Mortal Kombat to Warcraft: The highs and lows of video game adaptations over the years

Video games have been the source of inspiration for major films since the 80s, when the gaming scene started to really take off outside of arcades. Lately, we've seen a resurgence of these adaptations, including The Angry Birds Movie, Warcraft, Ratchet and Clank, and not to mention the handful of films that were announced, like Tomb Raider and The Division.

Historically, video game adaptations aren't a hit with critics or massive successes at the box office, but studios keep using them as go-to stories when it comes to pitching film ideas to executives. To mark the current rise of video games being turned into major motion pictures, Polygon's Allegra Frank and Julia Alexander revisited more than two decades worth of movies to see where they fell on the hot or not chart.

Super Mario Bros. — Super Mario Bros., Nintendo (1985)

Movie Release Date: May 1993
Rotten Tomato Score: 15 percent
Box Office: $20.9 million


Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros. is the first game to get the Hollywood treatment. Nintendo teamed up with Walt Disney subsidiary Hollywood Picture to bring Mario and Luigi to life. The film costs $48 million, but Nintendo fans and moviegoers balk at the terrible character design, bizarro story and weird casting; Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo starred as the pair of Italian-American plumbers who fight off their T. Rex enemy to save NYU student Daisy. Reviews, and box office receipts, are, in a word, terrible. Still, a 1993 write-up in the Los Angeles Times reads, "Does it make sense to make movies from video games? ... Of course it does: commercial sense. Given the massive international popularity of the four Nintendo Mario Bros. games, this movie is virtually 'pre-sold.'" That might not be true for this film, but it's the first in a long line of game adaptations.

Double DragonDouble Dragon, Tecnos Japan (1987)

Movie Release Date: November 1994
Rotten Tomato Score: 8 percent
Box Office: $2.3 million

When Double Dragon was first released in theaters, the New York Times' movie critic, Stephen Holden, called it an "incoherent children's adventure based on a popular video game." That may have been the kinder of his words, too. The film, which was low-budget to begin with, only pulled in $2.3 million during its initial run, making it one of the least successful adaptations on the list.

In the film, which starred Alyssa Milano, Robert Patrick and Mark Dacascos, two brothers discover they have half of a powerful and ancient Chinese talisman. The other half belongs to an evil gang leader who tries to take down the brothers so he can complete it and gain total power. Unfortunately, completing the talisman did nothing to save this film.

Street FighterStreet Fighter, Capcom (1987)

Movie Release Date: December 1994
Rotten Tomato Score: 12 percent
Box Office: $99.4 million

Arguably one of the more memorable, and financially successful adaptations on the list, Street Fighter stars action god Jean Claude Van Damme in all of his burly goodness alongside a list of other forgettable actors ... and Kylie Minogue. The film follows Colonel Guile (Van Damme) and a host of other marital arts experts as they take on the tyrant M. Bison (Raul Julia) and attempt to bring him down.

Even with the appearance of Van Damme, critics have nothing but scorn for the film. Variety's Emanuel Levi said the film was far less entertaining than the game that inspired it and the New York Times' Stephen Holden called it, "A dreary, overstuffed hodgepodge of poorly edited martial arts sequences and often unintelligible dialogue." The film grossed almost $100 million at the global box office, which while still on the bottom end of the scale, is pretty impressive considering.

Mortal KombatMortal Kombat, Midway Games (1982)

Movie Release Date: August 1995
Rotten Tomato Score: 33 percent
Box Office: $122.2 million


Mortal Kombat

In August 1995, Mortal Kombat makes the jump to theaters, courtesy of director Paul W.S. Anderson. The film draws from both the original fighting game and its sequel, bringing fighters like Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade to life. This is enough to please gamers, who help the film turn a major profit — $122 million on an $18 million budget. But critics are less satisfied with the cheesy martial arts flick, offering high marks for the choreographed while calling out ... pretty much everything else. Entertainment Weekly's review says that for "a plot that essentially consists of a trio of hard-bodied good guys beating the stuffing out of a supernaturally evil army of bad guys, Mortal Kombat, a contentedly empty-headed extended advertisement for the joy of joypads (filmed in cheesily ornate cinema de Hong Kong style), is notably free of blood and gore." In short: This one's for the fans.

Wing CommanderWing Commander, Origin Systems (1990)

Movie Release Date: March 1999
Rotten Tomato Score:10 percent
Box Office: $11.6 million

Starring two future members of the Scooby-Doo gang, Wing Commander was a futuristic sci-fi movie based on the popular game from Origin Systems. Matthew Lilliard and Freddie Prinze Jr. played members of an elite fighter squadron known as the Tiger's Claw. As part of the Earth's Confederation, they were tasked with destroying the evil Kilrathi alien race who are hellbent on destroying the universe.

While it didn't receive as much critical scorn as Street Fighter, it was far from beloved by critics. Mick LaSalle from the San Francisco Chronicle said, "As the movie transforms into a video game -- with a faux John Williams score to boot -- the human element turns corny, then laughable." It was a sentiment echoed by the New York Times' Anita Gates, who boldly proclaimed "Wing Commander is based on a video game and has roughly the same degree of character development. That is all most moviegoers will need to know." The movie grossed a whopping $11 million worldwide.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — Tomb Raider, Core Design (1996)

Movie Release Date: June 2001
Rotten Tomato Score: 19 percent
Box Office: $274.7 million

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider may be one of star Angelina Jolie's earliest breakout roles in the blockbuster world, but much like one of her more recent films, The Tourist, most critics couldn't stomach it. Based on the character and story created by Core Design, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider takes on the Illuminati following the death of her father, Lord Croft (played by Jolie's actual father, Jon Voight) and must race against time and a gaggle of enemies to make it out alive.

Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader said Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was, "[A] movie based on a video game that's unafraid to look absurd but lacks the self-conviction needed to come off as camp," and most other critics were inclined to agree with him. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, however, brought in an almost respectful chunk at change at $141 million worldwide.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits WithinFinal Fantasy, Square (1987)

Movie Release Date: July 2001
Rotten Tomato Score: 44 percent
Box Office: $85.1 million


Final Fantasy: Spirits Within

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a different sort of video game adaptation. For one, the role-playing games' developer is behind this flick. Square created Honolulu-based studio Square Pictures to produce the movie, which it hoped would transcend computer graphics to generate actual human emotions. Perhaps the film does, albeit not the ones Square was hoping to inspire: The Spirits Within — which tells an original story set in the sci-fi fantastical world of the games — becomes a popular example of the "uncanny valley," wherein an animated movie feels a bit too real, uncomfortably so. Some critics hail the photorealistic animation, while others recoil in fear.

The New York Times in particular derides the picture, calling its characters (played by big names, including Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi and James Wen) one-dimensional. Mostly though, the Times is put off by the computer-generated actors: "You miss the unchoreographed wayward tilt of a head or an improvised double take: the unpredictable physical chemistry of actors that computer science hasn't mastered -- yet," the review says. Moviegoers agree, and The Spirits Within becomes one of Hollywood's biggest ever bombs.

Resident EvilResident Evil, Capcom (1996)

Movie Release Date: March 2002
Rotten Tomato Score: 33 percent
Box Office: $102.4 million

Resident Evil was almost a critical success and it could be considered a financial winner, but the best part about the entire film was that Milla Jovovich's phenomenal acting. Based on the horror game from Capcom, Resident Evil stars Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez as Alice and Rain, two agents tasked with infiltrating the a top secret research facility known as the Hive. Set in Raccoon City, the two must take on the evil conglomerate, Umbrella Corporation, and uncover what's going on while making it out alive.

Introduced the world to the brilliance of Milla Jovovich's acting

Mark Halverson from the Sacramento News praised the film for its "clammy, nightmarish glaze and tightly coiled sense of tension," while other critics, like Time Out's Derek Adams called it a "derivative, tedious mess." Still, the film grossed $102 million at the box office worldwide and spawned countless sequels and spinoffs.

House of the DeadHouse of the Dead, Sega (1997)

Movie Release Date: October 2003
Rotten Tomato Score: 4 percent
Box Office: $13.8 million

House of the Dead is the first video game adaption that famous director Uwe Boll would helm, but it wouldn't be the last. It would, however, be panned by critics for its non-sensical violence and lack of story, which, to be fair, makes it a pretty accurate adaption of the game. The film follows a group of teens who stumble upon an abode that houses the living dead. After one of them dies during a rave, the rest team up to avenge their fallen friend.

The many ways in which critics describe just how terrible the film is are endless, but perhaps From The Balcony's Bill Clark sums it up best. In his opinion, House of the Dead is " evidence that no more video games, under any conditions, should be made into movies." Based on the film's measly $13.8 million gross, some would probably agree.

DoomDoom, id Software (1993)

Movie Release Date: October 2005
Rotten Tomato Score: 19 percent
Box Office: $55.9 million


Doom movie

Doom had a couple of things going for it — Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban. But even these two stars couldn't save the movie from itself. Based on id Software's immensely popular first-person shooter, Doom follows a crew of marine-like soldiers sent to space to destroy of a crop of genetically mutated monsters who are killing all the humans aboard a ship. The film was criticized for its derivative story and poor acting, and has become a popular movie at "so bad it's good" film socials.

Michael DeQuina from The Movie Report said it felt like Johnson was just killing time until something more interesting came his way, while Time Out's Maitland McDonagh argued that if Doom fans were looking for enjoyment, they should just stick to the game.

BloodRayne Bloodrayne, Majesco Games (2002)

Movie Release Date: January 2006
Rotten Tomato Score: 4 percent
Box Office: $3.6 million

Another video game adaptation Boll worked on, Bloodrayne is tied with House of the Dead for just how little critics — and audiences — cared for the film. The movie follows Rayne, a half-vampire in Romania who sets out to find her vampiric father, the vile king Kagan. During her journey, however, she befriends a couple of vampire hunters and learns that there are three talismans her father covets so he can destroy the human race and rule the world.

The film only made $3.6 million at the worldwide box office, making it one of the lowest grossing movies on the list. Some of that may have had to do with critics calling the film "turgid drama," as Scott Tobias wrote at the AV Club. That, by the way, was one of the kinder reviews.

Silent HillSilent Hill, Konami (1999)

Movie Release Date: April 2006
Rotten Tomato Score: 29 percent
Box Office: $97.6 million

The Silent Hill series seems ripe for cinematic reinterpretation, thanks to its striking psychological horror elements. French director Christophe Gans agrees, co-writing a script comprising the first four titles in Konami's franchise. The film is less a direct adaptation than a project inspired by the games, much like other movies of this genre. It does share the games' iconic, shape-shifting setting and creepiest villain, Pyramid Head; Silent Hill is also regarded for its visuals. That helps it succeed at the box office, but influential critic Roger Ebert is otherwise unkind: He praises the visuals but pans the incomprehensible story. That doesn't stop Konami from licensing out Silent Hill 3 to form the basis of a sequel, Silent Hill: Revelation, six years later.

DOA: Dead or AliveDead or Alive, Tecmo/Team Ninja (1996)

Movie Release Date: September 2006
Rotten Tomato Score: 34 percent
Box Office: $7.5 million


Dead or Alive movie
Starring Jamie Pressly, DOA: Dead or Alive is one of the more literal adaptations of the video game it's based on. There's very little story woven into the film, which created quite a stir among critics assigned to review it, and not much was thought of it after its initial release. Actually, not much was thought of it during its initial release either, but for some diehard fans, watching poorly acted adaptations of their favorite fighters seemed semi-enjoyable.

While some critics praised the movie for the use of female leads in predominantly male roles, other critics scorned the movie for their interpretation of its sexist portrayal of women based on the costumes they wore in the film. Gregory Kirschling from Entertainment Weekly praised the action for its lens on female fighters while Jeannette Casoulis from the New York Times said, "There was a time when movies like DOA: Dead or Alive lurked sheepishly at schoolboy height on video store shelves, spines straining to accommodate the charms of their actresses."

PostalPostal, Running With Scissors (1997)

Movie Release Date: July 2007
Rotten Tomato Score: 8 percent
Box Office: $146,741

The film crashes and burns at the box office

By 2007, Uwe Boll has won notoriety for his ill-received adaptations of games like House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark. The director has built a career around bringing games to theaters, whether or not fans want him to — and Postal is yet another example of a dire adaptation. Drawn more from developer Running With Scissors' Postal 2 than its predecessor, Postal's main attraction is its ultraviolence. But Boll flubs the political satire, critics say, with references to 9/11 coming across as offensive, not funny. The New York Times' review says it's "Infantile, irreverent and boorish to the max," a film that "explodes with bad attitude and lousy filmmaking." Postal and its sequel might have found an audience with gamers, but the film crashes and burns at the box office.

HitmanHitman, IO Interactive/Eidos (2000)

Movie Release Date: November 2007
Rotten Tomato Score: 14
Box Office: $99.9 million

Starring revered actor Timothy Olyphant, Hitman follows Agent 47, an elite assassin who's thrown for a loop when his conscience starts to surface following an interaction with a strange and mysterious women. Tasked with taking out some of the evilest people in the world, he must try to cope with the moral dilemma he finds himself grappling with as he tries to complete his mission.

Hitman was close to crossing the $100 million mark worldwide, but just came up short. Still, it was one of the more successful movies on the list. Desson Thomson from the Washington Post called it a "thoroughly enjoyable experience," but other critics like Chad Green from Boxoffice Magazine said it was nothing more than a, "collection of clichés masquerading as a silver-screen adaptation."

In the Name of the KingDungeon Siege, Gas Powered Games (2002)

Movie Release Date: January 2008
Rotten Tomato Score: 4 percent
Box Office: $13.1 million

Boll follows up Postal with a picture inspired by Dungeon Siege, Microsoft's fantasy RPG series. Unlike his previous gore-filled horror films, In the Name of the King is more along the lines of The Lord of the Rings series. Dungeon Siege's central kingdom makes the leap to the big screen, serving as the setting for big action set pieces. It seems like Boll should stick to his usual fare, however, as the expensive project fails to light the world on fire. It's roundly panned by critics, moreso than the usual Boll film. The New York Times doesn't mince words about the bland plot, wooden acting (with turns from Jason Statham and Burt Reynolds) and unexciting fights: "Maybe it's time that Mr. Boll, who is dedicated if nothing else, found a new hook, one that didn't involve translating an interactive pastime not intended to be viewed in the first place." The film doesn't even come close to turning a profit.

Far CryFar Cry, Ubisoft Montreal (2004)

Movie Release Date: October 2008
Rotten Tomato Score: 12 percent
Box Office: $743,634


Far Cry movie

Boll's back at it again later in 2008 with his version of Far Cry, the gun-heavy action game set on a mysterious island. Is it surprising that the film's a bust? Boll swears off big-budget productions after In the Name of the Siege, but Far Cry fares even worse. Maybe it's because Boll grabbed the rights to the game from Crytek before it's even released. It's violent, it's derivative, and it's boring. The film makes three-quarters of a million dollars on a $30 million budget.

Max PayneMax Payne, Remedy Entertainment (2001)

Movie Release Date: October 2008
Rotten Tomato Score: 16 percent
Box Office: $85.4 million

Max Payne was already pretty cinematic to begin with, so it shouldn't have been too difficult to adapt it for the big screen. With an A-list cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Beau Bridges, the task should have been that much easier. Instead, the movie about a maverick cop who's hellbent on exacting revenge over the death of his family and partner, falls flat. Not even a cast of this nature could save the movie from its cliched script and clueless directing.

Grossing $85 million at the box office puts it near the higher end of this list, but considering how much went into making the movie, that doesn't say a whole lot for the film. Jules Brenner from Cinema Signal said it was too much to handle and way too artificial to be anything more than pure sludge. At least the game series is still great.

Prince of Persia — Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Ubisoft (2003)

Movie Release Date: May 2010
Rotten Tomato Score: 36 percent
Box Office: $336.3 million

Walt Disney Studios is behind this bust, starring a tanned Jake Gyllenhaal as the titular Persian royal. Mega producer Jerry Bruckheimer (The Pirates of the Caribbean series) added star power along with Gyllenhaal, but the unique action platformer's translation to the big screen loses much of what made The Prince of Persia reboot a hit. The film's plot deviates from that of the game, and it resembles a typical blockbuster hopeful where the console title featured a unique art style. Plus, the previously anonymous Prince has a name in the movie, a notable change for fans. Critics find the film vacuous — Rolling Stone's review says that "What's missing in Prince of Persia is a sense that all the running, jumping, climbing and fighting is leading to something. The best video games challenge you to reach the next level. Prince of Persia is content to skim the surface."

Need for SpeedNeed for Speed, EA (1994)

Movie Release Date: March 2014
Rotten Tomato Score: 23 percent
Box Office: $296.2 million


As far as movie adaptations go, Need for Speed is actually one of the better ones. Hell, had the Fast and Furious franchise not been around, it could have even vied for that spot. Starring Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots, Need for Speed returns car-centric action movies back to the glory days of the 60s and 70s while keeping a modern day approach. The film follows Paul's character partnering up with an ex-NASCAR driver (played by Dominic Cooper) to try and win the money he needs to save his shop from going under by participating in one of the biggest races.

Critics were divided on the film, but TIME Magazine's Richard Corliss said it's the definition of cinema reduced to its purest form. The film grossed almost $300 million worldwide and there was rumors of a second one being made following the movie's success.

Ratchet & ClankRatchet and Clank, Insomniac (2002)

Movie Release Date: April 2016
Rotten Tomato Score: 16 percent
Box Office: $8.6 million

Years after the original game launched, Insomniac decides to reimagine it for modern audiences. It receives a not-quite-remake on PlayStation 4, which critics take kindly to; Ratchet & Clank's companion feature, on the other hand, wins few fans. With minimal marketing, the movie is a sure bust at the box office, but critics lambast the movie's formlessness and excruciating humor — something the video game series is usually praised for. 

The Angry Birds MovieAngry Birds, Roxio (2009)

Movie Release Date: May 2016
Rotten Tomato Score: 43 percent
Box Office: $159.5 million

The Angry Birds Movie actually does a pretty good job at taking a game with absolutely no story and giving it a halfway decent one. There are still some problems with the film, which you can read in Polygon's review here, but overall, it's an enjoyable family movie that you won't mind spending an hour-and-a-half with. It follows the story of Red, a bird with anger management issues, who's been ostracized by his community. When a group of pigs come in and hatch a devious plan to steal all of the eggs, it's up to Red to save them and earn back his spot.

The movie has already grossed more than $150 million at the box office and is on track to be one of the biggest films of the summer thus far.

WarcraftWarcraft, Blizzard (1994)

Movie Release Date: June 10, 2016

Based on Blizzard's popular strategy game from 1994, Warcraft examines the complicated relationship between the orc and human armies that take up the fictional world of Azeroth. Directed by Duncan Jones (Moon) and starring a cast of A-list actors that includes Toby Kebbell, Paula Patton and Ben Foster, the movie has received a string of mixed reactions from critics ahead of its premiere. Polygon's Phil Kollar said that it had the potential to be a great adaptation, but inevitably falls flat.

Still, it looks like it might be an international sensation, raking up close to $50 million overseas in China before even premiering in North America. There was rumors that this could be a franchise, and if the movie succeeds financially, that looks like it may still happen.

Assassin's CreedAssassin's Creed, Ubisoft (2007)

Movie Release Date: December 2016

Award-winning actors Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard co-star in Ubisoft's upcoming Assassin's Creed adaptation. That's a compelling pedigree, but fans should be aware that the film will play out quite differently from its source material. Much of the movie takes place in the present day, Ubisoft says, unlike the time-hopping stealth titles. Familiar characters will appear, though, and the battle between the Templars and assassins will remain key. Jury's still out on this one, but we've already poked and prodded the trailer for more clues of what to expect.