Historically, movies based on video games have been notoriously poorly received. In fact, regardless of the genre, Hollywood has just seemed to be unable to get it right. Whether it was the schlocky 90s beat ’em ups (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat), shoot ’em up misfires (Doom), or poorly paced racing flicks (Need for Speed), almost nothing worked.
Even a movie based on the world’s most beloved Italian plumbing siblings, The Super Mario Bros., failed to impress (at least at the time; in hindsight, it’s a campy ‘so bad it’s good’ film). There were attempts at horror (Silent Hill, Resident Evil) and action adventures (Prince of Persia – Sands of Time, Assassin’s Creed), but for most audiences, video game adaptations were a wasteland of a genre — and the less spoken about Uwe Boll’s many, many failed attempts, the better.
Update January 18th, 2023: With the upcoming release of The Super Mario Bros. Moviethis list has been updated with more video games that would make for incredible films, as well as updates of previously mentioned projects that might be making their way to the screen soon.
While things have started to look up slightly for video game adaptations in recent years with Detective Pikachu and both Sonic the Hedgehog movies all receiving generally favorable reviews, albeit nothing earth-shattering, it feels like Hollywood is still not tapping into the full potential video games have to offer. There have always been games that tell great stories, but now more than ever video games are becoming more and more focused on engaging storylines and fully developed characters beyond simple button-mashing. The opportunity to tell those stories to non-gamers is there for the taking. With that in mind, here are eight video games that would make great movies.
The Legend of Zelda
It seems almost insane that there is not already a movie based on The Legend of Zelda games. It is one of gaming’s all-time biggest success stories, with the games having been enjoyed by literally millions of people worldwide. The iconic hero Link and Princess Zelda protect Hyrule, a medieval Western Europe-inspired fantasy world, which has developed a deep history and wide geography over the series’ many releases. The lore and high fantasy aspects of the game are on par with that of The Lord of the Ringswhich has proven to be a huge success on film.
There was a television series based on The Legend of Zelda being developed at Netflix but Nintendo canceled the project due to leaks. With Nintendo set to make their grand return to the big screen with The Super Mario Bros. Movie and rumors of a Donkey Kong spin-off film and a potential host of other Nintendo films, hopefully, The Legend of Zelda is one of those movies.
Horizon Zero Dawn
While The Legend of Zelda benefits from having a built-in fanbase, Horizon Zero Dawn’s general obscurity to non-gamers could actually play to its advantage. It provides a blank canvas, as it were, to allow non-gamers to experience the magic of this beautifully unique story for the first time.
Horizon Zero Dawn would take what we know about post-apocalyptic films and turn them on their heads. Following Aloy, the mysterious, yet fiercely independent female protagonist, as she traverses stunning and beautiful landscapes overrun by deadly robotic dinosaurs, it would not just be an epic sci-fi adventure, but also a brilliant coming-of-age story. Netflix is reportedly developing a series based on the game, yet no update has been given.
Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was a first-person point-of-view action game that took place in a futuristic city and follows carrier Faith Connors who navigates through the city using parkour. The game itself was inspired by the action in movies like Casino Royale and the Bourne movies, and with a bright futuristic setting that feels inspired by classic animes like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, Mirror’s Edge feels perfect for a film adaptation.
While 2016’s Hardcore Henry might have already beaten Mirror’s Edge to the punch in terms of an action movie told in the first-person point of view, there is room for improvement on that film, and Mirror’s Edge has a distinct style that would make it stand out.
God of War
Since the 2018 reboot entry of the gaming franchise hit the shelves, God of War has been in high demand for an adaptation. Widely regarded as one of the best video game narratives of all time, God of War would lend itself gloriously to the big screen. On the surface, it’s a huge swords-and-sandals action-adventure epic revolving around Norse mythology.
But dig a little underneath, and there’s a deeper, more intimate story focusing on a father-son relationship as it follows the journey of a widowed father who delivers his wife’s ashes to her final resting place with his estranged son. It just so happens that this widowed father happens to be Kratos: God of War. This project has gained traction recently as Amazon is developing a God of War television series, and with Amazon having a film studio, one hopes they invest in a companion film for the franchise.
Grim Fandango is a 1998 point-and-click adventure game directed by Tim Schafer and developed and published by LucasArts for Microsoft Windows. As with other most other point-and-click-style adventure games at the time, the player must converse with characters and examine, collect, and use objects to solve puzzles. Grim Fandango has got to have one of the most entertaining, exciting, and unique stories ever told in the medium.
Set in the Land of the Dead, it spans four entire years as it follows afterlife ‘travel agent’ Manny Calavera as he attempts to save a lost soul on her journey through death. The game combines elements of the Aztec afterlife with film noir stylewith influences including The Maltese Falcon, On the Waterfront, and Casablanca. It has the perfect combination of humor, excitement, and emotion.
Watching this as a movie would also allow people to skip endless nights of pulling their hair out trying to figure out some of those seemingly nonsensical puzzles in order to progress the story. While it is unlikely that this obscure video game would fit into the Walt Disney company’s massive tentpole theatrical slate, the project would make for a good Disney+ original film and a way for Lucasfilm to expand beyond the Star Wars franchise.
Spyro is one of the most popular video game icons of all time. The original Spyro trilogy is highly regarded among fans and critics as one of the best video game trilogies of all time. A CGI animated film is the obvious route to go, and in 2007 there were talks of giving Spyro a feature film but nothing ever came of it.
The purple dragon is recognizable to many audiences and with the recent success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movies and the excitement around The Super Mario Bros. Movieit feels like the time is right to bring the purple dragon to the big screen as it would have cross-generational appeal.
With superhero movies being some of the most popular at the box office, it is shocking how no studio has grabbed the rights to Prototype. Released in 2009, the game follows Alex Mercer who is a shapeshifter with no memory of who he is that must stop a virus outbreak in Manhattan and fight off an army of monsters.
The game combines the best elements of superhero stories, zombie fiction, and conspiracy thrillers and has a narrative that is better suited for a film than television series like other games. Prototype could be the type of movie that would appeal to audiences who love both superhero action and monster movies.
Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange focuses on Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student who discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any moment, leading her every choice to enact the butterfly effect that ultimately has huge impacts on the outcome of friendships and even the fate of the entire neighborhood. Seeing as this game relies almost entirely on its narrative, the movie plot pretty much writes itself. However, where the studio might encounter difficulty is that, in the game, players can make certain decisions on behalf of Max that actually alter future events and the final outcome of the game.
This would make it difficult to decide on exactly which storyline to go with, unless Life Is Strange is adapted into a kind of ‘choose your own adventure’ streaming title, similar to Bandersnatch. Fortunately, the added element of Max being able to rewind time could, if done cleverly, allow the studio a little more creative freedom when exploring different choices. The game was praised for its strong character development and tackling of taboo subjects and if the movie manages to come even close in these areas there’s potential for a solid teen drama mixed with some fascinating sci-fi elements.