Video game movies are bad. Really bad. There are even objective reasons for why they are bad and according to MatPat of The Game Theorists, German tax breaks are only one of them. Yet some are less bad than others. A few had some effort put into them or at least can be enjoyed for the cheesy, over-the-top goodness that they are. With that said here is my list of the five “best” (there are quotations because everything is relative) video game movies ever made, in no particular order:
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
This is probably the most critically acclaimed of all the video game movies out there and most critics still don’t like it. Allegedly based on the long running Final Fantasy series, the film follows Aki Ross and a team of soldiers who track down spirits to build a weapon that can eliminate alien ghosts that have wiped out most of humanity. I think most of the bad reviews came from the bad story I just shared with you. In fact, you could have removed the Final Fantasy from the title and nothing would be different. I remember watching this movie for the first time and thinking: this has nothing to do with the video game (which is a common refrain from most people who watch video game movies).
One element that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within does succeed in, however, is the animation. I have never seen such life-like animated figures before or since. I also like how the Aki character, while pretty, wasn’t eroticised like many other SF female characters, although they sort of screwed that up by having her show up in Maxim‘s Hot 100. Nevertheless, while the story may have been “meh”, the animation was remarkable.
This is one of those rare films where the only thing really going for it was its awesome techno theme song. Otherwise, its a cliche-ridden mess. It has cheesey one-liners, bad special effects, numerous plot holes and a kick-ass female lead who nevertheless needs to be rescued by the men in the final act. The worst sin, however, is the fact that they took one of the most violent games of its time, a game that allegedly was the cause of all of the problems with the youth of the 90s, and it only got a PG-13. Seriously?!?! How the hell can you make a Mortal Kombat movie and not have it earn an “R” rating?
Despite the above, the movie did stay pretty true the story of the game (there actually was a tournament), as much as a fighting game with graphic violence can have a story. More importantly, it is a product of its time, but in a good way. All the cliches make this a very 90s movie, which can be enjoyed for nostalgic sake. Also when compared to Street Fighter, which came out around the same time, and its sequel, its water-downed violence looks even better. If you want to laugh at something that takes itself too seriously, this is a film for you.
One of the great things about Resident Evil the game was that you couldn’t just go unloading clips into every zombie you saw. This was a game about horror survival, not wanton destruction. Resident Evil the film said to hell with that and had a hot girl kick a zombie dog in the face. This movie can be summed up as just another dumb action flick that tried to cash in on the popularity of zombies. Even the main villain, the Umbrella Corporation, has become a parody of itself and completely represents the “corporation that is evil for the sake of being evil” trope.
Yet…it is still entertaining. Resident Evil is just over the top enough to be enjoyable and some of the action scenes were rather cool, like when the commandos were wiped out by the lasers in that hallway. Cliches like seeing Milla Jovovich naked from far away or Michelle Rodriguez dying in movies were still fresh at the time as well. The sequel was just as over the top, which makes both films a good watch if you have nothing better to do and a few beers to drink. It is a guilty pleasure to say the least.
Admittedly the game Doom didn’t have much of a story to begin with, but you would think a demon incursion on Mars would provide enough fertile ground to make a decent film. Sadly that wasn’t the case. Instead we just saw beefy guys fight zombies (or each other), which made this almost another dumb action flick like Resident Evil. I don’t even remember the plot for this one all that well. It really is completely forgettable.
Unless you remember that one scene when they went first person. That was cool, but it only lasted for a few minutes at most. Why couldn’t they make the whole film from a first person perspective? Don’t tell me it couldn’t be done, The Blair Witch Project came out before it did, so a first person perspective wasn’t impossible. This brings me to my main point about this film: it had so much potential to be great that you can almost see it if you squint your eyes. Along with some funny references to the game and an always enjoyable performance by The Rock, this still deserves a viewing if only as a lesson of what could have been.
If you like seeing Angelina Jolie look sexy, this is the film for you. If you want more than just fan service, sorry can’t help you. I think we sometimes forget that this film was as much about time travel and conspiracy theories as it was about tomb raiding, which is never enjoyable for historians like myself. Having never personally played the Tomb Raider games, I went in not knowing what to expect, but I assume they had to have been better than this to warrant a film. Furthermore, much like Doom, this is one of those films where the plot actually escapes me without going back and checking Wikipedia.
Still this film came at a time when Jolie was the height of her career and to be fair she isn’t bad as Lara Croft. I also enjoyed Sir Friend Zone himself, Iain Glen, performance as the main villain, who also played a villain in the Resident Evil series as well surprisingly enough. In fact this movie had many good actors in it including future James Bond, Daniel Craig, and Jon Voight. At the very least, the star power of Lara Croft is enough to pull this film out of the usual bargain bin of quality video game movies find themselves in.
Honorable Mention: Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children
I didn’t included this one in the official list since it only got a theatrical release in Japan, but it still deserves mention. This is because Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children is a good example about why a faithful adaptation of a video game is not necessarily a good thing. A direct sequel to the game, this film is great for fans of the game, but general audiences are going to be lost. The characters, their backstories and motivations are all presented in a way that you are expected to know about them going in. On top of that the first two thirds of this film is slow, with only a few short action scenes to distract you.
Much like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, however, the animation is beautiful and the fight scenes are impressive. They have an anime style that transferred well into computer animation, especially in the last act of the film where it is nothing but intense fighting against giant monsters and super-powered killing machines, much like Monty Oum’s RWBY. If you can suffer through the confusing and sometimes boring plot, you won’t regret the feast of action your eyes are in for.