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The Best and Worst Video Game Adaptations of All Time, Ranked

best and worst video game adaptations

Video game adaptations have been notoriously hit or miss. For execs, taking a smash-hit videogame with an already massive following and turning it into a film or show seems like a no-brainer. And given the visual nature of games, you’d also expect them to translate quite seamlessly to the big (or small) screen.

Yet, the history of video game adaptations has been nothing if not dicey. There’s been a handful of masterpieces, sure. But also a long list of cringe-worthy busts.

That being said, in light of the recent success of HBO’s The Last of Us, it appears video game adaptations may be finally turning a corner. So let’s now take a moment to reflect on their future by exploring their past.

Here’s our list of the best and worst video game adaptations of all time!

The Five Best Video Game Adaptations of All Time

The Last of Us (TV Series)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve either watched or heard of HBO’s latest hit series The Last of Us, which is based on a NaughtyDog zombie survival game of the same name. Excellent casting, breathtaking visual effects, and a narrative that stays painstakingly true to the videogame make this a truly top-notch adaptation. Many are already heralding it to be the best show ever based on a video game!

Fun fact: Toronto Film School alumni Leonard Provost worked on the show as a stunt performer!

Detective Pikachu (Movie)

A surprise hit, Detective Pikachu has proven that even modern-day Pokémon games have enough substance to become standalone blockbusters. Released in 2019, Detective Pikachu managed to charm audiences and critics around the world, allowing it to become the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time.

Mortal Kombat (1995 Movie)

This list wouldn’t be complete without the classic, and charmingly campy, Mortal Kombat. At the time of its release (1995), this film showcased that video game adaptations could be entirely faithful to their source material while still offering viewers unique, entertaining cinematic experiences. Thanks to its high-octane fight sequences and quirky 90s-era aesthetics, this film cemented itself as a cult classic that can’t be missed.

Tomb Raider (Movie)

Roar Uthaug’s 2018 Tomb Raider reboot revived the classic video game franchise, which hadn’t seen a decent adaption since Angelina Jolie took on the role of Lara Croft in 2001. Decidedly modern, this action-packed film remains true to its source material and is backed by a stellar performance from Alicia Vikander.

The Witcher (TV Series)

Netflix took on the challenge of translating one of the world’s most beloved RPGs to the small screen. The result? A series that is as binge-able as the game it’s adapting is addictive. The series’ narrative is faithful to the game and backed by top-notch acting and breathtaking cinematography. Even die-hard gamers couldn’t help but fall for this expertly-executed series.

The Five Worst Video Game Adaptations

Alone in the Dark (Movie)

The 2005 film Alone in the Dark holds the crown for being the lowest-grossing video game adaptation ever made. The film famously failed to connect to its source material, infuriating fans of the game. Critics also panned it for its bad acting and nonsensical plotline. These days, there are entire video essays dedicated to slandering this movie – a popular one even questions why it was ever made in the first place.

House of the Dead (Movie)

House of the Dead (2003) took a classic arcade franchise and adapted it into a disjointed B-movie prequel that the world never asked for. Criticized for its messy plot and laughable special effects, this film left audiences thoroughly disappointed.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Movie)

Despite its strong cast and massive budget, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time failed to become the blockbuster hit that Disney was banking on. The movie was released in 2010 and did pull off some impressive visual feats. But, due to its dismal connection to the original game and its particularly thin plot, it became yet another overhyped but ultimately disposable adaptation.

Warcraft (Movie)

Working with incredibly rich source material and an already-existing million-person wide fanbase, you’d think Warcraft would’ve been a shoo-in for Blizzard Entertainment and Legendary Pictures. Unfortunately, when it came to translating the magic of the beloved RPG, the film flopped, and so did its box office numbers.

Super Mario Bros. (Movie)

The 1993 Super Mario Bros adaptation has an almost Lynchian quality. It’s bizarre right down its core. It’s also considered one of the biggest missteps in video game adaptation history. It features a convoluted narrative, bad casting, and a live-action treatment that failed to track with the film’s source material. That being said, for some, this movie definitely lands itself in the “so bad it’s good” category of cinema; for that reason, it has acquired somewhat of a cult following.

Video Game Adaptations Have a Bright Future

When it comes to video game adaptations, we’ve seen some amazing triumphs but also countless disasters. Looking at our list, it’s clear that producing a killer adaptation is more than possible. But the secret to doing so lies largely in a film or show’s ability to capture the essence of its source material. And there’s no better example of this than The Last of Us, which often recreates full scenes from the game, shot for shot.

Interestingly, the massive success of this HBO series also appears to be representative of something bigger – the increasing convergence of the film and video game industries. More than ever before, filmmakers and video game developers are collaborating on projects to create rich adaptations and multi-platform franchises that borrow creative elements from both mediums. As these two industries continue to crossover, it’s safe to say we can expect a future filled with more faithful and engaging adaptations.

Oh, and one more thing!

If you’re interested in breaking into the video game industry – then sign up for Toronto Film School’s industry-focused newsletter, Insider Advantage.

Packed with exclusive content and useful insights, Insider Advantage is essential reading for anyone looking to make their mark in the world of film and television.

Niko Pajkovic

Niko Pajkovic is a marketing copywriter at the Toronto Film School. He’s also an academically published author whose research focuses on algorithms, AI, and their intersection with film and television. Niko holds an MA in Professional Communication from Toronto Metropolitan University and a Hon. BA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University. His freelance bylines include Film Threat, Independent Australia, Film Matters Magazine, and Film Cred.

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