The best and worst video-game films: from 'Super Mario Bros' to 'Angry Birds 2'
Only three video-game blockbusters have a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes – and all of these came out in the past year
Video-game film adaptations have a long but lacklustre legacy.
When the Super Mario Bros leapt from their 16-bit world to the silver screen in 1993, people didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time a video game had been adapted into film and it was a high risk endeavour. But it made sense that the vanguards for this experiment were Mario and Luigi.
The pudgy plumber and his tall, lanky brother were hands-down the most recognisable video game characters at the time. If anybody was going to bridge the video game world with cinema, it was going to be them.
However, it wasn't a success. Critics panned the film, with reviewer Stephen Hunter saying it evoked in him “a mix of pity and terror”.
Fans of the video game couldn’t see what the dark, dystopic world of the film had to do with the colourful side-scroller. Sure, the plot had some semblance to the storyline found in the game, but it felt forced, lusterless and mimetic of 1990s sci-fi films by directors such as David Cronenberg and David Fincher.
At the box office, the film barely broke even of its $45 million (Dh165.2m) budget. It was, by all accounts, a failure. It hasn’t gotten much better for video-game inspired films – however, there has been some hope in the past year.
Only three video-game blockbusters have a Certified Fresh rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes (meaning more critics praised a film than panned it). All of these "fresh" films came out in the past year.
Few games have the source material to extrapolate into a film. Still, that hasn’t stopped filmmakers from trying to capitalise on the popularity of some titles: from the trudging boredom that was the Need For Speed film to the weary, drawn-out Assassin’s Creed that not even Michael Fassbender could save.
Here, we take a look at eight of the best and worst attempts at bringing a video game to the big screen.
Video-game films ranked from worst to best...
9. ‘Mortal Kombat: Annihilation’
There was nothing quite as gory as Mortal Kombat when the game hit arcades in 1993. You could pull people’s spines from their bodies, decapitate them and then paint the arena walls with blood by the end of the fight.
The franchise has kept up its controversial reputation over its 28 years. In fact, its latest release, Mortal Kombat 11, which came out last year, is banned in Indonesia, China, Japan and Ukraine for its violent gameplay. If you’ve played Mortal Kombat, chances are you’ll remember your first go at it.
The 1997 film adaptation Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was nowhere near as memorable. Although the first film, which was released in 1995, is still favourably viewed by fans, its sequel has few defenders. The Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus said it “managed to underachieve the low bar set by its predecessor”. Ouch.
8. ‘Max Payne’
This neo-noir third-person shooter set the standard for the genre in the early 2000s. Dark, gripping and lots of fun, the game put players in the shoes of a New York City police detective who turns into a vigilante after his family is murdered by drug dealers.
It was, theoretically, not a hard plot to mess up on screen but the 2008 adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg somehow managed to do so. Filmmakers jettisoned large chunks of the plot and heavily altered what was left. Then, to make matters worse, they threw in demons and other supernatural elements, none of which were in the game.
The end result was a drab, baffling adaptation. Scott Miller, one of the game's producers, said it had him shaking his head "in bewilderment”.
7. ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’
Part of why the Prince of Persia film is so bad is its casting: Jake Gyllenhaal, a white actor, takes on the role of a prince in ancient Persia, and he chooses to give the character a British accent. What now?!
But even if you manage to set that aside, and try to let yourself be absorbed by the film’s stunning visuals, the uninspired performances and script make this, as reviewer David Roark wrote: “ridiculous, silly and forgettable, but amusing nonetheless”.
6. ‘Resident Evil’
Here’s a title that just won’t stop trying to make it in show business. There have been, to date, six indistinguishable Resident Evil films, all of which star Milla Jovovich as Alice (who has never appeared in a Resident Evil game).
There are lots of crashes and bangs, but little else of note.
There were high hopes for this one. The video-game franchise is one of the most popular to date, with the World of Warcraft boasting more than 12 million active players at its peak. The video game’s lore is as intricate and layered as the Star Wars universe, and there is a wealth of material to work from.
The film spent a good 10 years in development before it was released in 2016. Warcraft isn't as much of a disaster as some of the other films here. It is visually stunning, but you will find yourself struggling to pay attention when watching it. The film would have likely been redeemable if follow-ups were released to continue the story. But given its poor box-office performance, that's unlikely, and so we're left with an extremely lengthy introduction and a set of ellipses.
4. ‘Pokemon Detective Pikachu’
While the 2019 film makes leaves you with questions about the plot, Ryan Reynolds makes this film fun.
It takes an unconventional approach to video-game adaptations. It doesn’t try to bring a video game to the big screen, but rather tells a story on screen in the world of the video game.
The film is one of the three major video-game film adaptations to have managed to get a Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, earning a modest 68 per cent.
3. 'Mortal Kombat'
Disdained by critics but revered by fans, the first Mortal Kombat film is still worth a watch, despite showing signs of its age. The film has certainly borrowed elements from Bruce Lee classics such as Enter The Dragon, and to its advantage because Mortal Kombat is still probably one of the most entertaining fighting films to come out of the 1990s.
Part of the film's appeal is, unlike its sequel, it doesn't try too hard. It is a fun, martial arts film with a fantasy twist that does justice to the essence of the video game. Also, if you're a fan Mortal Kombat, you'll find yourself giddy at watching Scorpion yell "get over here" as he thrusts a blade out of his hand.
2. ‘Angry Birds 2’
The first Angry Birds film was not as bad as everyone thought it would be. Much like the game, it was fun and straightforward.
The sequel, filled with slapstick humour, makes for a great family film. At the time of publishing, Angry Birds 2 was the top rated video game film on Rotten Tomatoes, achieving a respectable 73 per cent.
1. 'Sonic The Hedgehog’
The spiny blue hedgehog was Sega’s answer to Mario’s popularity when the first game came out in 1991. And while Sonic hasn’t starred in as many video games as his pudgy nemesis, he has certainly become just as recognisable. He fared better on the big screen, too.
The film, which was partially shot in Abu Dhabi, hauled in more than $100m when it was released in theatres worldwide on February 14, breaking the record for the highest opening of any video-game movie adaptation in film history.
And in a sense, the numbers don’t lie. The film is as fun as the speedy side-scroller and benefits from Jim Carrey’s brilliantly goofy comeback to comedy.
Updated: September 15, 2020 12:25 PM