20 Best Video Game Adaptations Ever


Five years ago, the idea of discussing the best video game adaptations ever felt like a largely joyless task. Inevitably, you would have to lower the bar to allow room for movies and shows that you would never otherwise discuss in a positive light. There were a few genuine highlights even back then, but the perception that the majority of video game adaptations were quite bad was both widespread and largely accurate.

The situation has changed in truly remarkable ways in recent years, though. We now regularly receive video game adaptations that aren’t just good according to the standards of that criteria but are rather genuinely great movies and TV shows. Suddenly, there is a genuinely complicated discussion to be had about the best video game adaptation ever.

Before we dive into that topic, though, keep in mind that we’re limiting ourselves to movies and TV shows based on video games. That means that TV series like The Witcher (which is primarily based on the books) are not eligible. Movies and TV shows that are largely based on tabletop games (most notably, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves) are also ineligible. Finally, movies and shows that often reference games (such as Ready Player One, Pixels, and Mythic Quest) but are not specifically based on a game are also ineligible.

20. Twisted Metal (2023)

The bottom of this list is a battle between the “Boldly Bad” and the “Dryly Competent.” Is it better to take a big swing and make a fun flop or produce something that elicits a mild “That was not as bad as I thought it would be” from viewers everywhere?

While Twisted Metal is ultimately a bit closer to the “I expected so much less from this” tier of video game adaptations, it has a few things going for it. The cast is excellent, it’s competent (or better) on a technical level, and while the show’s numerous attempts at “edgy” humor will certainly be an instant turn-off for many, they at least stem from largely good intentions to replicate aspects of the game. This show probably would have been better off embracing the EC Comics style of the original games, but it succeeds in places other adaptations never even bothered to explore.

19. Captain Laserhawk: A Blood Dragon Remix (2023)

Much like Twisted Metal, Captain Laserhawk tries way too hard to be edgy when it would have been better off focusing on more of the things that made its source material so much fun. While I respect that this show is trying to do its own thing, the series doesn’t get nearly as much out of that delightful “Dark ’80s cartoon” vibe as Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon did. The rushed pacing of the series is also especially odd given that it doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere.

Still, it’s impressive that Adi Shankar was able to convince Ubisoft to allow so many characters from their various properties (including Rayman) to appear in this bloody tribute to all things excessive. It’s sadly the most fun that many of the characters from those games have gotten to have in a very long time. 

18. Gran Turismo (2023)

The concept and production history of this movie are filled with more red flags than checkered flags, but woefully inconsistent director Neill Blomkamp somehow managed to turn the adaptation nobody asked for into a surprisingly entertaining piece of Saturday afternoon movie fun. 

No, this story of an avid gamer who becomes a professional racecar driver never rises above the underdog stories it is modeled after. Fortunately, the ridiculousness of that premise is the source of quite a bit of fun. There is a surprising amount of heart and craft to be found in what is effectively the most expensive Gran Turismo commercial ever made. 

17. Street Fighter (1994)

Unless you’re willing to explore some bold new interpretations of the word “good,” it’s hard to defend 1994’s Street Fighter as a good movie. However, in a sea of adaptations that are either painful to watch or utterly joyless, there is something to say about this “so bad, it’s good” movie that offers so many guilty pleasures.

Did this need to be a global military conflict action film that is remarkably short on the two things most people associated with the Street Fighter games at that point (streets and fighters)? Certainly not, but the sooner you make peace with what it is, the sooner you can genuinely enjoy the countless moments of unfiltered ‘90s absurdity that flow through this film like the blood in our veins. There should also be an Academy Award called the “Raul Julia” that goes to the best performance in a bad film.

16. Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)

In its opening act, Detective Pikachu comes surprisingly close to being that modern Who Framed Roger Rabbit adventure that it seemingly aspires to be. Ryan Reynold’s enthusiasm is infectious, there is a genuinely interesting mystery to solve, and the film shows us pockets of the Pokémon world the games rarely ever explored. For about an hour or so, it feels like the film might stick the landing and become a family classic. 

Unfortunately, things fall apart pretty soon after when Detective Pikachu devolves into the spectacle of mediocre CGI and poorly-planned Pokémon battles that many feared this movie would be from the start. That sudden shift in quality can be brutal to endure, but it’s necessary to at least acknowledge the talent, craft, and ideas that went into this movie and formed its greatest moments. 

15. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Between the whole pre-release fiasco over Sonic’s design and the generally sorry state of the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise in recent years, it’s safe to say that expectations couldn’t have been lower for this film. You probably shouldn’t raise those expectations too much if you want to have a good time with this one, but much of the positive buzz you’ve heard about this movie is true. The Sonic the Hedgehog movie is often pretty good. 

Highlighted by Jim Carrey’s scene-stealing (and scene-chewing) portrayal of Dr. Eggman, Sonic The Hedgehog is often just a little funnier, just a little more clever, and just a little more enjoyable than anyone expected it to be. Children and unabashed Sonic fans with nothing left to lose will ultimately get the most out of this one, but the whole thing hovers just far enough above “solid” for long enough to at least earn it a seat at the table. 

14. Super Mario Bros. (1993)

It’s historically been difficult to be a genuine fan of the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie. For quite some time, this adaptation was popularly referred to as one of the worst movies ever made. In reality, it’s probably closer to a fascinating failure that will leave you rushing to research its production history in a desperate attempt to comprehend how this whole thing came together. 

First off, those who still criticize this movie for not being faithful to the games need to learn a new line. There were only a handful of Super Mario Bros. games available in 1993, and they weren’t exactly overflowing with lore and intricate storylines. This movie instead picks certain pieces of Super Mario iconography and weaves them into a dystopian sci-fi adventure filled with lavish sets, inexplicable casting decisions, and just a little bit of body horror. The whole thing feels like a fever dream, but years of big-budget movies that play it way too safe have elevated this picture from the dredges of cinematic history. Also, Bob Hoskins is the only movie Mario I care to recognize at this time. 

13. Silent Hill (2006)

It’s remarkable that we have been…blessed with so many Resident Evil adaptations over the years, and none of them measure up to the first Silent Hill movie as actual works of horror. 

Look, anyone who comes into this movie expecting a Silent Hill 2-level work of psychological horror is going to be let down by what is ultimately a mid-2000s horror movie with a lot of mid-2000s horror shortcomings. Still, this movie does a great job of utilizing the looks and sounds of a proper Silent Hill adventure even if it has to sacrifice a lot of that series’ more substantial qualities in the process. It’s one of those hidden gems that is arguably let down most by the expectations and associations of its source material. 

12. Mortal Kombat (1995)

In the minds of many, 2021’s Mortal Kombat movie had a pretty low bar to clear. Those who remembered being disappointed by this ‘90s adaptation of the fighting game franchise simply asked for the violence and proper martial arts they felt that this film largely denied them. Yet, when that movie came out and proved to be surprisingly dull despite technically delivering in those two areas, I like to think that people started to look back at this movie in a slightly more favorable light. 

There’s a shocking amount of creative energy in this film that is best exemplified by its certified banger of a soundtrack. At a time when adaptations were regularly criticized for being unfaithful to their source material, this movie feels remarkably close to the MK games available at that time. Granted, its violence is tame, but there’s an actual fighting tournament, callbacks to various rivalries and interactions, and a few fights that properly exhibit the unique characteristics of their combatants. Most importantly, it’s a ton of fun. 

11. The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)

At this point, it’s pretty much impossible to take anything away from The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s success or cultural impact. It’s a bonafide blockbuster that has paved the way for bigger and better adaptations to come. However, it often plays things so safe that it often fails to truly honor the creative spirit that has historically elevated the Super Mario Bros. franchise. 

There is obvious (box office) value in giving people what they say they want, though, and this movie certainly does that. For years, fans begged for a big-budget animated Super Mario Bros. movie that looked like the games and allowed them to see all the faces and places they loved on the big screen. This movie delivers all of that and gifts us with a great Jack Black performance to boot. 

10. Nier: Automata Ver1.1a (2023)

While this Crunchyroll series got lost in the shuffle of the surprisingly excellent video game adaptations we’ve been enjoying recently, I can see someone making the argument that it’s arguably the best of that bunch. 

What makes this series work as well as it does is Nier creator Yoko Taro’s commitment to working so closely with the showrunners. Taro wanted to find a way to translate all of the things that made Nier: Automata special into an entirely different medium. Given that so much of what makes that game special is based on the experience of playing (and replaying) it, that was no small task. Yet, Taro and the showrunners ultimately came away with that rare adaptation that works just as well as an introduction to the video game series it is based on as a glowing tribute to it. 

9. Werewolves Within (2021)

Yes, this movie is technically based on a video game, though that game is really just a variation on those popular deduction-style party games such as Mafia. While that makes it difficult to rank this above the adaptations that were tasked with tackling bigger properties, Werewolves Within is certainly the best live-action movie on this list. 

This film follows the residents of a small town who gradually begin to realize that one of their own is a werewolf. It sounds like the set-up for a Stephen King story, but Werewolves Within is closer to a comedy “Whodunnit?” in the style of Clue or Knives Out. It’s a couple of drafts away from greatness, but the biggest reason you probably never saw this fantastic film is that it was released at a truly unfortunate time for new movies: June 2021. 

8. Cuphead (2022)

Much like the Cuphead games, Netflix’s Cuphead show features elements of that 1930s-style animation that helped make the games such a huge hit. Rather than attempt to copy the humor and structure of those cartoons wholesale, though, this Netflix series opts to draw from a variety of influences and eras. 

The result is a wonderful show that would have felt right at home during the golden age of ‘90s Nickelodeon cartoons. It’s beautiful, it’s funny, and it finds ways to treat kids like adults and adults like kids in the best ways possible. If this had been released just a few years earlier, it may have widely been considered the best video game adaptation yet. 

7. Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)

Growing up, this Street Fighter 2 movie seemed like an urban legend. You’re telling me that there is a mature animated Street Fighter film out there that is filled with violence and nudity that is actually…good? As a kid, it was hard to wrap your head around such things. 

Years later, this movie still has the power to invoke such reactions. While it can’t compete with the very best animated movies of its era, Street Fighter 2 is a shockingly great adaptation of some pretty thin source material (at least at that time). When you’re losing yourself in this movie’s beautiful animation and well-done fight scenes, you’ll likely start asking yourself how this film succeeded where so many subsequent adaptations failed. It’s a good question, though the answer is at least partially based on something video game fans have long argued: more video game adaptations should be animated. 

6. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022)

In recent years, we’ve been blessed with video game adaptations that do justice to their source material. Well, meet the rare video game adaptation that helped elevate its source material. 

When Edgerunners was released on Netflix, Cyberpunk 2077 was still something of a laughing stock amongst those who were burned by its many glitches and broken promises. While that means Edgerunners is at least partially based on Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk universe, this Cyberpunk 2077 prequel really set out to showcase the exceptional lore and world-building ideas that were buried under that game’s many issues. It’s a fantastic series in its own right, but is perhaps best remembered as the work that kicked off the Cyberpunk 2077 revival we’re currently enjoying. 

5. Castlevania (2017)

It’s odd to think that Netflix’s Castlevania was released way back in 2017. At that time, the argument over the best video game adaptation was often a rather unenthusiastic battle between largely lackluster candidates. An animated Castlevania adventure written by Warren Ellis sounded like a good idea, but who was naive enough to still believe that great gaming adaptations were possible?

Along with being an excellent series in its own right, Netflix’s Castlevania helped to reshape that narrative. It was, at the time of its release, the rare video game adaptation that felt like it was helmed by creators with a story to tell rather than a studio with an obligation to fill. While the show’s first season was tragically limited to four episodes, subsequent seasons have realized the full potential of this incredible concept. 

4. Pokémon (1997)

There are over 1200 episodes in this incredible animated series that is still running to this day. Though I can’t even pretend to vouch for the entirety of this show, this entry is really a nod to that incredible initial run that was released at a time when Pokémon ruled the world. 

The most underrated aspect of the Pokémon phenomenon was Nintendo’s commitment to the quality of nearly every Pokémon-related product at that time. They could have filled their pools with money simply by greenlighting a Pokémon series, but they instead chose to approve a series that made young Pokémon fans everywhere lose their damn minds. It’s difficult to imagine playing the Pokémon games at that time and not also losing yourself in this series. It brought the world of Pokémon to life in ways the Game Boy games could not and added elements to the franchise that now feel inseparable from the games. 

3. Arcane (2021)

It’s hard to say who was more surprised by Arcane. Longtime League of Legends fans with tempered expectations for this adaptation or those who were only vaguely aware of the League of Legends phenomenon in the first place. Ultimately, both camps were united by their slacked jaws. 

Arcane’s beautiful art style welcomes us into its expertly crafted world of nuanced characters with complex personal issues and macro-intrigue. That story of clashing cultures and the people caught in the middle of it all quickly reminded some of Game of Thrones at its best. Yet, there really isn’t much out there like this series that humbly promised to dive into the origins of two League of Legends characters and then delivered something so much greater.

2. Fallout (2024)

After a few false starts and years of fans saying “Wouldn’t Fallout make for a great movie/TV show” in increasingly desperate tones, Amazon finally found a way to turn one of the most compelling sci-fi universes out there into something other than a video game. It went on to be one of the streaming service’s biggest hits. Go figure. 

Ok, that’s not fair. Despite being based on source material with so much potential, there were a million ways this show could have gone wrong. It may not be exactly what every longtime Fallout fan wanted, but in its debut season, this show gloriously realizes what many of those fans always knew: there are so many incredible stories to be told in the Fallout universe. We can’t wait to see where this series goes next.

1. The Last of Us (2023)

From the moment The Last of Us was released, it was hailed as not just a triumph in video game storytelling but the kind of video game that often surpassed the movies and TV shows the entire gaming medium was once so often unfavorably compared to. Way back in 2013, millions of gamers felt that The Last of Us had the potential to be turned into that mythical video adaptation that was unquestionably truly great. Even then, nobody back then really could have predicted just how great this HBO series would be.

As a retelling of arguably the best video game story ever, The Last of Us is every bit the powerful portrayal of hope, humanity, and horror that the game was. It’s ultimately a little more than that, though. By knowing when to copy the games pretty much shot for shot and understanding when to use the advantages offered by an entirely new medium, showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann were able to share this story in a way that feels like validation for generations of gamers and a shock to the system of those who never knew such a thing was out there. Both sides were undeniably left rattled by the series’ third episode: an original chapter in this story that ranks among the best TV episodes ever

The post 20 Best Video Game Adaptations Ever appeared first on Den of Geek.

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