For the better part of 30 years, Hollywood has had a rough time adapting our beloved video games into movies that are worth watching. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, video game movies began to crop up more frequently, but more often than not, they were mediocre or downright terrible. However, in recent years, it seems like video game movies and television shows have seen an upturn in quality. Now, after three decades of missteps and critical flops, are video game movies finally good?
The Birth of Bad Video Game Movies
Movies based on video games had a rough start, as the original Super Mario Bros movie from 1993 was Hollywood’s first attempt at bringing game characters to the big screen. To be blunt, the movie sucked, with awkward character portrayals, cringe dialogue, and a huge lack of charm. Other adaptations released throughout the 1990s, like Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997, pictured below) were met with equally poor reception, continuing the trend of piss-poor films.
Things stayed the same throughout the 2000s, with mediocre and laughable video game movies released throughout the decade. Although there were a few films that managed to find mainstream success, including Resident Evil (2002) and Silent Hill (2006), most were downright embarrassing.
For some stunning examples of truly bad video game movies, look no further than director Uwe Boll’s filmography throughout the decade. At the time, Boll’s adaptations were so ridiculously bad, that many viewers were convinced that he was making garbage movies on purpose. His films like Alone in the Dark (2005), Bloodrayne (2006), and Postal (2007) were not just disappointing adaptations, but considered offensively bad movies in general. Thanks, Uwe Boll, for making a mockery out of every game you adapted, you suck.
Growing Pains and Breaking the Mold
While the 2000s were horrid for adaptations, things started to change in the 2010s. Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of video game movies that bombed (as they should’ve). Movies like Tekken (2010) and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010) were lackluster, with awkward casting and bombastically bad CGI. Meanwhile, sequels in the Resident Evil movie franchise continued to see mainstream success, but they were ultimately bastardizations of the source material.
However, halfway through the decade, something started to change. Video game movies didn’t become great overnight, but a few films started to show promise. Movies like Need for Speed (2014) and Warcraft (2016), and Assassin’s Creed (2016) were competent, but often divisive. Instead of walking out of a theater feeling like you completely wasted your time and money, there were signs that gaming movies had potential.
In my opinion, video game movies started to actually become good in the late 2010s. This was also a time when video games really started maturing. We saw one of the first video game movie reboots in the form of Tomb Raider (2018), which was flawed, but actually pretty damn good. Sure, Rampage (2018) starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was dumb, but Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019) was a certifiable banger.
Approaching the Golden Age of Video Game Movies
As we get deeper into the 2020s, it seems like video game movies are usually pretty enjoyable, with a few exceptions (of course). Before, we begrudgingly sat through these films looking for any semblance of entertainment, bracing ourselves for the inevitable disappointment. Now, we can excitedly walk into the theater without the expectation that our day (and our favorite game) will be ruined.
Look no further than Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022), a family-friendly movie that will delight young children, appease adult fans, and is generally considered a good time by all. Live-action adaptations like Mortal Kombat (2021) and Uncharted (2022) are also satisfyingly fun, but they aren’t without their flaws. Sure, there are still a few stinkers in the mix, namely Monster Hunter (2020) and Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City (2021), but these mediocre adaptations have become the exception rather than the rule. Hell, even the Tetris (2023) movie was great!
Disregarding the recent rush of television shows based on video games (that’s another topic for another day), video game movies have finally found their groove. Even the new animated Super Mario Bros Movie (2023) is a hit with fans and families, standing strong with a 96% audience score on RottenTomatoes.
So, what’s the answer? Are video game movies finally good?
Eh, sort of. I think game adaptations will always be a mixed bag. At the very least, long gone are the days when Uwe Boll could wipe his ass with an IP and put it in theaters, and for that, I’m thankful.