Debate Club: Best Video Game Movies

Debate Club: The best video game movies ever made

Contributed by
Aug 22, 2018

Welcome to Debate Club, where Tim Grierson and Will Leitch, the hosts of the Grierson & Leitch podcast, tackle the greatest arguments in pop culture.

This week, we take on perhaps our most formidable challenge yet: ranking movies based on video games. The obvious problem here, of course, is that video game movies are famously terrible, from Super Mario Bros. to Mortal Kombat to several Uwe Boll opuses. The advantage anyone making a movie based on a video game has is that, well, it’s not like it’s a novel. (Few will ever say, “Well, the characters were far deeper and better developed in the video game.”) Yet few filmmakers have really utilized this advantage.

Nonetheless, we forged forward and did our best to pick the five best. It is perhaps not surprising that two of them are about the same video game, 17 years apart. We will hold out hope some day for a halfway-decent Mario Kart flick.

Assassin's Creed (2016)

This movie's director (Justin Kurzel) and stars (Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard) previously collaborated on a dark retelling of Macbeth. The leap from Shakespeare to Assassin's Creed is one of the odder in cinema history, and what's most fascinating is how everyone involved clearly thought they were crafting a moody, existential drama.

Assassin's Creed is visually ravishing and likably goofy: Fassbender players a dangerous criminal enlisted by Cotillard's high-tech corporation to connect with his 15th-century ancestor. (In essence, the modern-day man will "control" his forefather so he can find something called the Apple of Eden.)

Most video game movies are low-rent embarrassments; Assassin's Creed at least has some ambition and acclaimed actors.

Silent Hill (2006)

The original video game, released in 1999, is still considered one of the most revolutionary ever, a survival game that focused more on psychological horror than, say, zombies trying to eat your brain.

A regular guy named Henry is trying to find his abducted daughter and runs into all sorts of problems. The movie turns Henry into a mother (Radha Mitchell) but never quite figures out its plot issues and is mostly a confusing mess. However, the movie looks fantastic, and honestly that’s enough to get it on a list of the five best video game movies of all time. It's slim pickings out here.

Resident Evil (2002)

This remains, by far, the most financially successful series of films based off a video game — six different films, all starring Milla Jovovich as a character who is not, in fact, in the video game. (Other actors who have shown up in some of these films: Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Isaacs, Jared Harris, Omar Epps, Li Bingbing, Kim Coates and Ashanti.)

Jovovich's Alice battles the Umbrella Corporation, which has set off a zombie apocalypse. She remains the best part of this series; can you believe she has played this character for 15 years? She played her for so long she ended up marrying the director! (The other Paul Anderson.)

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

This is the Angelina Jolie version, one of her first films after winning an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted. Con Air director Simon West imagines Lara Croft as a female Indiana Jones, and the actress shows off her action chops, even if she's reduced to a horny dude's image of the perfect gun-toting babe.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider helped pave the way for future Jolie shoot-‘em-ups like Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005), Wanted (2008), and Salt (2010) — not to mention the 2003 sequel Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003) — and its dominant characteristic is how perfectly acceptable it as an adventure film. In the world of video game adaptations, that makes it a damn masterpiece.

Tomb Raider (2018)

This is the Alicia Vikander version, one of her first films after winning the Oscar for The Danish Girl. Inspired by a more recent incarnation of the Lara Croft video game series — one in which Croft actually has normal human proportions — Tomb Raider still has plenty of swashbuckling excitement. But the crucial difference is that Vikander plays her less like a superhero and more like a smart, inexperienced young woman on a mission to finish the expedition her father began years earlier.

Vikander was better known for sensitive dramas, so Tomb Raider gave her a chance to show off a more physical, urgent side — to great effect. Our one complaint: We sorta wish she could have played her coolly calculating android character from Ex Machina in this. It would have been a blast to watch that character rock a bow and arrow.


Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

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