From the coin-operated arcades of the '80s to the immersive online worlds of today, video games have firmly established their place in pop culture's pantheon.
However, Hollywood has yet to level up its game when it brings the beloved IP to the silver screen. The history of these movies counts among cinema's most underwhelming traditions.
We'd like to explore the film adaptations that left us reaching for the reset button.
1. Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (2012)
Any movie compelled to slap “3D” onto its title may have some reason to overcompensate. Silent Hill: Revelation 3D is a prime example of this unwritten rule. The story feels like a mishmash of monsters and jump scares unburdened by the demands of coherence. With a narrative as foggy as the town of Silent Hill itself, viewers might find themselves wishing for a glitch in this gameworld to teleport them anywhere else.
2. Wing Commander (1999)
Many space fighter movies end up forgotten—it's a genre grounded more in imagination than reality, demanding a careful balance to get right. The standouts often bring to the table an operatic grandeur (think Star Wars), a dash of campy humor (à la Starship Troopers), or lofty, mind-expanding visions (2001: A Space Odyssey or Interstellar).
A film inspired by a game series that revolves around battling an empire of feline beings designed with the aesthetic charm of a Windows 95 screensaver turns out less promising. If one fancies cat people, watch Paul Schrader's Cat People instead.
3. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)
The director Uwe Boll, famously one of the worst filmmakers of our era, taunted moviegoers everywhere with In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, which earned the misunderstood auteur a 4% on Rotten Tomatoes. Sixteen years after its release, it remains unclear why Boll pursued the rights to the grimly generic Dungeon Siege video game series; at the same time, film scholars have yet to uncover the thinking behind his choice to cast Jason Statham opposite Ray Liotta—two actors about as remote from high fantasy as they come—in this proudly shameless Lord of the Rings ripoff.
4. Hitman Agent 47 (2015)
Product placement finds its natural home in soulless video game adaptations like Hitman: Agent 47, which may have origins in an Audi boardroom. Perhaps it begins when an auto executive walks in on his son playing the game. Phone calls get made. Soon, a young director who would instead be working on something else receives an offer. He knows the finished product will compound the global aggregate of despair and wretchedness, but who can turn down the money? Besides, it will probably lead to something better down the line, won't it? When no one desires to make a movie that must be made, we get Hitman: Agent 47.
5. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Inevitably, this list would arrive at one of those terrible movies that still have considerable virtues. Super Mario Bros. has all the early '90s charms anyone could ask for, starting with the throwback beats. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo suit up as plumbers Mario and Luigi to face off against Dennis Hopper as Koopa President, who rules over some dystopian city in the desert with his shrunken-headed sidekicks. As the first feature film made from a video game franchise, it has a lore independent of critical judgment.
6. Alone in the Dark (2005)
Operating at the peak of his powers, Uwe Boll scored an inverse success—and by that, we do not mean a failure—with the legendary Alone in the Dark adaptation, which scored a coveted 1% on Rotten Tomatoes. A room full of monkeys clicking away on keyboards for all of eternity would sooner produce the complete works of Shakespeare before they would land on something as gloriously awful as Alone in the Dark. Luckily for the writers involved in the project, the seven scripts in circulation provide us with no clear consensus on the film's literary authorship, so everyone gets to place the blame on someone else.
7. Street Fighter (1994)
The late great actor Raul Julia appears in the Street Fighter adaptation as his last film, and from this, one can discern the cruel absurdity of life. With Julia opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme, this movie should've been a perfect combo, but instead, it plays out like more of a button masher. Van Damme flexes as the Belgian-accented, all-American hero Colonel Guile, while Julia portrays the narco General M. Bison. Not every game needs a film adaptation, especially if the script feels like it was written after a few Hadoukens to the face.
8. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Banking on Angelina Jolie's star power and the popularity of the game series, Tomb Raider swaggered onto the scene in 2001. The movie did make a lot of money, grossing over $47 million in its opening weekend. However, Tomb Raider feels caught in a booby trap of clichéd plots, as if someone tried to speed-run its development, bypassing depth and nuance for over-the-top action sequences. Viewers may find themselves reaching for a controller to skip cutscenes or an ancient artifact to turn back time and watch something else.
9. Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)
From the ruins of a legendary video game franchise emerged Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, the first in the series without star Milla Jovovich. This movie seemed pitched as a love letter to the original games. Instead, the T-virus appears to have spread to the script itself, and we're fresh out of red herbs to counteract the torment. The film feels as dreary and unmemorable as it looks. Far too many Resident Evil films have made it onto the screen; hopefully, the dismal performance of Racoon City means the end is nigh.
10. Assassin's Creed (2016)
Making sense may seem optional for a video game, but those storylines will have to square up when it comes to a movie adaptation. What serves as adequate narrative architecture to get a little guy on the screen jumping around and killing people won't always cut it on film. No one understands or cares why Michael Fassbender's character in Assassin's Creed gets in trouble for murdering a pimp in 2016 only to end up doing parkour in the 15th century a short while later; the movie just dribbles out its reminder the franchise still exists, so keep an eye out for the next game.
11. Double Dragon (1994)
Double Dragon would top the list of movies that seem like the accidental result of high school AV club footage getting swapped with a significant production's reels. Just watch the trailer, and all will become clear. Set in the distant future year of 2007, Billy and Jimmy Lee must fight their way through a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles to prevent the sinister Koga Shuko from getting his hands on the forgettable MacGuffin. Double Dragon, the game franchise, pioneered 2D platformers in the late '80s.
The movie aspires to the same surreal two-dimensionality and admirably nails it in a way that can only be understood after a viewing. Consider watching at least a bit of this.
12. BloodRayne (2005)
When an artist achieves an indifference to quality on the scale of Uwe Boll, strange things become possible. Two movies based on video games can get release dates in the same year (Alone in the Dark and BloodRayne), and both can score ratings in the low single digits on Rotten Tomatoes. BloodRayne, a vampire flick set against the backdrop of 18th-century Romania, wastes seasoned actors like Michael Madsen and Ben Kingsley, casting them into shadows without the material they deserve. This bewildering movie will put anyone's love of cinema to the test.
Tim Rinaldi is a journalist who spent his youth inside a video game console, occasionally emerging to read novels and watch films. After earning his degree in Literature from Fordham University, he moved to China over a decade ago to teach English and learn the language, eventually migrating to Taiwan. There, he served as an editor at the nation’s primary English-language daily, Taiwan News, contributing to coverage spanning the arts, business, finance, Chinese politics, and cross-strait relations. Today, Tim is a freelance writer reporting on entertainment, personal finance, and other topics. He also edits the digital arts newsletter 1/1 Interviews. In his spare time, he tinkers with 3D software like Blender and aspires to craft animated short films.