With a few infamous blunders, it may seem that good video game films and TV shows are few and far between. There’s no question that these screen adaptions quickly become major events for fans, even if some veer into so-bad-it’s-good territory. However, pleasant surprises in the form of movies like “Pokémon: Detective Pikachu” have warmed fans up to upcoming adaptations of other iconic titles. Recent announcements of video game-based projects have stirred excitement, like HBO’s “The Last of Us” adaptation and Eli Roth’s “Borderlands” movie. Netflix’s long-running “Castlevania” series is also coming to a close after four seasons of doing the game beautifully-animated justice.
But what is it that makes a video game adaptation good? It’s easy to imagine but clearly not as easy to nail. Is it accuracy? And if so, accuracy to what — character, plot, lore? Perhaps the real secret here is an open ear. Paramount notoriously overhauled the look of “Sonic the Hedgehog” after online outcry, and the release of “Mortal Kombat” displays an understanding of both the series and its fans. These games often have devoted followings who are hungry for recognition but not so much so that they’re willing to accept half-hearted scraps.
So which adaptations make the cut? From the bloody 2021 take on “Mortal Kombat” to the 2002 adaptation of zombie-horror “Resident Evil,” these are Variety’s top video game movies and TV shows.
Sonic the Hedgehog
“Sonic the Hedgehog” almost seemed doomed to fail after fans recoiled at the original look of the CGI blue speedster, but a swift redesign calmed those fears. Led by Ben Schwartz’s perfectly annoying yet lovable portrayal of Sonic, the movie is the highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time. A sequel is on the way in April 2022 with Sonic’s pals Tails and Knuckles rumored to appear.
While technically based on the book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, Netflix’s ‘The Witcher’ does justice to the fantasy world inhabited by Henry Cavill’s gruff Geralt of Rivia. The series was recently confirmed to have finished filming season two, with Cavill, Freya Allan, and Anya Chalotra along with several new cast members.
The violent video game series received two movies in the ‘90s, both largely forgettable but one managed to gain cult-classic status. However, first-time director Simon McQuoid does the franchise gory justice with 2021’s iteration. Featuring Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Jax, Sonya, Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Kano, Shang Tsung and more, the movie delivers the characters and fatalities that fans love.
Pokémon: Detective Pikachu
Pokémon fans have been dying to see a live-action version of the “gotta catch ‘em all” video game franchise since it debuted, and “Detective Pikachu” doesn’t disappoint. Ryan Reynolds voices a sarcastic and adorable Pikachu in a world populated by realistic Pokémon and epic battles.
Impressively animated fight scenes, brutal violence, and vampiric political intrigue accost monster-hunting trio Trevor, Sypha, and Adrian in Netflix’s take on Konami’s vampire and monster-laden “Castlevania” series. The show ends with Season 4 on May 13, though Netflix is reportedly considering a new series set within the universe.
What do you get when mix an Oscar-winning actress, a faithful recreation of video game costumes, a handful of a perilous booby traps and puzzle box set pieces? One of the best video game adaptations of all time. Alicia Vikander brought Lara Croft back to the big screen in a grounded retelling of the 2013 “Tomb Raider” reboot that pulled just as much from “Indiana Jones” as it did the video game.
If “Assassin’s Creed” fans were disappointed by the narrative of the Michael Fassbender-starring adaptation, they were surely pleased to see director Justin Kurzel’s smoke-filled vision of the past. The ultra-moody film made the understandable decision to beef up the parts of the story that took place in the present, but most of the fun comes from watching Fassbender jump from great heights in period attire.
Need for Speed
Fast cars, high-speed crashes, and a dastardly villain performance. If that sounds familiar, it’s because “Need for Speed” cribs so much of what makes the “Fast and Furious” movies special without the warmth of the family that connects them. Aaron Paul, in one of his first post-”Breaking Bad” performances, brings perhaps too much of Jesse Pinkman’s tortured soul to the role.
“Warcraft” feels like a film from another dimension. While it doesn’t quite hold together, it’s a compelling misfire that so deeply commits to itself that it’s hard not to be fascinated by the utter craftsmanship on display. Everything, from the performances to the visual aesthetic of the film (which looks faithfully recreated from the popular video game) is a natural extension of director Duncan Jones’ larger-than-life vision.
Paul W.S. Anderson has found his niche in adapting video games, helming four “Resident Evil” films, a “Mortal Kombat” and 2020’s “Monster Hunter.” The first of his collaborations with Milla Jovovich, 2002’s “Resident Evil,” pairs the B-movie heroine with Michelle Rodriguez for a fun time with big guns.
It’s easy to imagine seeing the creature designs from video games like “Monster Hunter” porting over to the big screen, but the 2020 film adaptation lacks a driving force, something Variety’s Peter Debruge points out in his review of the “narratively anemic motion picture.”
Dwayne Johnson’s reunion with “San Andreas” director Brad Peyton is an impressive feat of CGI artistry, but ultimately feels like a derivative take on destruction cinema cliches. Variety’s review goes so far as to say that the film is “designed to eat dollars in much the same way the original game gobbled quarters.”