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The quest for a movie that is based on a video game to be anything other than awful seemed hopeless at one point. Video game movies were entertaining, but we didn’t necessarily enjoy them as “movies.” We enjoyed them as “video game movies.” The qualifier did a lot of heavy lifting.
These days things are somewhat different. Just as video games themselves continue to include more cinematic interactivity, the movies based on them have definitely gotten more interesting. Sometimes they don’t even need the qualifier. They’re just enjoyable movies.
Our favorite example of this is not a movie at all, but an animated streaming show. Arcane (Netflix) is one of the best series we’ve seen in a long time, animated or live-action, and it’s loosely based on a mobile game, of all things. With the release of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on April 8th, we figured it was time to take a run through Green Hill Zone and go through 10 “video game movies” that you should watch. After watching Arcane, that is, because nothing here beats it.
1. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
If you’re planning on watching the new movie, it would only make sense to watch the first one. This was a delightful surprise, especially after all of the drama that surrounded the early looks at Sonic himself. Fans were so pissed and so vocal that the studio went back and did a redesign, and the result was great. Ben Schwartz is charming and funny in the role, and Jim Carrey plays Dr. Robotnik as only Jim Carrey can. James Marsden does his best with the role of a human in the real world, something that a lot of these movies needlessly shoehorn in. Sonic in the real world worked for this particular movie, and we had fun.
2. Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
If you’re a Pokémon fan, then you’ll enjoy this. If you aren’t a Pokémon fan, then you may become one by the time the credits roll. You may want to stab out your own eyes, too -- opinions vary. This live-action take on Pokémon took us by surprise as well, with Ryan Reynolds playing the Detective version of the most popular Pokémon around. The cast is stacked with Kathryn Newton, Karan Soni, Chris Geere, Justice Smith, and, who would’ve guessed it? Bill Nighy! All of the popular Pokémon are present, and though it has very little to do with regular Pokémon tales, Reynolds and the cast are a blast to watch and the action holds up. It’s also surprisingly touching in a handful of moments.
3. Tomb Raider (2018)
Alicia Vikander took over the role of Lara Croft for this third attempt at a tomb raiding adventure, and the end result was a step up from the previous two attempts. Don’t get us wrong, Angelina Jolie was a pitch perfect Lara. The movies around her though, especially the second one, weren’t always great. This one is solid all around, with Vikander playing a Lara Croft who is slowly learning the ropes. She uses a bow and arrow much more than her famous double pistols (she only receives them in the end), and the story is closer to something you could see in an actual Tomb Raider game. The cast also includes Walton Goggins, so that should be enough for anyone.
4. Mortal Kombat (2021)
It feels silly to call a movie with this title “grounded”, but this spin on the classic “Finish Him” fighting game franchise definitely takes things more seriously than the two attempts that preceded it. Joe Taslim stands way out as Sub-Zero, and Mehcad Brooks makes us care about Jax more than we have in a while. Though a lot of the story is based on a character new to the Kombat-verse (an MMA fighter named Cole Young, played by Leweis Tan), many other beloved characters get some good screen time. We seriously hope to see the ones that don't appear here in a sequel, especially Johnny Cage. Once again, we were surprised by what a bloody good time we had with this. Grab a copy and scream “get over here.”
5. Monster Hunter (2020)
A video game adaptation from Paul W.S. Anderson, starring Milla Jovovich, and it’s not called Resident Evil? Who would have thought? This movie isn’t going to be added to the Criterion Channel anytime soon, but we had a blast watching it. Jovovich gets sucked into a different world, and to survive in that world, she has to fight monsters. It’s as simple as that, with Tony Jaa and Ron Perlman along for the ride. Aside from the rampant carnage and comically large weapons, there is at least one scene of serene beauty. Give this one a chance. It knows what it is, and it doesn’t apologize for it.
6. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
We still don’t know what this animated adventure has to do with Final Fantasy, but it was a stunning technical achievement in 2001. It still holds up. The digital creation of Dr. Aki Ross was a marvel at the time, and it helped that she was played by the brilliant Ming-Na Wen. Aki Ross is still technically impressive, as is most of this movie. The story is fairly basic, but it's always gorgeous to look at. Not that anyone should need anyone other than Ming-Na Wen, but Keith David, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin, and Steve Buscemi join her. James Woods does too, so you can’t win ‘em all.
7. Street Fighter (1994)
We can’t make any excuses for this movie, but we will say that it’s worth watching. The main reason to watch it at least once? The cast. Ming-Na Wen plays Chun-Li, and we think we’ve been clear where we stand on her. Byron Mann is a welcome presence as Ryu, as is Roshan Seth (Chattar Lal from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) as Dhalsim. The biggest gold ring jackpot in this cast and one true reason to watch the movie, though? The late, great, and dearly missed Raul Julia as M. Bison. No one ever did anything as well as Raul Julia did, and it didn’t matter whether he was creating a serious role for Broadway or starring in The Addams Family. Julia always, always delivered. He delivers here in a big way, because he brings the same devotion to this silly movie that he brought to everything that he did. He was a consummate professional, and he has more fun here than we all had three years ago at the Nebraska State Fair. That really is saying something. Watch this movie for Raul Julia.
8. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
You have to see it at least once. Everyone does. It’s not really Mario Brothers at all. It’s a dark and grimy thing that will depress you for days. Still, if you want to see how wrong a video game movie can go, get a load of this. Believe it or not, the legendary Fiona Shaw is in this movie. Dennis Hopper plays King Koopa (a bastardized version of the character) and he lets it rip. John Leguizamo does his best as Luigi. Our main “it’s a-me” man, Mario himself, is played by another dearly departed legend, Bob Hoskins. Here’s another case of an actor who worked every job like he was performing Hamlet for the Queen; it didn’t matter what the role was, Hoskins always showed up. He shows up here, even though everything around him is giving him the finger. This movie, this thing, it didn’t deserve him… but neither did the human race. None of that matters, watching this movie is a rite of passage right alongside passing Health Class. We don’t make the rules.
9. Resident Evil (2002)
Aside from infections and the Umbrella Corporation, this movie has almost nothing to do with Resident Evil. This never-ending series of movies would add more lore from the games as it went along, but it always followed Milla Jovovich’s Alice, who was a complete invention of the films. She’s great in the role, and though the series gets bigger (and sillier) as it goes on, there’s something about Paul W.S. Anderson’s first installment that keeps us coming back to it. No Jill Valentine, no Leon Kennedy, and no Redfields in sight, but you do get Colin Salmon, James Purefoy, and Michelle Rodriguez. For a movie that has a good amount of lore from the games themselves, go with the recent Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City instead.
10. Werewolves Within (2021)
Some of us (not naming names) didn’t know that this movie was based on a game. We just thought that it was a really good movie, full stop. No qualifier is needed here; this is a legitimately well-done motion picture, and it is waiting for you. As the title suggests, the denizens of a small town have to deal with a werewolf attack. Thankfully, Finn Wheeler is on the scene to help them, and thankfully for us, he’s played by the ever-rising star known as Sam Richardson. His real fight isn’t with the werewolves, it’s with Milana Vayntrub, because she’s constantly trying to steal the movie from him. She succeeds a few times. The highly underrated Vayntrub may be the best reason to watch, as the trapped townspeople (who include Michaela Watkins and Harvey Guillén) learn that the real werewolves were the friends they made along the way. The ending turns the comedy into legitimate fear, and there are more than enough twists and turns to keep you riveted. This is our favorite movie on this list, and it should not be missed.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is in theaters now.