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The Five Best Films Based on Video Games


With so few new games on the market this month and "Need For Speed" raising the specter of the movie based on a game concept again, maybe you're looking for a great movie to rent that's based on a game you know and love? Good luck. "Best" is a loose term in a feature like this. The fact is that a good 80-90% of films based on video games aren't worth the Blu-ray discs on which they've been burned. Why is that? Why do video games never translate to film? Even the five that we're calling "best" in this feature have their problems. The simple fact is that there is NO video game movie masterpiece. Why? Is it because games are so cinematic in their own right? (And watch for a companion piece to this on the best video games that feel like movies on Friday, including "Heavy Rain," "Tomb Raider," "Uncharted," and more). Is it because what makes a game great isn't always what works in fiction? We need authorship in great video games that the more-passive world of film viewing does not allow. And yet there's no sign of them stopping. "Need For Speed" hits theaters on March 14, there will be a sixth "Resident Evil" film this Fall, and the interwebs have stories on planned projects based on everything from "Ratchet and Clank" to "Metal Gear Solid" to "Mass Effect." Here are the five best. Not a Uwe Boll flick in the bunch.



Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)


Starring (the voices of): Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Donald Sutherland, Ving Rhames, and Steve Buscemi
Written by: Al Reinart & Jeff Vintar
Directed by: Hironobu Sakaguchi & Moto Sakakibara

To give you some idea of the limited breadth of the video game movie genre, this flick was largely considered a disappointment and its inability to recoup its budget led to the closure of the studio that made it. And yet, history has revisited "The Spirits Within" and reappraised it, largely in light of the technical developments it heralded 13 years ago. "The Spirits Within" looked great over a decade ago and still holds up remarkably well visually. There are live-action films of the era (and some in this feature) that have dated horrendously but "Final Fantasy" still works, arguably even more so than when it was released. One still wishes that the sci-fi world of "The Spirits Within" stood apart as its own creative universe but the CGI animation here was way ahead of its time.



Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)


Starring: Angelina Jolie, Jon Voight, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, and Daniel Craig
Written by: Patrick Massell & John Zinman
Directed by: Simon West

Most people would argue that the follow-up, "The Cradle of Life" is the superior film and they might be right but this is the most successful and influential video game film of all time...by a LARGE margin. When "Tomb Raider" came out in 2001, it helped launch an A-list career to the stratosphere. There aren't many video game adaptations that feature two Oscar winners. And there aren't ANY other video game adaptations that broke $100 million domestically. In fact, "Lara Croft" broke $240 million worldwide. Success and quality aren't always related but there has to be a place for the film that really opened the door to the genre. We probably wouldn't have experienced films like "Hitman," "Max Payne," or "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" without "Tomb Raider" breaking down the door. So, now you know who to blame. Blame Angelina.



Mortal Kombat (1995)


Starring: Robin Shou, Linden Ashby, Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, and Talisa Soto
Written by: Kevin Droney
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson

Long before Lara, there were the visual treats of New Line's adaptation of the arcade hit. I'm old enough dear readers to remember the sense of confusion and cautious anticipation that greeted "Mortal Kombat." They didn't make movies based on video games in the mid-'90s. There has been an awful "Super Mario Bros." movie with Bob Hoskins and the video game market as a whole just was NOT even close to what it is today. Jokes abounded like, "What's next? A "Dig Dug" movie?" The idea that an arcade experience could be replicated with a bag of popcorn in your hand was just silly. Luckily, Paul W.S. Anderson understood that as well, delivering an action experience without an ounce of pretension. Is "Mortal Kombat" a GOOD movie? Not really and it's aged horribly. However, it's a fun movie and an influential one.



Resident Evil (2002)


Starring: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez, Eric Mabius, James Purefoy, Martin Crewes, and Colin Salmon
Written & Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson

Maybe I'm alone in this one. I'll admit to loving the games more than the average player ("Resident Evil 4" is one of my favorites of all time) and there's a small part of me that looks forward to each one of these flicks, even though I know most of them aren't any good. I'll defend the first movie, largely through the fearless, energetic performances of Jovovich & Rodriguez. This movie is gloriously, unabashedly ridiculous. It's as if Anderson took what he was doing seven years earlier in "MK" and just turned the volume up to eleven (and hasn't turned it down since). The gore, the ridiculous plot, the loose connections to the game -- it all somehow worked. Perhaps it's because Anderson knew that the survival horror aspect of the game couldn't be replicated and he had to go action insanity. It's the games that try too hard to appeal to a fan base that often fail most completely.



Silent Hill (2006)


Starring: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden, Deborah Kara Unger, Kim Coates, and Alice Krige
Written by: Roger Avary
Directed by: Christophe Gans

I promise it's not just because I'm quoted on the DVD. I swear. "Silent Hill" works. It just does. I think most fans of the game turned on the movie because it couldn't possibly replicate the atmosphere of the PlayStation experience. The game itself was one of the first truly cinematic video games, scaring people more than most horror movies of its generation. With a game that beloved, the film is destined to fail. And yet there's so much visual confidence here that I feel was ignored. The sound design, the effects, the score, the visual compositions -- "Silent Hill" contains what so many video game movies do not: Consistency. You might think it's consistently awful. I don't.



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