The video game movie adaptations from the early ’00s didn’t exactly rule, but they sure weren’t formulaic, either. These things were wild, and therefore much more interesting than a lot of the content we get on streaming these days. I invite you to try to reappraise video game movies that got unfairly maligned back when we didn’t know how bad things would get.
7. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
First off, I have to say that I don’t entirely agree with the opinion that Max Caufield from Life Is Strange expresses above. Hell, I don’t even bite that she cares about the movie all that much, considering how she gets the name wrong. Still, I remember watching that in theaters when it first came out. The experience was mind-blowing. Why don’t more people agree with me? Well, I assume it’s because most people didn’t see it in theatres.
Square tried hard to make something new and beautiful that would resonate with FF fans and outsiders alike. They sure did make something new and beautiful. It just didn’t resonate with anyone. I get that it lacks pacing and that the plot isn’t particularly memorable, but experiencing this in theatres felt like what I assume many would only feel ten years later when watching Avatar.
The Spirits Within came out close to the release of Shrek, whose box office success made Square’s film feel like a straight-to-DVD release. Still, if you’re to watch the two back-to-back nowadays, Shrek isn’t nearly as funny, and The Spirits Within remains beautiful, albeit a bit dull — so basically as fun as watching Shrek as an adult.
6. Tomb Raider (2018)
If you like HBO’s The Last Of Us, then you probably should check this one out. Not because they’re similar, but because Tomb Raider is also a very safe adaptation. The only big change we get from the game is the third act, which feels a lot like the third act from the original Uncharted game, so that still counts as a safe adaptation.
Also, there’s Alicia Vikander, who actually breathes way more life into the character than nu-Lara from the games.
This film never reaches the highs of Angelina Jolie’s first movie, but it never reaches its lowest lows, either. It’s the perfect simulation of a dangerous tomb-raiding escapade.
5. Super Mario Bros. (yes, the original one from 1993)
1993’s Super Mario Bros. failed to reach the hearts and pockets of fans, but it had the same idea that the best video game TV show adaptations of today all had: doing something original with the source material.
Too bad they strayed too far from what people felt comfortable with and we ended up with something that didn’t resonate with anyone.
Even though it didn’t work out, probably due to a really messed-up production cycle that got worsened by studio meddling, Super Mario Bros. still gave us a bunch of hilarious memes.
4. Silent Hill (2006)
The original Silent Hill film — definitely not the second one — is way more beautiful than it needed to be. Christophe Gans, the director whose style feels like it inspired Bloodborne, went all out in terms of eye candy.
Silent Hill could’ve featured one hundred cheap jump-scares and audiences would have liked it, but Gans said no, and confidently crafted a moody film that mostly captures the feel of the game. Though it exists because someone saw its money-making potential, I love seeing a “product” that feels so untainted by studio meddling.
I believe that the biggest problem of this film is that it sometimes sticks too close to the formula of the original game, and sometimes gets too far away from it. I wish Silent Hill could’ve told a new tale set in that town. Still, I’m still quite happy with what we ended up getting.
Also, even though his presence in the film makes no sense, that Pyramid Head kill — you know which one— is one of the best that I’ve ever seen in any horror film.
3. Tomb Raider (2001)
I saw this in theaters back when it came out and never thought much of it. It was only twenty years later that I caught Tomb Raider on TV and naively thought that I’d just watch one scene and change the channel. I stayed until the very end of the credits, because even the soundtrack owns.
I don’t think I need to talk about Angelina Jolie in the role. Everyone understands that she absolutely nailed it.
The rest of the people making Tomb Raider also knew how to make this thing fun. The only problem here, I’d say, is that it was seemingly made through the lens of people who think video games never evolved past the “just blow stuff up” mentality of the ’80s. Nearly all of the action scenes here are good, up until the moment when they go too over the top.
Lara doesn’t need a training robot just that’s just there for a bloated opening action sequence. Even Lara herself states that it feels like an unnecessarily dangerous thing to have around.
Cut some of the over-the-top action, some of the unnecessarily expensive CGI, all of the dodgy CGI, the sappy scene with Jon Voight, and this is a legitimately awesome action romp.
2. House Of The Dead (2003)
If you are reading this, it means I have succeeded in reaching you through a secret channel the editors don’t know of. Yeah, I’m ranking an objectively bad movie really high, but please hear me out.
Don’t watch this one alone. You’re gonna have a bad time. I don’t mean that because House Of The Dead is too scary. It’s because, just like the original game, this is meant to be a multiplayer affair. This is the kind of experience you want to share with your friends. Otherwise, good luck explaining to anyone just how bad it is.
The House Of The Dead movie is an accidentally great adaptation of the source material. The incredibly messy action scenes? They play out just like the levels of an arcade game hellbent on killing you to get more of your money. The bad acting? Well, that’s actually just a perfect recreation of the series’ hilariously bad-acted cutscenes.
It’s also, I’d imagine, even more bafflingly hilarious to the people who don’t know it’s based on a video game. Just imagine how bonkers it’ll feel when these unwitting fans-to-be get hit by those action scenes that are intercut with footage from the game?
House Of The Dead never stops upping the ante in terms of stupidity, so it never really gets boring. If your group ends up enjoying this one as much as my group did, then I recommend you get your friends to watch Alone In The Dark next. It’s just as “good“.
1. Resident Evil (2002)
Paul W. S. Anderson doesn’t get the respect he deserves when it comes to horror. None of his movies are straight-up great. Still, his most inspired moments are more than enough to make up for the bad ones.
The original Resident Evil is a surprisingly fun film. I’d say there’s even a great movie there if you just remove some of the over-the-top action. It had the right idea of doing something original rather than copying the games. In fact, it could even do away with all the zombie-related stuff. They could’ve made it just about people trapped in an underground facility that’s haunted by the ghost of the Red Queen. You know, that evil AI behind the awesome corridor laser scene? I’d pay to watch that movie right now.
Too bad they didn’t learn their own lesson and just copy-pasted Resident Evil 3 to make the sequel.