Since I’m not going out very much these days, I’ve spent quite a lot more time online with my gaming buddies. We’ve poured countless hours into games on Tabletop Simulator (Bargain Quest is the current favorite), played one too many Overwatch matches (when the enemies start to blur together into one entity you know you need to take a break), and have watched copious amounts of movies (we watched Hamilton together, it was awesome).
Recently, when debating which movie would be our next Saturday night watch, our conversation turned to “old school” video game films. We are all well aware that video game movies, at least critically, are not good. The best you can do, typically, is rank them from “least bad” to “worst” - but that doesn’t mean they aren’t entertaining! So, I’m going to share my favorite top 5 “retro” video game movie adaptations.
#5 - Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
So, I need to offer a little bit of a disclaimer here: when I saw this movie, I actually didn’t like it. The primary reason for that was, at the time, there were 9 Final Fantasy games out and, although they occasionally dipped into the steampunk side of things, the games were mostly focused in fantasy. Things like magic users, and summons, and old styled weapons like lances and crossbows, that sort of thing.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within didn’t have any of that. It was futuristic and science fiction. That said, the animation for its time was absolutely gorgeous, and I remember wondering at times if I wasn’t looking at actual people on the screen. If the movie hadn’t been billed as a Final Fantasy, I might have actually walked away genuinely liking it, but as it stood I went in expecting one thing and got something completely different.
We did get a fairly lovely song out of it, though, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. Admittedly, I kind of want to watch it now, nearly 20 years later, and see if my opinion has changed any - I guess I know what our next video game movie night is going to be.
#4 - Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Ok, look - I know this movie is bad. It’s ridiculous, silly, totally wild-looking, and in some ways it is a very loose adaptation of what the games are. That said, my sister and I were young when we saw this movie and loved it. We loved every cheesy line, every veiled reference to the games, and we both thought the Goombas were hilarious. Even though I absolutely cringe when I watch it now, it’s protected by the bubble of nostalgia and I can’t bring myself to hate it.
The honest trailer for the movie pretty much sums it up for what it is, though. Still, I am fond enough of it that it’s earned the #4 spot on my list.
#3 - Street Fighter (1994)
If Jean-Claude Van Damme doesn’t sell this movie for you alone, then I’m not sure what to tell you. Again, I acknowledge that this movie, cinematically, is in no way good, but darned if it isn’t an exciting, action-packed romp with a fun cast. Even though the writing is cheesy and the acting is extreme, I still love dragging it out from time to time and watching it with friends. A few drinks doesn’t hurt the enjoyment, either.
Raul Julia (tragically, this was his final role) is an intimidating and fairly unhinged General Bison, and although none of the actors were nominated for any Oscars, I found it exciting to see some of my favorite characters from the game (which I played frequently with my older cousin) find their way onto the silver screen.
#2 - Pokemon the First Movie - Mewtwo vs. Mew (1999)
Like most people my age, I grew up on the Pokemon show. I played the games, I watched the show, I even went and participated in the giant mall tour tournaments (because my best friend Laura’s older sister was awesome enough to drive us around to them whenever they came up nearby). So I suppose it’s no surprise that, when the first movie came out, Laura and I were there on opening day, clutching the limited edition Mew cards they gave out to moviegoers in our hands.
I struggled with whether this movie would take the number 1 slot, and let me just say it was an extremely tight debate for me. When it comes down to it, this movie had a banging 90’s soundtrack (who didn’t cry at Brother, My Brother?), a great story that fit really well with and even expanded the Pokemon universe, and ended up being an exciting step forward for the franchise. This movie is something I go back to again and again when I need some fond memories and the comfort of nostalgia.
Even though it is a movie designed for kids, I find the general writing and pacing of this movie to be stronger than a lot of the other video game action movies produced for adults. The biggest issue with it is probably its wider appeal - unless you’re a kid or a Pokemon fan, this isn’t the kind of movie you’d just pick up and watch, whereas something like Street Fighter could be.
Still, Pikachu is cute as all heck and no one can convince me otherwise.
#1 - Mortal Kombat (1995)
This movie hits the number 1 spot on my list for a few reasons. First of all, this thing is 25 years old and it still holds up. Sure, it’s ridiculous and over-the-top with your typical 90’s green screen special effects, but that all rolls into its charm. In so many ways, the characters were very faithful adaptations of their video game counterparts, connecting with pieces of Mortal Kombat’s lore in a way that appealed to both fans of the series and casual viewers.
If you’re looking for a fun action movie, this one pretty much fits the bill. The combat segments are very well choreographed and are still fun to watch all these years later. Shang Tsung and his ilk were the perfect depictions of bad guys that you love to hate, and even nowadays honestly I’m still impressed with the way Goro looks. I know 90’s animatronics are a little creepy, but it sold the role well with minimal CGI touch-ups required (frankly, I miss practical make-up and special effects in film, but that’s a whole different conversation).
I would like to also admit that I had to change and edit the previous paragraph, because upon doing an image search for Goro to share with you all, I learned that Goro was an animatronic top-half placed on top of a stunt actor in order to achieve the monstrous effect. My world is a little shattered, because I can’t believe I didn’t realize it myself, but my fondness for the movie and Goro himself still stands.
And I mean, how can I possibly not love a movie that gives us a golden scene like this?
While it’s true that nostalgia paints a picture of things through rose-colored glasses, I stand by my decisions and my choice to just love old things, no matter how well (or poorly) they might age.
What video game do you think deserves a movie adaptation?