The 5 Best and 5 Worst Live-Action Video Game Adaptations

February 27, 2020

It’s only natural for gamers to want more of their favorite characters. From spin-offs to comics to action figures, there is always a new way to celebrate your favorite franchises.

Movies and TV shows based on video games seem like they’d be a natural fit. Here’s an open secret, though: just as video games based on movies tend to be awful, movies and TV shows based on games are often quite bad.

Fortunately, there are some diamonds in the rough (and we do mean “rough”). We’ve sifted through dozens of movies and TV shows to bring you the definitive list of the five best live-action game adaptations of all time… and five to avoid at all costs!

Best: The Witcher

“Toss a coin to your Witcher!” The 2019 Netflix adaptation of the video game series is downright captivating. Henry Cavill sizzles as Geralt, and the series manages to balance action, world-building, and humor in equal measure.

This isn’t just a good video game adaptation. It’s the kind of TV that anyone can enjoy, even if they normally sleep on  “swords and sorcery” genre shows. And if your friends are still on the fence, just utter these magic words: “lots of shirtless Henry Cavill.”

Best: Resident Evil

The first Resident Evil movie is quite a surprise. While it includes a few familiar features (such as a mansion and a ton of zombies), it’s also missing familiar faces. For example, game protagonists Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield are nowhere to be found.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson took a real risk here. Instead of simply adapting the familiar Resident Evil story, he crafted new characters and new adventures within that universe. And while the later movies are really hit-or-miss, the 2002 film is captivating and original.

Best: Detective Pikachu

2019’s Detective Pikachu is a bit like the first Resident Evil film. That is, it is very loosely based on a Nintendo 3DS game of the same name. Ultimately, the plot is an excuse to let us see the Pokemon universe through the eyes of a very different Pikachu.

Pikachu, of course, is voiced by Ryan Reynolds. He lends the movie a warmth and comedic appeal that elevates it beyond the simplistic plot. Trust us: even your friends and family that don’t know the difference between Charmander and Squirtle will find charm in this movie.

Best: Tomb Raider (2018)

Tomb Raider has had numerous film adaptations. While the earlier films starring Angelina Jolie are classics in their own right, the 2018 franchise reboot is definitely a cut above.

The film is based on the 2013 Tomb Raider game. And like that game, it wastes no time getting to the good stuff. There is plenty of action, excitement, and perilous adventures reminiscent of the game franchise. And make no mistake: Alicia Vikander turns in a career-making performance as Lara Croft.

Best: Doom

The 2005 Doom movie is very divisive. Many fans of the classic Doom games were disappointed that the movie is so different from the games. But performances by Karl Urban and Dwayne Johnson make this a truly memorable space romp.

Is the film a little light on familiar Doom baddies? Sure. But there is engaging action, unexpected twists, and a fair amount of exciting world-building. In short, there is something for Doom fanatics and casual fans alike in this movie.


Worst: Super Mario Bros.

Mario and Luigi are arguably the most famous game characters of all time. Unfortunately, 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. movie is one of the worst films ever made.

First, the movie designs are horrific: the Goombas look like something out of a horror movie. And the plot (involving the intersection of Koopa’s world and our own world) is incomprehensible. As stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo found out, the best way to make it through this movie is by drinking heavily.

Worst: Street Fighter

Street Fighter seems like a natural game for a movie adaptation. The games have exotic heroes, an intriguing villain, and a surprisingly-deep story. Sadly, the 1994 Street Fighter movie is a complete trainwreck.

Sure, there’s a certain schlocky charm watching Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia on screen (this was Julia’s last performance). But the dialogue is terrible, the effects are laughable, and the casting is downright weird. The only thing worse for the franchise than this movie was the terrible video game based on this movie.

Worst: Warcraft

Adapting World of Warcraft to a movie was always an ambitious project. The biggest fans have poured the better part of two decades into this game. How could a movie live up to that experience?

Badly, as 2016’s Warcraft revealed. While the visual effects are impressive, the story suffers from exposition that ranges from confusing to boring. The film makes more use of the leads, and the actors (mainly Travis Femmel and Ben Foster) never provide the level of humanity needed to balance against the rampant CGI.

Ultimately, this feels more like a bunch of World of Warcraft CGI scenes cut together than a cohesive and original film.

Worst: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation

The first Mortal Kombat movie struck a very delicate balance. While it was cheesy, the action scenes were exciting and engaging. And stars such as Christopher Lambert helped add just enough gravitas that the story never went off the rails.

Sadly, “off the rails” is the perfect description of the sequel. 1997’s Mortal Kombat: Annihilation loses some of the charming cast and also abandons any pretense of plot. All viewers get is a series of boring fight scenes with no real stakes. The only way to get any enjoyment out of this movie is to watch it as a comedy.

Worst: Alone in the Dark

The 2005 Alone in the Dark movie seemed doomed from the start. It stars schlock magnets Christian Slater, Tara Reid, and Stephen Dorff. And it’s directed by Uwe Boll, (in)famous for his terrible films.

You might be hoping that the final result would be a movie that’s entertainingly bad. Sadly, there is no entertainment here at all. Just a boring movie with phoned-in performances, badly-lit scenes, and little connection to the game it’s based on.

Trust us: it’s better to just turn off the TV and be literally “alone in the dark” than to watch this film!  

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