Once video games began to popularize around the world, and with technology allowing for more immersive stories within them, video game movie adaptations have been expected. Yet the genre got off on the wrong foot with 1993’s Super Mario Bros., which was so bad it scared Nintendo off making movies based on their games for years. The genre was seen as cursed for a long time with terrible adaptations of Doom, Assassin’s Creed, Prince of Persia, and Warcraft, all disappointing fans of the games and failing to catch on with critics or general audiences.
Yet there has been a sea change recently. Kicked off by Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and followed by Sonic the Hedgehog and The Super Mario Bros. Movie, video game movies are not the hot new commodity that could rival superhero films at the dominant box office juggernaut. Five Nights at Freddy became one of the biggest movies of 2023, and a sequel is currently in development. In addition, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Borderlands are set for release in 2024, and recently, it was announced that The Legend of Zelda would finally be getting the big screen treatment. With all that, what have been the best video game movies? These are the ten best in the subgenre.
Update January 20th, 2024: This article has been updated by Soniya Hinduja with more interesting movie adaptations of video games.
10 Resident Evil (2002)
James Cameron’s guilty pleasure film, according to his Reddit page. Resident Evil is important for being able to produce six live-action films based on a video game. The films spanned almost two decades, the first entry released in 2002 and the most recent in 2016 (not counting the reboot film Welcome to Raccoon City, released in 2021). Based on popular horror survival games, Resident Evil borrows ideas from the first two games. Following a massive virus outbreak that turns people into zombies, our protagonist, Alice, and a band of Umbrella Corporation commandos work together to contain its spread.
The film was directed by Paul W. S. Anderson, who previously worked on Mortal Kombat, another video game film adaptation and who would direct many more films in the franchise. Because the zombie genre is such a hit with the audience, Resident Evil managed to strike a chord with its claustrophobic tension and heart-pounding action. While it might not have been entirely faithful to the games, it was an early example of how a video game movie could become a hit with audiences. Rent on Apple TV
9 Tomb Raider (2018)
Release Date March 5, 2018
Director Roar Uthaug
While the original Lara Croft films starring Angelina Jolie were defining movies for her career and an example of early 2000s action filmmaking, the reboot in 2018 brought the franchise into the modern age. Directed by Roar Uthaug, Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander as the iconic Lara Croft. As a young adventurer, she has always wanted to be more than a shadow of her father’s disappearance. When Croft sets out on her first lethal adventure – which is to uncover hidden secrets related to her father’s past – she is pushed to her physical and emotional limits. Soom, she transforms into a formidable and ferocious fighter and accepts her destiny as the Tomb Raider.
Based on the famous action-adventure games developed by Square Enix, this film is based on the 2013 reboot of the series that explains the origin of Lara Croft. Alicia Vikander delivered a phenomenal performance as the iconic Lara Croft that was able to stand apart from the one Jolie had delivered. In many ways, Tomb Raider gives the franchise a Batman Begins-style treatment in both an origin story and grounding the more fantastical elements of the franchise. A sequel was in development, but the rights expired, and now a new movie is being developed by Prime Video with a new continuity that will not see Vikander return in the role. Stream on DirecTV
8 Uncharted (2022)
Nathan Drake is recruited by treasure hunter Victor Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago. Starring Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg and Antonio Banderas.
Release Date February 18, 2022
Uncharted is a popular series of video games that fans have been waiting to see get the big-screen treatment for years. The first time a movie was talked about was in 2008, and it would take fourteen years for the movie to hit the big screen. The film adaptation that arrived in theater acted as an origin story for the games that sees Nathan Drake (Tom Holland) working as a bartender in New York City when he is recruited by Victor Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg), a fortune hunter who believes he has finally found the clue to uncover the lost fortune of Ferdinand Magellan. What starts as a heist for a great treasure, however, becomes a globe-trotting adventure because Victor and Nate must race against two competitors – a corrupt billionaire named Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas) and Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle), a formidable mercenary leader.
Uncharted was a box office hit, a much-needed one following the COVID-19 pandemic, and coming out so closely after Spider-Man: No Way Home cemented Tom Holland as one of the biggest movie stars of the moment. It captured everything fans love in popcorn entertainment – mystery, treasure hunt, action, and humor. Some fans might have found that it lacked a lot of charm that made the Uncharted games visually and emotionally entertaining. A sequel is currently being developed. Stream on Hulu.
7 Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
In 2005, one of the most beloved video games of all time, Final Fantasy VII, received a direct-to-DVD film. The film was directed by the game’s character designer, Tetsuya Nomura, most known for his work on Kingdom Hearts and in the Final Fantasy games. Taking place two years after the events of the video game, the film serves as a proper sequel to the video game and tells the incredible story of a trio of manifestations who are trying to resurrect the evil Sephiroth. When Cloud Strike discovers the truth, he wages a new battle to protect the planet and its people from the now-evolved Sephiroth.
A landmark in CGI animation, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was lauded for its success and for honoring what makes Final Fantasy VII so cherished by fans. From the portrayal of the city of Midgar and its citizens to the scale and vividness of its battles, the entire credit of making the movie so mesmerizing goes to Visual Works and Square Enix. Despite all the praise, however, the movie was criticized for alienating people who had not played the game. Advent Children received the Maria Award at the Sitges Film Festival and won “Best Anime Feature” at the 2007 American Anime Awards. Stream on Atom Cinema
6 Mortal Kombat (2021)
Acting as an adaptation of the video games and also as a reboot to the earlier films, Mortal Kombat is HBO’s most successful film launch to date. Based on the fighting games of the same name, the film centers on a fighter who learns of his lineage. Cole Young is accustomed to showing up in underground MMA fights and taking a beating to earn some money. What he doesn’t know of, however, is his true heritage and why Shang Tsung, the emperor of the Outworld, has sent his best warrior, Sub-Zero to hunt him down. Hiding out at Sonya’s, Cole soon discovers his power and trains to stand with the other champions.
The film was directed by Simon McQuoid in his feature-film directorial debut and received mixed reviews from critics. McQuoid made sure to include as many adrenaline-inducing martial arts sequences and visceral bloodshed to remind the audience of just what makes the video game franchise so much fun. Lewis Tan, who embodies Cole Young, does an outstanding job at bridging the gap between longtime players and newcomers with his dedicated work. The film did do it’s job and delivered some incredible fight scenes and set the stage for a sequel, with Mortal Kombat 2 recently having wrapped filming. Stream on Max
5 Rampage (2018)
Release Date April 12, 2018
Rampage is based on the video game of the same name that was originally released in 1986. The original game’s premise is simple: playing as a giant gorilla, lizard, or wolf and smashing buildings. There is not much in terms of plot for the games as it was just a send-up of kaiju movies, so the film wisely decides to just make Rampage a kaiju movie. The movie plot is simple: Davis Okoye (Dwayne Johnson) is a primatologist whose albino western lowland gorilla, George, turns into a raging creature of enormous size and growing into bigger and larger sizes as a result of a rogue experiment to stop two other mutated animals from destroying Chicago.
It is a big-budget B sci-fi movie with government test facilities, all as an excuse to make giant animals and have them fight. With some star power like Dwayne Jonhson along for the ride, the movie had felt like a throwback to the sci-fi blockbuster of the early 1990s. Rampage might not have gotten the best reviews for its script, but it certainly got a lot of praise for its action, which is what the movie looked to deliver in the first place. It also was a hit with audiences as it grossed $428 million worldwide. Rampage is the best example of how to adapt a video game into a movie by capturing the spirit of how the games made you feel and finding the cinematic genre that the concept can mostly stick to. Rent on AppleTV+ or Vudu.
4 Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Sonic the Hedgehog was released in 2020 and starred James Marsden and Jim Carrey. It follows the hyper-speedy blue hedgehog Sonic, who was transported to Earth over a decade ago. As a teenager, Sonic tries to fit in by understanding the complexities of Earth from a rural town in Montana. Making him not so alone is the local sheriff, Tom Wachowski, whom he idolizes. When a mad scientist named Dr. Robotnik tracks Sonic to use him as a weapon, Tom and the townsfolk team up to save him. The film started off on the wrong foot after its first trailer when the original design for Sonic was revealed to be more life-like. Fans strongly opposed the design, leading to the animators redesigning Sonic to resemble the video game more closely, resulting in a delayed release.
Among the highest-grossing video game adaptations in North America in 2020 (as it was one of the last films to be shown in theaters before they were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the film received generally positive reviews from critics and audiences. The gleeful and charming adventure of the super-speedy hedgehog turned out to be a surprise hit. A sequel was released in 2022, which was praised for maintaining the same silly humor and action as the inaugural film while also expanding the mythology with more video game characters. A third movie is currently set for release in December 2024, which will include Shadow the Hedgehog. Stream on Paramount+
3 Detective Pikachu (2019)
Based on the world-famous Pokemon franchise, Detective Pikachu was released in 2019. Loosely based on the plot of the video game of the same title (Detective Pikachu), the film centers around Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith, who sets out to Rhyme City to look for his missing father. Once there, he has an amusing encounter with Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds. Unlike the Pikachu you’ve seen before, this one is a hilarious and wise-cracking detective who is a puzzle even to himself. As they chase clues together, Tim and Pikachu uncover a larger conspiracy that could potentially destroy the Pokémon universe.
With his outstanding vision and masterful use of animation, director Rob Letterman ushered in a new era of video game adaptations. The movie’s hyper-detailed world brought a beloved franchise to life in glowing colors. Also worth praising is the rapport between Smith and Reynolds, which makes the movie infectiously fun. Though there have been multiple Pokemon feature films over the years, this was the first live-action adaptation and the first to be developed overseas. Noted as one of the best video game movies ever made, the film performed well at the box office and many are hoping for a sequel despite a recent comment made by Smith, letting them down. Stream on DirecTV
2 The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
Honestly, The Super Mario Bros. Movie does not have a plot larger than that of the animated plumber fighting Bowser. But it wins points for the treatment of the same. In the movie, plumber brothers Mario and Luigi are in the middle of fixing a water main when they’re transported to an alternate world and are separated. With Mario in the Mushroom Kingdom and Luigi imprisoned in the Dark Lands, the former must navigate perils, solve puzzles, run, jump, and brawl his way to defeat Bowser’s evil plan and save Luigi and Peach.
When Chris Pratt was announced to be voicing Mario, the news received a collective eye roll. But this vibrant animated adaptation truly turned out to be an entertaining romp. Directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic clearly understood the assignment – which was to make a kids’ film that would make adults happy, too. Mario is such a beloved franchise because of its accessible, fun, adventurous story and charming comedy, and having stars like Pratt, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Jack Black become a part of it only honored the video game more. The film went on to be the second highest-grossing film of 2023, behind only Barbie, grossing $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office. Stream on Netflix
1 Werewolves Within (2021)
Feature adaptation of the video game where werewolves attack a small town.
Release Date July 2, 2021
Director Josh Ruben
Yes, the best video game is not based on an iconic title like The Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog, and it isn’t based on a triple AAA game series or even one from a major studio. No, the best video game movie is Werewolves Within, a little-known game from Ubisoft and a film distributed by IFC Films, not a studio many would expect to make a video game movie. Werewolves Within follows a group of people in a small Vermont town who get trapped in a snowstorm only to suspect one of them is a werewolf.
Werewolves Within is a horror-comedy featuring an incredible cast that includes Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Harvey Guillén, Cheyenne Jackson, and Michaela Watkins, to name a few. That is some of the best comedic talent working today, but also, the film is genuinely scary, with some incredible atmosphere. The movie is both a great video game adaptation and a solid horror movie that makes for the perfect Halloween watch or even a summer movie, as the snow contrasts well with the hot sun (which is likely why it was released in theaters for the summer). Werewolves Within flew under many people’s radar as a smaller studio released it and because it was in the early days of theaters opening back up following the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet it is not a movie that should be slept on and is worth watching as it is the best video game movie. Stream on Hulu.