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3 Of The Best (And 3 Of The Worst) Video Game Adaptations Of All Time

3 Of The Best (And 3 Of The Worst) Video Game Adaptations Of All Time

Video game adaptations for so many years always elicited a reaction of scrunched faces and nervous eye rolls, often without even watching a trailer or looking at a single screenshot. This is hardly surprising considering that the history of games on the big (and small) screen includes Doom, Street Fighter and House of the Dead.

In last couple of years however, the phrase “video game adaptation” is eliciting a feeling of hope and slightly less scrunched faces. Largely due to finding their place on television, including this week’s release with Fallout. Television has allowed adequate time for fleshed-out characters and the ability to effectively build a world that can accurately contain what a video game typically spends 15-20 hours of story to depict.

So with that, let's take a look at some of the best (and some of the worst) video game adaptations of all time:


Best: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Hear me out: The first attempt to adapt the story of Lara Croft to the big screen is not without its faults and certainly isn’t appearing here in ignorance of them. Lara Croft was already a cultural icon thanks to her adventures on the PlayStation 1 as well as other blocky and triangular aesthetic purposes. The movie would follow suit and become iconic in its own right. To this day, Angelina Jolie is the face of live-action Lara Croft (you were great too, Alicia Vikander) and it’s the role that solidified her and her diversity in Hollywood. It has some great action too and whilst it isn’t a particularly tough category, it ranks highly in video game adaptations before they started to become cool.


Worst: May Payne

Max Payne is one of the most iconic characters in one of the most iconic video games of all time by gaming king Rockstar. At a time when trench coats and slow-motion were the in-thing, Max Payne took everybody’s favourite aspects from The Matrix and John Woo movies and put them in a violent, gritty world led by an alcoholic police detective-turned-vigilante. By 2008 though, those things were no longer the in-thing but Remedy, Rockstar and John Moore decided it was the perfect time to call Mark Wahlberg and put him in the middle of, well... this.

The big screen version of Max Payne succeeded in recreating the mood and atmosphere of its source material and even had some fun action but it was messy, failed as a gripping narrative and lent too far into the supernatural elements that had no place in the original story. In the game, there is a drug named Valkyr which causes mental deterioration. In the film, they decided that it also causes hallucinations of actual Valkyries. Except the Valkyries are presented as ghoulish creatures and not female warriors as they are in Norse mythology. Also, the fact that everybody who takes this drug would have the exact same, highly specific hallucinations is just scientifically preposterous. It was so bad that it caused the game’s producer Scott Miller to make a public statement against it. Spare yourself the Payne.


Best: The Witcher

The Witcher became a bit of a cultural phenomenon complete with songs, memes and the internet ogling over Henry Cavil as Geralt of Rivia. Whilst The Witcher is technically not based on the video game series but rather the books by Andrzej Sapkowski that the games are based on, much of our visual understanding of the world and its stories as well as most people’s introduction to them did come from said games. Both the books and the games are not only beloved but highly regarded, with the latter’s third instalment being widely regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time, and so the pressure was on for Netflix to deliver, and deliver they did!

Henry Cavil is a known and proud fan of the franchise and so it meant a lot to him to stay faithful to it, which is ultimately what led to his departure when showrunners began taking creative liberties with the source material. Until now, the show has been full of slick action, some great comedy, and solid performances. We’ll see what’s in store for the future of the show, and we hope it stays bright!


Worst: Super Mario Bros.

This is for lack of a better word, a weird one. The Super Mario Bros franchise is the most iconic video game franchise of all time, and Mario and Luigi are perhaps the most iconic double act of all time (yes, even more than Kendall and Kylie) and so a movie based on their colourful, bouncy world would surely be a lot of child-friendly fun, right? In the words of Dr. Evil, “How ‘bout nooo!” In 1993, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel decided, along with Nintendo, that the Mario brand was strong enough to experiment with. But as the old saying goes: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This version of Super Mario is more akin to Ghostbusters. It takes place in a dystopian future where (stay with me here) the meteorite hit Earth during the age of the dinosaurs, resulting in the universe being split into two parallel dimensions with surviving dinos escaping into the other reality and evolving into a humanoid race and founding the city of Dinohatten, ruled by President Kooper (Bowser). They must’ve gotten their hands on some dino strain of Valkyr because what in the long-tongued-Bart-Simpson-haired-Dennis-Hopper is going on here?! It has become a bit of a “so bad it’s good” cult favourite over time and did prove influential as film was moving from practical to digital effects. But that doesn't change the fact the Nintendo would refuse to license another film based on Mario for 30 years, until 2023’s actually fun and colourful The Super Mario Bros. Movie.


Best: The Last of Us

In a lot of ways, The Last of Us has saved the reputation of video game adaptations. A bit of a culmination of the short string of the good ones that came before it, The Last of Us can certainly make claim to being the finest console-to-screen adaptation of all time. Why? Because it actually takes the time to explore its source material without straying away from it. The series at times is a line-for-line and shot-for-shot clone of Naughty Dog’s creation. For fans of the game, it’s a nostalgic re-telling of a story with characters we spent many hours with and for those who didn’t, it’s a chance to experience what we’ve been raving about for years.

There is also some welcome expansion upon the ideas and events of the game which keeps it fresh even for those who are in the know. A fan of the game, co-creator Craig Mazin stated that the idea was to "fill things out and expand, not to undo, but rather to enhance." Co-creator of the game Neil Druckmann felt that the most important element was to “keep the soul” which is something that adaptations of the past have often lost by creating standalone movies with a “flavour” of their source material rather than trusting it outright. The success of the series is a testament to how well the video game is written and hopefully will prove to naysayers that video games can be just as rich in narrative as any original film or series, or even more so.


WORST: Alone in the Dark

Uwe Boll’s Alone in the Dark is the undisputed king of awful video game adaptations and in a whole list of them by the man himself, it is also widely considered one of the worst films ever made. Unlike some movies like Super Mario Bros that would go on to take on the “so bad it’s good” label, this Christian Slater-led action horror is still, almost two decades later, unanimously agreed to still be just as bad as it was when it first graced us with its ugly extraterrestrial face. A loose adaptation of the survival horror series of the same name, the story follows a paranormal detective investigating an ancient alien race that comes back to life.

It opens with a minute-and-a-half of scrolling text that sets the scene, and you’re then treated to an hour-and-a-half of unanswered questions, decisions that make zero sense and information and happenings that never come up again. For all of its absurdity, bad CGI and mimicry of other far better movies, it got a sequel that was apparently much better. I didn’t watch it though. Nobody did.

We sincerely hope that video game adaptations continue on their current trajectory. But no matter how many great adaptations there are, to forget just how bad they were for so long would be utterly absurd; not to mention a great disservice to how far we've come.

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LordRizz - April 15, 2024

Angelina Jolie will always be Lara Croft.

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