After seeing the first trailer for the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie yesterday, it got us thinking of the catalogue of terrible video game adaptations that have hit the silver screen over the years. Obviously it’s impossible to judge the finished product by its initial reveal – and we’re still holding out hope that it’ll be better than the trailer suggests – but if the film goes down with fans anything like Sonic’s redesign has, it’ll be yet another flaming turkey on the giant stack of terrible cinematic adaptations.
While games that come from movie-licences have a bad reputation (one which, we'd argue, is something of a fallacy), it's nothing compared to the mincemeat made from some of our most treasured video game series after they've gone through the Hollywood grinder. Regardless of intentions or the talent behind and in front of the camera, it seems to be impossible to make a truly great film based on a video game.
This is especially disheartening to fans, not only to see their favourite characters and moments ruined on film, but also for the wedge it drives between us and the non-gaming masses. Friends and family who aren't into games naturally see these films as a reflection of the video gaming experience and it leads them to believe games simply 'aren't for them'. Adding insult to injury, the movies aren't merely terrible - they reinforce and uphold the non-gamer's perception that it's all just trivial nonsense. It's frustrating!
We here a Nintendo Life Towers have assembled in a manner not unlike the Avengers, merging our collective memories to collate the worst celluloid versions of treasured video game franchises we've ever seen. We wanted to like them – how dearly we wanted to like them! – but there’s very little to recommend any of the following.
So, we present to you (in no particular order) the worst of the worst that Hollywood has come up with. Come with us on a journey into a realm of stunningly misguided movies…
Let’s kick off with one of the most infamous turds in the pantheon. The original live-action Street Fighter film was plagued with all sorts of production problems from the off. Incredibly, Capcom financed most of the movie and apparently had total approval over every aspect, but the casting budget was sucked up by hiring the ‘muscles from Brussels’ himself, Jean-Claude Van Damme, to play Guile, plus respected thespian Raul Julia (most recognisable in the mainstream as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family movies) in the role of villain M. Bison. Therefore, the rest of the cast were relative unknowns on far smaller salaries.
Sadly, Raul Julia was suffering from cancer at the time (the film is his last released work and is dedicated to his memory) and the production had to work around his fragile state. You’d never know it from the energy of his hammy performance, and there’s a certain kitsch and charm to the film which might make you question if it really warrants a place on the list. It's certainly fascinating to see Kylie Minogue as Cammy and how they interpreted the rest of those iconic fighters on a shoestring budget.
If nostalgia has gotten the best of you, fear not - Round 2 cements the franchise’s position here. 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li sucks all the camp and colour from the original turkey leaving only a lifeless husk. Neal McDonough assumed the role of M. Bison in this one – you may have seen him in the Sonic trailer as the General being repeatedly ‘shushed’ by Robotnik. We like the guy, but let’s hope he’s not a bad omen.
Capcom persevered with movies and eventually came up with a winning formula with the Resident Evil films. They’re hardly on a par with the games, but they’re solid popcorn fare and better than anything on this list by a fairly wide margin.
If you want to read more about the behind-the-scenes antics of making Street Fighter: The Movie, check out our feature from last year - frankly, it's amazing it turned out as well as it did.
1994 was a good year if you loved awful video game adaptations and this version of Technōs' beat ‘em up is a real stinker. Just a few years after his turn as the T-1000 in seminal blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Robert Patrick played Koga Shuko, a crime boss seeking to unite the two halves of the Double Dragon medallion. With one half in his possession, it’s up to Billy and Jimmy to protect the other half and battle punks in a story which eventually puts them in a blue and red outfit respectively.
Alyssa Milano also stars in this effort, but the movie looks like it was made decade earlier than it was. It’s explosively awful – you could argue that it’s for kids, but why should kids endure this rubbish? No, no, Bimmy deserves better than this.
Alone in the Dark
Skipping to 2005, Infogrames’ survival horror classic took thirteen years to reach the silver screen, although watch it and you’ll wish it had taken a couple of millennia longer. The horror genre is a favourite for video game adaptations, probably due to the reduced budgets horror productions usually operate on.
Supposedly a sequel, of sorts, to the fourth game, it stars Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff. Notably, it’s the first appearance on this list for Uwe Boll. Mr Boll has made quite the career for himself directing video game adaptations and this list could easily have featured his work exclusively; we’ve restricted him to just two entries, though, for the sake of variety.
Routinely referred to as one of the worst movies ever made, Alone in the Dark bagged two Golden Raspberries and three Stinker Awards. Inexplicably, it got a 2008 sequel (many of Boll's movies do) starring, amongst others, Lance Henriksen. The sequel was marginally better received, although probably because viewers had an idea of the horrors that awaited and lowered their expectations accordingly.
DOA: Dead Or Alive
Another fighter, Hollywood seems to think that the inherent action of fighting games will translate quickly and easily to the silver screen with the minimum of effort. Who needs expensive, extraneous details like, you know, a script or actors that can say things like a human being? It also doesn’t hurt if your cast looks great in (and out of) bikinis.
Released in 2006, DOA: Dead Or Alive is braindead in all the usual ways, but you can at least see some of the money spent on the screen in terms of photography and some exotic locations (the isolated island setting provides the opportunity for some classic DOA beach volleyball). As a film, it’s thoroughly unsatisfying and probably most notable for the careful choreography required to cover Holly Valance’s modesty as she fights topless using nothing but a towel. We've been fans ever since her days on Neighbours; poor Flick deserved better than this.
House of the Dead
Back already, Mr Boll? Our second (and thankfully final) entry from Uwe Boll’s oeuvre takes Sega’s classic zombie light gun game and surgically removes any fun, tension and enjoyment. It’s a B-movie where the ‘B’ stands for ‘bloody atrocious’. Hopefully Sega know how to pick ‘em better these days…
This was actually Boll’s first go at a video game franchise film and he’s gone on to plough through several other series including BloodRayne, Postal and the Dungeon Siege games in the form of In the Name of the King. The latter, in particular, packs in some real star power with names like Jason Statham, John Rhys-Davies, Ray Liotta and Ron Perlman. It’s still utter toilet, though.
Need For Speed
We like Aaron Paul. He seems like a nice guy and his turn as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad was one of the highlights in a show packed with brilliant performances. Unfortunately, he chose poorly when he signed up for this. As you know, EA’s Need For Speed series is renowned for its highly nuanced, involving narrative which captivates the player as they… hang on.
In perhaps one of the most faithful adaptations on the list, the 2014 cinematic version of Need For Speed very accurately emulates the overall quality of the FMV acting in 2005’s Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Now, that was one hell of a game! The film tries to outrun the Fast & Furious franchise, but quickly pops a puncture and takes itself way too seriously. Avoid.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Paramount Pictures, the studio behind the upcoming Sonic film, has plenty of experience with video game adaptations. You’ll likely remember this 2001 attempt to squeeze Angelina Jolie into the form-fitting outfit of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
Where to start. Jolie does her best Austin Powers impression, but her British accent is possibly the most solid thing in the film. Forgettable villains, awful dialogue and action scenes groping to capture some of the balletic magic of The Matrix; it fails in almost every way. Watching in 2019, there is some pleasure to be had for British viewers in seeing some unlikely stars on the big screen (including Leslie Phillips and Chris Barrie, plus a pre-Bond Daniel Craig), but that’s hardly enough to sustain you for 100 minutes.
It did well enough at the box office to get a sequel two years later, but that one killed the franchise until the 2018 reboot, which still isn’t fantastic, although it’s a masterpiece compared to this.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
The first Mortal Kombat film from 1995 is stupid, pulpy fun which succeeded where the Street Fighter adaptation failed. No, it’s no classic, but in the pantheon of video game movies, it’s an enjoyably silly take on Midway's series, a fighting franchise which never took itself too seriously to begin with.
This second round of fantasy fisticuffs, however, is an excretable mess. With dodgy acting, dull camera work and special effects that look like we knocked them up, this is irredeemably awful and can’t even be enjoyed when washed down with a double shot of irony. Watch the first one instead or, you know, play the game.
‘Marky’ Mark Wahlberg stars as the titular Max Payne with support from Mila Kunis, Ludacris and, of course, *checks notes*… Nelly Furtado?
You’d think that the beautiful bullet-time gameplay of Remedy’s downbeat detective shooter would translate perfectly to the cinematic medium. That was arguably the most successful element of the film because the story, performances and general direction got absolutely panned by critics, with the darkness of Max’s depressing journey turned into unrelenting drabness. It's dull. It performed adequately at the box office, though obviously not well enough to warrant a sequel.
... and finally, Super Mario Bros.
Of course. Here it is – the yardstick by which all other terrible video game movies are judged. If you’ve never actually subjected yourself to 1993’s Super Mario Bros., do take a moment to watch the trailer above to get an idea of just how insanely incongruous it is with the Mario we know and love.
It’ll give you an idea, sure, but the trailer scarcely does justice to such an odd interpretation of the Mushroom Kingdom and the Mario Brothers. As with many of the films on this list, you might look at the talent on the cast list and assume it must reach a minimum bar in terms of quality. Bob Hoskins! Dennis Hopper! These are seasoned, professional, interesting actors – they must have brought something to the film, besides a desire to pay the architects on their second homes.
The writers were apparently hoping to capture something of the dark comedy of Ghostbusters; quite why is something of a mystery, although in the modern age of sanitised, ‘Disney-fied’ Mario, it’s easy to forget just how strange the Mushroom Kingdom seemed in the beginning. We’ve internalised its pipes and odd mushroom-like creatures and dinosaurs and assorted paraphernalia, but if you were sitting down to write a live-action Hollywood Mario movie in the early ‘90s, perhaps Ghostbusters seemed like a reasonable touchstone.
It’s terrible, of course, but as fans it’s also morbidly fascinating to watch and see how they got just about everything wrong.
Of course, this small selection can’t do justice to the overwhelming cavalcade of terrible adaptations that have graced our cinema screens over the years. Honourable mentions must go to DOOM starring The Rock, the Wing Commander movie and anything Uwe Boll’s had a hand in (as mentioned above). We could go on, but when you look at 2018’s Rampage (another Dwayne Johnson joint) and see that it’s currently the best-reviewed film based on a game with 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, suffice it to say it's a very sorry state of affairs.
Hopefully the soon-to-release Detective Pikachu will buck the trend and, as we’ve seen, the bar is incredibly low; ‘passable’ would be enough for the Sonic movie to race ahead of the crowd. We're trying to keep an open mind, which is hard when we keep seeing ‘fan-fixes’ that we prefer infinitely over Paramount’s character design – and that’s saying something considering the shall-we-say ‘interesting’ state of Sonic fan art – but despite our misgivings, our fingers and toes are still crossed and we’ll do our very best to approach the film with suitably low expectations.