The 25 Best Video Game Movies Ranked
What should a great video game movie feel like? Should the "Final Fantasy" film mostly function like a playthrough with a bunch of extra cutscenes? Should plot developments be mostly fetch-quests? Films tell compelling stories, but an entire generation has been raised on video games, and they’re used to feeling like they’re participating in the plots of the media they consume, whether the project is based on a game or not.
This, I would argue, is a quality the best video game movies share, no matter how faithfully or not they adapt their button-mashing source material. But giving a fixed narrative an active sense of play is unbelievably difficult. For every "Tomb Raider" (2018), there’s a "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (2003). Still, some films manage to pull it off — here, we’re going to look at the 25 best video game movies (which, for our purposes, are movies based on a video game property, not movies that take place in a game), plus one honorable mention.
26. Honorable Mention: Wreck-It Ralph
When considering the legacy of video game movies, it’s impossible not to think of "Wreck-It Ralph." It’s not technically a movie based on a video game, so it can’t be officially counted, but it’s also better than arguably every other movie listed, so it kinda deserves to be here anyway. We’ll call it an honorable mention as a compromise, but make no mistake: "Wreck-It Ralph" is one of the greatest video game movies of all time, and not just in spirit. Every gamer loved seeing characters like Bowser and Zangief share screen time, or the countless visual gags like the Konami Code or the "Metal Gear" exclamation mark. However, "Wreck-it-Ralph" is, by design, an ode to gaming in all its forms.
The film features riffs on a number of beloved genres, from arcade classics like "Donkey Kong" to modern favorites like "Mario Kart" and "Call of Duty." However, much like how games simplify the duality between heroes and villains, so too do some people with the kinds of gamers we can be. It can often feel like everyone, from MOBA champions to platforming junkies, is kept in their own separate boxes, but we all contain multitudes. Watching Ralph defeat cybug scum and then go on to conquer kart racing isn’t just inspiring in terms of pure game-hopping, but also in the discovery of his own self-worth. You can be an arcade lover, a racing fiend, and an FPS sharpshooter all at once, and you know what? That deserves a shiny gold medal.
25. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Bill Simmons, founder of The Ringer, is fond of discussing actors’ "apex mountain" on "The Rewatchables" podcast. Basically, if any given role finds a performer at the peak of their powers, then it is their artistic pinnacle and should be recognized as such. It’s a goofy concept, but a great one, and it leads me to offer the following: "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" is Jake Gyllenhaal’s apex mountain midpoint.
What on Earth does that mean? It means that the 40-year-old’s role in Mike Newell’s adaptation of the classic Ubisoft platformer finds the actor trying to hit new acting heights, but often struggling to summit. Playing Dastan was, in Hollywood’s estimation, the logical next step for Gyllenhaal — it’s a straight-up movie star part, kind of like a yoked Captain Jack Sparrow. Ironically, however, it was the wrong role for Gyllenhaal (or, really, any white actor), who flourishes in movies by Denis Villeneuve and Dan Gilroy, but strains in PG-rated family-friendly action mode.
That said, Gyllenhall’s performance makes Newell’s film fascinating even if it rarely rises above competency. Besides, if "Prince of Persia" is the film that makes Mysterio Gyllenhaal’s next blockbuster role, it deserves praise. Not every mountain can be one’s apex.
24. Super Mario Bros. (The Morton-Jenkel Cut)
Let’s get one thing clear: There will never — ever — be a film that strays more from its source material than 1994’s "Super Mario Bros." If Aaron Sorkin adapted "Pride and Prejudice" and set it in deep space, it would somehow still be closer to Jane Austin’s book than Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s film is to Nintendo’s platformers.
But in the case of the recently released Morton Jankel cut, that doesn’t mean that "Super Mario Bros." is bad. While the box-office bomb flopped with fans, critics, and pretty much everyone else, it was also an extension of the aesthetics Morton and Jankel honed on the sci-fi cult classic "Max Headroom." "Super Mario Bros." is set in Dinohattan, a city where humans and dinosaurs co-exist. The dinosaurs’ leader, King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), kidnaps Princess Peach (Samantha Mathis) to improve his popularity. Down into the rabbit hole of this dystopia come Mario and Luigi (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo) to save the day.
What follows is an epic deconstruction of the hero’s journey, one as informed by the LA police state post-Rodney King as jumping over pits and gobbling up 8-bit mushrooms. The Morton Jankel cut, assembled by Super Mario Bros. The Movie Archive, is an attempt to capture the directors’ eclectic vision as originally intended. While it’s far from perfect, it’s an eerily predictive ride that’s as biting as it is ridiculous. Who knows what a game based on this would even look like? Not us, that’s for sure.
If the video game movie sub-genre has a landmark moment, it’s the third act of "Doom." For its first two thirds, director Andrzej Bartkowiak offers a boilerplate sci-fi menace. There are creatures. There is violence. Even if the presences of a shockingly young Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a pre-"Dredd" Karl Urban, and a "wow, she’s in this?" Rosumund Pike briefly alleviate the movie’s frequent doldrums, for most of its runtime "Doom" feels exactly like its title. But then John Grimm (Urban) decides to blast his way through virus-infected crew members, Bartkowiak shifts to a first-person point of view, and boom! Iconic video game cinema is born.
The first-person shooter sequence in "Doom" was enthusiastically received by fans of the game, a rarity for the genre, and remains emblematic of what video game movies aspire to be and what they’re expected to deliver. From the way the camera moves to the frame rate, which seems ready to glitch out, Bartkowiak’s unbroken shot mimics the rhythms of classic "Doom" so succinctly that it basically qualifies as meta. And while few other video game movies have channeled their source material so directly, this genuinely fun moment earns "Doom" a spot on both this list and also the annals of B-movie cinema. You don’t necessarily get "Crank," "V/H/S," or "Hardcore Henry" without "Doom."
22. The Angry Birds Movie
The market of mobile games suited for the big screen treatment is slim to none, even with the outrageous success of "Angry Birds." Still, IP gotta IP, so we got stuck with this cash grab of an adaptation that feels like Sony’s answer to Illumination’s animation empire. Admittedly, Rovio Animation’s expansion of their original mobile game is fun and colorful, especially in 3D. Models are expressive, backgrounds are detailed, and the film’s absolutely stacked voice cast makes each character feel distinct. A special shoutout goes out to Josh Gad, who has proven he can make any movie delightful off of his presence alone.
Still, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember much about this movie after one viewing. Because the game doesn’t really have a story with a capital S, the movie’s attempts to whip one up are a bit limp. The only reason the plot functions is because most of its characters are simply idiotic, which never makes for a particularly enjoyable viewing experience. Red, the "Angry Birds" poster child and the star of the film, is the only one with any intuition, but he’s also incredibly obnoxious, so it’s a lose-lose. It isn’t until the third act that we get what we really came for: birds crashing into pigs and buildings. The climax has visual gags abound, making us wonder what we could have gotten if the filmmakers had decided to simply make a war film with birds hurling out of slingshots. It likely would have been more fun that way.
Duncan Jones is not a director who settles for half-measures. His debut film, "Moon," hinges on a tone-shifting twist. His follow-up, "Source Code," constructs a convoluted time-loop thriller, then uses it as a Trojan horse for a love story. If Duncan Jones was going to make a video-game movie, it was always going to be huge. The only question was: how big?
The answer, it turned out, was "Warcraft." Jones’ least successful movie with critics became one of the highest-grossing video game movies ever, amassing more than $400 million at the worldwide box office and offering, in my humble opinion, the largest scope and most ambitious world-building of any film in the sub-genre.
"Warcraft" feels massive. Its colorful visuals pop. Its score demolishes subtlety. If its narrative stumbles, that’s part of what makes watching it such a wild experience. I’m not sure "Warcraft" is an objectively good film, but I’d rather spend two hours watching a good filmmaker take a big swing and miss than 90 minutes of mediocrity. "Warcraft" is absolutely the former.
20. Resident Evil
Over the course of compiling this list, two things became abundantly clear: One, Paul W.S. Anderson is the godfather of video game cinema. Two, most people like at least one "Resident Evil" movie — and there is no clear favorite.
There are arguments to be made for "Resident Evil: The Final Chapter" and its clear-eyed social conscience. Some pick "Resident Evil: Apocalypse" because it’s actually a pretty good zombie movie. As an argument can be made for almost any film in the series, it would appear that the six-film franchise might be more highly thought of than its Rotten Tomatoes scores indicate.
Therefore, let’s give credit where credit is due and make some room for 2002’s "Resident Evil" on this list, a choice that honors video game cinema’s most persistent IP and one that, on its own terms, works as a strangely charming action movie. While it isn’t Anderson’s finest work, "Resident Evil" acts as a sort of stepping stone between his early movies and his best films, and the torch-bearer for video game movies’ appeal in general.
19. Mortal Kombat (2021)
Say what you will about this mess of a movie, at least they gave the fans what they wanted. That’s not always something to brag about, but in this case, rendering real-life recreations of our favorite NetherRealm characters slicing each other in two is a noble pursuit. The original "Mortal Kombat" films are fun and goofy in their own way, but they never quite captured the game’s joyous violence. From the reboot’s opening sequence, it’s clear the filmmakers were determined to make each fight scene gory and gruesome, fatalities included. The final product is certainly a blood-spiller — if anything, they could have gone even further with it.
Sadly, that can’t quite make up for the rest of the film’s flaws. I mean … how do you make a movie about "Mortal Kombat" without the actual Mortal Kombat tournament? We know, we know, this movie serves as a setup and, as of right now, the sequel is currently in development. But even so, all we’re left with now is a perfunctory mini-conflict that attempts to make sense of the utterly ridiculous conceit of this universe. Did we really need to get a psychological sense of why Kano has a laser eye, or why Sonya Blade gets rings on her arms? As the third act gives us fight after fight after fight, it becomes clear what a sequel needs to give us if we really want to see this franchise reach its potential on camera.
18. Silent Hill
Of all of the films on the list, few have appreciated in value more than "Silent Hill." Debuting to a 32% percent Rotten Tomatoes score and reviews that called it "a train wreck" and "more deadly than silent," director Christopher Gans’ take on Konami’s popular chiller now charts on many rankings like this one. What happened?
A prevailing theory is that the cast and crew understood Keiichiro Toyama’s game in a way that critics didn’t. For all the notable fuss about the exquisite atmosphere of "Silent Hill" and its seamless blend of tension and violence, there is less written about its operatic tendencies. Though many derided the "Silent Hill" film’s build towards a third act rife with phantasmagoria, doing so is remarkably faithful to the game — and, in the case of the creatures portrayed on screen (many of which were played by trained dancers, making the film’s icky physical movement to be a practical effect), creepily accurate.
As a game, "Silent Hill" was never for everyone. Gans’ movie isn’t, either. While it certainly falters at points, "Silent Hill" is consistently stunning, and creepy enough to transcend its many shortcomings.
17. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
After many Sonic fans embraced its predecessor, "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" was right to steer into the nostalgic skid. The Blue Blur’s second cinematic outing saw Ben Schwartz and Jim Carrey return as Sonic and Robotnik, respectively, with Carrey now sporting the iconic Dr. Eggman mustache. Tails and Knuckles made their live-action debuts, with longtime Tails voice actor Colleen O’Shaughnessey and inspired stunt-casting choice Idris Elba bringing Sonic’s sidekicks to life in a fresh and endearing way. We also saw plenty of other iconic concepts from Sega’s hit franchise on the screen, including the Chaos Emeralds, Super Sonic, and even Shadow the Hedgehog in a post-credits tease.
However, for every step forward, "Sonic the Hedgehog 2" takes two steps back. When will these studios finally realize that nobody comes to movies based on video games for the ancillary human characters? Sure, James Marsden and Tika Sumpter are fine as Tom and Maddie, but at some point, their wedding getaway subplot suddenly takes over the movie and … why? What for? The first film had plenty of wacky real-world hijinks, but it also felt more focused on Sonic’s coming-of-age story. Much of the sequel has very little to do with Sonic’s globe-trotting adventure, which itself is needlessly prolonged with several pandersome tangents, including a dance number set to "Uptown Funk" about five years too late. The Minions called, and they said to stay in your lane.
PlayStation Productions really came out swinging over the span of just one year. "The Last of Us" earned widespread critical acclaim, and "Uncharted" managed to finally make its way to theaters after years of development hell. Needless to say, it was a bonafide box office success and became one of the highest-grossing video game films of all time. In an industry lacking fun historical adventures a la "Indiana Jones," "Uncharted" gave us a taste of what we’ve been missing: cryptic riddles, ancient relics, and buried treasure, all wrapped up in a high-flying action spectacle. If we aren’t going to get pirate ship battles in a "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie any time soon, I’ll take it in my "Uncharted" movie.
That being said, it’s only just a taste. Aside from the film’s admittedly incredible recreation of the plane escape, "Uncharted" isn’t a particularly great adaptation of … well, "Uncharted." A lot of this comes down to the miscasting of both Tom Holland as Nathan Drake and Mark Wahlberg as Sully. Both of them are a bit too young and boyish to capture the grizzled charm of the game’s protagonists. The pair tries to be quippy, but the original appeal never translates, even if Holland and Wahlberg are perfectly fine as actors. When you tie them both around a film too concerned with being a generic, hyper-choreographed action flick, you have yourself an overall decent film that still feels like a disappointment after years of anticipation.
15. The Angry Birds Movie 2
If anyone was equipped to turn a mobile game into cinematic lunacy, it was Thurop Van Orman. Orman is best known as the creator of Cartoon Network’s "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack," but that barely scratches the surface of his accomplishments. Van Orman also worked on "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Adventure Time, and voiced Lil’ Gideon for Disney’s cult hit "Gravity Falls." Van Orman has more animation bona fides than Jay-Z problems.
So, it’s little wonder that he built a better blueprint for an "Angry Birds" movie with "The Angry Birds Movie 2." Characters move like clown-school graduates. Any chance for a pratfall — and there are many, including a rapid-fire "getting the team together" montage — is taken. The eclectic cast (Jason Sudeikis! Sterling K Brown!) seems bolstered by the new crew and brings their A-game to the voice acting. It’s almost as surprising as the initial success of the "Angry Birds" game, and it should serve as Orman’s calling card for any project he wants to tackle next.
14. Mortal Kombat
To talk about Paul W.S. Anderson’s "Mortal Kombat," we must discuss the reboot released in 2021. Why? Because while Simon McQuaid’s gore-heavy film is, in many ways, a better realization of Ed Boon’s brutal and colorful fighting game, it’s a less successful film overall. The performances don’t go for broke, and the fights are cut to shreds. What Anderson’s film lacks in sheen it makes up for in spirit, flawlessly capturing the feeling of playing "Mortal Kombat" in a dusty arcade or on a just-out-the-box Sega Genesis.
When Goro shows up, it is giggle and gasp-inspiring. When characters fight, it’s never less than fun. In many ways, that’s why 1995’s "Mortal Kombat" is the template for video game movies. It sees and recognizes its audience. Fighting games are, generally, dialed up to 11. They paint their characters in broad strokes. The action is swift and frequent, and they’re and never, ever boring. Anderson’s film gets this.
That’s why battles happen every 10 minutes or so. That’s why someone screaming "Mortal Kombat" ad nauseum over the greatest techno song ever written works like gangbusters. That’s why "Mortal Kombat," decades after its release, is still a top-three video game movie. Test its might.
13. Tomb Raider
Let’s try a thought exercise: Pretend that you don’t know that "Tomb Raider" is video game royalty. Act as though Lara Croft is just a name, and that Angelina Jolie didn’t play her (certainly not twice). Now then, can I interest you in an expensive survival-action film starring Walton Goggins and Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander? That’s a much more compelling pitch, right?
2018’s "Tomb Raider," which was directed by Roar Uthag of "The Wave" fame, is a better film than its buzz indicated, largely due to the fact that said buzz was framed in the context of Tomb Raider games. While "Tomb Raider" isn’t a great adaptation of the video games that inspired it, it’s also both unpretentious and visually stunning. Furthermore, the movie never reduced Alicia Vikander to a simple caricature (something that cannot be said of the Jolie films). Ultimately, "Tomb Raider" serves as an example of what happens when you adapt the way a game makes you feel, not just its tropes and signature aesthetic elements.
12. Assassin’s Creed
20th Century Fox
You know, this one almost works. It gets a bad rap for failing to adapt the boundlessly creative Ubisoft franchise, but it’s not necessarily as bad of a movie on its own as everyone would assume. What it lacks in the original game’s appeal it makes up for in its own unique vision for the world of "Assassin’s Creed." Though it retains many similar story elements, the motivations are more sociological than the source material and, in many ways, more resonant. Sofia, the creator of the Animus, wishes to use the machine to rid the world of man’s inherent violence, yet it is violence that enables agency. Sofia’s father, Alan, uses Sofia’s virtuous cause as a veil for the Templar’s plan to rule over mankind, which is itself a form of violence; Cal, on the other hand, uses the Animus to inhabit his ancestor, who himself exacts violence against the 1492 Spanish Christian patriarchy. So who is to say violence must be expunged from the human psyche?
The film’s exploration of this theme makes it a fascinating watch, even if its own pretentiousness can sometimes get in the way. Indulgent long takes, stoic color palettes, and heady dialogue often distract from the story, even if it does give the film a unique visual aesthetic outside of the source material. Still, the action more than satisfies, as do Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and Jeremy Irons as the leads. Those three could take turns reading aloud a grocery list and deserve Oscar nominations for it.
Hey, it counts. It may be the only time a video game will ever be adapted into the DC Animated universe but, oh boy, does it count. NetherRealm’s hit fighting game was praised for its story mode, featuring a narrative written exclusively for the game, so why not trade one animated medium for another? Superman’s power-hungry guilt trip is given striking new life in this adaptation, which also includes elements from the game’s comic prequel series that was released following the original game’s success. The film may rush through a lot of the nuanced drama in an attempt to fit as much as it does into 78 minutes, but those 78 minutes are still packed with a lot of punch.
NetherRealm’s uniquely dystopian story was already a fantastic impetus to explore DC’s complex power dynamics, but veteran DCUA writer Ernie Altbacker ("Batman: Hush") goes deeper into how these heroes devolve when pushed to their limits. After "just one bad day," in Joker’s own words, Superman can slowly transform into an outrageous tyrant, and Robin into a radicalized rebel. Even Batman, upholder of justice, is revealed to have failsafe methods to destabilize every member of the Justice League, including members who oppose him. This infighting results in a number of intense sequences; DC’s adult animated films never shy away from violence, but "Injustice" feels like a new level of tragedy for the genre, sporting an impressively unpredictable body count of beloved characters that even rivals the source material.
10. Monster Hunter
Paul W.S. Anderson’s "Monster Hunter" is relentless: relentlessly goofy, relentlessly fun, and relentlessly non-stop (yes, that’s an oxymoron). It’s a film that makes the bus in "Speed" feel like it’s going at a leisurely pace. In between action setpieces, there are loads of crazy dialogue ("Never ever seen a flamethrower do this to a man"), ice-cold stares, and tons of killable creatures.
In short, "Monster Hunter" is exactly what it promises to be. To the credit of all involved, it doesn’t stray far from the flimsy plots of its source material. Sure, in the "Monster Hunter" games, the protagonist is not a soldier from our world (Milla Jovovich) who gets sucked into an alternate universe full of evil beasts, but if that’s what it takes to get to Tony Jaa to play character named the Hunter who travels around with an arsenal of exploding arrows, so be it.
Unlike Anderson’s "Resident Evil" films (which are goofily enjoyable in their own right), "Monster Hunter" doesn’t get lost in excessive plots or lofty cinematic ambitions. It knows exactly what it is, and mainlines its own supply to deliver so much B-movie je ne sais quoi that it almost tilts back over into minimalism. In the midst of the pandemic that "Monster Hunter" was released in, that was enough to qualify as cinema.
9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Folks, have we been doing "Tomb Raider" dirty all these years? For a while, the Angelina Jolie starring vehicle was lumped into the bottom of the barrel of video game adaptations. However, following a slew of poor entries into the genre throughout the 2010s, including Lara’s own failed reboot in 2018, it might be time for reappraisal. It is by no means a flawless film — it can even be described as mindless at times — but it has style to spare, much like the original game. Director Simon West channels the same wire-working, gun-toting grandeur of filmmakers like the Wachowskis and John Woo, giving Core Design’s innovative creation the cinematic treatment it deserved.
It’s hard to overstate just how perfect Jolie is as Lara Croft. Though the character herself is written flimsily, which the actress has addressed, Jolie is so effortlessly badass that her characterization still feels fully realized. It’s a performance that is emblematic of the film itself, boldly confident, but also cheeky and fun. For every action setpiece, there’s a cocky one-liner to follow it up. However, "Tomb Raider" also has heart in the form of Lara’s relationship with her father, portrayed by Jolie’s real-life father, Jon Voight. That meta angle is just enough to imbue an underexplored facet of the film with enough sentimentality for emotional beats to hit, including a beautiful meeting during the film’s climax. It may be a bit mindless, but the original "Tomb Raider" does its original source material justice.
The Rock’s second appearance on this list, 2018’s "Rampage" is a notable improvement over his first for two reasons. One, director Brad Payton and the film’s four credited writers bring an admirably goofy energy to their blockbuster, which is fitting for a movie based on an arcade game about punching nondescript buildings as a kaiju. Two, this film is nuts.
Again: "Rampage" is nuts. Do you want to see a movie in which the werewolf from "True Blood" gets eaten by a larger, flying wolf? That’s "Rampage." Have you wondered if Jeffery Dean Morgan could play a character from every state in the South all at once? In "Rampage," he does. You thought Jake Lacy was the embodiment of toxic white privilege in "White Lotus?" You haven’t seen "Rampage."
"Rampage" is a film in which a giant lizard and gorilla destroy more of downtown Chicago than "The Blues Brothers" and "Transformers 3" combined — and yet, it’s whatever Jake Lacy and Mailin Akerman are doing in their shared scenes that truly strains credibility. "Rampage" rocks even when is at its most questionable, and that, dear reader, is everything a "Rampage" adaptation ought to be.
7. Final Fantasy: Advent Children
Video game movies may have a mixed reputation here in the States, but in Japan, they have a much better track record. After all, it only makes sense that a country responsible for several of gaming’s most legendary franchises would also be better at adapting them for the big screen. Though not every film makes it Stateside, some fanbases are simply too big to ignore. "Final Fantasy 7" is considered one of the greatest video games of all time, so any expansion on its continuity was bound to attract fans the world over. However, none of us could have anticipated the sheer spectacle of "Advent Children," an audacious continuation that gave fans the now iconic rematch between Cloud Strife and Sephiroth.
Admittedly, anybody new to "Final Fantasy 7" will have a hard time following the film; the exposition comes with a steep learning curve, especially considering the movie non-linearly introduces additional new characters and plot points. However, those familiar with the game will enjoy following up with Cloud, who is still struggling with an identity crisis after learning he was never a member of SOLDIER. His journey in finding self-worth and accepting help from his friends is the heart of the story and a beautiful emotional catharsis for fans. The film is also, simply put, epic; the action is frenetic (sometimes to a fault), the animation is pristine, and Nobuo Uematsu’s part-orchestral, part-rock score intensifies every action beat. To this day, fans still point to "Advent Children" as a definitive entry in the "Final Fantasy" mythos.
6. Sonic the Hedgehog
Those teeth. If you were on Twitter in 2019, they’re why you remember "Sonic the Hedgehog." The memes that Sonic’s original design inspired were incendiary. The fans’ outrage was palpable. By the time that Paramount Pictures committed to fixing Sonic’s chompers and the discourse about the hours worked by digital animators hit a fever pitch, it was easy to forget that "Sonic the Hedgehog" was a film at all.
And here’s the thing: the Sonic movie is good. Is it great? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s still basically a remake of "Hop" with better action scenes. But "Sonic the Hedgehog" is sweet, memorable, and blissfully weird for a film that initially seemed so misguided. Ben Schwartz’s voice work is endearing. The direction is crisp, unfussy, and very family-friendly. And Jim Carrey channels his entire blissed-out ’90s comedy run into his performance as Doctor Robotnik. Whether he’s arguing about whether James Marsden’s Tom Wachowski was breastfed or dancing to "Where Evil Grows," "Sonic the Hedgehog" has — you guessed it — teeth. Now being on Stringer Bell’s Knuckles.
5. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva
With the announcement of his latest adventure in the works for the Nintendo Switch, there’s no better time to get gaming’s favorite gentleman sleuth back on the big screen. After all, his sole cinematic entry is one of the best video game movies, if also one of the least seen. "Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva" unfolds like any great Level-5 mystery, initially presented as disparate pieces that connect to form a much larger puzzle. Thankfully, puzzles are this franchise’s specialty, and "Eternal Diva" has more than enough brain teasers to satisfy any longtime fan.
However, the true star here is the story. With no gameplay to fuss over, "Eternal Diva" channels the series’ already gorgeous animation and talented voice cast into a heartbreaking tale of memory and mortality. It all begins when a renowned opera singer believes her best friend has been reincarnated into the body of a young girl. Soon after, one of her performances is hijacked by a mysterious villain who thrusts the audience into a competition of riddles in which the winner is promised the secret to eternal life. It all feels like a whirlwind at first but, as tragic backstories are unwound, everything comes together in time for a high-stakes climax the likes of which Layton fans have never seen before. Throw in a dash of class commentary a la "Triangle of Sadness," and you have the makings of another great series of mystery films. If Benoit Blanc and Hercule Poirot can have multiple modern movies to their name, why not Professor Hershel Layton too?
4. Ace Attorney
Hold it. No conversation about video game movies is complete without the miracle that is "Ace Attorney." Capcom’s interactive court drama may have seemed too heightened for a live-action retelling, but the unclassifiable Japanese director Takashi Miike took on the challenge and basically aced it. Towing a difficult line between melodrama and actual drama, Miike’s vision manages to complement the game’s theatrics with a technically stylized showcase reminiscent of Korean master Park Chan-wook. Plenty of what we love about "Ace Attorney" is still here — the memorable soundtrack (reorchestrated, of course), bold hairstyles, and plenty of Objections! — but put side-by-side with massive production design, impressive visual effects, and sharp editing that reflects the series’ intensity.
However, the film’s greatest strength is how it takes two separate cases from "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney," "Turnabout Sisters," and "Turnabout Goodbyes," and streamlines them into one larger story. In this version, Mia Fey’s death is directly linked to the investigation surrounding the death of Robert Hammond, which gives Phoenix Wright more investment in the story and a more involved character arc. The film also includes more interactions between him and Miles Edgeworth, as well as flashbacks of them as children, which give us a better understanding of their relationship going into the trial against Manfred von Karma. We even get flashbacks about the Fey family as spirit mediums, one of the film’s many excellent uses of visual effects. These may seem like natural choices to make, but they work wonders in helping the story function less episodically and more like a single plotline.
3. Detective PIkachu
The only major summer tentpole to be shot on film in 2019 was Rob Latterman’s "Detective Pikachu." I think about this once a week. It’s a remarkable fact in its own right, but it’s also the key to understanding why the two-year old video game film feels wildly elevated. Here is a family film that goes out of its way to stock up on noir tropes and shoots them like "The Long Goodbye" never happened, all while letting Ryan Reynolds go full Robin Williams. How does this movie exist?
Never mind, that. What matters is that "Detective Pikachu" is excellent. It manages to cram an intelligent look at the limits of male communication and one legitimately frightening set piece into a rollercoaster ride of shadow-soaked comedy and plot twists. It was one of 2019’s better films, and it’s only going to age like a fine wine. It’s place on top of this list was almost destined; however, one 2021 release gives it some seriously stiff competition.
2. Werewolves Within
Since its release in 1985, Jonathan Lynn’s "Clue" has been an outlier. It’s one of the best movies based on a game of any sort; it blends genres like Jamba does juices. Most importantly, it anchors both its story and its comedic engine to its peerless ensemble and their irascibly manic dialogue. "Clue" feels like well-built lightning in a bottle. It shouldn’t exist. It does. There’s never been anything else like it — until "Werewolves Within."
Is that too much praise for a movie that only came out recently? Absolutely not. Josh Ruben’s follow up to the great "Scare Me" gathers an impressive assemblage of young, funny people like Sam Richardson and Harvey Guillen, veterans like Michaela Watkins and Catherine Curtin, and character actors like Wayne Duvall and Glenn Fleishler, and sets them loose upon a twisted supernatural mystery.
"Werewolves Within" is fun. It’s socially conscious. Most notably, it captures the exact blend of craft and chaos that made "Clue" so singular almost 40 years ago. It’s not that there aren’t any video game movies like it — it’s that there are almost no movies like it, period. "Werewolves Within" sits as the undisputed king of video game movies. Long may it reign.
1. Animal Crossing: The Movie (Gekijōban Dōbutsu no Mori)
It’s a shame that the best video game movie is one very few gamers have actually seen. "Animal Crossing: The Movie," or "Gekijōban Dōbutsu no Mori" in the original Japanese, grossed over one billion yen at the Japanese box office, yet has never gotten an overseas release. Now that the franchise has exploded in popularity post-"New Horizons," it’s time to officially campaign for this adorable, heartfelt adaptation to finally make it to the States. Co-produced by Nintendo, "Animal Crossing: The Movie" follows Ai, a young girl who moves to the Animal Village. Her excitement to begin a new life will feel familiar to any "Animal Crossing" fan: She explores the island, immediately becomes acquainted with her neighbors, and even begins to work for Tom Nook as a delivery driver. As she and her friends dig for fossils, watch meteor showers, and fangirl over K.K. Slider, any fan of the series will immediately feel right at home with this adaptation.
However, not only does this delightful slice-of-life anime capture the appeal of the series, it also translates its gameplay into a well-paced narrative that expands on the original game’s mechanics. Ai is forced to confront some hard truths, such as the heartache one feels when their friends move away. She also must discover what she dreams for herself now that she is independent. These subtle elements in the game are given more resonance through storytelling, which is what makes it the best video game movie of all time.