Contemporary History of Videogame Movies: A Review

With the recent debut of “Sonic The Hedgehog” in theaters, it’s the perfect time to look at the history of videogame movies. Now, I’m going to be upfront with you all: Most videogame movies, in my opinion, are absolute trash that makes me regret spending the time and energy required to watch them. But, here is my list of the five videogame movies that feature most prominently in my mind.

This is ordered from worst to best, based on this set of criteria: faithfulness to the source material, quality of special effects, and the performances within. No Uwe Boll movies will be on this list. This is because Uwe Boll goes out of his way to make bad movies to exploit a German tax loophole, making the fact they’re based on videogames irrelevant to me. Rest assured, they are the worst of the worst, but I want to look at movies who actually thought they might be good and well-received. 

“Super Mario Brothers” is probably the reason one of my heroes of cinema, Rodger Ebert, developed the incorrect notion that videogames will never be art. Nothing in this movie was done right. Aside from the names of certain characters, everything in this movie feels like it was an original work.

It’s like someone tricked “Nintendo” into allowing them to dress it up as “Super Mario Brothers.” It has nothing to do with the games, the special effects are classic uncanny valley ‘90s terrible and the acting is a testament to the fact that great actors like Bob Hoskins also have to do degrading things to pay bills.

“Hitman: Agent 47” shows that even 22 years after our last entry, videogame movies still stink like they’re trying to win a prize. To its credit, the movie actually does draw from the source material fairly well. It’s a shame that this is all the movie does right and the other two categories make it fumble at the starting line.

The effects are atrocious considering its release in 2015 and its acting is wooden at best, with the lead looking nothing like Agent 47 on top of his nonexistent performance. Also, while faithful, it’s yet another tragedy that it’s faithful to a game series whose stories don’t lend themselves to non-interactive media at all.

“Resident Evil” is where we get closer to a movie that is at least mediocre. Its core story is an amalgamation of the first three entries in the “Resident Evil” videogame series, though most of it is taken from the first game, with small elements taken from the second and third. Now, it’d seem like it is going to be faithful to the series, but then the movie has to introduce what it thinks characters are supposed to be, instantly ruining it.

None of them are from the games, but more importantly, they’re all hollow with wooden acting for the ones we actually have to suffer watching a majority of the movie. The effects are actually pretty good in a few places, but bad in others, though its practical effects are largely on point.

“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is where we finally hit a movie that I can bear to sit through. It’s not good, but it’s not terrible. It has the main character from the videogames, but not much else. This is balanced though that someone managed to convince Angelina Jolie to star in it, and she works with what little this movie gives her to work with. The other actors are just kind of there and the effects are standard early 2000s.

“Detective Pikachu” is finally where we get a good movie that I unironically enjoy. This is because the movie balances taking an earnest attempt at an adaptation while also not taking itself too seriously. The movie is faithful to the spirit of the series, while also not trying to emulate the games’ narratives to a T. The special effects in the movie are fantastic, taking a semi-realism aesthetic to the Pokémon and not butchering them in the process.

Finally, the acting is well done and is the movie allows itself to be pretty self-aware.  This is what videogame movies should aspire to be.



Photo credit: Paramount, CNN

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