Castlevania was a TV show and doesn’t count, sorry.
So we’re on the same page, “least bad” is just a funnier way of saying most good. And some videogame movies have to be the most good, comparatively speaking. We recently saw the trailer for Doom: Annihilation, which brought this topic to mind. It doesn’t look super promising, but then it’s not up against a lot of competition.
This is our attempt to nail that competition down: What is the least bad videogame movie? And no, you can’t say The King of Kong. Come on now.
Andy Kelly: Silent Hill
I saw this at the cinema, and I remember emerging thinking, hey, that was fine. It’s a totally serviceable horror film with some interesting effects work. It’s nowhere near as unsettling or subtle as the games it’s based on, verging into the schlocky at times, but there are a few scenes that nicely capture the distinctive vibe of the source material. I also like that they used some of Akira Yamaoka’s music, because honestly, no Hollywood composer could do any better for that particular setting. His music is as much a part of Silent Hill as anything else.
Is it a good film? Eh, not really. But in the pantheon of videogame adaptations it’s a damn masterpiece. Those Sean Bean scenes are weird, though. I love the Bean, but it’s glaringly obvious his scenes were written and shot later.
Jarred Walton: Resident Evil
As far as movie adaptations of games go, coming out on top is faint praise. Wing Commander, WarCraft, Doom… there are so many bad examples that all we need is a mediocre film to rise above the crowd. I do have a quick disclaimer, though: I have never played most of the Resident Evil games. Perhaps that’s why I’m able to sit back and just watch the story unfold, without getting hung up on whether it’s true to the source material.
It’s like books being turned into movies—even the best movies often fall short. Anyway, I’ve watched most of the Resident Evil movies, and while none of them are amazing, I thought the first was at least reasonably well done and entertaining as a horror flick.
Christopher Livingston: Mortal Kombat
I guess I can’t say Edge of Tomorrow, which is too bad since it’s basically the best movie that is essentially a videogame. So, Mortal Kombat, in 1995? It had some legitimately decent fights, it had a lot of laughs for various reasons, and it had Christopher Lambert doing an impression of Marge Simpson. Yeah, it’s not great, and it’s essentially gore-free which is weird for Mortal Kombat. But it’s got its moments and it’s enjoyable in a cheesy, mindless way.
Steven Messner: Gamebox 1.0
Y’all are cute listing your Resident Evils and Silent Hills, but clearly the least bad videogame movie is Gamebox 1.0. Starring none other than Topanga from Boy Meets World and Harvey from Sabrina the Teenage Witch (the 1996 TGIF version), this captivating thriller sets an untouchable standard for videogame movies. Harvey plays a depressed game tester devastated by the loss of his girlfriend who was murdered by a crazy cop (which is weird because she’s white). After inexplicably receiving a strange virtual reality videogame console in the mail, he discovers that it uses the likenesses of people in his memory as characters in the game. Topanga comes back as a damsel in distress, and the cop that shot her is now a katana-wielding villain, and in order to win Harvey has to survive three different game levels: Grand Theft Auto 4, Dead Island, and Quake 4. But guess what? If you die in the game you die in real life. Aside from the emotional and very consistent plot, what really puts Gamebox 1.0 in a league of its own is the special effects—they’re so lifelike!
Seriously, though, I went through a weird phase where I almost exclusively watched terrible D-tier movies and Gamebox 1.0 was probably my favorite. It’s so wonderfully awful that it’s so much more watchable than any other tryhard Hollywood videogame movie. Just watch the trailer above.
Bo Moore: Super Mario Bros.
When you think about it, Mario is fucking weird. He’s a plumber who can jump high, shoot fireballs, and he battles reptiles and weird little things called Goombas. Attempting to make a movie out of this was always going to be weird, so I love that the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie just absolutely leaned into that absurdity.
Women are being abducted from New York City and taken into a weird dystopian alternate universe filled with anthropomorphic lizards and other wacky creatures. Mario and Luigi investigate, hijinks ensue. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but the way this movie interpreted the absurdity of the Mario universe is, frankly, nothing short of genius. Also it clarified that Mario and Luigi’s full names are Mario Mario and Luigi Mario, because they’re the Mario brothers. Genius.
Wesley Fenlon: Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie & Fatal Fury: The Motion Picture
Super Mario Bros. is the real answer, as Bo expressed—it’s a fascinating film, bizarre and creative in a way no other videogame movie has ever accomplished. But I’ll go for something different, here: the mid-90s adaptations of fighting games Street Fighter and Fatal Fury into animated films. Street Fighter had its so-bad-its-good live action adaptation, of course, but these animated adaptations knew how to put the focus on the fight scenes and properly showcase the characters from the games. Special moves are treated as exciting moments, the animation in both is stylish and detailed, and nonsense fighting game stories just work a lot better in anime form than they do in live action.
They’re just freaking cool.
Joanna Nelius: Hitman
Honestly, Hitman wasn’t that bad. Was it good? No, but compared to other videogame films (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Street Fighter, Super Mario Bros.—sorry, Bo), it’s way more palatable. I thought Timothy Olyphant played a respectable Agent 47, and even though he was mostly serious and stoic throughout the film, he delivered subtle moments of comedy, too. Nika was really annoying and the plot wasn’t anything special, but the cinematography was great.
Jody Macgregor: Doom
OK, if Resident Evil is already taken and saying Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World or Hardcore Henry or Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle would be cheating, then I guess I’m gonna be the guy who sticks up for Doom. The first half is a decent Aliens knock-off (not as good as Pitch Black, better than Alien 3), and the second half is just Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson chewing scenery, which is hilarious.
Most videogame stories—and especially first-person shooter ones, even your beloved Half-Lifes and BioShocks—are hokey nonsense that we like in spite of their silliest excesses. B-grade movies like Doom are the truest representation of that, and I hope Doom: Annihilation is just as goofy, and the actors are having as much of a good time as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson clearly was.