It’s a banner week for video game adaptations in live action. The new Resident Evil show, titled Resident Evil, dropped on Netflix, as did the adaptation of Uncharted, starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg.
There’s now a long and storied history of video game adaptations, from 1993’s Super Mario Bros. to this year’s Uncharted and Sonic the Hedgehog 2. There’s also a litany of upcoming based-on-a-video-game movie projects, including planned adaptations of [deep breath] Borderlands, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Gears of War, Ghost of Tsushima, Minecraft, Metal Gear Solid, Space Invaders, and Just Dance.
But of the ones already out there and watchable at home, which ones are worth your time? Polygon is here to help.
We’re including movie and television adaptations here, but many readers will probably notice the omission of Netflix’s The Witcher. That’s no slight against the show, but it doesn’t qualify; while the series probably wouldn’t exist without the video game franchise, it is an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s books.
Mortal Kombat (1995)
Director Paul W.S. Anderson grew up playing Mortal Kombat at the arcade, and his first of what turned out to be quite a few video game adaptations was, naturally, 1995’s Mortal Kombat. Unlike the more recent adaptation of this property, this movie actually features the titular fighting tournament. While the effects certainly look dated at times, Mortal Kombat is a colorful, delightfully cheesy tournament movie that embraces its source material (the needle drop of the title theme!) and goes to great pains to recreate the atmosphere of the bloody game. —Pete Volk
Mortal Kombat is available to watch on HBO Max, or for free with a library card on Hoopla.
The Resident Evil movies
Anderson’s most ambitious and extensive video game adaptation work is the six-part Resident Evil series. Four of those six are directed by Anderson, while all six are written by him and star his collaborator and wife Milla Jovovich. While fans of the games have long complained that the series diverts from the source material (at the time, Anderson said “under-performing movie tie-ins are too common and Resident Evil, of all games, deserved a good celluloid representation”), the movies themselves absolutely rule. As well as being an outstanding display of Jovovich’s action star bona fides, the Resident Evil movies are also a fantastic study of genre and of a filmmaker’s continuing refinement of his unique style.
The first movie, 2002’s Resident Evil, is the closest to straight horror of the franchise, and features some truly unforgettable moments (like the laser grid trap — if you know, you know). The second movie, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, is helmed by renowned second unit director Alexander Witt (Skyfall, Avengers: Infinity War) but is in my view the most forgettable of the franchise.
Things really start to kick off with 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, directed by Russell Mulcahy (Highlander) and best described as a “zombie Western.” Anderson returned to the director’s chair for the last three entries, all of them bangers that see Anderson refine his frenetic style of shooting action, imbued with a chaotic energy and supported by the undeniable badassery of Jovovich. —PV
The first five movies of the Resident Evil series are available to watch on Hulu, or on Tubi for free with ads. Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is available to watch on Tubi for free with ads.
Like most great video game adaptations, Silent Hill finds inspiration from the games without attempting a direct translation. The movie follows Rose (Radha Mitchell) as she looks for her daughter in the horrifying and haunted ghost town known as Silent Hill. The town itself seems to transport her to another world filled with monsters intent on tracking her down and killing her. Meanwhile, her husband, Christopher (Sean Bean), chases his wife to the town but encounters nothing once he arrives. Half extended metaphor for the differences in how men and women experience the world and half terrifying realization of some of the video game franchise’s scariest monsters, Silent Hill isn’t just a great video game movie adaptation but one of the best and most underrated horror movies of the 2000s. —Austen Goslin
Silent Hill is available to watch on Starz through Prime Video, or for digital rental or purchase at VOD vendors.
DOA: Dead or Alive
Let’s start with the disclaimer: This is an adaptation of a fighting game franchise that can be described as “hot people in limited clothing duke it out.” The movie is quite faithful to this idea, in a delightfully trashy way that works because of how damn good it looks. The colors pop, the actors shine, and the fight scenes rule. You just have to be willing to sit through some appropriately stilted video game dialogue.
It helps that Dead or Alive had the legendary Corey Yuen behind the camera as the director. The Hong Kong filmmaker and choreographer directed some terrific movies in his home country, including the Michelle Yeoh star-making vehicle Yes, Madam, and is best known in the States for being Jet Li’s personal action director in his Hollywood movies (as well as the action director of X-Men). —PV
DOA: Dead or Alive is available to watch for free with ads on Tubi, Vudu, The Roku Channel, Freevee, Pluto TV, and Plex.
Like a Dragon
Legendary director Takashi Miike (Audition) has made quite a few video game adaptations, including this fun take on the Yakuza franchise. Playing into the ample comedic material from the video games, Miike takes full advantage of the opportunities available to him when recreating the rules of a video game world in a live-action setting. —PV
Like a Dragon is available to watch in full on YouTube.
Miike followed up Like a Dragon with this delightfully faithful version of the Ace Attorney franchise. Appropriately over-the-top with exactly the kind of hairstyles and stylistic cues you would expect from the franchise, this is a delightful and very different kind of legal drama. —PV
The Valorous Marksman/BiuBiuBiu
This 2021 Mandarin-language movie is only kind of a video game adaptation, but it’s remarkable and worth mentioning either way. This is a sports drama set in the world of esports, following a young man who was once an esports prodigy and is now struggling to raise his child. When a huge tournament with a big prize pool opens up, he decides to get a team together for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The sports drama elements of BiuBiuBiu (amazing title, by the way) work fine, but this movie really shines when it comes to how it depicts the gaming sequences. Instead of just showing our protagonists playing the game on their phones, directors Hu Guohan and Zhou Siyao instead take us inside the world of the game in a shockingly immersive way, re-creating the janky movements of mobile games with startling accuracy.
Here’s a taste:
The result is an exciting action movie that feels years ahead of its time. —PV
The Valorous Marksman (or BiuBiuBiu) is available to watch in full on YouTube.
Anderson went even bigger with his latest video game adaptation, as Jovovich, Tony Jaa, and the rapper T.I. take on enormous monsters with very large weapons. Embracing the scale of the video games, both in opponents and fighting styles, Monster Hunter is fun popcorn cinema, and is the rare modern blockbuster to use CG effectively to create believable set-pieces. Featuring action-comedy buddy synergy between Jovovich and Jaa and gigantic set-pieces, Monster Hunter is big and dumb in all the best ways. —PV
Monster Hunter is available to watch on Starz through Prime Video, or for digital purchase at VOD vendors.
Riot Games’ League of Legends animated series, Arcane, is about the early life of League of Legends champions Vi, Jinx, Caitlyn, Jayce, and Viktor. The story centers on two connected narratives. One story follows Jinx’s descent into madness after a tragic accident and the journey of Vi to save her little sister from herself, while the other story follows Jayce and Viktor’s invention of Hextech, a new creation that fuses magic and technology. Aside from its fantastic characters and writing, the first season of Arcane is also among the most visually striking and uniquely gorgeous animated series in recent memory. —AG
Arcane is available to watch on Netflix.
Director Josh Ruben and writer Mishna Wolff’s 2021 horror comedy Werewolves Within is one of the best video game adaptations precisely for how many liberties it takes with its source material. Loosely inspired by the 2016 VR game of the same name, Ruben and Wolff’s film stars Sam Richardson (I Think You Should Leave) as Finn, a kind albeit hapless forest ranger who transfers to the small town of Beaverfield searching for a new start. Unfortunately, he ends up smack dab in the middle of a crisis when the townsfolk suspect a vicious lycanthropic murderer is lurking in their midst. Filled with quippy dialogue, thrilling twists, and charismatic comedic chemistry between Richardson and co-star Milana Vayntrub, Werewolves Within is a video game movie that outstrips its inspirations to become a delightful horror flick all its own. —Toussaint Egan
Werewolves Within is available to watch on Showtime through Prime Video, or for digital purchase at VOD vendors.