A Brief (and Mostly Terrible) History of Video Games in the Movies

By  · Published on May 28th, 2010

With Jerry Bruckheimer’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time in theaters today, I thought it appropriate to reflect on the strange relationship between the gaming and entertainment industry. The truth is, Hollywood has not been kind to a large portion of the population’s favorite pastime activity, and to its own detriment. The following will be a review of the good, the bad, and the – well…you’ll see.

The Wizard (1989)

When we talk about childhood films we love that don’t hold up once viewed as an adult, The Wizard is right up there, but only sort of. The storyline is inane – a psychologically damaged boy named Jimmy with an unnamed mental disorder is kidnapped from an institution by his step-brother Corey (Fred Savage) and another runaway. They then proceed to drag him cross-country to a massive video game competition at Universal Studios, using his innate ability to pWn at pretty much every game to hustle people out of their money at conveniently placed arcades along the way.

It is hilariously bad, but the nostalgia factor is high.

Getting to see Rad Racer, Super Mario Bros. 3, Ninja Gaiden – all played during a time when they weren’t yet classics; it’s sort of fun. Still, the most awesome thing about The Wizard…is the Power Glove scene. I’ve covered just how worthless that peripheral was before.

In this infinitely lame but awesome scene, the Power Glove not only gets the best moment in the film – but the best line. Perhaps the best line, in anything – EVER.

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Where do you start with the train wreck that is the Mario Bros. film? With a team of three writers, and three directors (yes..three directors), you would think that someone would have said, “Hey…anyone played this game?” Clearly, nobody had – and they completely ignored any other source of information that could have possibly made their film make sense in the context of the franchise. I mean, yes…I understand that the game doesn’t honestly have much in the way of backstory, but still – Mario Mario and Luigi Mario, split dimensions by way of comet ([email protected]*k you, astrophysicists), bastardizing the very simple mushroom concept – tiny-headed bipedal dino-persons in trench coats? This movie wasn’t just rough, it was exhaustingly atrocious.

Most of the cast have gone on record as supporting this position, though nobody put it better than Bob Hoskins:

“The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”


It’s still incredible to me that Dennis Hopper actually picked up this script, read it, and did anything but fire his agent for allowing it into his presence. The man that did Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, and Apocalypse Now let someone do this to him.

Street Fighter (1994)

It’s sad that it took a three minute short to bring credibility to the Street Fighter franchise on film. Sixteen years ago, Steven de Souza stunk up theaters with a convoluted story, and a mostly C-level cast led by Jean-Claude van Damme as the American soldier Guile, heavy Belgian accent intact. M. Bison, played entirely too well for what was there to work with by Raúl Juliá, is a terrorist bent on *insert cliché here* by *I really don’t care*, and demanding *faaaart*.

Again – the story was lame.

The characters that made up the Street Fighter universe were the best of the best fighters representing their country and discipline. M. Bison was the top dog – you won the tournament if you defeated him. That’s the game, and that’s the story I’d want to see today. As a fourteen year old boy I was infinitely more forgiving, but after the initial stoke of seeing the characters from the game appear on screen, I was bored.

Also, even then, I couldn’t get over the fact that Blanka looked like a wimpy, ginger Hulk. See if you can catch him in the following trailer.

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Holy shit, Hollywood decided to treat us right.

Who, as a gamer, didn’t absolutely love ’95s Mortal Kombat? It held the top of the box office for three weeks, made $122,195,920 worldwide, and is widely considered the best example of game-to-film transition. The cast was mostly no-names, save for Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who had already made his mark in ’87s The Last Emperor, a fresh-faced Bridgette Wilson, and the super underrated and most awesome Frenchman ever – Christopher Lambert. Listen, I generally take issue with characters of different ethnic backgrounds being played by people that aren’t that ethnicity (‘m looking at you Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Prince of Persia: White People in The Sand), but I am completely forgiving of Lambert as the iconic Raiden.

His Raiden was mostly a goofy kook, and I mean that in the best way. You can basically sum up the greatness that was Lambert in this clip.

Silly God of Thunder aside, Mortal Kombat did the one thing that was key to parking butts in theater seats, and that was staying true to the source material. The warriors of Earthrealm fight the warriors of Outworld; the winner either protects their realm or gets to invade the other; an ass-kicking good time commences. Everything was done with not just the spirit of the game in mind, but with almost direct reverence for the content of the game. Scorpion’s, “Get over here!” Liu Kang’s flying bicycle kick – it was all there, and I geeked out over all of it.

Writer Kevin Droney and director Paul W.S. Anderson got it, and the payoff was noteworthy. It’s amazing then, that their success has rarely been repeated.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Let’s get it out of the way; Angelina Jolie was custom built to play the sultry, curvy, dangerous Lara Croft. Visually, her screen time was what I was expecting in a Tomb Raider film – a badass chick raiding the shit out of tombs, kicking ass, and doing it all while in various states of near undress.

Also, is it just me, or does Jolie take, like… the most intense shower ever? I’m going to pretend that’s how she always handles personal hygiene; lots of hair tossing while washing her hands, lip biting while putting on deodorant – stuff like that.

The story wasn’t particularly smart or innovative, the dialogue was mostly campy and eye-roll worthy, but it sure was a blast to watch. The battle between Lara and SIMON, the combat robot, in the opening sequence pretty much sets the tone for what is to be expected from the rest of the film – an over-the-top action flick that far from takes itself seriously.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the highest grossing movie based on a video game to date, having raked in $300,000,000 worldwide in total gross.

Resident Evil (2002)

I’ll go on record now as saying, I hate the Resident Evil films – haaaate them. It kills me that in September number four will be released (in 3D, of course), and it will have taken that many more steps away from what I personally feel like Resident Evil is supposed to be. I’m even more bummed out that Paul W.S. Anderson is at the helm, knowing that he was a part of one of my favorite game-to-big screen transitions.

After Splatterhouse, Resident Evil was the second game that I couldn’t play in the dark. Horror movies rarely scare me, games of that genre even less – it takes something very special to make me scream like a little girl. Resident Evil was terrifying. Who, as a fan of the game, didn’t hit the ceiling in the hallway sequence when the zombified dobermans jump through the windows and attack you? That scare set the tone for the rest of the game, and you had a hell of a lot of playtime left to get through. The pace was so deliberate, and there was so much time spent in relative silence; after that attack you knew that no matter how safe you felt, something dump-in-pants producing could happen at any moment. The Resident Evil game made crows scary.

What did the film provide us?

A shoot ’em up with commandos, a lead that was never a part of the RE canon, a HAL 9000 ripoff, and none of the main characters from the original game. I don’t care how well the movies have done, how naked Milla Jovovich finds herself film-to-film (I mean, score…but still), or how beautiful and seamless the FX work gets – this is not Resident Evil.

Resident Evil is four members of S.T.A.R.S., unwittingly having stumbled upon the secret Arklay Research Facility, disguised as the Spencer Mansion. They have no way out but going further in, killing zombies, facing terrifying creatures, solving puzzles all the while and using their limited ammunition sparingly. I want Chris Redfield, Rebecca Chambers, Barry Burton, and most importantly….Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine. Hell, all the better if they can find a way to slip the, “master of unlocking,” line in there someplace.

In an industry seemingly obsessed with unwanted and illogical reboots, many being thrown together using material that is less than a decade old, even more of which did it right the first time – Resident Evil is the series I would gladly excuse being stripped to primer and redone the right way.

Every Uwe Boll Game Bastardization (2003-Present)

What is there to say about Uwe Boll that every lover of video games has not already e-screamed on the internetz, among their friends, and in pretty much every other form of media they’ve had access to?

Boll began his assault on game-to-film transition with ’03s House of The Dead, and he’s basically done everything possible to make sure the bleeding continues. Granted, I was never a massive fan of most of the IP he optioned the rights to, so as a gamer – I’m not as butthurt as a lot of folks are. I also think that with the massive amount of money the gaming industry now brings in, the owners of said IP are a little more discerning about who brings their work to the big screen than they may have been even five years ago.

That said, he did pop a squat on one title that I do love dearly, and that’s Alone in The Dark. The much beloved game has been around in one form or another since 1992. It was the series that kicked off the ‘Survival Horror’ genre; many old-school computer gamers suggest that the tale of supernatural investigator Edward Carnby is superior to perhaps the more financially successful Resident Evil series.

Boll turns Carnby into a supernatural supersolider/detective/secret agent, taking most of the film’s concept from the one title in the game series that is most ignored by fans. Edward is played by the goofily miscast Christian Slater. Carnby is a Nathan Fillion/Josh Brolin type – not a wormy smarm-machine.

Stephen Dorff was probably the most pleasant aspect of the film, in that it seemed like he was in on the joke, so his performance was all sorts of excessively über-intense. Still, the crowing jewel was the casting of media trainwreck Tara Reid…as an archaeologist.


The FX were wonky, the story a mess, and…well, it’s Uwe Boll. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Here is hoping he never gets his meaty paws on something I really love.

Also, I sort of hope he reads this – and wants to arm wrestle, or something equally weird.

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Forgive my Portugese, but:


Shut up.