The 17 Best Video Game Movies And Shows

Gaming

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Characters from Edgerunners, Sonic, The Last of Us, Fallout, Mortal Kombat, and Resident Evil.

Video-game adaptations have a reputation for being bad. This is partially because there’s an inherent disconnect between an interactive medium and a passive one. Consider also, however, that many of the bad ones were made by one guy in the 2000s. Now, brands are more precious about who they give their licenses to, and as a result, we’re in something of a video game adaptation renaissance. HBO’s adaptation of The Last of Us is winning awards; Arcane is bringing people into League of Legends, a game they likely would have never played; and by god, we’re getting live-action Shadow the Hedgehog in December. But what adaptations have risen to the top? Put the controller down and grab some popcorn, folks. Let’s go through some of the best video-game movies and TV shows you can watch.

I’ve played League of Legends maybe twice in my life and I’m not likely to ever go back to it. It just isn’t my bag and most MOBAs aren’t. That’s a personal truth that will preclude me from playing a fair few games that friends of mine regularly enjoy together. It’s okay though, because I’ve got Arcane, which increasingly feels like the best thing to ever come from the League of Legends property.

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Netflix’s Arcane brings the depth of its characters to the forefront and makes them shine in one of the most gorgeously animated spectacles I’ve ever seen. I’m not one to rewatch shows that aren’t just my standard rotation of sitcoms, but I’ve sat through Arcane more times than I care to admit, simply to marvel at it in motion. Watching Vi pummel someone (and get pummeled in the process) is an absurd joy thanks to Arcane’s beautiful blend of 3D and 2D animation. And yet its animation is just the cherry on top of a mature show that tackles, among other topics, the disenfranchisement and abuse of the impoverished as well as the pitfalls of a society that blindly places its faith in technology and the would-be messiahs proselytizing about it. It’s as much about San Francisco and Silicon Valley as it is about Piltover and the undercity of Zaun. Arcane is a video game adaptation, and a damn fine one at that, but it’s also so much more. — Moises Taveras

Netflix’s Castlevania anime is one of the best examples of a work that pulls from source material without being beholden to it. Between the original series and the new Nocturne sequel series, the show draws from different games throughout the franchise’s history, all while meaningfully expanding upon them instead of being 1:1 recreations. Its stunning animation pops off in its incredibly choreographed fight scenes. Castlevania deftly balances its vampire politics with all the sword-slashing and chain-swinging we’d expect from an adaptation of Konami’s games, and never loses sight of the people at its center. — Kenneth Shepard

Studio Trigger’s take on R. Talsorian Games and CD Projekt Red’s dystopian near-future (but still pretty relevant today) RPG is peak adaptation. Cyberpunk: Edgerunners embodies the best parts of the source material but carves out its own identity in the process, telling a gutting tale within the bounds of Night City. David and Lucy’s story of growing up too fast in a city that will rob you of everything you ever dreamt of manages to ebb and flow from grim, capitalist nightmare to community-driven hope. But this is Cyberpunk, and nothing ever really changes. The gristmill comes for us all eventually, and even those who thrive in Night City have to make choices about what they’re willing to do to survive. The systems may push you down or out, but we persist through them as best we can, for as long as we can. Edgerunners concisely summarizes what makes Cyberpunk more than just an edgy, grimdark vision of a hopeless future. — Kenneth Shepard

This will be a controversial pick in the eyes of some Danganronpa fans, but I will die on the hill that Danganronpa 3 is criminally underrated, overcriticized (though rightfully divisive), and has some of the most interesting interpretations of the murder mystery series’ themes that Spike Chunsoft has ever put to paper. The anime acts as both prequel and sequel to the visual novels, and manages to bring all its mysteries full circle without being beholden to the same structures of a Danganronpa video game.

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Though Funimation absolutely dropped the ball on the English dub by stuffing it with now-dated memes and soundbite-driven characterization, Danganronpa 3’s inversion of the series’ themes of hope and despair, portraying both forces as intertwined and inescapable, are some of the most clever depictions of those ideas across the series’ lifetime. Yes, it got muddied by a disappointing brainwash plot; it essentially made Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls meaningless, and its final episodes are missing the series’ usual no-stone-left-unturned exposition that has led to factually incorrect interpretations still being perpetuated in fandom spaces. But Danganronpa 3’s ambition can’t be overstated, and when it hits, it stands tall alongside its predecessors as an important piece of the series’ puzzle. — Kenneth Shepard

We don’t need to give the entirety of 2005’s Doom movie any flowers. But there’s one action sequence that takes place entirely in first-person that fucking rules. The entire segment shows Karl Urban’s Doomguy fighting his way through a monster-ridden facility all in first-person like the Doom games. It’s a pretty great homage to the source material, all while being a crunchy, gross-out action scene that brings the entire movie full circle. The rest of the film isn’t worth writing home about, but that moment is inspired. — Kenneth Shepard

One of the chief concerns folks always have about video game adaptations is how faithfully the games and their aesthetics are recreated. Some adaptations have been able to tap into those styles, and others have had to try and make do without. Though I’m not one of these sticklers, a game’s visual identity is often a key part of why I love it, and Amazon’s Fallout series first stunned me with its impressive production values that captured the exact look and feel of the games. With that hurdle overcome, Fallout still had a lot to prove, but it at least felt like it was in the hands of folks who understood the assignment enough to take a decent shot at it.

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I’m so glad to report that not only did the team get it, but they kinda knocked it out of the park. Sure, the show stumbles over itself a bit by cramming in reference after reference to the games, but some of that stuff is just part of Fallout’s worldbuilding and some of it can be forgiven as fan service thrown in to appease the series’ longtime followers. Most of the time though, Fallout is a sharper critique of the American way of life than most of the recent games, and as much as I like disappearing into large worlds for great chunks of time, it’s great to be able to get a concise slice of the stuff I love about Fallout without having to wade through aspects of it that don’t gel with me. That and all the bugs in Bethesda’s games. To me, Fallout represents the actual standard that modern adaptations ought to be held up to. — Moises Taveras

I admire Advent Children for one thing and one thing alone. No, it is not for the increasingly complicated and nonsensical storyline of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, which has to be the worst name for a multimedia project ever. It’s for the sheer fact that it is a film loosely trying to tell some semblance of a story between the lengthiest and most self-indulgent action sequences ever. It feels like a professionally cut AMV that I would’ve seen on a Final Fantasy 7 fan channel in the early days of YouTube. It is beautiful and it is a goddamn mess and it is perfect. — Moises Taveras

There’s a lot to love about the original Mortal Kombat film. Mortal Kombat is kind of a trash fire, but a well-produced one that has given us some indelible images of one of gaming’s most storied franchises. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s read of “Your brother’s soul is mine” has been misremembered and then immortalized as a meme over the years. It’s literally timeless. And who can forget Scorpion cartwheeling out from behind a tree to surprise Johnny Cage in the middle of the woods? That fight is burned into my brain for as long as I live.

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Yes, the Mortal Kombat movie is light on the blood and gore that have typically defined the series, but I think it also captures some of the feeling of the older games in other ways. Take the Cage-Scorpion fight for example. Every move is so clearly telegraphed and belabored, it looks like it’s got the weight of the original titles. I don’t know the last time you played Mortal Kombat II on a cabinet, but that sucker is slow as hell and it’s rare to find action that deliberate in a game or movie these days. So no, Mortal Kombat isn’t the best adaptation of a game, but it does retroactively feel like it’s an honest one. — Moises Taveras

To keep things entirely transparent, I’m a Resident Evil: Apocalypse truther. In that movie, Milla Jovovich literally runs down the side of a skyscraper just to beef with a cadre of Umbrella troops more quickly. She could’ve rappelled down like a normal super soldier, or even taken the elevator down, but she opts to do that instead. It’s a choice that doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for me, and is emblematic of how far Paul W.S Anderson drove his Resident Evil movies away from the source material, though it is oddly prescient about the series’ turn to ludicrous action in later titles. The original movie is far more measured, genuinely good, and still incredibly campy.

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Have you ever seen a dude’s eye dissolve? Resident Evil has got you covered. That laser hall sequence that folks love so much from Resident Evil 4? Yeah, you can probably thank this movie for that. It also has more in common with the actual games than most of the movies that follow, including Lickers and a nod to the hounds that stalk Spencer Mansion and the streets of Raccoon City. Resident Evil is the genuine article: it is the defining video-game adaptation of a generation. —- Moises Taveras

Is this a safe space? Are we far enough away from HBO’s The Last of Us show to admit that large swaths of that show were mid? I’ll pause for y’all to finish booing me.

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Are we done? Alright.

As someone who is perhaps too into Naughty Dog’s not-zombie franchise, I found a lot of HBO’s live-action adaptation to be mostly an inferior version of the original story. When you’re following the script almost to a tee, you’re just inviting potentially unflattering comparisons. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey did serviceable enough jobs as surrogate father and daughter Joel and Ellie, but looking at their performances right next to those of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson has only affirmed that the originators still own those characters, as far as I’m concerned. But that’s why Episode 3, “Long, Long Time,” remains the standout moment for the show. It’s a remix of the relationship between two characters that leaves it on a more thoughtful, hopeful note.

In the video game, Bill and Frank exist as a cautionary tale. Their relationship is meant to illustrate to Joel that companionship in the post-apocalypse is just as much a liability as it is an asset. In Bill’s eyes, having a partner in Frank who brought conflict and worry into his day-to-day life is a weakness. Conversely, HBO’s show portrays their relationship as one that gives Bill purpose. What point is there in staying alive in an infected world if you don’t have someone to share that life with? It feeds into larger themes of how having someone to fight for is what gives Joel a new lease on life by the end of the first season, which is further complicated by Ellie’s own feelings about whether she wants to be protected at all. Overall, this reimagined version of Bill and Frank’s partnership ends up providing a stronger foundation for the rest of the series to work through. And yeah, the rest of the first season is fine. But it’s mostly retreading old stuff. — Kenneth Shepard

If there was a game that seemed like a terrible candidate for the adaptation treatment, it would be NieR: Automata. The game itself, from Director Yoko Taro and developer PlatinumGames, is a wild, twisting ride that is equal parts humorous, devastating, horny, and philosophical. On top of that, the game’s story is told over multiple playthroughs that retread events again and again. Yet NieR: Automata Ver1.1a manages to be an adaptation that lives up to its unique source material.

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The anime’s twelve episodes expertly adapt Automata’s A and B routes, complete with the original voice actors (both English and Japanese) for characters 2B, 9S, and A2. For newcomers, it’s a concise way to experience the story, while returning fans will be surprised by new twists and the inclusion of material from the extended lore of the franchise. A special part of Ver1.1a are the Puppet Plays that end every episode, short skits that take the place of the game’s many joke endings and offer viewers a chance to experience the sillier side of Automata. It’s the inclusion of things like the Puppet Plays that make NieR: Automata Ver1.1a such a great video game adaptation, because it tries to give audiences a taste of what playing the game is like. — Willa Rowe

It was hard to decide which Pokémon adaptation to put on this list. There are a lot of real good ones. Pokémon Concierge, Netflix’s stop-motion series, would easily hang with the best stuff here, and those early seasons of the anime are still remarkably funny, endearing, and heartfelt. But the live-action Detective Pikachu movie is still, almost five years later, such a remarkable feat in adapting the series’ mystery adventure games to the big screen. Props to Legendary Pictures for deviating from Pokémon’s usual competitive battles for the first live-action movie and instead choosing a detective story to make it more approachable to a wide audience.

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Casting Ryan Reynolds as the titular talking, quipping detective was inspired, and he gets as close to an all-ages Deadpool as he can. The mystery that he and his partner Tim solve takes them on a tour of an idyllic vision of the Pokémon universe, and interrogates parts of the series’ culture that have been established norms within the franchise for decades. What if a city outlawed Pokémon battles and humans lived alongside their favorite little guys? Detective Pikachu has layers, even if it sometimes gets in its own way with cheesy dialogue and a genre shift into a disaster movie in the eleventh hour. That final reveal? Chef’s kiss. — Kenneth Shepard

Much like Pokémon, the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise has had so many different adaptations over the years that narrowing it down to one is tough. The live-action movies are pretty alright. I saw the second one multiple times in theaters in an effort to recapture the high of seeing live-action Shadow the Hedgehog in the post-credits scene. Sonic Boom, the animated series that ran from 2014 to 2017, has some of the best dialogue writing and gags in the Sonic franchise. Some OGs are also probably screaming that the original 90s cartoon deserves a shout. Perhaps the new Sonic Prime Netflix series comes to mind? But ultimately, I had to give it to Sonic X. The anime covers the stories of so many different games over the course of its 78 episodes, and it’s not afraid to touch on some of the darker moments in Sonic history.

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Sonic X wins over other Sonic adaptations because it is very much representative ofSonic’s best era in storytelling. The mid-2000s Sonic games were darker, more elaborate, and more character-driven, with clear anime and comic-book inspiration in a way the series has gotten away from as the series’ brand has sanded off its rough edges and Flanderized its cast. Based on what we know so far, Sonic the Hedgehog 3 seems to be a more direct adaptation of this period in Sonic history, but it will be interesting to see how the franchise handles those storylines as it’s moved further away from the edge that defined it during the height of Sonic X. — Kenneth Shepard

The 1994 adaptation of Capcom’s seminal fighting game is a classic, not just for video game adaptations but for martial arts anime. Street Fighter II’s story is pretty meh, but it does its job in getting a bunch of strong people to throw punches in its iconic fighting scenes. The Chun-Li vs. Vega fight is a great example of how the movie captures these characters’ fighting styles and personalities while placing them into a new framework, and that’s only one of the many action scenes that embody the game’s legendary fighters. Yeah, there’s some weirdness with how the score got redone entirely for the English version, alongside shoehorning American bands like Korn and Alice in Chains into the mix. But when no one was meddling with it, Street Fighter II captured the immaculate vibes of one of the most important fighting games of all time and brought them to a wider audience. — Kenneth Shepard

Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies were largely regarded as “not as bad” as most video-game movies for the time. But the 2001 original, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, has some pretty notable qualities. It’s campy, sexy, action-packed, and it looks like everyone on-screen is having a blast. Looking back on it after the movie adaptation of the survival-centric reboot, it’s hard not to miss the goofy sensibilities of the early 2000s films. Plus, Daniel Craig and Angelina Jolie in the same movie means it’s objectively one of the sexiest video game adaptations of its era. Just don’t think about it too hard, alright? Sit back, turn your brain off, watch hot people do hot shit. — Kenneth Shepard

As a kid, I loved social deduction games like Mafia and Heads Up Seven Up. I think I learned pretty early in life that I not only liked being able to read people, but really thrived at it. To give you an idea, I played a Jackbox game with a group of friends who know each other more intimately than I know most of them, and I still ran away with the lead in a personality test minigame where we had to ascribe traits to players. I fucking thrive in an environment where I can examine someone, which would make a game like Werewolves Within a shoo-in for me. Thing is, I haven’t played it, but I have watched a great movie based on it.

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Werewolves Within is kind of similar to Clue (one of the greatest films ever made) in that it gets at both the mysterious aspect of trying to solve a crime, and the fact that its premise is inherently baffling and should be made light of. Werewolves Within then lines up a murderers’ row of talent like Sam Richardson, Milana Vaintrub, Harvey Guillén, and even Broadway’s Cheyenne Jackson, and lets them loose in a Fargo-esque community being picked apart by, you guessed it, a werewolf. Adaptations of games often trip over themselves trying to make the connections to their original forms abundantly clear, but Werewolves Within (which may contain a number of references I just don’t get) feels like the most straight-laced one of them all, opting to instead heighten the premise of the game by making it a comedy as well as a murder mystery. The result is an objectively fun movie you can enjoy with or without the knowledge of it being an adaptation of a video game, which should really be the goal of most of these. — Moises Taveras

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