What are the best video game movies? If there’s a kind of film with a poorer reputation than videogame adaptations, we’ve yet to see it. And rightly, given how many of the worst movies come from games. Some do manage to break the mould, though, and become decent action movies.
A select few could even be considered great, in fact. Some damn fine horror movies, animated movies, family movies, and more have come from filmmakers tackling games, either by adapting an existing franchise or exploring some of the mechanics in one way or another. Even esteemed directors have done this, proving that Hollywood’s general cynicism isn’t totally widespread.
In our efforts to make sure you always have the best movies to hand, we’ve sifted through the muck for the videogame gems to seek out. These are the best video game movies, containing both films that use games mechanically and direct tie-ins. You might find a hot-take or two – we’re definitely outliers on at least one – but we promise there’s something to all of these. Keep an open mind!
What are the best video game movies?
- Resident Evil
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- Werewolves Within
- Silent Hill
- Detective Pikachu
- Super Mario Bros
- Free Guy
- Dead Space: Downfall
Resident Evil (2002)
The 2002 film adaptation of Resident Evil takes plenty of liberties with the source horror games, but keeps enough intact to feel recognisable. More sci-fi than the creaky original game, Paul WS Anderson’s take features a huge Umbrella Corporation facility underneath the famous Spencer Mansion, where the T-Virus has only started to run rampant.
A STARS team is called in to investigate, but our protagonist is the newly-introduced Alice, played by Milla Jovovich, rather than Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. She’s just as good for killing the undead, and contributes to this being a zombie movie worthy of its moniker.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Going in, this seemed like such a shameless attempt at nostalgia. Though Robin Williams may be inimitable, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and their co-stars elevate Jumanji-but-it’s-videogames into one of the better legacy sequels we’ve had.
The lead actors knock great sport out of being avatars of their teenage selves, and the level of videogame literacy in the script makes it an exuberant satire of the medium. Even for those who don’t get the lingo, it’s just plain fun.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
It seems like a small miracle the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie wound up kind of great. That the second manages to be an improvement in just about every way is almost inconceivable. Miles ‘Tails’ Prower in tow, Sonic battles Dr Robotnik and Knuckles for the Chaos Emeralds in a mish-mash of his classic platformers.
There are nods aplenty in Jeff Fowler’s confident follow-up, from Robotnik’s contraptions to Sonic zipping and bouncing through labyrinthine areas. Not even a perfunctory human subplot can break its stride, making it one of the Blue Blur’s better misadventures this century.
Werewolves Within (2022)
Unless you had the namesake VR release, you’d probably think Werewolves Within was based on the party game about finding the lycanthropic monster in the room. Josh Ruben‘s lively thriller is more akin to the latter, as a group of small-town residents become stuck in a local hotel during a monstrous killing spree.
New ranger Finn, played by Sam Richardson, is stuck trying to figure things out, assisted by the slightly odd Cecily Moore, portrayed by Milana Vayntrub. Taking inspiration from Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz, tension and laughter come in equal measure, as well as some stylish cuts and set-pieces to keep the mood high. A very worthwhile whodunnit.
Silent Hill (2006)
Is it as good as the Silent Hill games? No, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a decent horror movie in and of itself. A woman named Rose takes her daughter Sharon to Silent Hill in an attempt to cure her visions of the strange, ominous town. They’re separated upon entry, forcing Rose to navigate the foggy locale, encountering all sorts of disturbing creatures in the process.
Director Christopher Gans personally petitioned Konami to allow direct the film adaptation, and you can sense a love for the source material among the grime and fog. Pyramid Head is a terrifying hulk, and the disjointed swarm of nurses are as creepy as they come. None of it’s as disturbing as it should be, but enjoyable all the same.
Detective Pikachu (2019)
Ryan Reynolds voicing Pikachu really could’ve gone either way. Sure, he’s charismatic and beloved, but turning one of the most iconic anime characters into a wise-cracking investigator was risky. Mercifully, Reynolds isn’t in full one-liner mode, instead complementing Justice Smith, who’s trying to figure out where his father disappeared to.
It’s a good angle within the world of pocket monsters that allows us to see how humanity and Pokémon have become co-dependent without re-treading the games or series. Seeing the likes of Charizard and Gyarados at scale is astonishing, tickling a fantasy those who were there when the Red and Blue Pokémon games arrived have held onto for decades.
Super Mario Bros: The Movie (1993)
A financial disaster that barely looks like any Super Mario game ever made; yes, sure, all true and valid. But look beyond the accepted wisdom it sucks, and you’ll see John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins frolicking through the Mushroom Kingdom as overseen by Terry Gilliam.
Somehow, between the numerous directors, Super Mario Bros wound up an idiosyncratic blend of early ’90s American sci-fi and the base games. The goombas are legal mutations administered as punishment to criminals, and the streets are full of debauchery. One thing remains the same: Bowser’s king of the castle, here a slimeball politician played by Dennis Hopper. Hollywood hegemony is often so bland you beg for something completely odd. Super Mario Bros is that if nothing else.
Free Guy (2021)
You think you know this one from the trailer. Ryan Reynolds is an NPC in an open-world MMORPG game who gets god mode and challenges the human players and developers behind his environment. But then, the full story contains AI autonomy, a societal uprising, and an underlying comment on fostering a small, safe community versus constantly moving growth.
Free Guy is the kind of Reynolds movie he’s got a knack for, where his schtick is used as the hook for something that’s unexpectedly deep. Taika Waititi’s eccentric, ever-so-slightly clueless game development CEO hits close to home if you know much of anything about the industry’s systemic issues, and that’s just one way Free Guy might surprise you.
Potentially the most stomach-churning film David Cronenberg has ever made. It isn’t just the visuals in this treatise about our dissipating sense of reality, it’s the sound. The clicking and crunching of bones and teeth as characters construct weapons out of animal remains is nauseating, an effective illumination of how we treat digital bodies.
Releasing in the same year as The Matrix, Cronenberg’s picture is more pathological, pushing through layers of the eponymous game. The players, Jude Law and Ian Holm among them, slide deeper into the rabbit hole to the point an exit becomes impossible. But perhaps that was always the point.
Dead Space: Downfall
John Carpenter has expressed interest in making a Dead Space film, and he’ll have a hard time outdoing the number of severed limbs in this animated prequel. Taking place in the lead-up to the original Dead Space survival game, the mining ship Ishimura takes on a mysterious object called the Marker that some crewmates become emphatic about.
The Marker’s effects on people don’t stop there, as some transform into horrific Necromorphs that start mutilating other passengers. Soon all that remains are these bizarre alien creatures until another ship answers a distress signal. Almost 90-minutes of limbs and torsos.