Christmas time is here. That means it’s the perfect time to kick back, drink your own body weight’s worth of mulled wine, eat far too many tiny little chocolates and generally indulge yourself, especially if you’ve not had the chance to relax a lot through the year.
If you’re on this site, odds are good that you’re planning on playing through what is undoubtedly more than a healthy amount of video games this winter, though if you fancy taking a walk on the other side of town, so to speak, you’re in the right place. In order to celebrate the absolute magic that is the cinematic side of video games, we’ve got a list of some of the best and probably worst movies you can pick up this Christmas.
Thanks to the magic of internet streaming, you can have access to a truly unbelievable amount of movies at any time you want – even on Christmas Day, when every other retailer has shut down. Cinematic masterpieces, they may not be exactly, but these films can be a whole lot of fun, given the right audience and timing. Whether the films are actually good or not doesn’t really matter as much as having a damn good time, right? It’s been a very long year, let’s have some fun.
Consider these our top picks for video game movies you could watch on Christmas Day, Boxing Day or any other time you’re able to sit back and have a good time.
Super Mario Bros. The Movie
Let’s kick this list off the right way – with the Super Mario Bros. movie. This film, originally released in 1993, stars the late, great Bob Hoskins and the genuinely-very-cool John Leguizamo as the titular Mario bros, with Hoskins taking on the role of Mario himself, of course. Dennis Hopper stars as the film’s antagonist, an oddly humanoid version of Bowser with a truly awful cornrow hairstyle. To put it bluntly, this movie is absolutely baffling. Rather than recreating the colourful, bright Mushroom Kingdom from the game series, the filmmakers have opted instead for a dystopian parallel dimension filled with dinosaurs and ruled with an iron fist by Bowser.
Make no mistake, this movie was a critical and commercial failure on a huge scale and no part of it makes for illuminating viewing, but the film has garnered a cult following in the past 20 or so years. If you haven’t seen this one, trust me, it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
Here we go. Mortal Kombat was one of the earlier examples of a video game movie that was given a blockbuster budget and the film that launched the career of one Paul W.S. Anderson, a director who would go on to give us movies such as Alien vs. Predator, Soldier and Resident Evil. More about that later. The Mortal Kombat movie is an adaptation of the original game, following our heroes Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade and Raiden as they fight to defeat the evil Shang Tsung before Earth is destroyed.
Christopher Lambert of Highlander fame stars as the film’s one recognisable actor, hamming up his performance as demi-god Raiden to an impressive degree. For all its faults, Mortal Kombat was a commercial success, spending three weeks at number one in the box office. I can’t vouch for how well this one has held up over the past 20 years, but let’s just say, you may want to bring a drink when you sit down with this one.
Ratchet and Clank
In 2016, the Ratchet and Clank franchise that has been beloved to many since the days of the PS2 finally got its own movie adaptation. In a remarkably smart move, the movie studio opted to create a fully CGI movie rather than take the Super Mario Bros movie route of recreating everything in live-action. Series creators Insomniac Games were involved in the production, from the screenplay all the way to the animation. James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye, Paul Giamatti, Rosario Dawson, Bella Thorne and Sylvester Stallone all star, so it’s a fairly notable cast.
While this movie didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it released (that might be being kind, given that it is currently rated at 17% on Rotten Tomatoes), the film has found an audience among kids, while still packing enough adult humour to amuse parents.
Rather than pick just one of the Resident Evil movies, you can consider this a recommendation to check out any of the six(!) entries into the series. The entire series stars Milla Jovovich as Alice, a character invented purely for the movie franchise. Over the course of the films, Alice runs into familiar faces from the likes of Claire Redfield, Jill Valentine, Albert Wesker and even the series Frankenstein-esque monster, Nemesis.
The movies all veer wildly from the established canon of the Resident Evil series but each of them is filled with frankly ludicrous levels of special effects, over-the-top fight scenes and intense martial arts choreography. At one point, Alice runs vertically down the side of a building. It’s that level of silly. Still, this entire series is superb to put on, turn off your brain and just have fun with.
While we’re on the topic of over-the-top and ludicrous movies, you’re going to want to check out the Doom movie. This one features Karl Urban, star of Dredd and Star Trek, alongside the one-and-only Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The year is 2046 and a heavily populated research facility on Mars comes under attack by monsters. A special forces team, led by The Rock, is sent in to deal with the situation.
Notably, the movie ditches the ‘Hell’ aspect of the monsters, instead opting for them to be an ancient, genetically-enhanced race of what are presumably alien creatures. This change removes some of the John Romero charm of the game series, but there are plenty of recognisable faces amongst the demonic rabble nonetheless. Plus, Doom features an entire sequence in first-person, which feels as much like a Universal studios ride as you would imagine. It’s quite the spectacle.
Hitman Agent 47
The second of two movies based on IO Interactive’s Hitman franchise, the role of Agent 47 is played by Rupert Friend, taking over the role from Timothy Olyphant. 47 is a genetically enhanced supersoldier in this series, whose creator has long disappeared. Zachary Quinto stars as the imaginatively named John Smith, a mysterious man working for Syndicate International, a fairly nondescript evil organisation.
The film is part revenge story, part action romp and should probably be taken as a little tongue-in-cheek at times. Still, if you’re after an action-packed adventure story based on everyone’s favourite barcoded assassin, this one’s definitely better than the original movie.
Wing Commander the movie is directed by the creator of Wing Commander the game series. That fact alone should have meant this movie was going to be the theoretical good video game movie. Sadly, the end result didn’t quite make it to that status. It is, however, a rather enjoyable sci-fi version of Top Gun with some very strange elements and a decent level of intrigue.
While the game series starred Mark Hamill, Tom Wilson, and Malcolm McDowell, the film’s cast is slightly more modest – Freddie Prinze Jr, Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, and David Suchet as a motley crew of space rangers fighting a war against the Kilrathi, a bizarre race of feline-like aliens.
Look, if you haven’t seen the Street Fighter movie, you need to. It’s as simple as that.
Not only does the film star Jean-Claude Van Damme as the all-American Guile and Kylie Minogue as Cammy, but it’s also the great Raul Julia’s last film role. What a way to go.
Arguably, the most decently made and accurate to the source material film in our list, Silent Hill features Radha Mitchell and Sean Bean as a married couple who stumble upon the foggy town of Silent Hill. It doesn’t take long for everything to go a bit wrong, however, as the two lose track of their daughter and, eventually, each other.
Fans of Silent Hill will spot series favourites like Pyramid Head and the weirdly sexualised faceless nurses from Silent Hill 2 amongst the on-screen monsters. Needless to say, this one isn’t for the faint of heart.
Did you know they made a Tekken movie? I’m not sure many people did. This one is an American-made martial arts film – take from that what you will – that follows Jin Kazama (Jon Foo) as he attempts to enter the Iron Fight tournament in order to avenge his mother, Jun.
While that basic plot will be familiar to anyone who has played a Tekken game, that’s about where the similarities stop. For the most part, this film is one big martial arts romp with some occasional drama thrown in. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course.
House of the Dead
Here’s the real goldmine – the House of the Dead movie. A movie so genuinely awful, it has to be seen to be believed. Uwe Boll directs this direct-to-video film based on Sega’s lightgun horror franchise.
The movie adaptation features a band of intensely dislikable characters who arrive at Isla del Morte for a rave. Pretty soon, zombies happen, of course and the gang has to stay alive as best they can while all the madness unfolds. Make no mistake, House of the Dead is one of the worst movies ever made and even finds a way to use actual footage from the House of the Dead game as transitionary shots between scenes. It’s amazing.
For a while, Uwe Boll could not be stopped. He would make video game movie after video game movie, each a new variation of a similarly awful formula. Ubisoft won’t be quick to remind you that Boll directed a film based on its Far Cry franchise, but believe me, it exists.
Til Schweiger. stars as shockingly unconvincing American Jack Carver, a skipper who is employed to take someone to a mysterious island where genetic research takes place. You can probably fill in the rest of the plot for yourselves, but Boll never fails to amaze with Ed Wood levels of desperately poor moviemaking. Much like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, these films are a joy to watch somehow.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Before Kingsglaive and Advent Children, there was The Spirits Within. The first Final Fantasy movie was an entirely CGI-animated affair with a truly monumental budget. One so large that the film’s relative commercial failure basically resulted in Squaresoft going out of business.
Ming-na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi all star in this sci-fi fantasy adventure set on a post-apocalyptic earth, destroyed by a deadly alien race known as Phantoms. The film is as much political drama as it is an action, and the convoluted plot is probably what kept the film from being a bigger success. It is still pretty, though.
Perhaps the most recent hope for video game movies, Assassin’s Creed stars Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, and Brendan Gleeson in this action flick that is part historical and part science fiction, with Fassbender taking on the dual roles of Callum Lynch and his ancestor Aguilar de Nerha.
The film takes place in 1492, in Andalusia, as Aguilar is accepted into the shadowy ranks of the Brotherhood of Assassins. In modern day, Aguilar’s descendent Callum Lynch is arrested for murder and taken by Abstergo for interrogation. What follows is a film that is as true to its source material as you could hope for, while still attempting to tell an original story.
Duncan Jones is a tremendous director. His movies Moon and Source Code arrived to praise and commercial success, resulting in him being given the reins to the long-in-production movie adaptation of World of Warcraft.
Telling a story on both sides is a tricky thing to do, but Warcraft straddles a line between Orc and Human, Alliance and Horde, quite well, though there is a staggering amount of CGI to contend with.
Let these movies serve as an example of how fully Hollywood and the movie-making industry world understand video games as a medium and how flawlessly a video game storyline can translate to the big screen. Seamless, really. Whatever you choose to watch this Christmas, hopefully, you’re having an incredible time.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks. Give that Street Fighter movie another watch.