Tetris Movie 1
Image: Apple

When you’re playing a round of Tetris, the Game Boy title from 1989, nothing is more satisfying than when you line up four horizontal rows perfectly, the blocks disappear, and you get that slightly different jingle to tell you that yeah, you did it, good job. It’s addictive and engrossing, and nowadays there are many different versions of Alexey Pajitnov’s game on various different platforms. Tetris, a video game about falling blocks that was developed in the Soviet Union, was and still is a video game revolution.

Tetris the movie, directed by Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie, Filth) is trying to replicate that satisfaction, that crowd-pleasing appeal that Tetris the video game has. But it has a much taller task than simply letting blocks fall. The film has to tell the story of how Tetris left the borders of the USSR, with political tensions reaching a boiling point in the background, and legalities, contracts, and technology twisting into a complicated web, all while addressing two different audiences – fans who know the story, and casual moviegoers (or Apple TV subscribers) who don’t.

Tetris the movie... is trying to replicate that satisfaction, that crowd-pleasing appeal that Tetris the video game has.

The story behind one of the 'simplest' video games of all time is anything but that. Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), the man who is out to secure the rights to Tetris for Nintendo, has to untangle this web to secure Alexey Pajitnov’s (Nikita Yefremov) game. Back in 1989, families getting a Game Boy with Tetris included had no idea of the hurdles that Rogers and Pajitnov had to overcome. Nowadays, the story is relatively well documented through essays and documentaries (Gaming Historian’s, in particular, is a must-watch). But every time you read up about it, it still feels unbelievable.

This adaptation takes a few liberties with the truth all for the purpose of entertainment. Broadly, though, it's correct, and both Rogers and Pajitnov reportedly reviewed the script and suggested changes. As the movie begins, “This is based on a true story” flashes up on the screen in pixel lettering. And “based on” is the key part, here. Broadly, it’s a fun thriller, but it falls apart in a few key areas. It turns out, trying to squeeze all of that drama into a two-hour movie is a pretty tall task.

Tetris Movie 3
Image: Apple

The problem is that some parts are exaggerated for too much dramatic effect, while other sections are stretched a little too thin. Some of the more interesting parts are glossed over and instead traded for a fictionalised car chase sequence that, while fun, misses the point a little. The car chase feels extremely out of place and honestly made us laugh at its awkwardness initially before we just decided to settle in for the ride. The origin story of Tetris’ worldwide release is already thrilling – why do KGB agents need to be sneering around every single corner, like villainous cartoon characters cackling and hatching schemes?

The whole story is framed with slick production values (albeit with some slightly dodgy CGI late in the film), a likeable lead, and a soundtrack that – for us – is the highlight of the movie. Lorne Balfe’s score (with contributions from Aaron Hibell and South Korean girl group aespa) is brilliant; there are stunningly tense and sombre arrangements of Tetris songs mixed in with Russian versions of hits like Holding Out For a Hero and Heart of Glass – just to establish we’re in the ‘80s and all. And it all lines up perfectly to set the mood for each moment in the movie.

Tetris Movie 2
Image: Apple

Taron Egerton is the heart of the movie. Rogers, the head of a video game publisher, is dubbed ‘Player 1’ in a rather cute colour pixel art transition at the start of the film. He is the plucky hero, a cowboy businessman who wants to win big, and an underdog — everything we want our Player 1 in a video game to be. He’s breathless, scrappy, energetic, and enthusiastic, and Egerton plays him with an enticing charm.

If you know anything about Henk Rogers, though, you know he’s not really an underdog. This is the founder of Bullet-Proof Software, the company which was responsible for what many call the “first major Japanese RPG”, The Black Onyx. Rogers is seen wearing a Black Onyx t-shirt in one scene, but the movie isn’t interested in Rogers’ history or resume other than the odd nod. It wants to paint a feel-good feature of the underdogs triumphing over greed and “bad” capitalism. And the film does a great job of illustrating a rosier, more explosive picture.

It wants to paint a feel-good feature of the underdogs triumphing over greed

Some of the film’s best moments involve Henk and Alexey bonding or talking with each other, or when political tensions and contracts begin to bubble up and congeal. In one scene when Rogers is staying at the Pajitnov’s home, he gets to see the very first home computer version of Tetris. Asking if he can play it, he sits at the desk, playing with a sort of childlike glee and fascination. Then, he asks the game’s creator a question – “Why can’t both lines disappear at once instead of one at a time?” to which Alexey responds, after a brief pause, that he “never thought of that”. These are two people who are meant to be together, to succeed together, and in that single scene, you feel the spark of friendship kindle between them.

Tetris Movie 4
Image: Apple

Yefremov is solid as Alexey throughout the movie, but honestly, he doesn’t get much to work with. He’s much quieter than Henk, but his humble home and his modesty make him relatable. But aside from these two, many of the characters feel like caricatures or tropes, particularly the Maxwells of Mirrorsoft, the KGB, and most of the Russian characters. They feel like comic book villains, and even if it’s fun to watch Toby Jones as Robert Stein of Andromeda Software, it’s at odds with the more serious elements of Tetris.

The film is also always keen to remind us that it is, indeed, a video game movie. The pixel art transitions throughout start off feeling cute and novel, but by the tenth time you’ve seen them, they’re tiresome and they detract from the drama and complexity the film is trying to convey. Henk speaks to the president of Nintendo Hiroshi Yamauchi (Togo Iwaga, who looks uncanny in the role) in weird Mario metaphors, such as asking for a mushroom to help power him up.

Tetris Movie 5
Image: Apple

The thing is, the movie doesn’t need to remind us that it’s about a video game – it’s about Tetris, one of the best-selling, well-known games of all time. It came packaged with the fourth best-selling video game console of all time. Tetris is one of those rare games that transcends the medium and has universal appeal because it’s a puzzler about falling blocks. It could have done with fewer nods to the medium, really, though we did enjoy watching Henk see the Game Boy for the very first time, another moment where childlike wonder comes over his face as he holds the grey brick in his hands for the first time at Nintendo of America.

The thing is, the movie doesn’t need to remind us that it’s about a video game – it’s about Tetris, one of the best-selling video games of all time.

So moments like the car chase sequence, or scenes where a CEO goes between multiple different rooms to try and negotiate multiple contracts, with each person getting more frustrated, might feel like a bit much (although a version of the latter did actually happen, apparently), but they add flavour and appeal. Again, this is a feel-good movie, one that we already know the conclusion to. We’re supposed to root for Alexey and Henk because of where Tetris is today in the cultural landscape. Thanks largely to the charisma of the lead actor, this dramatisation just about manages to make us care, but it feels messier than it should.


Tetris is, ultimately, trying to stuff too much within its two hours. It feels muddled, unsure of what tone it wants to strike. It’s trying to be a political thriller, an dramatic action flick, and a heartfelt feel-good story all at once, and its over-the-top characters and action clash with a real-life story about humble origins, corporate greed, and complicated legalities. It often comes across as cartoonish as a result. This means the blocks don’t quite line up for us, aside from a sublime soundtrack, a likeable lead performance from Egerton, and a bit of heart. It’s not a high scorer for us, but if you can live with the extra fluff and flash, it’s a little bit of fun while it lasts.

Tetris is available to stream on Apple TV+ in the UK and North America now. You can play the Game Boy version of Tetris over on Nintendo Switch Online.