Video game stories are notoriously difficult to translate onto the big screen. There have been some remarkable TV adaptations in recent years, such as ‘Castlevania’, ‘The Last of Us’, ‘The Witcher’, ‘Cyberpunk: Edgerunners’, and most famously – the record-busting masterpiece that was ‘Arcane’.
Unfortunately, movies based on video games tend to lag behind their serialized counterparts and are rarely critically acclaimed. Nevertheless, there have been some gems over the years, so let’s go over the best video-game-inspired movies to date.
Full disclosure: as cinema is a highly subjective topic, chances are that we’ll miss many people’s favorites. (Sorry!)
Despite its name, ‘Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie’ is the first film based on the iconic Capcom fighting game franchise. The movie came out in 1994 and was immediately followed by the 1995–1997 Street Fighter animated series.
To Western audiences, the presence of this animated feature at the top of our list can seem a bit odd, as it’s almost 30 years old and didn’t even get a theatrical release in the US. However, the movie did get a wide release in Japan, the UK, France, and Spain. It was a massive hit in Japan, where it grossed $29 million – a considerable achievement for that market, especially three decades ago.
What’s more important for our list is that it actually is one of the best video-game-inspired movies to date. It currently sits at 7.2/10 on IMDb, which is not only one of the highest ratings of any video-game movie, but it’s also particularly impressive for an older movie since those rarely get higher ratings from modern audiences.
If you’re wondering whether to check it out, this anime classic is exactly what you’d expect if you’re a fan of the classic arcade and console SFII hit – fun, fast-paced, beautifully drawn, and a great time overall.
The second entry on our list is another animation, but this one is quite different. ‘Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children’ came out in 2005 and is the second movie in the franchise after the 2001 ‘Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within’. Many would say that both deserve to be on this list, as ‘The Spirits Within’ not only paved the way for ‘Advent Children’ but also introduced a whole new animation style to the big screen.
Ratings-wise, however, ‘The Spirits Within’ wasn’t a big hit with critics and sits at only 6.4/10 on IMDb. Advent Children, on the other hand, scores 7.2/10, which puts it on par with ‘Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie’. Unfortunately, like Street Fighter, Advent Children didn’t get a wide theatrical release in the US, so its Western audiences were limited.
Anime wasn’t as widely popular in the US then as it is now, making the decision to go straight to DVD understandable. Nevertheless, ‘Advent Children’ is an enjoyable and visually impressive animated feature even two decades after its release. This more than earns it a spot on our list.
A score of 7.1 out of 10 isn’t that high of a rating for a mainstream high-budget feature film, but it’s incredibly high for a video-game-inspired movie. This alone tells us a lot about the state of game-to-cinema adaptations. The 2023 animation was also at the center of a lot of controversy around the casting of Chris Pratt and the practice of overlooking voice actors for voice actor roles.
Nevertheless, the movie proved to be a fun romp and a massive box office success, surpassing $1 billion worldwide. There is also no denying that the 2023 animation was a far superior Super Mario adaptation than the 1993 mess with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.
As of writing this, the 2016 ‘Warcraft’ movie sits at 6.7/10 on IMDb. Sadly, the movie was largely seen as a disappointment by the Warcraft fan base. It wasn’t all that successful at the box office either, as it barely reached $439 million despite needing $450-500 million to break even. Unsurprisingly, no sequel was made or has even been announced.
The overall issue cited by most critics and fans of the game was that the movie tried to tell too much of the game’s story in just two hours. Despite all that, Warcraft is a visually impressive and fun popcorn flick—as long as you don’t expect it to live up to the fantastic video games.
The Resident Evil movies may be far from Oscar-worthy, but they are not trying to be either. If anything, the seven ‘Resident Evil’ movies are some of the most “faithful” video game adaptations to date. At the very least, they are the same zombie-filled bullet fests as their video game counterparts.
Of those movies, the first ‘Resident Evil’ boasts the highest IMDb rank at 6.6/10. While that’s not particularly high, the cult status of this franchise is undeniable – there are also RE feature-length animations, comics, and even casino slots that go deeper into the stories behind the iconic game.
The 2010 Prince of Persia didn’t receive much praise after its release. If anything, it was the subject of considerable controversy over the lead role of ‘The Prince of Persia’ going to the Swedish-American Jake Gyllenhaal. The movie made only $336.4 million at the global box office – not enough to break even or earn a sequel, similar to ‘Warcraft’.
Nevertheless, the movie was quite well-made (especially compared to other video game movies) and is a pretty fun action-adventure flick in retrospect.
Ryan Reynolds starred in the surprise 2019 hit ‘Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’. While expectations for the production were mild at first, the movie grossed over $450 million worldwide against a budget of $150 million. This, together with the relatively good reviews (6.5/10 on IMDb and 68% on Rotten Tomatoes), prompted the studio to announce a sequel too. While the sequel has been delayed because of “production issues,” and it’s expected to come out in 2025.
While it had an unexpected premise, ‘Detective Pikachu’ was welcomed warmly by the Pokémon fan base and wider audiences. The film also had a kid-friendly tone, which made it an excellent family movie.
2020 saw the release of another part-live-action/part-animation movie – ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’. Like ‘Detective Pikachu’, ‘Sonic’ sits at 6.5/10 on IMDb. It had a lower worldwide box office ($306.8 million), but it was much faster in releasing a sequel. ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 2’ came out in 2022 and also sits at 6.5/10 on IMDb. In fact, ‘Sonic the Hedgehog 3’ has already been announced for 2024.
Overall, the first two ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ movies were fun and fast-paced adventures, with Jim Carrey being especially memorable as Dr. Robotnik. The first movie also garnered a lot of goodwill from the fans, as it made some expensive last-minute CGI changes to Sonic’s design after the first trailer received a torrent of negative feedback.
The 2022 ‘Uncharted’ movie was visually impressive and had a star-studded cast with the likes of Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, and Antonio Banderas. The film still received mixed reviews, however, as fans and critics alike didn’t seem to think it lived up to the level of the famous video game series.
Still, the broader audiences saw the movie as a fun action-adventure flick and gave it a respectable 6.3/10 on IMDb. ‘Uncharted’ made $407.1 million at the global box office against a budget of $120 million too. Whether that’s enough to warrant a sequel is anyone’s guess, as Sony has yet to announce one.
Should we talk about the 1995 ‘Mortal Kombat’ cult classic starring Christopher Lambert, the 2021 reboot, or both? The former sits at the unimpressive 5.8/10 rating on IMDb, while the latter surpassed it with a 6/10. Yet, the 2021 movie only made a measly $84.4 million at the global box office, which meant it bombed pretty badly. Some attribute this to the COVID-19 pandemic, but other blockbusters that came out around the same time did significantly better.
Nevertheless, a sequel for the 2021 movie is in the works, which bodes well for the franchise. The 1995 classic also had a few sequels of its own, however, and is still remembered fondly by the fan base. Overall, these two MK movies are vastly different in style, but both are unapologetically true to the franchise. The 1995 ‘Mortal Kombat’ flick was fun in a campy “so bad it’s good” way, much like the first few MK video games, whereas the 2021 movie is brutal, gritty, and bloody, just like the later video games in the franchise