Thursday, April 21, 2016

10 Greatest Video Game Movies Of All-Time

2016 could very well shape up to be the year of the video game movie.

Both World of Warcraft and Assassin's Creed are set for release in the coming months, and - considering the talent involved with bringing them to the big screen - there's a real chance they could break the curse of the video game film.

It's well-known that video game movies are usually horrid affairs, mostly because they were never supposed to exist as motion pictures in the first place. Rarely does the premise of a video game translate over to the cinematic medium; it's like trying to get the toothpaste back into the tube after it's all been squeezed out.

That said, there are handful of video game films that are genuinely worth your time - adaptations that manage to justify their existence for one reason or another, be it because they're admirable attempts or just fascinating curiosities.

My only qualification for a flick to earn a place here was that it be based on an existing video game and that - good or bad - it was at least entertaining...

10. Lara Craft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life (2003)

With an annoying title that probably needed a bit more punctuation in order to make proper sense, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the follow-up to the underwhelming and disappointing Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Released back in 2001 the original managed to replicate the fun of the popular video game franchise in, oh, zero ways.

Okay, so Angelina Jolie was neat as Lara Croft, but everything else about that first movie pretty much sucked. It's not up for debate.

Equally, I'm not going to try and claim that its sequel is a masterpiece, but it is an enjoyable adventure movie, and as such it edges its this exalted company on account of the fact that it's a) very watchable and b) in the spirit of the video game series. Not many video game movies happen to be either of those things, by the way, so we should be thankful for that.

A lot of people hate on Cradle of Life, but I'm with Roger Ebert on this one, who went as far as to say the film was "better than the first one, more assured, more entertaining, it uses imagination and exciting locations to give the movie the same kind of pulp adventure feeling we get from the Indiana Jones movies."

Whilst I think talking about this film and Indiana Jones in the same sentence is a little strong (sorry, Rog), I do agree with his overall view: this is a breezy, fun flick.

9. Street Fighter (1994)

Chances are that, if you only watched Street Fighter when you were a kid, you still think this movie is awesome. Most people who would admit to being fans have a nostalgic adoration, after all, though I'd still argue that - despite its b-movie aesthetics - Street Fighter is still way more fun to sit through than more recent, humourless video game film travesties like Hitman: Agent 47 and Need for Speed.

Also: how can you really hate a film that features Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia and a then-largely unknown Kylie Minogue? You cannot.

Really, though, the reason to seek out this film is for Julia's frankly insane performance as villain General M. Bison. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, Julia took the role to appease his children before passing on, and the man just went to town. There is chewing the scenery, and then there is Raul Julia in Street Fighter. It's one of the greatest turns in a video game film, no question.

And so Street Fighter offers simple pleasures; it's just about the most unpretentious film ever made, invokes the silliness of the video game it was based on, and harks back to a time - 1994, to be precise - where technology wasn't quite good enough to do the things that the filmmakers wanted it to do. Which, in retrospect, comes across as more endearing than it does embarrassing.

8. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (2010)

Even though Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is just about the most conventional blockbuster ever made, there's no reason why a Sunday afternoon viewing of this film couldn't be deemed a worthy way to spend two hours.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular prince, one can assume that this was Disney's attempt at doing what they did again with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. "If we can do it with a ride, imagine what we can do with a video game," presumably said somebody at the House of Mouse, forgetting that 75% of why Pirates was good came down to Johnny Depp.

There is nothing as fun as Jack Sparrow in this movie, unfortunately, and it mostly fails to invoke the experience of the games, but - aside from some questionable racial casting - there's not all that much to dislike about Prince of Persia. The action scenes are cool; all the supporting cast (which includes Alfred Molina and Ben Kingsley) give fun performances... and even Gemma Arterton is bearable.

If it wasn't memorable enough to start a major franchise, it also wasn't anywhere near as bad as the critics made out. It's swashbuckling escapism with a throwback appeal. I feel like if you watched this on a plane, you'd be entertained enough that you wouldn't then step off of said plane and regret that you'd seen it. How's that for a ringing endorsement?

7. Resident Evil (2002)

Resident Evil felt like kind of a big deal when it first arrived in cinemas; people were genuinely excited. Countless instalments later, and it has spawned one of the most hated movie franchises of all-time. The weirdest thing, is that I don't even tend to associate the movies and the games as being part of the same franchise; they're two separate entities with the same name, as far as I'm concerned.

So how does the original 2002 movie hold up? Well, it's probably not quite as good as you thought it was back in the day, that's for sure, but it still happens to be one of the better video game movies due to some genuinely scary moments and that cool scene with the laser beams.

Resident Evil doesn't feel all that much like the Resident Evil games, but Milla Jovovich gives an amusingly self-aware performance - at least, I hope it's self-aware - as Alice, and there are bits and pieces plucked from the iconic games, like the Racoon City setting and references to the Umbrella Corporation.

Don't get me wrong: it's dated and cheesy, but in this case it's a strength.

If you're not buying into the idea that this film is any good, James Cameron - yes, the James Cameron - once admitted that Resident Evil happens to be one of his biggest guilty pleasure flicks. Now run free and give this movie another go, firm in the knowledge that the creator of Terminator 2 rightly thinks it's a blast.

6. Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (1997)

Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is one of those films that the critics hated and the fans appeared to embrace. Kind of like what happened with Batman V Superman, but with way less media attention (because why would mainstream audiences care about a spin-off movie to a video game that came out in 1997?).

The plot of this film picks up two years after the end of the game, as a mysterious disease tears across the land and Cloud and his friends are tasked with trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

If you happen to be a fan of Final Fantasy VII - and which serious gamer isn't? - then Advent Children is a worthy enough follow-up to the acclaimed Square Enix game, with enough cool action, visual splendour and fan service to make sitting through its occasionally tedious runtime of 101 minutes worthwhile.

Whilst Advent Children didn't play in theatres overseas, it had a successful cinematic release in Japan and sold a ton of DVDs the world over. The biggest problem with the movie, perhaps, stems from the fact that, if you're unfamiliar with the game, then the plot is near on incomprehensible - hell, even somebody who has played Final Fantasy VII three times could come unstuck with this.

But given the fantastic animation and some a few breathtaking moments, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is still one of the better video game flicks out there.

5. Super Mario Bros. (1993)

This is an objectively terrible film, I know. It's ugly, stupid and has the most ridiculous plot ever plotted, but I would still argue that Super Mario Bros. is so ill-conceived that it manages to be a genuine curio. It's a film so questionable on every level that it winds up being endlessly interesting as a result.

And I don't care what anybody says: it is entertaining. Every moment, every scene. You can't look away. It's insane.

Where to start? With the bizarre prologue, which invents a crazily convoluted backstory to explain why there are dinosaurs living in an alternate dimension beneath New York City? Or how about Bob Hoskins' pitch-perfect performance as Mario (seriously)? What about the fact that Yoshi is an actual dinosaur, like the ones in Jurassic Park. Big Bertha? Dennis Hopper? The list goes on and on...

Super Mario Bros. is the kind of film that only 1993 could have turned out. In an attempt to explain everything that went unexplained in the iconic Super Mario Bros. game (for good reason), the script bends over backwards to explain everything. The fact that it's partly set in a nightmarish Blade Runner-like world only makes the whole thing even more fascinating.

As an adaptation, this is horrible, but as an experience... well, it's wonderful; I love Citizen Kane, but I'd take Super Mario Bros. with me to a desert island.

4. Ace Attorney (2012)

That's right! They made a movie based on the Ace Attorney video game series, and - believe it or not - it's actually pretty watchable.

That might come as less of a shock when I tell you that this nutty flick was helmed by the great Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, best known for his films Ichi the Killer and the horror classic Audition. Whilst Ace Attorney isn't anywhere close to the standard of those films, it's still an admirable film adaptation of a video game about a defence attorney named "Phoenix Wright."

Not to resort to cliches, but this movie is very Japanese. Like, as soon as you see a clip from it, you know where it's from. Thing is, Ace Attorney succeeds on the basis that it's happy to be balls-to-the-wall crazy. Miike doesn't try to build anything serious from the source material - instead, he renders something far more insane than anything glimpsed in pixel form. It shouldn't have worked, but it does.

The plot follows Phoenix Wright as he takes on a series of cases that hark back to a mysterious incident that occurred years ago, but this isn't a film that you watch for its plot: it's essentially an anime cartoon rendered as a live-action flick (notice how nobody in this movie has a regular haircut).

It's no masterpiece, but it's a fun yarn; heads and tails above most movies claiming to be video game adaptations (though the 135 minute length is silly).

3. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)

The first thing to note about Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is that it doesn't really have anything to do with Final Fantasy. I know: all of the Final Fantasy games are self-contained entities and they each exist in their own universe, but even taking that into consideration, this doesn't feel like Final Fantasy. Not really.

Still, for what it's worth, I'm in the small camp of people (and it's a very small camp) who believes that The Spirits Within - slated upon its release and a box office flop - to be a somewhat underrated film, and by no means anywhere near as bad as its reputation as a "boring and terrible" picture suggests.

The plot concerns a scientist named Aki Ross and her attempts to stop an alien invasion (I think), and though there are plenty of things to dislike - namely its pacing - it's by far one of the most ambitious video game flicks ever made.

Because there are a lot of interesting ideas floating around here, and though none of them really come together, The Spirits Within is an admirable attempt at making a "smart" sci-fi movie with photorealistic characters. It's kind of like Final Fantasy, had the the team who made it decided halfway through that they really liked Starship Troopers and just set out to make a Starship Troopers rip-off instead.

And I'm totally okay with that. I just wish it hadn't cost $137 million to create.

2. Silent Hill (2006)

The one thing that Silent Hill had to do, I suppose, was be scary. If there was a single aspect of the game that Christophe Gans' adaptation about the Japanese horror franchise absolutely had to succeed on, then it was to ensure that the sense of fear and paranoia and terror carried through to the big screen.

For all its flaws, Silent Hill does at least deliver truly nightmarish experience: this is a scary movie, no matter how much you hate it.

So I'll stand up and admit that Silent Hill frightens the hell out of me. There is something about this movie that just makes my skin crawl (aside from the terrible acting and lacklustre plot). It evokes a feeling of genuine cruelty and horror that lingers with you in the aftermath, even if most of the film just involves people running around in the fog. The visual design of Silent Hill is also breathtaking, and you never feel starved for a beautiful image or shot.

As such, I'm still genuinely convinced that this might well be one of the best video game adaptations ever, and an underrated film to boot. All these years later, I still find it difficult to get a particular scene out of my head: the one where Pyramid Head (you read that right) lifts a woman up into the air, rips her clothes off, and then follows that already degrading act by ripping her skin off.

1. Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva (2009)

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is without question the most obscure video game movie on list, but you know what? In terms of overall quality, it's also probably the best video game of the lot. Which technically means it's the best video game movie ever made. Go figure.

Thing is, whilst most of films I've written about on the list are flawed and messy and - in some cases - so awful that they're kind of good, this film is just good. Like, it's a genuinely good movie. I know: stop the presses! Call the President!

Based on the popular Professor Layton video game franchise, it's remarkable that an animated flick inspired by a video game series which focuses on puzzle-solving somehow translated into a worthy film, and yet it did.

Aside from being a breathtaking adventure in the Studio Ghibli vein (with wonderful animation and likeable characters), the most remarkable thing about the Eternal Diva is that it doesn't shy away from all that which made the video game franchise such a success: here's a flick that gives you the opportunity to solve puzzles as the characters in the movie do. It sounds weird, but it works.

As you might have guessed, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva wasn't released in cinemas outside of the Asian market, but in Japan it was a major box office success. Without question, no other video game adaptation has managed to transfer elements of its gameplay to the cinematic form to such a success.

What do you think is the greatest video game movie of all time? Share your reactions below in the comments thread.


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