Video game adaptations have earned their mixed reputation over the years. Fortunately, flawed art is sometimes the most entertaining art, and we’ve got 10 gems to prove it. Here are the 10 most entertaining video game adaptations.
10. Earthworm Jim
Despite being one of the lesser known IPs on this list, Earthworm Jim is a bastion of good times in a world of lacklustre video game adaptations. Critical to its success is that it actually captures the vibe and energy that made the games special in the first place.
Featuring a cast of truly bizarre characters, fourth wall breaking shenanigans, and a zany sense of humour, it’s a riotous time. Unfortunately, it’s also a brief time as the series only lasted two seasons. Still, it’s better to burn out than fade away – as the Resident Evil film franchise can attest.
9. Mortal Kombat (1995)
It wouldn’t be honest to say that Mortal Kombat is a good film, but it sure as hell is an entertaining one. There’s no denying that it’s ridiculously silly (a fighting competition on which the fate of the world rests) and the acting is uniformly poor (sometimes hilariously so).
But have you seen Goro? This hunk of supreme muscle and extra limbs is a sight to behold and, if you’re anything like me, worth the price of admission alone. This dude tears people apart for fun AND has a pony tail that puts Steven Segal to shame. All hail Goro! The true champion of video game adaptations!
8. Detective Pikachu (2019)
Imagine a world where Pokémon and humans live side-by-side. Now imagine that, as you’d expect, people and Pokémon can’t understand each other. Except one person can. And there’s this Pikachu walking around with the voice of Ryan Reynolds that claims to be the world’s best detective. Bat-fucking-shit crazy, right?
To be fair, Detective Pikachu accomplishes a similar feat to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, creating a fever dream of animation and actors that is seamless and enthralling. A truly bizarre experience that’s far more charming than you’d think.
7. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Less charming, although extraordinarily entertaining nonetheless, is the video game adaptation of Super Mario Bros. To be clear, this film is an absolute dumpster fire, and completely representative of its long, tortured path to creation (see: development hell). However, like a disaster it’s nearly impossible to look away from.
Whoever thought of mixing Nintendo’s cute plumbers with a cyberpunk aesthetic deserves a special round of applause. Also notable is that some genius managed to convince Academy Award nominee Denis Hopper (Hosiers, Blue Velvet) to play President Koopa aka Bowser; you just know that fury is real.
6. Silent Hill (2006)
There have been quite a few adaptations of successful horror video game franchises, but few have managed to actually be scary (or any good). Silent Hill nails the creeping tension, foreboding atmosphere and disturbing imagery of its parent series, and for my money is the spookiest video game adaptation of all time.
French director Christopher Gans (Brotherhood of the Wolf) does an admirably faithful job and is backed up by a solid cast that features Naomi Watts and Sean Bean. And while the film is undoubtedly flawed, its ambition and execution are commendable.
5. Pokemon (1997-present)
The Pokémon games may have come first but it was the animated series that created a phenomenon. Featuring the highly collectable cast of iconic monsters, which now runs almost 900 deep, the show was like crack to kids and kryptonite to their parents’ wallets.
Softening that blow somewhat was the wholesome nature of the series, which often focuses on themes such as friendship and teamwork. At the end of the day it’s probably preferable to have your kid wandering around the house searching for Pikachu than piercing every moment of silence with screams of ‘Kamehameha’ (cheers Dragon Ball Z).
4. Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)
Everyone’s favourite extra-terrestrial hedgehog faired far better at the box office than it initially appeared he would. After dividing fans with an unnervingly realistic take on the titular hero, the studio decided to tweak their designs and go with a more faithful video game adaptation vibe. In hindsight, it was the right decision.
Winning performances from James Marsden and Ben Schwartz, as well as a truly maniacal turn from Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, make the film a heap of fun. And just like its speedy blue hero, it races by at an alarming speed.
3. DOTA: Dragon’s Blood (2021)
There’s no one more surprised than me that two of the top three most entertaining video adaptations of all time are based on characters from MOBA games. Because, while both DOTA and League of Legends have deeper lore than one might expect, at the end of the day they are far more focused on addictive gameplay than story.
Nonetheless, here we are. Netflix’s DOTA: Dragon’s Blood tells the story of Davion, one of the more straightforward playable heroes in the game. Expect some great battle sequences, nice animation work and a narrative that will keep you invested. A good start with a lot of potential if the producers stick with it.
2. Arcane (2021)
Arcane, on the other hand, takes a similar paradigm and turns it into a ground-breaking spectacle. The Netflix series combines the best of digital and traditional animation into a spellbinding feast for the senses, suggesting there are still new directions to push the artform.
Perhaps more surprising is that the narrative, which focuses on the backstory of League of Legends duo Vi and Jinx, hits it out of the park. Deceptively complex, emotional and political, this is a video game adaptation that shows the others how it’s done. And there’s a solid argument that it’s actually deserving of the top spot on this list.
1. Castlevania (2017-present)
That said, Castlevania is the OG Netflix video game adaptation, and its longevity is something that all likeminded series should aspire to. An interesting cast of characters, great animation, and a politically charged plot that wouldn’t be out of place in Game of Thrones, combine to make Castlevania a triumph.
A good deal of credit should go to acclaimed comic book writer Warren Ellis (Transmetropolitan, Crooked Little Vein), who masterfully blends scatty humour, graphic violence and emotional weight into a hugely entertaining cocktail. No one phones in their contribution here though, and Castlevania bears the hallmarks of real creativity and care; something which is, unfortunately, all too rare when it comes to video game adaptations.
Written by Alastair Cairns.