Ever since the first video-game film – 1993’s Super Mario Bros – hit cinemas, filmmakers have wrestled (and frequently lost) with the knotty problem at the heart of adapting a beloved video game for the big screen.
Just how faithful should your tie-in be?
Make it too like an interactive video-game and it’ll be game over as a film. But take too many liberties with the source material and the very fans you want to attract are likely to hit restart on your finished blockbuster.
But there is a sweet spot and these five films nailed it, honouring the spirit of their video-game inspirations while layering on crowd-pleasing big-screen thrills. Enjoy our speed run of the best video-game films to date, and stick around as we reveal the game-inspired movies coming your way in 2021 and 2022.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Don’t get us wrong – we enjoyed Alicia Vikander’s take on Lara Croft in 2018’s gritty, big-screen Tomb Raider reboot (inspired by 2013’s gritty video-game franchise reboot).
But in terms of sheer, park-your-brain-and-guzzle-popcorn fun, Angelina Jolie’s plummy, pistol-packing performance is hard to beat.
Rather than try and recreate any one of the main Tomb Raider games out at the time, director Simon West (Con Air, Expendables 2) wisely nailed the series’ essential elements – its confident, capable hero, loads of globe-trotting with lashings of Indiana Jones-lite temple puzzles, a mystical McGuffin – and just had fun.
Jolie was perfect casting at the time (effortlessly charming and in control), the set-pieces rattle along nicely and, as a bonus, we get to see a young Daniel Craig unofficially auditioning for James Bond – a role he’d get four years later.
A neat fact considering that the majority of the film was shot on Pinewood’s vast 007 Stage.
Resident Evil (2002)
Capcom’s Resident Evil franchise has a rich and expansive mythology but its essence is this: the nefarious Umbrella Corporation screws up (by accident or design), releasing its T-virus bioweapon into the general population and turning everyone but our hero(es) into homicidal zombies.
Paul W.S. Anderson has overseen six Resident Evil films, cherry-picking elements and characters from the games to create an alternate Resi reality. To date, it remains the most successful video-game film franchise in history.
But that subsequent success owes it all to the 2002 original.
Resident Evil leans more heavily on the games’ claustrophobic survival horror. What’s more, it combines enough series staples – the brain-on-the-outside Licker and zombie dogs are highlights – with memorable new elements, to stand on its own zombified two feet. As for Milla Jovovich, her Alice is one of cinema’s most underrated action heroes.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Overshadowed somewhat by the character's infamous original design reveal, the finished Sonic the Hedgehog was an unexpected delight.
For one thing, Sonic not only ended up looking like his video-game inspiration but was voiced to motormouth perfection by comedian, Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation). Then there’s Jim Carrey’s scenery-chewing, career-boosting return to form as Sonic’s moustachioed nemesis, Dr. Robotnik.
James Marsden (Enchanted, Westworld) is spot-on as Sonic’s long-suffering but supportive human sidekick, the script is funny with real heart, and the set-pieces are as fast and spectacular as you’d hope from the world’s favourite supersonic spiny mammal.
Still not convinced?
To put it another way, if you concluded that Sonic the Hedgehog’s initial design woes were the sign of a must-miss movie, think again. This is fast becoming a video-game-inspired favourite.
Silent Hill (2006)
Konami’s survival horror series of video-games set in the cursed American town of Silent Hill never garnered the mass appeal that its Capcom cousin, Resident Evil did, but it’s arguably a superior scarer.
Silent Hill’s genius hook – in the games and on the big screen – is the town’s split personality that shifts between the world we know and a fog-shrouded, abomination-filled alternate version, announced by a blood-chilling air-raid siren.
Directed with flair and a clear love of the source material by Christophe Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf), Silent Hill isn’t just a good video-game adaptation.
It’s a genuinely effective and atmospheric horror film.
The human cast – including Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean and Laurie Holden – act their socks off, the other cast of misshapen body-horror beasts is a delightfully gross grab-bag of limbs and mortified flesh, and all in all it guarantees you’ll never look at a foggy day in the same way again.
Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Securing Ryan Reynolds to play a wisecracking Pikachu is a very effective way to get the world to pay attention to your video-game adaptation.
But thankfully, the first-ever live-action Pokémon film – based on 2016’s Nintendo 3DS game of the same name – has even more going for it than a reassuringly irreverent performance by Mr Blake Lively.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Pokémon Detective Pikachu is blessed with a top-notch script that’s frequently laugh-out-loud funny, plus the sustained thrill of seeing some of the most famous and infamous Pokémon at large in a real-world setting.
But above all Detective Pikachu succeeds by being an entertaining and engrossing mystery with bags of charm.
That’s great news for all film-lovers.
And if you play (or used to play) Pokémon?
You’ll have an absolute (Poké)ball.
Release date: 16 April 2021
Directed by: Simon McQuoid
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Mehcad Brooks, Ludi Lin, Jessica McNamee, Hiroyuki Sanada, Joe Taslim.
1995’s outstandingly cheesy Mortal Kombat movie is a so-bad-it’s-good guilty pleasure but this big-screen reboot looks like it’s going to be a rock-solid martial arts action film.
Produced by James Wan (Saw, Insidious, The Conjuring), and wisely opting for an ‘R’ rating, we’re hoping for a no-holds-barred fight-fest with the video-games’ OTT fatalities replicated in all their gross-out g(l)ory.
Happily, the epically violent red-band trailer suggests it will more than live up to that hope.
Release date: 11 February 2022
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali.
Naughty Dog are a gaming studio responsible for some of the most immersive and cinematic games ever to grace console gaming. And while we're sad to see their post-apocalyptic franchise The Last Of Us head to the small screen, we're beyond excited that the action-adventure Uncharted series is soon to make its cinematic bow.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Venom), and starring Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Homecoming), Mark Wahlberg (The Departed) and Antonio Banderas (Desperado), this big-screen adaptation will be a prequel to the game franchise's main narrative, focusing on a younger Nathan Drake.
Move over Indiana Jones? This one has ‘high-quality blockbuster’ written all over it.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Release date: 8 April 2022
Directed by: Jeff Fowler
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ben Schwartz, Tika Sumpter, James Marsden.
Paramount Pictures’ 11-second title announcement for the Sonic sequel has managed to stir up a lot of excitement.
The film’s title has been confirmed as – wait for it – Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which may not be groundbreakingly innovative but actually follows the naming convention of the Sonic games so it’s 100% on point.
In addition to this the teaser has a couple of intriguing details. Not only is Miles ‘Tails’ Prower’s mid-credits cameo a definite pointer to a full role in Sonic 2 (as shown by the Tails-themed ‘2’), but the accompanying music is a remix of the Emerald Hill theme from the first level of the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 game!
We were excited about this sequel before this teaser dropped, but now we’re excited and delighted to know it's in the hands of people who know and love Big Blue as much as us.
Tomb Raider 2
Release date: TBA 2022
Directed by: Misha Green
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Kristin Scott Thomas.
The further adventures of young Lara Croft are coming, with Alicia Vikander and Kristin Scott Thomas returning.
No plot details as yet but we’re super excited that the film will be written and directed by Misha Green (Lovecraft Country).
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu 2
Release date: TBA
Directed by: TBA
Starring: Ryan Reynolds.
Unusually, this sequel to the crossover caper was announced before the original film had even been released.
The script has been written by Oren Uziel, who penned the very funny 22 Jump Street, so we’re feeling optimistic about this one.
Release date: TBA
Directed by: Eli Roth
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart, Jamie-Lee Curtis.
Consistently funny and frenzied first-person shooter series, Borderlands is so full of distinctive and entertaining characters it’s screaming to be given the big-screen treatment.
Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) is an intriguing pick for director, suggesting an age-rating that’ll allow Borderlands the film to embrace the games’ gleefully cartoonish ultraviolence. And then there’s the genius initial casting: Jack Black is going to play Claptrap the robot, Cate Blanchett is due to play Lilith the Siren, Kevin Hart is lined up to play Roland the super-soldier and Jamie Lee Curtis is on board as the archeologist Patricia Tannis. We cannot wait to see which other A-listers join the cast in the coming months.