After video games first arrived in living rooms, it took Hollywood nearly 30 years to knock on Nintendo’s door in a bid to capitalize on its devoted fan base. By then, the video game industry had decades to create an array of enduring characters complete with origin stories, signature music, and millions of dollars in revenue to keep the sequels coming.
While there have been a few notable hits, such as Wreck-It-Ralph, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Mortal Kombat, the road from pixel to celluloid has been a difficult one. Fans had considerable time to form deep bonds to their favorite franchises. It is a method of storytelling that cannot be recreated in the traditional two-hour runtime of a motion picture.
In short, “The things that make video games fun to play doesn’t necessarily make movies fun to watch.” Keep those words in mind as we take a look at the films on our list!
The following is a collection of the very worst movies based on beloved video game franchises. These ten films were selected for their box office performance, critical reception, production problems and overall mishandling of the original source material by the filmmakers themselves.
10. Super Mario Bros (1993)
On May 28th, 1993 the first major motion picture based on a video game was created. This had made a lot of people very angry and had been regarded as a bad move.
Late Academy Award-Nominated actor Bob Hoskins (Mario Mario) said “It was the worst film I’ve ever made”, and admitted he would arrive to work drunk each day to deal with the stress. Co-Stars John Leguizamo (Luigi Mario) and late Academy Award-nominated actor Dennis Hopper (King Koopa) share similar sentiments.
Super Mario Bros was plagued with unique production problems stemming largely from first-time feature film directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. The pair’s vision for the family-friendly video game series was something even more adult-oriented than what was originally released, which was met with harsh criticism by Nintendo directly. The screenplay had been re-written so frequently that the actors had begun to disregard it entirely. In an interview with A.V. Club, Dennis Hopper claimed he was contracted to work on the film for 5 weeks but ended up working for 17 weeks instead!
Ultimately, the movie was a $48,000,000 gamble that fell so incredibly short of Nintendo’s own expectations for the film that they never authorized another live action adaptation of their video games again.
Today, Super Mario Bros is considered a cult favorite by fans of games and b-movies alike.
9. DOOM (2005)
Released for Christmas 1993, DOOM was a transformative moment for first-person shooters and the video games industry as a whole. In the decade that followed, “DOOM” became synonymous with success. In fact, it is estimated that “DOOM” was installed on more PCs than Microsoft’s own Windows 95.
DOOM the video game is an example of a work of art transcending the medium and affecting our real lives. DOOM the movie is, ironically, a victim of the politically correct world created in response to the ultraviolent source material.
The movie is filled with nods to the video game universe, but they’re so subtle and cryptic that only hardcore fans of the game will catch them; the casual movie-goer will miss the references altogether.
Despite excellent live-action special effects by Hollywood legend Stan Winston, DOOM cost $60,000,000 and did a meager $28,000,000 in theaters.
8. Resident Evil (2002)
Resident Evil is an oddity on a list of misfits.
The original gaming title is very influential, having laid the foundation for the following 20 years of “survival horror” video games and motion pictures alike. TIME Magazine considers it one of the greatest video games ever created.
It was the Hollywood-inspired cinematic presentation of “Resident Evil” that made it such a wild hit with gamers. In 1998, Capcom contacted zombie filmmaking pioneer George A. Romero to film the Japanese television ad for “Biohazard 2” (Resident Evil 2 in the USA). This led to Romero being attached to the feature film adaptation; unfortunately, he was fired for trying to push a film that very closely followed the plot of the games.
Paul W.S. Anderson was hired by Capcom to direct their now delayed film. Fans of the games condemned the film for featuring vital characters and monsters seen much later in the series than the first installment. Critics despised the movie for its unimaginative storyline, occasionally laughable visual effects and overly “electronic” commercially-licensed soundtrack that pushed scenes into “Action” territory and rarely “Horror”, the video game’s greatest defining attribute.
7. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)
Dungeon Siege is a PC and MAC role playing game released through Microsoft Game Studios in 2002. The story is centered on the adventures of a humble farmer placed firmly outside of his element. The game allowed players to adventure solo or online with friends through diverse locations and was popular enough with fans to warrant two full sequels.
Notorious for a career of directing universally unloved game-to-film adaptations, Uwe Boll had decided to grow his craft and seriously invest his time and money (reportedly north of $60,000,000) into a fantasy film project of his own: In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale.
The cast included many recognizable names in Hollywood such as Jason Statham, Ron Perlman and Ray Liotta. Filmed in 2005, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale was finally released into theaters in 2007 to universal disdain from fans of film and video games.
6. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
The 1992 arcade release of Mortal Kombat was like witnessing the cosmic birth of a brand new sun. Midway Games found a way to place digitized footage of live actors into an ultraviolent martial arts competition and gave players something they had never seen before: Climactic finishing moves called “Fatalities” allowed the victor the opportunity to rip various points of their disturbingly lifelike human opponent’s anatomy off using just their bare hands… and teeth.
In 1995, fans of the infamous video game series saw the August 18th release of the Mortal Kombat motion picture. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who also directed #8 on this list), it was a surprise success at the box office and on home video, costing $18,000,000 to produce and bringing in $122,000,000 during it’s time in theaters.
The way Anderson concluded the movie, a sequel was virtually guaranteed by the time audiences discarded their leftover snacks on the floor and headed for theater doors.
Two years later, New Line Cinema delivered Mortal Kombat: Annihilation into theaters and it barely resembled its predecessor at all. The special effects were downright amateurish while many key characters were cast with replacement actors. Overall, fans and critics compared this film to an overlong episode of children’s television series Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, and it failed to achieve even half the success of its predecessor.
5. Street Fighter (1994)
Street Fighter II – The World Warrior requires little introduction. Released into arcades worldwide in 1991, the game was an instant runaway success. It is the undisputed gold standard of fighting games, enjoyed by professional players with custom joysticks and casuals with standard controllers alike over 25 years later.
Street Fighter is another example of a video game-to-film adaptation that willfully excluded elements of the source material to achieve a radically different tone. While the movie was certainly successful in separating itself from the fighting game, the liberties taken were too numerous for fans and movie-goers to accept.
Capcom (the game studio behind the Street Fighter series) insisted that Jean-Claude Van Damme be cast as “Guile”, and allocated roughly $8,000,000 of the film’s $35,000,000 budget to secure the French action superstar. The rushed production schedule (another unsound strategy imposed by Capcom) required many of the movie’s more elaborate fight scenes to be condensed into whatever could be taught in the hours leading up to a shot.
In the end, Street Fighter was a modest success. It wasn’t until 2009’s Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li that another live action adaptation was attempted, and its results were equally disappointing for fans of the series.
4. Double Dragon (1994)
The story of the 1987 arcade classic Double Dragon is extraordinarily sparse, as is customary with arcades. A girl named Marian is abducted by a street gang, angering Billy and Jimmy Lee, who proceed to punch people in the face until she is rescued. In less than one minute, newcomers were given all of the exposition they required to enjoy the game.
The arcade was a success: Double Dragon was licensed for action figures, animated television series, clothing, spin-off works… and one live action feature-length film.
Double Dragon was directed by James Yukich, who had primarily worked on live concerts and music videos until 1994. In stark contrast to the video games, the movie runs for 23 minutes before either of the Lee Brothers throw a single punch at their antagonists and 37 minutes before the Lees gain the confidence to fight on their own! At this point in the film, audiences have seen more footage of Billy and Jimmy Lee running away from fights than engaging in them. Fans of the games felt betrayed and insulted.
This low-brow, painfully unfaithful adaptation marked the first and last serious attempt at a feature film by Yukich, who has since returned to directing television specials and concert videos. During its lifetime at the box office, Double Dragon failed to recuperate even a third of its extremely conservative $7,800,000 budget.
3. Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children (2005)
Sony PlayStation owners were introduced to the world of Final Fantasy VII in early 1997. Squaresoft had worked for three years and invested $45,000,000 to create one of the most acclaimed video game experiences of the 32-bit era. Many technological firsts in video games were achieved on the three CDs the game was shipped on.
The story was a sprawling epic that took the average player 50 hours to complete. When it was over, fans of the title demanded more of the characters they had grown emotionally attached to. Squaresoft obliged with a handful of spinoff titles based in the same universe, plus one internally-produced full length computer animated movie.
Final Fantasy VII – Advent Children cost an undisclosed sum of money to produce, and was released straight to home video. Squaresoft took a safe approach to their 2005 effort, cramming as much fan service into the movie as possible. For hardcore game players who followed the series and put hundreds of hours into each installment, the film was an exhilarating reunion with old friends… but at a high cost.
In order to hit all of those required notes, Square unknowingly left the door closed for new and casual fans of the series. Critics remarked the story of this film is almost entirely inaccessible unless the viewer was already familiar with close to 100 hours of established narrative, characters and quotes. Director Tetsuya Nomura claimed this film was originally planned to be only 20 minutes long, forcibly expanded to 101 minutes at release.
These are all problems stemming from a studio who is fluently experienced in videogame design and admittedly next to zero filmmaking experience. Squaresoft would learn the hard way that “The things that make video games fun to play doesn’t necessarily make movies fun to watch.”
2. House of the Dead (2003)
SEGA’s The House of the Dead was one of the most successful arcade games of 1997. The tried and true combination of zombies and fast-paced gunplay was a hit with gamers all over the world. The game boasted impressive polygon-based graphics with detailed textures, bullet-deformable zombie anatomy and no short supply of the red stuff.
The story of the video game is deliberate B-Movie fare: Two heroes raid the mad scientist’s zombie-infested manor and shoot everything until the day is saved. Classic video game and horror film tropes were included to keep the tone light and action high.
All of the key components for a quick Hollywood cash-in were present, and in 2003 SEGA gave its blessing for House of the Dead – a 90-minute cinematic prequel to the game. First time director (in America) Uwe Boll was handed the keys to the series and put together a production budget of $12,000,000 to achieve his vision.
Critics were immediately turned off by what they saw. Audiences generally disliked the inclusion of low-resolution video game footage as a substitute for actual on-screen action. The film’s uninspired “zombie rave” premise also failed to impress fans of the arcades. The movie is riddled with plot holes, problematic writing, and underwhelming cinematography.
1. Alone in the Dark (2005)
1992’s Alone in the Dark is one of the greatest titles in PC gaming history. It featured a unique blend of 3d graphics and supernatural horror, an industry first. The game was breakthrough success with critics and PC gamers alike, and would grow to span across five sequels over the following two decades.
Set in 1920s Louisiana, players are sent into a creepy mansion to retrieve a valuable piano when shenanigans occur in the form of getting locked inside and attacked by monsters. Alone, and in the dark, players are left to rely on their brains and real life survival instincts to escape the mansion safely. The story was so satisfying that gamers would replay the title multiple times to experience it again and again.
The live action adaptation of this treasured video game was a $20,000,000 bomb directed by none other than Uwe Boll – the filmmaker solely responsible for 30% of this Top 10!
Uwe Boll’s legacy of treating beloved video game franchises with disrespect has earned him an extremely negative reputation. The sheer amount of wasted potential laid at Boll’s feet for this film is staggering. There’s the cast which includes names like Christian Slater, Tara Reid and Stephen Dorff. There’s ample award-winning source material to draw inspiration from that was completely disregarded: the only real similarities are the names of the characters at times.
The only way to fail in this scenario would be to willfully make the wrong decisions and betray the franchise’s built-in fan base of 13 years… and Uwe Boll did exactly that.