Once upon a time, Hollywood’s attempts to cash in on videogames landed awful results. These rancid failures birthed the notion that videogame films are box office poison…to which I say ‘baloney’. (Oh, Sure. The genre itself is totally to blame for the filmmaker’s ineptitude.) Thankfully, that trend has changed in recent years and generated adaptations done right! It’s a shame, though, how often these movies are quickly forgotten. It saddens my gamer heart, so as a former game designer trainee and just for fun, I’d like to share with you guys my personal favorite video-game movies!
Just as a reminder, this listing is my personal opinion. If you have a favorite videogame movie adaptation I didn’t mention, share it in the comments below! Now on with the countdown!
#6. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Okay. This is a teensie-weensie cheat. Wreck-It Ralph is not based on a pre-existing game. However, it is a remarkable homage to videogames and gaming culture in general. Ralph’s quest to prove he’s more than just the punch-clock villain of his arcade game is all kinds of charming, funny, and thoughtful. Cameos, phrases, and terminology familiar to gamers and developers alike are littered throughout, yet what really elevates these references to excellence is their use. Shoutouts in films today have become little more marketing gimmicks. However, the creators behind Wreck-It Ralph didn’t throw in gamer terms like some sloppy toss salad and call it a day. These elements mattered to the the point where an adventure like this only works within the gaming world, yet the writers still managed to keep things understandable for all viewers! Honestly, the only reason Wreck-It Ralph isn’t higher on this list is simply because (again) it’s not technically based on a pre-existing game. Still, it’s worthy of recognition.
#5. Assassin’s Creed (2016)
Now, Assassin’s Creed isn’t my favorite game series. I don’t even play them at all in accordance with my personal gaming code. However, I’ve long respected the series for its high quality, historical presentation, and killer music score. It’s funny then that I feel exactly same way about its cinema release. It’s got issues. Most scenes appear dirty and colorless. The story isn’t riveting or family appropriate. Even its messages are Biblically backwards. Still, the production effort behind Assassin’s Creed is admirably gargantuan. Did you know they replicated the infamous ‘Leap of Faith’ by hiring a stuntman to perform the highest free-fall on record?!? Their parkour professionals pulled off some insane maneuvers that would kill most people. Not to mention there’s the cool period costuming, elaborate sets, and rapid-fire combat choreography that gets better to me with each replay. It’s superb. Yes, this isn’t the best nor most recommendable adaptation. However, if you’re eager for high-stakes action that took high-risk to achieve, Assassin’s Creed is a fun ride.
#4. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (2009)
Being a Professor Layton fan, it’d be a crime for this film not to be here. What’s particularly special about it is its adherence to the source material. Most game adaptations take liberties to better suit movie-goers. The Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, on the other-hand, is the most game-to-film work I’ve ever seen. The original cast reprised their roles. It’s fully animated in the series’ 2D stylings. Several game soundtracks received full orchestral treatment. Even puzzles were sensibly incorporated into the plot. Seriously, the movie seems to challenge viewers to solve the brain-scratchers before the heroes do! It’s just so remarkably faithful to the quirky atmosphere the Layton games are trademarked for. Unfortunately, this level of loyalty cuts both ways. It’s not like Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva couldn’t be enjoyed by non-fans. There’s plenty for anyone to enjoy. Still, my biases can’t pretend this wasn’t first written with Layton veterans in mind. The series’ tendency for bizarre settings and mystery tales may weird out some people. Despite that though, this movie shows what Professor Layton is meant to be without apology. It’s an okay film in general. To my inner-fan, though, it’s dang delightful.
#3. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Most critics called it generic, but it gives me a darn good kick! I loved playing the original Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time years back, and I love this adaptation just as much. Now, to admit a fault, this movie sticks to its source pretty loosely. It’s more a patchwork combination of elements from several Prince of Persia games to be precise. Regardless, our titular Prince Dastan, performed masterfully by Jake Gyllenhaal, is an incredibly likable protagonist. The game’s iconic acrobatic action also translated extremely well to the screen, and its middle-eastern setting is as exotic as it is intriguing. My favorite thing about this film, though, is its heartwarming message of family. Dastan doesn’t repeatedly endanger his life just to stop a villain or some catastrophe. He’s, at his core, a loving man who’s desperate to protect and save the royal family, who adopted him as a child. It’s a desert trek even the non-gamers of my family enjoys from time to time, and any videogame film that accomplishes that alone is doing something very very right. It’s not exactly like its namesake, but Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an entertaining, compelling, and criminally underrated adventure worth rewinding.
#2. Detective Pikachu (2019)
I’m no Pokémon player, but man, Detective Pikachu won me over fast in ways that shouldn’t have worked. First, they focused on a mystery plot over a tournament plot. Then they added an original human character (something that usually pulls focus from pre-established characters). Then they utilized the incredibly tired ‘busybody father vs. jaded son’ cliché. Sounds pretty botched, doesn’t it? But when the opening sees the father killed in a crash, suddenly the film takes an interesting angle. Normally these ‘troubled father-son’ scenarios put the blame squarely on the dad. This time, however, it’s the son who regrets that he’s just as much to blame for their estrangement. Yes, he and an amnesiac Pikachu team up to resolve this tragedy, but he still must deal with the fact he didn’t try to mend that broken relationship in time. It’s quite a refreshing truth to hear; that having an imperfect father doesn’t excuse one to be unforgiving and bitter. Now, there’s certainly a lot more worth gushing about in this film. The CGI Pokémon blend phenomenally well with the human actors. Pikachu’s adorableness coupled with Ryan Reynold’s snarky wit is comedic gold. To top it off, the plot is funny and endearing. Still, what elevated the whole thing was Justice Smith’s outstanding performance as the troubled son. He carried the soul of this film in such a moving way, it transformed the whole thing from silly escapism to something that mattered. True, the mystery itself got ridiculous in places, and the female lead gets on my nerves sometimes but still. Detective Pikachu is like the perfect cup of coffee—warm and energizing.
#1. Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2 (2020 and 2022)
Pleasing fans yet not alienating the uninitiated is a tough balance to strike. Hence when two films based on Sonic the Hedgehog took the mythos, stayed true to it, and produced something universally charming, it’s nothing short of magical. In fact, these films possess all the positives and none of the negatives from prior entries. The references mattered. The production team re-animated the first film twice. Pre-established characters and lore were fully respected. Even the human characters enhanced the story, and most importantly, its messages were deep and needed. Watching Sonic be his usual thrill-seeker self yet struggle with his need for companionship is endearing and relatable. Tom Wakowski (James Marsden), the responsible and mature cop, provides a down-to-earth kindness so full of warmth. Even the big ham himself, Jim Carrey, brought his A-game as the kooky Dr. Eggman! And don’t get me started on Tails and Knuckles! They tripled everything great about the first film in the second go-round! However, the most incredible thing is how these films became a family favorite overnight. Even my parents, who cared and knew little about the franchise, sings these films praises! Their themes about what heroic responsibility should look like and how the insignificant acts can make all the difference in another’s life not only rings true Biblically. It’s an outlook that’s sorely missed today and so genuinely delivered here. So here’s to Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2! While the Blue Blur has had a rough game or two, his film adaptations set a new standard for videogame films never thought possible!
Now it’s your turn! What are your favorite game to film adaptations? I hope you enjoyed this blog! Please consider subscribing to my free newsletter for updates, discounts on my editing services, and prize draws! Thank you!