Video Game Movies: The Good, The Bad, and The Hoped-for

by Patrick Emmel

Video game plots have come a long way. Way back in the ’80s (forget about the Atari 2600 days, there were no game plots unless you count E.T. trying to find the phone icon in a maze), the closest you would get to an actual storyline was a yellow circle missing a sixth of his head being chased by colorful marshmallows with eyes. Maybe you would get a glimpse of a short, pixelated Italian plumber saving a princess, and that was if you were lucky. Most of the time, the main plot was about “HIGH SCORE” and your need to attain it. Remember Burger Time? Can you honestly pretend to come up with a plot to that game while keeping a straight face?

Luckily, or unfortunately depending on how nostalgic you are, video games have evolved not only in graphics, but with intense storylines paired up with cinematic animation sequences. Beating the game finally means something, as you are blasted with 20-minute game finales to tie the story together. The sequences prompt the question, “Why don’t they make a movie out of this?”

Hollywood answered, and has kept answering, for better or for worse, for over twenty years. Today, we rate some of those video game movies: the good, the bad, and the ones we hope may come.

good text Video Game Movies: The Good, The Bad, and The Hoped for

5) Silent Hill

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One reason why some people don’t like public bathrooms.

The Silent Hill series is one of the most notorious horror video game franchises, with 9 titles under its belt so far. The audio and animation work for this survival horror RPG made it as scary as any horror movie you would see, especially if you turn all the lights out while playing the game in your basement during a thunderstorm.

The game, in many ways, was less a game than an interactive movie itself. Shooting demons is relegated to what other games relegate cinematic cut-scenes to: perks that are far between. Since the game had done most of the work creating a movie, it seemed only proper that a real movie would follow. The movie did the video game franchise justice as a whole, using subtle audio silences to scare the crap out of an audience when any noise was made, an intense CGI change-over from reality to “Otherworld,” and a Pyramid Head that should have spawned Halloween costumes worldwide. The problem with the movie was plot. It’s not that the plot was horrible. The movie plot was just going up against years of intense game plots that could never be caught up to in a single movie. Maybe a television series would do it justice. *Hint hint.*

4) Mortal Kombat

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Any fan of martial arts movies and video games instantly “stood at attention” when it was rumored that a movie based on the Mortal Kombat fighting game series would be coming out. The game didn’t have much of a storyline. People were just excited that they may get to see live-action fatality sequences involving fighters having hearts and spines ripped out and heads punched off or blown up.

Unfortunately, the movie didn’t deliver in that regard, but it did improve the idea of what a fighting game movie could be: awesome martial arts duels reminiscent of movies like Master of the Flying Guillotine. The plot was basic, Christopher Lambert showed up, and we were entertained by the equivalent of an MMA iron man tournament. It was a formula that was lost in the sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

3) Dead Space: Downfall

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In the Dead Space video game series, the visual elements of a survival horror video game once again became so intense that anything less than a live-action movie would be ridiculous. Well, ridiculous, you have a new fan, because Dead Space: Downfall was animated, and it still managed to deliver. A live-action film may not have been as special anyway, considering that it would have been compared to sci-fi horror standards like Alien and Event Horizon.

The movie is a prequel. This word is normally followed by groans of disgust by film fans, but for video game fans, it is one of the most beautiful words in the world, followed by the acronym “DLC.” Finally, the past of the Ishimura is fully revealed, and in just over an hour.

2) Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

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When first-person shooters became a video game standard for role-playing games, there were two titles in the limelight: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. On the basis of Angelina Jolie’s figure, I’m glad they chose to go with Lara Croft.

With only two movies in the bank, the Lara Croft series expanded the world of grave-robbing that Indiana Jones began by creating a main character with…heart. But Lara Croft became more than that. With an arsenal that would make any weapons manufacturer drool and a car collection that would make Jay Leno faint,  Lara Croft became a female James Bond for more reasons than just the British accent. The movies became so good, in fact, that playing the game is considered by some to be anti-climactic.

1) Resident Evil

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I know what you may be saying: Milla Jovovich does not automatically make a video game movie #1. That’s true. It is especially true when Jovovich is involved in a movie franchise like Resident Evil, which took the game’s eerie, survival-horror nature and turned it into a horror-action movie, complete with enough slow-motion running to make Nicholas Cage blush.

They must have done something right, because Resident Evil is the title-holder of video game movies. Maybe it’s the insane-looking CGI monsters; maybe it’s the conspiracy storyline wrapped in the zombie revival craze that has hit movie theaters; maybe it really is just Milla Jovovich. The world may never know.

Next up, the BAD! —->

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5) Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

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To be fair, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within wasn’t really a bad movie. As the first photo-realistic computer-animated feature film, it was ground-breaking. With a cast that included Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, James Woods, and Donald Sutherland, it had talent. While the plot may have been preachy, it was tolerable. The problem was, this was not the movie that Final Fantasy fans wanted.

In 1997, Sony Playstations were sold in bulk when the greatest role-playing video game of all time was released, Final Fantasy 7. With a 3-D world and the weaving storyline of Cloud, Sephiroth, and Midgar that filled up 3 discs, Final Fantasy 7 became, and still is, the goal of RPG games in regards to plot development. When a Final Fantasy movie was rumored, fans were hoping for a movie that made the cut-scenes of Final Fantasy 7 even better, without having to spend days breeding chocobos.

Amends were offered to fans when Final Fantasy: Advent Children was released, an epilogue movie to the game, but by then it was too late.

4) Max Payne

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The Max Payne video game series gave new life to the first-person shooter. Using comic book pages instead of cinematic cut-scenes to tell the story of an undercover cop with nothing to lose, it was a video-game interpretation of detective film noir with the element of “Bullet Time,” lifted directly from The Matrix. (Remember the millennium, kids? You couldn’t turn around without a string of cameras rotoshooting you.

Unfortunately, Max Payne the movie was a film interpretation of a video game interpretation of a film genre, which is just too much of a stretch to take seriously. Add to that the fact that “Bullet Time” had already been done in The Matrix and you have a disjointed film that would forever be compared to other, better films, that is easily forgettable and may never earn a sequel like its gaming console predecessor.

3) Street Fighter

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Street Fighter 2 is arguably one of the greatest fighting game franchises on the planet. Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and Virtua Fighter may have expanded the genre, but Street Fighter 2 got the ball rolling. When it was rumored that the game would spawn a live-action movie, dreams of what Blanka, Dhalsim, Guile, Vega, and M. Bison would look like in reality filled the dreams of video game fans. Sadly, the movie not only didn’t deliver, but may have destroyed the franchise.

First off, the acting was horrible. We didn’t expect an Oscar-winning performance from star Jean-Claude Van Damme. Apparently the creators of Street Fighter did, leading to a dragging storyline about Special Ops agents fighting terrorists with more throw-away pro-America shots than any movie from the 1940s. That plot was the second problem. It didn’t deliver the same intensity of martial arts duels that the game featured, the intensity that Mortal Kombat finally delivered to fighting-game fans. Sometimes more is clearly not better.

2) Super Mario Bros.

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Mario and Luigi have had quite a run in the gaming world. The sight of Mario’s mustachioed face is almost as recognizable worldwide as Mickey Mouse. Featuring brainwashed mushrooms, evil turtles, and, of course, Italian plumbers saving a princess, the games were never about being realistic. They were just good, plain fun.

The movie Super Mario Bros. tried to capture that innocent playfulness and expanded it into a live-action feature, but failed miserably. Maybe it was the fact that Goombas were reinvented to be giant club bouncers with itty-bitty craniums. Maybe John Leguizamo’s Brooklyn accent was just a bit over the top. Maybe fans were disgusted that the big movie climax had ray-guns, a prop Mario Mario and Luigi Mario never used. Maybe it was the fact that, instead of just having a vertical leap that would make Michael Jordan proud, Mario and Luigi used special boots that needed to be refilled with “Bullet Bills” every time they wanted to jump again.

With all of these problems, it’s hard for the stars of the movie like Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, and Bob-omb to truly save it from utter confusing mediocrity. It would also be hard to find another movie that could have ended any hope for another movie based on a video game…almost.

1) Double Dragon

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The Double Dragon game series began with a simple idea: put two brothers in an 8-bit street to beat up gang members to save their woman. Yes, one woman. If you were playing it in two-player, you would be forced to fight your brother because there can really be only one. It was basic, it was fun, and it helped launch the most ridiculously awful video game movie ever made.

Starring Scott Wolf, known for such action-packed masterpieces such as Party of Five, and Mark Dacascos, who should have known better after his top-notch martial arts work in American Samurai, Double Dragon was a video game movie so bad that its video game franchise changed its format to a straight-up fighting game with Double Dragon V: The Shadow Falls to spare itself further embarrassment. The ugly special effects turned Koga Shuko into a black-and-white shadow, and the colorful early ’90s fashion created a movie that most people have forgotten, in part because most people fell asleep watching it. Even the screen power of Alyssa Milano and Abobo couldn’t stop Double Dragon from one-upping Super Mario Bros. in horrible video game movie concepts.

Next up, the HOPEFUL! —->

<—-Or go back to remember the GOOD times!

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5) Manhunt

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Sometimesa movie influences the creation of a badass video game. That’s exactly what happened when The Running Man helped bring about the first-person slaughter game, Manhunt. Yes, it took 16 years to happen, but I stand by my belief on this.

Manhunt was a notorious psychological horror video game that defined “unrated” in terms of violence. The plot of the game involves a serial killer being filmed murdering other serial killers from anything as simple as a bottle to as grisly as a chainsaw for the entertainment of a snuff film producer. The more morbid the death, the better the post-kill review cut-scene. The title incited controversy due to the graphic nature of the game, and was banned in many countries. A sequel, of course, was inevitable.

Such violence yearns for an interpretation in film. Horror movies have been pushing the envelope with content for years. A movie like this could incorporate the craze of found-footage horror and help bring about this century’s version of Faces of Death. Here’s hoping.

4) Fallout

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If you think about it, the Fallout game series really doesn’t need a movie interpretation. There have been loads of amazing movies based on the pretense of post-apocalyptic America that Fallout followed: Mad Max; Escape from New York; The Book of Eli. The games themselves are so plot-intensive that it could be hard to set a movie up with anything less than a trilogy.

Still, the story contained in Fallout, particularly Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, would fill movie theaters to max capacity if a film was done right.

3) Metroid

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Science fiction video games were given a healthy dose of ingenious game-play and sexiness when female bounty hunter Samus Aran was introduced to Nintendo consoles everywhere with Metroid. The fight against the Mother Brain only gained steam as graphics and game-play improved over the years, especially in showing that the humanoid in the space-suit was indeed a woman.

Samus should be given some screen-time of her own, perhaps in the guise of Charlize Theron. Hollywood, make it happen.

2) Ninja Gaiden

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What Double Dragon was in terms of simplistic game plot is the exact opposite of Ninja Gaiden. Ninja Gaiden used the same side-scrolling technique, but had the foresight to break it up with 8-bit cinematic cut-scenes. The payoff was a video game franchise that is still with us today.

So why is it that Double Dragon had a film interpretation and Ninja Gaiden has been left to its own devices such as cinematic cut-scenes? People love ninjas! The pirates/ninjas debate has been going on for years, and pirates are winning out because they made a movie franchise based on a free outdoor show in Vegas. With a movie adaption of Ninja Gaiden, ninjas could take the lead once again.

1) The Legend of Zelda

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When The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released to the world in December, one question will be on the mind of every fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy–What will Peter Jackson do next? My hope: a movie adaption of The Legend of Zelda.

There are plenty of video games out there that could inspire just as good, if not possibly better, films for Jackson: Diablo; Elder Scrolls; Castlevania; maybe even Metal Gear or Killzone if Jackson wanted to come into the 21st century. However, the Triforce of Power that Link, Zelda, and Ganon have held over us for decades cannot be slighted. The Legend of Zelda needs a live-action movie, if only to wash the taste of the animated television show out of our collective mouths.

This isn’t just me talking like the fan-boy that I am.  On April 1st 2008, the most diabolical April Fool’s joke was played on the world when IGN released a fake trailer for a live-action film, Legend of Zelda. Gamers everywhere are still reeling.


Gaila, the Orion Girl from Star Trek, played by the unbelievably beautiful Rachel Nichols

She’s not easy, being green

Patrick Emmel has been known to cheat at plot-driven video games by looking up cut-scenes on Youtube. You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.

Enjoy Patrick’s jaunt into sci-fi with Otherworldly Women We Love. –>

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