With the release of 'Free Guy,' directed by Shawn Levy, Hollywood is treated once again to a video game... inside a film! But this isn’t the first time that video games have wormed their ways inside film. Now, when I say ‘video games in film’ I mean... games made for movies! Sometimes, instead of using an already existing game (and having to wrestle with licenses), producers will make their own game. Often, these movies will revolve around said game, and show a great example of the era of both gaming and film. Here are just a few!

Tron (1982) - directed by Steven Lisberger and
Tron: Legacy (2010) - directed by Joseph Kosinski

Starting this list off right with the quintessential ‘game made for a movie’, Disney’s Tron and its beautiful sequel, Tron: Legacy. While the film itself does not take place in a video game, Tron sure looks like one. As the film released in the 80s, its main focus is on the arcade boom of the era. From both movies showing off different ‘gameplay’ from light cycle races to digital (deadly) disk throwing, the futuristic tone of both films captures its very obvious gaming inspiration to a tee.
The early 80s film had effects that were groundbreaking at the time, but look limited to us now. It's sequel, Tron: Legacy, recreates what a game world would look like, put through a beautiful lens. But that rich art style doesn’t make the video game aspect less beautiful-or deadly. Tron was one of the first films to really lean into its gaming roots, and obviously the special effects at the time were to thank. Besides, it totally comes full circle when in Legacy, the arcade game is front and center!

Tron

Tron

"A world inside the computer where man has never been. Until now."
67
PG1 hr 36 minJul 9th, 1982

TRON: Legacy

TRON: Legacy

"The Game Has Changed."
64
PG2 hr 5 minDec 17th, 2010


Gamer (2009) - directed by Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor

Going deep for this one, this Gerard Butler film combined multiple games into a single action-packed movie. Having both a battle-royal style last man standing shooter titled ‘Slayers’ (even before Fortnite blew up) and a Second Life-style simulation game called ‘Society’ where you can be and act like anyone, Gamer basically was a very intense parody about the gamer sub-culture. Showing both the ‘you can be anyone in a video game’ aspect and the idea that behind every game player behind the screen could be a little kid or not, Gamer doesn’t only use it’s in-movie video games to tell a kick-ass action movie story, but to also be a mirror to what the games industry is now. The film also is a foil for how Virtual Reality is used today, (and will be covered in another film on this list!) with them totally leaning into the ‘you really can be anyone’ in any virtual space. It also leans into the violence of gaming, and the thought of ‘so what if these characters really die?’

Gamer

Gamer

"In the near future, you don't live to play... you'll play to live."
57
R1 hr 35 minSep 4th, 2009


Ready Player One (2018) - directed by Steven Spielberg

And here’s where we cover the futuristic VR adventure! Ready Player One is all about a future where we live in Virtual Reality, and post-apocalyptic-ish future aside, it’s a great example of basing a fake game off 8-where the real ones are going. We already have so many other games that allow you to be someone else (such as VR Chat on steam and the Oculus), but in the OASIS, the game part of the film, it’s like all of what we have now pushed to the extreme.
People live in the OASIS, go to school, hang out with friends, etc. Ready Player One shows us the extremes of how far a game can go, and even a bit of a warning where it could take us if we don’t pay attention to it. While it is incredibly cool that the creator of a game hides different keys in different film and other game references to lead the whole company, it also can be used as something for us to watch out for. While VR is an amazing technology and can lead us to great things and leaps in knowledge…I really don’t think we want it to go that far!

Ready Player One

"A better reality awaits."
76
PG-132 hr 20 minMar 29th, 2018


Wreck-It Ralph (2012) - directed by Rich Moore

Now for something a little lighter, and a great representation of a movie paying homage to the games it’s based its own on. There are so many games in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, but nothing pays more thanks to the franchise it’s based off, Fix-it Felix, Jr. An obvious reference to Donkey Kong, Felix goes up against Ralph as he tries to make it to the top of the screen. Felix is a stand-in for Mario and Ralph is aping the... ape. The movie shows Ralph being tired of being the villain, and it gets a lot of mileage using other video game characters as both cheeky references and callouts to the franchises that inspired the film.

In the sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, we see the film even make a comment on the current gaming landscape, showing us a Mad Max-style driving game Slaughter Race, and having an incredibly badass female character at the helm. The fact that female characters are becoming more mainstream in heavy action games wasn't lost on the filmmakers. Even for a kid’s movie about old-school video games, Wreck-it Ralph, and its sequel, used its platform to speak more on the future of representation In the industry.

Wreck-It Ralph

"The story of a regular guy just looking for a little wreck-ognition."
73
PG1 hr 41 minNov 2nd, 2012


Wargames (1983) - directed by John Badham

We are ending with a classic! I like to think Wargames is a cautionary tale (from a time long before) of how far video games could actually go... or how gullible one can be when they don’t pay enough attention! While the film doesn’t exactly feature a video game, it does feature a government program titled “Global Thermonuclear War”, which (oops) is actually a top-secret Air Force defense program! One can even compare the ‘video game’ played in Wargames to that of a modern real-time strategy game.
While one is not planning out a real war, like the one in the film that David gets himself tied up in, we are using our brains to plan out how battles will go and how our troops will mow down the others on the other side of the digital map. Speaking on the fear I mentioned earlier, the 1980s were... a time. For many things, but video games had received a resurgence, as well as arcades. The idea that games could be anything but fun and great for kids was thrown on its head with Wargames, with the fear that the game you think could be played could just be starting the next World War.

WarGames

WarGames

"Is it a game, or is it real?"
71
PG1 hr 54 minJun 3rd, 1983


While Free Guy may cover a fake video game, it wasn’t the first. And in this list we hoped we introduced you to brand-new films to watch at the end of the day, or remind you of some favorites!

'Free Guy' is in theaters on August 13th

Free Guy

"Life's too short to be a background character."
78
PG-131 hr 55 minAug 13th, 2021