Okay — it’s no secret that most video-game movies don’t really deserve to be watched. With all the time one might spend watching the Resident Evil flicks, for instance, one could have a much better time watching Romero’s Night of the Living Dead trilogy.
There are, however, video-game movies that truly deserve to be seen: sometimes because they’re good, sometimes because they’re unusual, and sometimes because they’re so laughably awful that they make every other movie you’ve ever seen look like Citizen Kane.
We’ve assembled a list of ten such films after the jump.
Cute Asian girls dressed in bikinis and cowboy hats, fighting zombies with swords: no one could ever accuse this film of being pretentious. While the OneChanbara games are actually quite awful, the films deliver everything great about the games (again: bikinis, zombies, swords), without irritating the audience with sloppy controls and lousy level design.
Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade
Everyone and their mothers have seen The King of Kong, the incredibly suspenseful documentary chronicling the feud between science teacher Steve Wiebe and salsa jerk Billy Mitchell. Chasing Ghosts is the less known, less dramatic, considerably more informative, and evenhanded yang to The King of Kong‘s yin. Rather than trying to shape some sort of good-versus-evil story out of the Twin Galaxies’ retro-gamer community, Chasing Ghosts is a straightforward, honest examination of the golden age of arcade games and the men who helped create them.
Double Dragon is not so bad it’s good. It’s not so bad that it becomes good, then becomes bad again. There’s no cute way around it: Double Dragon is a bad, bad movie. The upside: after watching Double Dragon, you’ll be more capable of finding the good in every other bad movie. It’s far easier to be forgiving of lousy video-game films these days, because none of them include a villain who looks like this.
If you’ve ever dismissed video games as a pointless, immature exercise, this documentary will either totally abolish, or permanently strengthen, those fears. Billed as an unflinching look into the seedy side of professional gaming — don’t feel bad if that summary made you snort derisively — Frag exposes the massive drug use, sex, gambling, and widespread corruption of professional gamers. You might have never thought that a bunch of dudes playing Quake could somehow turn into the stuff of film noir, but Frag will change your mind.
This one is worth checking out, just for the sheer insane novelty of it. From the mid- to late nineties, Digital Pictures was semi-known for making video games full of footage of real actors delivering awful lines to the camera while sitting in incredibly low-budget sets. For whatever reason, the guys at Digital Pictures decided to make a film incorporating 65 minutes of original footage with 35 minutes of footage cribbed from five totally unrelated Digital Pictures games. If that filmmaking style sounds familiar, it’s because Ed Wood did pretty much the same thing with stock footage in Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Speaking of traditionally violent heroes, Postal is awful, in nearly every conceivable way. And there’s never been another film like it, really. It’s not that the film is too offensive; it’s that it is absolutely convinced that it is. In Uwe Boll’s mind, Postal is a provocative, mind-blowing satire about modern America. In reality, it’s a poorly paced, immature, frequently irritating torrent of nonsense. It is Carlos Mencia in movie form. But there’s something weirdly refreshing and interesting about a movie so self-assured yet so gratingly bad that it thinks Muhammad and Osama bin Laden arguing about asking for directions is the height of
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva
Most gamers haven’t seen this film, because it hasn’t yet been translated into English, but it’s still worth a mention. Where most video games and their subsequent adaptations usually concern the mass slaughter of faceless baddies or the triumph of a few anthropomorphic characters over evil, the Layton games are known for a much more clever, low-key approach. Layton is a gentleman and a genius, meaning that most of the film revolves around puzzle solving and running away from danger, rather than doing the traditionally violent hero thing.
The Siren games were atmospheric, if somewhat dull, horror titles that never quite made the same splash in the Western market as they did in Japan. The film, however, is easily appreciated by anyone who got onboard the whole “Little Japanese children are scary, regardless of context or script” fad in the mid-2000s. Sairen, the film adaptation of the games, is in the same horror family as The Grudge and The Ring. It doesn’t surpass those films, by any means, but it’s still a pretty creepy, diverting horror flick.
Super Mario Bros.: Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen!
This charmingly low-key Mario anime proves, if nothing else, that you can make a cute, relatively entertaining movie based on the Super Mario games. While the 1993 Bob Hoskins movie is considered a misunderstood masterpiece by some people (in this context, that means “me”), the majority of the world hated it. If they’d watched Peach-Hime Kyushutsu Dai Sakusen!, their opinions on the mustachioed plumbers might be a little different.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
This adaptation of the Yakuza games is pretty much what you’d expect from a director like Takashi Miike: it’s super-violent, incredibly low-budget, and seldom (if ever) makes sense. Miike’s films aren’t for everyone — I think I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t like Ichi the Killer — but if you’re at all into nihilistic postmodern action-comedy-horror shenanigans, then Yakuza might be right up your alley. Granted, you’ll need to have played the first two games in the series to have even the slightest inkling of what’s going on, but watching a Miike movie for a compelling story is sort of like going to the dentist for the free toothbrush you get at the end of your cleaning.