Several Hollywood executives have raided the video gaming industry when seeking inspiration for lucrative new projects in recent years. The video gaming industry has grown exponentially during that time, so it is easy to see why film producers are keen to cling onto its coattails. Some of these adaptations have proved remarkably successful, while others have crashed and burned. These are the top five video games that have made a seamless transition to the silver screen:
Sonic the Hedgehog
The amorphous blue hedgehog generated a tremendous buzz when he made his big screen debut earlier this year. The film enjoyed the most lucrative opening weekend of any video game adaptation, and it went on to smash all commercial expectations. Sonic the Hedgehog grossed $306 million, making it the second most successful film of 2020.
Sony Pictures was ultimately rewarded for its decision to listen to the fans. The first trailer dropped in 2019, and it left Sonic devotees distinctly unimpressed. They hated Sonic’s design and railed against attempts to make him look more human, so Sony ended up investing in a sweeping makeover. Fans were much happier with his new look, and this process created a great deal of positive publicity for the film. Its release was delayed by several months, and it faced much flimsier competition when it finally arrived in cinemas, allowing it to dominate the box office.
Critics praised the visuals, the performances and the faithfulness to the video game, even if they were a little underwhelmed by the plot. Sony assembled an all-star cast featuring Jim Carrey as villain Dr Robotnik, and he brought a great deal of manic glee to the role. It turned out to be Carrey’s second best opening weekend, after Bruce Almighty.
The film sees Sonic fall from space and land in San Francisco, where he teams up with local sheriff Tom Wachowski to retrieve his rings and defeat the evil doctor. Youngsters loved it, helping Sonic reach a new generation of fans, while it also appealed to older generations with a number of nostalgic touches. A sequel featuring Tails is now being mooted.
Macbeth director Justin Kurzel somehow managed to assemble a magnificent cast to star in his 2016 adaptation of the Ubisoft franchise. Superstar Michael Fassbender played the titular role, while Academy Award winners Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons added serious credibility to the project. Brendan Gleeson, Charlotte Rampling and Michael K. Williams also took on supporting roles, helping to create a great deal of attention for the film.
However, Assassin’s Creed met with a lukewarm critical reception. Some reviewers loved the set pieces and described it as valiant, if flawed. Others lambasted the weak plot. Yet David Erlich of IndieWire provided perhaps the best summary when he said: “Declaring this to be the best video game movie ever made is the kind of backhanded compliment that sounds like hyperbole, but the description fits the bill on both counts”. He admitted the it was an “utterly ridiculous” adaptation, but added that it was also the most interesting blockbuster of 2016.
The movie grossed $240 million worldwide against a $125 million budget. Yet it has continued to prove popular with fans of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. They appreciated its faithfulness to the games, the unique story it told and the way Fassbender embodied the role of Cal. Some felt the CGI was overdone, but others revelled in the thrilling special effects and the fast-paced parkour. This film could develop a cult following in the years ahead.
Street Fighter remains one of the most iconic titles of all time. It boasts a terrific cast of characters, including Ryu, Ken, Chun-Li, Guile, M. Bison, Sagat, Zangief, Blanka, Dhalsim, Balrog and E. Honda. These heroes and villains have proved remarkably durable over the years, starring in 23 different video games between 1987 and 2020. Street Fighter is one of the most popular esports titles to this day, and people regularly wager on the action at sites like Unikrn.
Steven E. de Souza was handed the immense challenge of bringing these legendary characters to the big screen in 1994. He opted for a wildly over the top script, extravagant production designs and the sort of costumes you might expect at a pantomime. The likes of Jean-Claude van Damme and Kylie Minogue came in and hammed it up as much as possible, resulting in a riot of abject silliness.
However, another inspired piece of casting saw award-winning thespian Raul Julia step into the role of M. Bison, imbuing it with magnificent depth and gravitas. Julia admitted he only took the role because his children loved the games, and his nuanced portrayal of the arch villain served to expose the limitations of the Muscles from Brussels and the Australian pop princess.
It ended up as a choppy, uneven film, universally panned by the critics, but there is also something glorious about the Street Fighter film. It does not try to be serious or highbrow like Assassin’s Creed. It is packed full of hilarious fight sequences and ridiculous one-liners, but if you watch it with tongue firmly in cheek then you can simply enjoy seeing these iconic characters come to life. The movie also proved to be a significant commercial success for Capcom, although a planned sequel was scrapped.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
This 2001 action adventure movie catapulted Angelina Jolie to superstardom. The studio wanted to go for an established A-lister like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Ashley Judd or Jennifer Lopez, but director Simon West convinced Paramount to take a gamble on the unknown Jolie. It paid off. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider took $42.3 million on its opening weekend, breaking the record for a film with a female protagonist. It debuted at number one in the box office, and went on to gross $275 million worldwide.
That made Tomb Raider the best performing video game adaptation in history, and that record stood for many years. The film garnered some poor reviews, as the frenetic plot left critics flat, but Jolie received universal praise for her portrayal of the cave-dwelling explorer. Her screen presence was magnetic, and she really threw herself into the frenzied action sequences.
Respected critic Robert Ebert was full of praise for the film, as it did not take itself too seriously. “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider elevates goofiness to an art form,” he wrote, giving it three out of four stars. “Here is a movie so monumentally silly, yet so wondrous to look at, that only a churl could find fault.”
Ebert hits the nail on the head. Video game adaptations are rarely highbrow, and they are not trying to compete for Academy Awards. They need to be fun, accessible and packed full of action. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider boasts gorgeous scenery, exciting set pieces and some impressive turns from a strong cast, featuring Jon Voight and Daniel Craig.
A reboot arrived in 2019, starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft. It received mix reviews, but it also ended up taking around $275 million. However, its production costs were much higher, so industry insiders speculated that it only just about broke even, while Vikander is yet to enjoy the same exalted status as Jolie.
Event Horizon director Paul Anderson developed a love of the Resident Evil video game series and decided to bring it to the silver screen. He created an original character called Alice and brought in Milla Jovovich to star in the action horror flick. Alice wakes up in a deserted mansion, suffering from amnesia, and ventures into a zombie-plagued racoon city. Anderson then serves up a number of heart-pounding set pieces as the film veers towards a gory finale.
Once again, the film received mixed reviews. Ebert listed it among his most hated movies of all time, although others called it a slickly produced piece of trash and a relentless throat-grabber, and James Cameron said it was his greatest guilty pleasure. He called it “quite beautifully made”.
It was another box office hit, grossing more than $100 million worldwide off a modest budget. The likes of Michelle Rodriguez have great fun in their roles, and many fans of the video game franchise enjoyed the storyline, which delves into the shady dealings of the Umbrella Corporation.
Resident Evil spawned no fewer than five sequels, and Jovovich deigned to star in every single one of them. It is now the highest-grossing film series based on a video game franchise, having grossed more than $1.2 billion worldwide, with a budget of just $288 million in total. That makes it a roaring commercial success, and it clearly appeals to plenty of fans.