This weekend “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” opens and attempts to break the videogame-based film adaptation curse once and for all. (Although the trailer for “Sonic the Hedgehog” seems to have set those efforts back at least two decades – and it was only a trailer!) There have been dozens of videogame adaptations since the 1990s and most of them have been incredibly terrible (especially those directed by Uwe Boll, an Ed Wood-style master of schlock whose chosen genre seems to be awful videogame adaptations). In fact, it was a stretch to pick 7 movies worthy of your time ... or at least your quarters.
7. ‘Super Mario Bros.’ (1993)
It’s astonishing how few Nintendo games have been adapted for other forms, but it undoubtedly has something to do with “Super Mario Bros,” the first movie based on a videogame and definitely, if not one of the worst, then certainly one of the weirdest. Directed by “Max Headroom” co-creators Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, with a screenplay that was cobbled together by at least a half-dozen writers, this adaptation of the iconic videogame saw a pair of everyday plumbers (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo) fun afoul of an evil plot and get zapped to a land where dinosaurs had continue to evolve (mostly), ruled by an evil King Koopa (Dennis Hopper). Aesthetically, the movie has a lot going for it, from the overstuffed sets that look like a combination of Tim Burton’s “Batman” and Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” to the creature effects that are pleasingly pre-“Jurassic Park” in their simplicity and effectiveness. And on a narrative level, there’s more charm than you probably remember, especially as we brace ourselves for a more “faithful” animated adaptation coming soon.
6. ‘Warcraft’ (2016)
Indie auteur Duncan Jones followed up his beloved, small-scale sci-fi films “Moon” and “Source Code” with this behemoth based on the medieval strategy game of the same name. Orcs and humans are constantly battling it out, for reasons that are never fully explained but always seem unnecessarily complicated (something to do with portals). “Warcraft” can, at times, be an absolute slog, full of clashing swords and questionable accents, although what other movie can you point to that features Ben Foster as an evil wizard and Paula Patton as a green-skinned, half-orc babe? Like many of the best videogame adaptations, its ambitions are enviable, and the visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic would probably have constituted as game-changing had anybody actually seen the movie. “Warcraft” works much better at home, too, when you can pause it whenever you need to and be able to take a walk or make a sandwich.
5. ‘Street Fighter’ (1994)
Most people point to the original “Mortal Kombat” as one of the best videogame adaptations. But those same people probably haven’t actually watched “Mortal Kombat” in 20 years. Because it is bad. It is very, very bad. Much better, in my estimation, is “Street Fighter,” released the year before “Mortal Kombat.” It’s also based on a fighting game, but has a much better sense of humor, and unlike “Mortal Kombat,” its PG-13 rating doesn’t seem like a betrayal of the source material. (There were no twitching, disembodied spinal columns in “Street Fighter.”) As written and directed by “Die Hard” co-screenwriter Steven E. de Souza, the movie has a knowingly campy vibe, as exemplified by Jean-Claude Van Damme’s lead performance (that hair!) and Raul Julia, in his last role, as the hammy villain. Its visual effects, mostly of the old school variety, have aged much better than “Mortal Kombat’s” janky computer graphics too.
4. ‘Need for Speed’ (2014)
Weirdly overlooked, “Need for Speed” entered the marketplace as an earnest alternative for the “Fast and the Furious” films. Sadly, it never got the chance to be a franchise, instead getting stuck as a fascinating one-off. Aaron Paul leads a surprisingly starry cast (including Rami Malek, Imogen Poots, Michael Keaton and, er, Kid Cudi) in what is a fairly standard “guy gets out of prison and seeks revenge” movie but gussied up with really terrific car chases/crashes. (The original videogame is a classic driving arcade game.) Director Scott Waugh is a former stuntman and insisted almost all of the stunts be staged for real, and the result is a thrillingly authentic joyride that, while it might not be the most original movie ever made, is certainly one of the more exciting in recent memory. Seriously. Take a look.
3. ‘Silent Hill’ (2006)
It’s actually scary! “Silent Hill,” the moody horror survival game by Konami, gets the big screen treatment courtesy of French auteur Christophe Gans and “Pulp Fiction” co-writer Roger Avary, and it’s actually pretty spooky. Gans smartly places a very human drama at the center of all of the supernatural weirdness, allowing the audience to emotionally connect with something before piling on all of the ghoulish nuns and pyramid-headed monsters. The result is arguably the most visually striking videogame adaptation of all time; it sometimes hits some snags in the narrative but Gans and his collaborators are very committed to maintaining and translating the essential tone and atmosphere of the original game, while adding some much-needed cinematic flourishes. Of all the videogame adaptations on the list, this one really goes there.
2. ‘Resident Evil: Extinction’ (2007)
There have been so many “Resident Evil” movies, each with a subtitle more interchangeable than the next, so it’s understandable if you can’t exactly remember which one “Resident Evil: Extinction” is. So let me help you out: it’s the third movie and the one set largely in Las Vegas, which has a distinctly dusty post-apocalyptic vibe that’s different than most of the latter, clearly-shot-in-a-dingy-warehouse-in-Bulgaria installments. It also has some genuinely nifty, heady action set pieces orchestrated with much aplomb (nothing beats a flock of zombie crows getting lit on fire), thanks largely to Australian auteur Russell Mulcahy. Even if you haven’t seen the previous movies (or the latter ones), “Resident Evil: Extinction” is a stylish, energetic blast, a movie that proudly wears its videogame inspiration on its sleeve while pushing things forward in fun and unique ways.
1. ‘Pokémon: Detective Pikachu’ (2018)
While it’s certainly not a high bar to clear, “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” is easily the greatest videogame adaptation of all time. And the reasons for this are simple. It takes the central premise of the videogame and card series, set in a world in which humans capture and “battle” adorable little monsters, and smartly expands it, deepening the emotional stakes (a young man, who has no Pokémon sidekick, teams up with Pikachu to investigate the disappearance of his father) and establishing a gorgeously realized, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”-esque futuristic city where humans and Pokémon live side-by-side. Sure, the detective story trappings don’t have anywhere to go and it could have used some inspired, Joe Dante-style mayhem, but in terms of adapting what is essentially a point-and-click RPG into something even remotely resembling rousing entertainment is a feat in and of itself. And the creatures, which have a tactile believability, give off 1980s Jim Henson vibes, they’re so lifelike and seamless. If this is as good as videogame adaptations get, well, it’s pretty damn good.
Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son, Tim, to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry's former Pokémon partner, wise-cracking, adorable super-sleuth Detective Pikachu. Finding that they are uniquely equipped to work together, as Tim is the only human who can talk with Pikachu, they join forces to unravel the tangled mystery. Read More