The Best Video Game Adaptations, Ranked
Movies and TV show adaptations of video games have become more prominent in recent years with the release of hits like The Last of Us, Arcane, Detective Pikachu, and Castlevania. Though these adaptations range from animated to live-action to a hybrid of live-action and animation, each seeks to take beloved video game characters and storylines and translate them effectively to screens both big and small. The most effective adaptations usually succeed in retelling a beloved tale while providing additional context and character development to elevate it.
The first video game adaptation arrived in 1993 with the premiere of the Super Mario Bros. movie, which is now considered one of the worst films ever made. However, in the three decades since, video game adaptations have become more frequent and have evolved quite impressively. Now, we have shows like Arcane: League of Legends and The Last of Us being hailed as the greatest video game adaptations ever made. With that in mind, we’ve chosen the 10 best video game movie and TV adaptations and ranked them to the best.
10. Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat premiered in 2021 and serves as a reboot of the original 1995 film series. Based on the video game franchise of the same name, the film follows a young MMA fighter, Cole Young (Lewis Tan), who begins training with some of Earth’s most legendary figures to save their realm from the chaotic Outworld realm. Directed by Simon McQuoid, the film is considerably better than the last live-action Mortal Kombat film from 1997, which received a 4% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is also one of the first Mortal Kombat movies to ramp up the gore in keeping with the game series, and some will enjoy the action-packed bloody entertainment. However, it also plays out much like a cliché martial arts film, one with very little character development and depth.
9. Tomb Raider
Tomb Raider premiered in 2018 and was considerably more well-received than the two previous films based on the classic video game series of the same name. The film sees Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) set out on a dangerous journey to find her missing father, who disappeared while exploring the fabled tomb of Himiko. Tomb Raider is greatly elevated by Vikander, who commands attention in every scene with her believable and gritty interpretation of Croft. Most agreed that it was also a faithful adaptation of the game, but it still lacks a real hook with its flat supporting characters and occasionally boring plot.
After years of development limbo, the Halo TV series premiered on Paramount+ on March 24, 2022. The series follows Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber), a genetically enhanced super-soldier who aids in humanity’s fight against extraterrestrial invaders in the 26th century. The show’s graphics and costume designs are on point, as are the performances and action sequences. However, Halo definitely struggles to find its own footing; it simply feels too much like every other basic sci-fi film and fails to build upon the source material. Still, the show was renewed for a second season, and the positive aspects of season 1 suggest that the series could make something more of itself if it works a bit more on its creativity.
7. The Angry Birds Movie 2
Some may have thought that video game film adaptations were going too far when they decided to make a mobile game into a feature-length film, but it actually kind of works. The Angry Birds Movie missed its mark with audiences, but the sequel, The Angry Birds Movie 2, is quite an improvement. The sequel was released on August 14, 2019, and sees the eponymous birds form a tentative alliance with their arch-enemies, the pigs, to fight a bigger threat to their island. The Angry Birds Movie 2 features noticeable improvements in animation, humor, dialogue, and plot. The result is a film that’s definitely fun, though ultimately not entirely necessary.
Based on the video game franchise of the same name, the Pokémon animated TV series has been running since 1997. The show follows the adventures of Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum on his journey to becoming the best trainer he can be. However, the upcoming 26th season will see Ash replaced by new dual protagonists, Niko and Roy. In terms of longevity and reach, Pokémon is one of the most successful game adaptations of all time. It has spanned 25 seasons and 1,232 episodes, and has reached hundreds of regions across the globe. As for quality, it is definitely light-hearted and family-friendly entertainment that boasts a nostalgic charm—even if its quality has fluctuated sporadically over the years.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was released on March 30, 2022. The sequel to 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog sees Sonic (Ben Schwartz) still struggling to establish himself as Earth’s hero when he is confronted by the return of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and a new foe, Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Sonic the Hedgehog 2 improves upon the original in small ways by adding more tie-ins to the game with the introduction of Knuckles and Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) and a slightly more interesting plot. Families and children who don’t take the film too seriously will enjoy the animation/live-action hybrid, Carrey’s on-point Robotnik portrayal, and the film’s light-hearted tone.
4. Detective Pikachu
Detective Pikachu was released on May 3, 2019, and is based on the 2016 game of the same name. The film takes quite a bit of artistic liberty with the source material, but it actually pays off, resulting in a story that is delightfully weird and intriguing. Detective Pikachu follows a police detective’s son, Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), who teams up with a talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reynolds and Smith make a surprisingly charming duo, the visuals are immersive and stunning, and it’s a genuinely funny and entertaining film. It certainly doesn’t offer the most developed characters or intriguing plot, but it does somehow still manage to be surprisingly heartwarming.
Castlevania premiered on Netflix on July 7, 2017, and ran for four seasons before its conclusion in 2021. The series follows the adventures of Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), a disgraced monster hunter who sets out to save the world from Dracula (Graham McTavish) and his vampires. Back in 2017, Castlevania was one of the first video game TV adaptations to receive stellar reviews. It’s faithful to the source material, expands on the game’s lore, boasts top-notch voice performances, and features stunning animation. The dark fantasy storyline is so appealing that even those unfamiliar with the game can find the show enjoyable. It’s a very high-quality series with an even balance of story, humor, action, and depth, making it one of the very best video game adaptations.
2. Arcane: League of Legends
Arcane: League of Legends premiered on Netflix on November 6, 2021, and is an animated TV show adaptation of the 2009 game League of Legends. The series delves into the origin story of Jinx (Ella Purnell) and Violet, a.k.a. Vi (Hailee Steinfeld), two of the playable champions in the League of Legends game. Arcane is canon to the game and ties in nicely to the franchise’s lore, but it also stands well on its own, making it appealing to viewers unfamiliar with the game. The animation and rendering are like nothing viewers have seen before, the characters are complex, the story is dark and rich, and the worldbuilding is extensive, making Arcane appealing to League of Legends fans and fans of fantasy, in general.
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us premiered on HBO Max on January 15, 2023, and is based on the Naughty Dog video game of the same name. The show follows Joel (Pedro Pascal), a hardened survivor in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by an outbreak of the Cordyceps brain infection. Joel is tasked with escorting a teen girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across the country because her blood may hold the key to a vaccine. The Last of Us has received high praise and quickly established itself as one of the best kinds of adaptations; faithful to the source material while adding context and deepening its characters and story. Pascal and Ramsey’s performances are compelling in the series, which offers a nice balance of grit and emotion as it tackles complex themes. It is difficult to think of how The Last of Us could’ve possibly been a better adaptation of the popular game.
(featured image: Netflix / HBO / Legendary Pictures / The Mary Sue)
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