Earlier this month, the film Tomb Raider premiered, an adaptation of Crystal Dynamic's 2013 reboot of the classic video game series. It's been pretty successful, doubling its budget at the box office only a couple weeks after its release. It's also one of the best-reviewing video game adaptations ever, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 50 percent. Which isn't great, but isn't the absolute worst either! (Comparatively, 2010's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time stands at 36 percent.)
This weekend Ready Player One, the Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of the novel of the same, is releasing, with dozens of video game references in it to be found. (The trailer alone features familiar video game heroines Tracer and Chun-Li, for instance.) For all the hate Ready Player One gets, at least we're not walking into what could have been Steven Spielberg's Armada this weekend. On April 13, a film adaptation of the Midway game Rampage will also be releasing, big ol' monsters in tow. Seemingly, there's never been a better time for video games and movies. Heck, even Wreck-it Ralph 2 is coming out this year.
In the meantime though, as we waffle between seeing Ready Player One, Rampage, Tomb Raider, or something completely not-video game related at all in the coming weeks, let's answer this question: What do you think is the best video game movie of all time?
Does Scott Pilgrim count? I don't think it's technically a "video game film," but it's close. Wreck-It Ralph is an affectionate tribute to the medium we love. But in terms of video game adaptations, my heart lies with Street Fighter: The Movie. I don't like Mortal Kombat in any of its forms, Super Mario Bros is simply wretched, and most other adaptations are flatout boring. Anyone remember that Prince of Persia movie with Jake Gyllenhall? No? Of course not.
But Street Fighter: The Movie is a masterpiece of schlock, mostly owing to the amazing performance of legendary actor Raul Julia. Julia owns that entire film, his eyes bulging as he delivers one-liner after one-liner. He single-handedly made "For me, it was Tuesday" into a meme.
It's admittedly a bit of a rough watch owing to the fact that Raul Julia was suffering from the stomach cancer that would soon claim his life. He's frail and sickly-looking, and you can tell that he's in intense pain. But he still manages to summon the energy to deliver one of my favorite comic villain performances ever. When put together with the awful camera work, props, and stunts, as well as the reliably terrible acting of Jean-Claude Van Damme, it is the absolute height of the bad movie pantheon. It's my favorite video game movie by a mile.
Mortal Kombat. Is there even another choice? The primary problem with video game adaptations when it comes to films is the truth is game stories usually aren't that great because play and player interaction is a larger part of the picture. If you play game movies mostly straight, you miss part of what makes a game work. It's adaptation, not a direct translation.
Mortal Kombat deftly sidesteps the problem by being a total B-movie. The plot is bad? Who cares? We're here to watch a monk, a soldier, and movie star fight a soul-sucking sorcerer, two ninjas, a four-armed monster, and an Australian guy. Characters come and go in this film with no characterization whatsoever. The acting and dialog is horrible. Even the best fights have little in the way of interesting choreography.
And yet, it's amazing. I can clearly recall scenes from the film. It's schlock for schlock's sake and I loved every minute of it. It's the movie Mortal Kombat deserves. And it's the movie that gave us director Paul W. S. Anderson, who you may remember as the director and writer of every Resident Evil movie and the upcoming Monster Hunter adaptation.
Perhaps that's what we deserve.
I'm honestly not sure why there hasn't been a "good" video game movie in the history of cinema. And while I haven't seen every video game film adaptation, I feel like I've seen enough to name my favorite of the ones I have seen, which in this case is 2005's Doom movie starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
The Doom film is schlocky and cheesy in equal measures and I remember having a pretty good time watching it in theaters. It's still pretty bad, but there was one scene in the Doom movie that literally became a FPS and I remember that being pretty cool. The movie also stars a Karl Urban so young I honestly didn't know he was in it until I looked up the movie on Wikipedia for this community question.
Maybe this is recency bias coming into play, but honestly, this year's adaptation of Tomb Raider is probably the best "video game" movie out there. I even think I enjoyed it more than the game, if we're going to be perfectly honest.
Tomb Raider isn't a great movie on its own, of course. It's a relatively generic action movie (and trust me, I watch a lot of action movies; I watched every single Mission Impossible movie in a single weekend just a few weeks ago). What I loved about it is how much it commits to its very dumb video gaminess. I mean, there's a scene where Lara Croft literally solves a freaking color puzzle, with people throwing colored artifacts at her as the floor beneath them is crumbling. (The first thing that popped in my head was, "This would totally be a bunch of QTEs.") There's even a scene where a dude utilizes an exploding barrel. It's wild.
Tomb Raider is goofy fun, while also showing the brutalness of Lara's journey into becoming, well, a tomb raider. Alicia Vikander, despite her less-than-stellar faux-British accent, is a likable, charismatic Lara. And boy, is she ripped. I really felt for her journey, and the fights with her in them had weight and impact to them that I think a lot of video games can easily convey because you personally feel it through the game's controls, whereas movies have a harder time with it. Heck, it may have done a better job of showing the toll of Lara's journey than its video game counterpart, since at least we didn't have to see those grotesque death sequences like in Crystal Dynamic's 2013 reboot.
So as it stands, this year's Tomb Raider is surprisingly probably the best video game movie of all time, but it's not like it has much to compete with. That is, until Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and his big gorilla friend fight some big monsters in Rampage. Yeah baby! That Other Video Game Movie of the Year is just around the corner.