees and more. It’s not only a good movie, it is a real representation of the comfort and enjoyment many find by jumping into our nearly endless choices of virtual worlds.
“Each week Kable (Gerard Butler), a death-row inmate, battles his fellow prisoners in a violent online game called “Slayers,” his every move controlled by a young gamer’s remote device. To the players, Kable and the other inmates are just simulated characters. But, to a resistance group that opposes the game’s inventor, Kable is a critical component of their plan to end the inventor’s form of high-tech slavery.”
An action film with a gaming and virtual society spin on it, Gamer is one of the many films that took its action scene direction from the likes of the Bourne films. Quick cuts are intended to make the action feel hectic and chaotic, it just makes it difficult to follow, and will quickly give you a headache if you can’t adjust.
All that aside, the film follows an interesting premise. Death row inmates volunteer to become mere robots controlled by those rich enough to pay and put their lives on the line to reach the magical number of 30 survived missions to have their sentence commuted. Of course, there’s the evil bad guy with the super ridiculous plan involved, played by Michael C. Hall, but ignoring that, the film is a decent way to waste ninety minutes.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
“Arcade-game character Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is tired of always being the “bad guy” and losing to his “good guy” opponent, Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer). Finally, after decades of seeing all the glory go to Felix, Ralph decides to take matters into his own hands. He sets off on a game-hopping trip to prove that he has what it takes to be a hero. However, while on his quest, Ralph accidentally unleashes a deadly enemy that threatens the entire arcade.”
A Disney animation film involving the idea of video game characters that come alive once their arcade is shut? Sign me up. In what is a surprisingly heart-warming film, Ralph is trying to prove to himself and those around him that he’s not the bad guy his game requires him to be, and as such takes a tour around the games and worlds around him, in a bid to prove everyone wrong.
Lonely at the start, he ends the film with friends and allies, using his strength and size to build rather than destroy, and ultimately showing those around him he is more than his origins and upbringing, something we could all do to remember now and then.
Free Guy (2021)
“When a bank teller discovers he’s a background player in an open-world video game, he decides to become the hero of his own story — one that he can rewrite himself. In a world where there are no limits, he’s determined to save the day his way before it’s too late, and maybe find a little romance with the coder who conceived him.”
Directed by Shawn Levy, Free Guy stars Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer, Reynolds as an unwitting NPC in an open-world RPG game, with no idea he’s just a few bytes of data, and Comer as a player of the game, who ends up falling for Reynolds character.
Another gaming film where there are countless easter eggs all over the place could have just phoned in the experience. That said, the film is a genuinely fun romp into the exploitation of the employees of these gaming developers, the throwaway nature of gaming franchises, with support and player involvement dropping whenever a new entry arrives, and how with a bit of cooperation, the smallest of people and players can band together to teach the corporations a lesson.
Whilst not strictly a film about video games or gamers, the original Jumanji needs to be mentioned at least once. Involving the late Robin Williams, Jumanji revolves around the board game of the same name, where those that play invoke real-world circumstances, be it stampedes of wild animals, turning into a monkey, or ending up stuck in the Jumanji world for thirty years since they were children. Its sequel starring The Rock modernizes the concept, leaning into the gaming situation more, with four kids finding and playing an old 8-bit video game, where all four of them are transported into the game, selecting their characters and only having three lives to traverse and escape their new other-worldly prison.