HBO’s The Last Of Us is a glowing example of how good a video game adaptation can be but as we all know by now, most video game to screen adaptations are painfully bad. There are exceptions, including the aforementioned series, 2018’s Tomb Raider, and Netflix’s Arcane, Castlevania and The Witcher, but more often than not, gamers, movie goers, and TV binge-watchers alike are left disappointed by what they see on screen.
We have listed some of the worst video game to screen adaptations below. Do you agree with our list? Have we missed out a stinker that you think deserves a dishonorable mention? Let us know in the comments below.
The Legend of Zelda (1989)
If you have ever owned a Nintendo console, you have probably played a Zelda game. They are widely considered to be classics in the action-RPG genre due to the compelling storylines, fun puzzle-solving, and expansive worlds to explore. In the late 80s, fans of the games had the opportunity to see an adaptation of their favourite game on the small screen. The Legend of Zelda was an action fantasy cartoon that was a segment within The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and like the games, it focussed on the elf-like Link and his efforts to defend the kingdom of Hyrule from the evil wizard Ganon.
Sadly, the cartoon sucked. It had many faults, from the uninspired animation to the irritating voice acting, but its biggest sin was to turn loveable hero Link into a smart-alec jerk who was far removed from his video game iteration. It’s a series best forgotten but if you’re still holding out for a decent adaptation, a new animated movie is reportedly in the works from Illumination, the people behind the upcoming Super Mario Bros adaptation. Here’s hoping it’s a good one!
Donkey Kong Country (1997-2000)
The Legend of Zelda is arguably the worst animated adaptation of a video game out there but Donkey Kong Country is a worthy contender of that title. It lasted for three seasons so we’re guessing some people went ape for it but it’s hard to understand why. This computer-generated rendition of the popular Nintendo titles featured several of the game’s characters, including Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong, but due to the horrible voice acting, they weren’t as endearing as their video game counterparts.
CGI has come on in leaps and bounds since this awful series aired, which is a good thing when you consider the awkwardness of the animation here. It’s jerky and stiff and grating to watch so you might want to rinse your eyes out after watching. You might want to rinse your ears out too, as not only does this show look bad but it sounds terrible too due to the awful musical numbers that were a part of each episode.
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
It’s easy to feel sorry for Nintendo. The games the company release are almost always stellar but as we have already seen, the adaptations of their best titles have failed to do them any favours. And so it is with this infamous bomb starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the titular plumbers. This was the first feature-length movie to be adapted from a video game and it set the standard for the terrible releases that were yet to come.
Hopes were high for the movie when it was originally conceived as the script was apparently a good one. Unfortunately, numerous rewrites meant the plotting of the movie took on a very different shape, which reportedly caused a great deal of tension on set. Actors who assumed they were starring in a decent kids movie found themselves in the middle of an almighty mess and the critics who later reviewed the movie clearly felt their pain.
The special effects and set design received some commendation but the nonsensical story undermined these positives. It was a financial failure too so we’re guessing even fans of the game stayed away from this headache-inducing adaptation.
House Of The Dead (2003)
There’s a very good reason why this adaptation of Sega’s shooting game failed and that reason is Uwe Boll. The German director is behind many terrible video game adaptations, including Postal, Bloodrayne, and Far Cry, and these lame efforts are the reason why many gamers called for his retirement a decade or so ago. House Of The Dead is one of Boll’s worst, although the movie still managed to exceed its budget at the box office. This could be considered a surprise but as zombie movies are popular with horror buffs, it could be that they, as well as fans of the game hoping for a decent movie, were responsible for its moderate success back in 2003.
Those that did pay to see it likely regretted their decision, however. With its poorly edited gunplay, empty-headed story, and cheap special effects, House of The Dead was far removed from such movies as 28 Days Later, which was released only a few months earlier. Sega’s arcade game of the same name was reasonably fun but this was just a chore to sit through. The fact that it barely resembled the game (the laughable voice acting was the only similarity) didn’t help matters either. With teenage partygoers as the protagonists instead of the game’s special agents, this became yet another teen horror flick that favoured scantily-clad college students over intelligent plotting.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
The Mortal Kombat video games sparked a lot of controversy back in the day due to the bone-crunching violence of the game’s finishing moves. It’s partly thanks to the violent nature of these fighting games that the ESRB rating board was formed in 1994 to stop impressionable youngsters from playing them. This didn’t stop the kids, of course, and today, the violence within those early 90s games is now considered fairly tame.
In 1995, the first Mortal Kombat movie was released. It wasn’t a particularly good movie but as it featured one over-the-top fighting scene after another, it did much to satisfy martial arts fans, even though the violence was toned down from the video games. The sequel, however, is now considered to be one of the worst video game adaptations of all time, hence its inclusion on this list. With little story to speak of, awful special effects, and lots of uninspired fight scenes, this (fittingly) annihilated any hopes of a third movie until the rebooted Mortal Kombat movie came along in 2021.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Lara Croft is the female equivalent of Indiana Jones, so this could have been a rousing adventure movie in the spirit of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and the other movies within Spielberg’s franchise. Instead, we got a by-the-numbers movie that failed to capitalise on the character’s potential. The blame can’t be laid at the feet of Angelina Jolie who gives a spirited performance as the popular heroine. Rather, it’s the jumbled script and plodding direction that sinks this one.
For all its faults, there are a couple of decent action scenes in the movie, including one involving some high-wired gymnastics as Lara takes out a bunch of bad guys while vaulting around her mansion. These scenes are fun and if there were more sequences like these (and more instances of actual tomb raiding), this could have been a decent adventure. Instead, we get a jumbled plot that rarely makes any sense and a shortened running time that doesn’t allow for much of anything. A sequel followed in 2003 but that was as disappointing as this one.
Resident Evil (2002)
Is Resident Evil one of the worst movies ever made? No, not really. But it is a really bad video game adaptation. The original game in the series, on which this movie should have been based, was set in a creepy old mansion that was inhabited by zombies and a variety of other mutated creatures. It was slow-paced with a very tense atmosphere and it had several jump scare sequences that likely pleased horror fans.
The movie, on the other hand, prioritized action over horror, with a super-powered protagonist named Alice (played by Milla Jovovich) who was never a part of Capcom’s original video games. Later movies in the franchise introduced familiar characters from the game series, including Leon Kenndy and Clare Redfield, but they took a back seat to Alice and her kick-ass fighting moves.
In this first movie, we don’t even have the mansion setting – it mostly takes place within a booby-trapped research facility – so it’s clear the director, Paul W.S. Anderson, wasn’t that interested in emulating the original game. The same accusation can be made of the recent Resident Evil TV series that also sidestepped most of the story elements from Capcom’s classic title.
Street Fighter (1994)
Here’s another adaptation of a popular fighting game and somehow, it’s even worse than the aforementioned Mortal Kombat sequel! It features characters fans of the game will recognise, including Colonel Guile, Ryu, and Ken, but as most of these roles have been miscast, including Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile (his Belgian accent is not the right fit for the American Street Fighter character), this is another example of a movie where the filmmakers cared more about the general movie-going public than fans of the games.
Sadly, this was actor Raul Julia’s last film. He took on the role of Bison because his kids were fans of the games, but he clearly wasn’t well during the making of the movie. It’s sad that this boring mess was his swansong – his previous theatrical movie, Addams Family Values, would have been a far better movie to end on – but at least he gives a halfway decent performance, unlike some of his less-experienced co-stars. The games are far more exciting than this throwaway effort with the exception of the Street Fighter: The Movie video game, which was a rare example of a game based on a movie that was based on a game!
Wing Commander (1999)
You would think a sci-fi movie with a $30 million budget would be a pretty good one, right? Sure, it didn’t have the budget of many other Hollywood spectacles but it could hardly be called low budget. Sadly, the movie was another video game flop that underachieved at the box office. It could have been good – the space combat games on which this movie was based were exciting and epic in scope – but rather than being a movie to rival Star Wars, this ham-fisted effort was surprisingly lifeless, offering none of the thrills that the games were known for.
The movie stars Freddie Prinze Jr and Matthew Lillard, who presumably thought their careers were going to hit the stratosphere after the movie was released. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at all, as neither actor went on to have a big Hollywood career after the release of this flick. The production values aren’t bad and the direction (by the game’s creator Chris Roberts) is occasionally inventive, but with a leaden script that is packed full of cliches and a bunch of unlikeable characters, this never achieves lift-off!
Pokemon: The First Movie (1999)
It turns out that I wasn’t the only adult who didn’t like this animated movie as the critics of the time were equally unimpressed. They slated the poor animation, heavy-handed story, and its failure to make the movie palatable to those without prior knowledge of the Pokémon world
Of course, there are those who will tell you that this movie is only for kids and die-hard Pokemon fans, but my godson (who ticked both boxes at the time), hated it too. He found the story boring and was unimpressed by the cheap visuals, and I’m sure he wasn’t the only kid at the time who had those opinions. Many more movies followed, of course, and presumably, they were better than this low-quality “Japanimation.” The live-action Pokemon Detective Pikachu was certainly entertaining so at least there’s one movie based on Nintendo’s game series that is worth watching.
So there we have it, our picks for the worst video game-to-screen adaptations.
What do you think of our choices? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!