On June 10, Duncan Jones’s highly-anticipated adaptation of Warcraft became yet another entry in a long line of video-game films that critics love to beat up on. Even while the movie has continued to shatter international box-office records, it has been consistently abused by the press for its perceived shortcomings. That negative reaction has spread to the films domestic box office, which has yet to top $50 million.
On the flip side of that coin, Chinese and European audiences have found plenty to love in Jones’s Warcraft. They’re being pulled in by the film’s fantastic visual effects and its broadly accessible story. In other words, while the sum total of the film might cause a critic to turn up their nose, there’s enough goodness in this sword-and-sorcery epic to keep audiences pleased.
Hating on a video game movie is nothing new, of course. As anyone with half a brain cell and a strong internet connection knows, more often than not, movies based on video games suck rocks. At least, that tends to be the critical consensus.
Ever since Super Mario Bros released in 1994 to widespread critical derision (and for good reason), stories that make the leap from the cartridge to the theater never tend to translate very well. Nearly every video game that’s been turned into a movie has been a cataclysmic critical failure. The highest ranking film on this list only nets a 44 percent on RottenTomatoes.
Critical hatred doesn’t mean all video game movies are thoroughly terrible, though. If you plumb the depths of video game adaptations there are several films that, while maybe not Oscar-worthy, are still worth checking out for their shining moments.
For your consideration, here are 9 video game adaptations that just might reward your time.
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
The sequel to 2001’s abysmal Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Cradle of Life does something that few films (and certainly few sequels) are willing to do: it embraces the goofy. Where the first film was universally panned for it’s self-serious tone, the sequel wholeheartedly embraced the inherent camp of a story that centers on a young woman fighting nefarious global forces while spelunking in millennia-old tombs.
Sure, the whole “race to find a box that will wipe out humanity” is completely preposterous, but even Roger Ebert said it worked. If nothing else, the film is watchable thanks to Angelina Jolie’s assured performance as the iconic lead heroine.
Street Fighter (1994)
To enjoy Street Fighter, it’s important not to think of it as the thoroughly ridiculous cash grab that it is. Try to see the film as the kind of movie Jean-Claude Van Damme was waiting to star in his whole life. The lead is so excited to be there that he throws himself into every poorly written scene and every halfway decent fight with a joy that’s thoroughly contagious.
And hell, if you can’t get behind Van Damme, the movie’s supporting cast featuring Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, and yeah, even Kylie Minogue, is worth checking out for the sheer fun they seem to be having on screen.
Resident Evil (2002)
The Milla Jovovich vehicle (whose director will go unnamed) isn’t a great film. It is, however, a really fun twist on a haunted house film. Cribbed from both the game it takes its name from as well as several superior science fiction films, Resident Evil had been done before, even in 2002.
Just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean it’s not a whole lot of fun. Paul W.S. Anderson might be a hack, but he’s got good taste when it comes to ripping off other movies, and though his Resident Evil is far from fresh, it’s still a good mash up of better movies.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is worth watching just to find out what Mike Newell does when he’s trying to make a simple film. The director of films like Donnie Brasco and Four Weddings and a Funeral has a decidedly spritely take on the source material that, while not very deep, is still a moment-to-moment delight.
The cast is also kind of kick ass at their jobs, despite being an big ol’ pile of white people, living their fictional lives in Persia. The array of talented actors elevates the mediocre script to something worth listening to. Jake Gyllenhaal is great (even if he’s not the tiniest bit Persian) in the lead, and Ben Kingsley and Gemma Arterton (two more non-Persians) are a lot of fun in the film’s supporting roles.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
From its release in 1995, Mortal Kombat stood as the pinnacle of video game adaptation for a decade (it’s a low bar, folks). The movie hews pretty closely to the source material. Mortal Kombat is basically just about people fighting in a tournament with a little “end of the world” flavor thrown in for fun.
Another film from Paul W.S. Anderson (who I maintain is not talented), Mortal Kombat is a good showcase for action, and for any ten year old who’d played the video game, seeing Sub Zero freeze a dude is well worth the price of admission.
Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, 2001
And here we arrive at the critical darling of the bunch: Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. Unfortunately, few of those points are given to the film’s story or characters. No, the Final Fantasy film got a lot of shock credit because it was one of the first films animated entirely by computers.
That said, kudos have to go to the animators and director because the film’s animation still holds up fifteen years later. The plot itself might not be the most unique thing ever, but the adventure is still a compelling, abstract adventure.
Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
In two cinematic attempts at capturing the hero, neither Hitman adaptation has completely gotten the character right. Last year’s Rupert Friend-led Hitman: Agent 47 gets the closest, though, by allowing itself the time to show Agent 47 on a hit (and switching costumes) as opposed to just spending the entire film making him look like John Woo’s fantasy (there’s plenty of that, though, too).
A solid action film that stays true to 47’s character if not his method, the movie’s flashy visual style makes for solid gun battles and fist fights while Zachary Quinto is great fun to watch channeling his inner psycho.
Max Payne (2008)
Mark Wahlberg’s Max Payne is so caught up in its own obsessive neo-noir attitude that it’s very tempting to take the film very seriously. That’s a mistake, though, because Max Payne can be one of the most incisively cheeky films you’ve ever watched, if you’re willing to see it that way.
Even if you’re not the “watching a movie ironically” type, Max Payne’s fantastic cinematography and well-staged action scenes make it an hour and half that’s worth checking out.
It might be hard to fathom now, but there was once a time when the Rock was a struggling actor trying to make the leap from the WWE to big screen success. One his first steps on the path to stardom was Doom, the sci-fi film with video game bad guys that’s one part Alien and one part Aliens.
Because the source material isn’t exactly heavy on plot, Doom can actually count as a pretty fantastic adaptation. The film’s leads, the Rock and Karl Urban, are sufficiently suited to their roles. To the movie’s immense credit, the entire cast are afforded just enough character to make their inevitably gruesome death somewhat compelling.
Despite being a dumb action flick with minimal character development, Doom kicks serious ass. It might be a rehash of previous sci-fi films, but the movie injects enough creativity to keep viewers entertained, and honestly the whole thing is worth watching just to see the Rock play the bad guy.