2016 has been a banner year for video game movies actually coming out, with “Warcraft,” “Angry Birds” and “Ratchet & Clank” all hitting their release dates. “Assassin’s Creed” is coming out in December, too, and looks like it could actually be not-horrible!
Still, video game movies in general have a less than sterling reputation, and there’s a reason for that. Aside from a scant few that are watchably mediocre, the majority of them are garbage. Here’s a celebration of the history of video games movies in the hope that their future is much brighter:
“Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” (1997)
- New Line Cinema
For all its extreme martial arts cheese, 1995’s “Mortal Kombat” is probably one of the better video game movies. It takes itself as seriously as the games (not at all) and its cast members are all basically recognizable as the characters they portray. It’s goofy fun.
Its sequel came out two years later and dashed any goodwill the people may have had for the fledgling film series. “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” is a boring, low-budget mess with excruciatingly bad acting and special effects straight out of “Sharknado.”
Seriously, the entire thing is a sub-SyFy-level mess of a production. It’s incredible this movie was allowed to be released in theaters.
“Max Payne” (2008)
- 20th Century Fox
The “Max Payne” series was a bit revelatory in the world of video games for combining a film noir detective aesthetic with “The Matrix”-esque “bullet time” combat sequences. It was more hard-nosed and gritty than most video games in 2001, for sure.
The 2008 film adaptation starring Mark Wahlberg doesn’t get a single part of it right. Its use of color is meant to evoke classic film noir, but it just looks bleak and washed out. It also tries to simulate the game’s combat by just setting every action scene in painfully dull slow motion.
Most importantly, its cast just isn’t up to the task. Wahlberg spends most of the movie whispering and staring as Max, while Ludacris (who I love to death) is woefully out of place as the grizzled police lieutenant. Mila Kunis, as love interest Mona Sax, has very little to do.
“Max Payne” is far from unwatchable, but instead of feeling like a faithful, interesting adaptation of a video game, it just feels like a hollow imitator of much better detective movies.
“Super Mario Bros.” (1993)
As the first major motion picture based on a video game, “Super Mario Bros.” set the precedent for all of them being trash.
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo (neither of whom are especially Italian) star as Mario and Luigi, two plumbers living in Brooklyn. They get transported to an alternate universe version of Manhattan where humans evolved from dinosaurs instead of primates, which is a dystopian world led by Bowser, played by Dennis Hopper.
If that sounds terrible and not at all evocative of the video games, that’s because it is and it isn’t, respectively. Seeing two guys whose only resemblance to Mario and Luigi is the colors they wear galavant around a nightmare version of Manhattan didn’t do a lot for kids in 1993, as the movie was a box office bomb.
Here’s a secret: I kind of love “Super Mario Bros.” It’s a bizarre nightmare of a movie, but I don’t envy anyone who had to play the old video games and write a movie script based on that. It’s a trashy piece of cinema, but one that’s fun to see.
“Wing Commander” (1999)
“Wing Commander” is unique in that it’s not a bastardization of the video game by external forces. It’s a bastardization of the video game by its creator.
Chris Roberts created the “Wing Commander” series of spaceship dogfighting simulations before leaving to pursue a career in Hollywood. His 1999 debut? A “major” motion picture adaptation of the game starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard, back when both of them were at the height of their teen heartthrob days.
“Wing Commander” is boring, melodramatic sci-fi drivel that doesn’t even have the decency to include some exciting special effects shots. It’s extra heartbreaking when you consider that the video games had live-action cutscenes starring Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell, neither of whom are in this movie.
With its ultra-violence, ripping guitar solos and loving embrace of all things Satan, “Doom” helped bring first-person shooters to the forefront of gaming in the mid-1990s.
In 2005, a film adaptation starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Karl Urban was made, and it included almost none of the things that made the game great. It’s a dull slog through dimly-lit corridors in a research station on Mars, with some pretty cheesy CGI monsters.
The only “iconic” thing about the movie is a lengthy sequence near the end where the viewpoint shifts to first-person, as a nod to the video games. It’s a pretty dumb scene, as you can see.
“Street Fighter” (1994)
- Universal Pictures
“Street Fighter II” was blowing up arcades back in the early 1990s, so why not cash in with a Hollywood movie? The answer to that question is this movie.
Casting the decidedly Belgian (and decidedly awesome) Jean-Claude Van Damme as the all-American badass Guile was a head-scratcher. More importantly, just look at that cast image! Those costumes are terrible!
Those people are basically recognizable as “Street Fighter” characters, but you’d see better cosplay at just about any convention. It doesn’t help that “Street Fighter” is a very mediocre action movie on top of that.
Also, it was the final role for the wonderful Raul Julia (as the villain M. Bison) before his passing. There’s a sad piece of trivia to ruin your day.
“Double Dragon” (1994)
- Gramercy Pictures
Based on the classic arcade beat-’em-up series, “Double Dragon” was the second video game adaptation after “Super Mario Bros.” It suffers from oddly similar problems and is maybe even worse as a result.
It follows two brothers who have to fight their way through a dystopian future (not the premise of the game) in order to defeat a maniacal villain, played by Robert Patrick. Like “Super Mario Bros.,” it deviates wildly from the already-paper-thin narrative of the video games to become a horribly corny action-comedy.
Scott Wolf and Mark Dacascos are bro-y and goofy as the two leads, while Alyssa Milano has a great early-90s haircut. The only other noteworthy thing about “Double Dragon” is there’s a scene near the end where someone gets thrown into an arcade cabinet for the video game.
“House of the Dead” (2003)
“House of the Dead” was the first video game movie directed by Uwe Boll, a man who duped a bunch of companies into letting him direct movies based mostly on B-tier video games. For many years, he secured funding using a German tax loophole.
This will not be the last appearance of Uwe Boll on this list.
There isn’t much to say about “House of the Dead,” honestly. It’s a cheap, unoriginal zombie-killing trashfest with incompetent directing, editing, acting and writing. This was before Uwe Boll managed to wrangle big names into appearing in his movies, so there’s not really anybody of note in the cast.
Really, it’s on this list because it started a tidal wave of Uwe Boll video game movies.
“Alone in the Dark” (2005)
- Brightlight Pictures
Fast forward two years after “House of the Dead” and you get “Alone in the Dark,” Uwe Boll’s sophomore effort. Loosely based on the old PC horror game series of the same name, Boll waved paychecks in front of Christian Slater and Tara Reid so they would bring some credibility to the cast.
Like all of his other movies, “Alone in the Dark” is boring, poorly-acted and difficult to watch. The story has something to do with ancient civilizations and demons and whatnot, but it’s not worth caring about.
It takes place mostly in a series of dimly-lit environments where people occasionally fire guns at demons you can’t really see. It’s a really engaging piece of cinema.
- Pitchblack Pictures
Finally, there’s “Postal,” which is the worst Uwe Boll movie and quite possibly one of the worst movies ever made.
Based on a series of bad PC action games that try to be as offensive as possible in place of having actual jokes or personality, “Postal” is actually one of the more faithful video game adaptations. It’s a cavalcade of racism, homophobia, awkward celebrity cameos, Hitler jokes and very ill-advised 9/11-themed humor.
It’s nothing but a bunch of cultural stereotypes being illustrated on-screen, usually without real jokes to accompany them. It’s not nearly as clever or funny as Uwe Boll may have thought it was, and it’s too try-hard to really be offensive. It’s just boring.