Here’s the thing: If you see a movie based on a video game and expect it to be objectively good, then you’re the only one to blame for your disappointment. It’s like playing a carnival game called “Face Punches” and demanding your money back because you got punched in the face. In the 23 years since the release of the first video-game movie, Super Mario Bros., there has never been, critically speaking, a good entry in the genre — even if the new Tomb Raider comes close to breaking that streak. Our David Edelstein calls it “a tight, fast, well-made B picture that delivered exactly what it promised.”
But since “B picture” is the absolute ceiling on these kinds of products, it’s clearly time to stop judging video-game movies the way we judge other movies, and instead start weighing them exclusively against their peers. Street Fighter is always going to suffer in comparison to, say, Die Hard, but if you look at it in the context of similar movies, it starts to looks pretty impressive. And, hey, that’s something!
So here’s every video-game movie ranked according to its place in the video-game movie canon, starting with the reasonably palatable and working down to the most absolutely unwatchable. First, some explanation: Entries had to be live action, meaning no Angry Birds, and while BloodRayne is on this list, BloodRayne: Deliverance and BloodRayne: The Third Reich had little to do with the source material so they were left out of the rankings. Our regrets to any staunch defenders of those two titles.
32. Mortal Kombat (1995)
It might not be the first video-game movie, but Mortal Kombat is the apex of the form, because the premise is almost impossible to screw up if you just go all in: A bunch of fighters convene in an otherworldly location and battle for the fate of the world. It doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. If you grew up either kicking ass or just button mashing your way through Kombat on Super Nintendo, seeing Scorpion and Sub-Zero and Goro come to life onscreen was thrilling, and it turns out that Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa was born to say “Flawless victory.” Though it sounds a bit like a backhanded compliment, Kombat is the gold standard of video-game movies.
31. Super Mario Bros. (1993)
The original video-game movie, featuring arguably the most recognizable video-game characters ever, Super Mario Bros. benefits from being just so unabashedly weird. If Terry Gilliam had directed a video-game movie, this would be it. The score is by Alan Silvestri and the movie stars Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Fisher Stevens, and Fiona Shaw, with Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy. It’s less a film than it is big-screen video-game performance art.
30. Street Fighter (1994)
The silly, campy Street Fighter didn’t try to be any more than it was, which was a movie based on a game where you just fought people, and it features a final battle between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia in his final theatrical film role. It also had era-appropriate stars like Kylie Minogue and Damian Chapa. Video-game movies go wrong when they try to do too much, and Street Fighter did just enough as a peak JCVD martial-arts movie.
29. Doom (2005)
Doom is one of those glorious video-game movies that wears its origins right on its tactical sleeve, transitioning at one point into full fist-person-shooter mode. It’s also got space marines who think they are investigating suspicious events at a boring old research facility on Mars, but who end up having to fight hordes of genetically enhanced people monsters (a staple video-game villain). The biggest thing Doom has going for it, though, is its two male leads: the Rock and Karl Urban. Urban can’t help but exude get-it-done charisma and the Rock is, well, the goddamn Rock, making a rare turn as an amped-up supervillain. Also take note of Rosamund Pike as one of the space scientists. It’s so fun when bad movies happen to good actors.
28. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
The first Tomb Raider may not have been great, but it is the closest a big-budget video-game movie has come to working. Director Simon West has also brought to life such staples as Con Air, The General’s Daughter, and The Expendables 2, and this movie is about as good as all those. Where Tomb Raider succeeds, though, is in the performances of Angelina Jolie and Daniel Craig before they were old enough to be self-conscious about making a video-game movie. It’s rare for a female lead in one of these movies to be memorable, but Jolie managed to be entirely compelling — dripping with all that sultry Jolie charm — despite being saddled with those comically large video-game-style breasts.
27. Far Cry (2008)
This placement might be controversial, but Far Cry is really the best of what Uwe Boll has to offer in the video-game genre. Far Cry is hilariously low-budget — like any self-respecting Boll project — but it doesn’t seem to be taking any of it seriously. Til Schweiger plays a sardonic whale-tourism boat captain (and former elite military operative, obviously) who gets roped into taking down a clandestine organization that’s building the perfect super-soldier through genetic experiments. It’s no coincidence that Boll’s best video-game movie is also the one with the most Udo Kier, playing a mad scientist who whisper-hisses all his lines. Far Cry is funny, and intentionally so, which makes it a rare entry in this genre that truly embraces the absurdity of the task at hand, and then gleefully pushes it a little farther. It’s so unwatchable it becomes watchable again.
26. Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
Of the five existing Resident Evil movies (a sixth is on the way), Extinction is perhaps the most recognizable, thanks to that scene where Project Alice (Milla Jovovich) turns a sky filled with zombie crows into a gargantuan, swirling halo of fire. The post-apocalyptic environment looks good on Jovovich, and watching Alice exercise her heightened telekinetic abilities is a nice switch from just seeing a whole lot of guns. (Though, fear not, Extinction isn’t lacking for any guns.) It’s also not lacking for Ali Larter, who leads a survivors convoy through the barren waste that is America after the T-virus ripped through the world. One thing about the Resident Evil movies is that they don’t want for women kicking ass. Sure, Jovovich wakes up naked at the start of literally every movie, but Paul W.S. Anderson never sexualizes his female characters, and they never have to be rescued by more capable men.
25. Tomb Raider (2018)
If there was a video-game-movie Oscars, the rebooted Tomb Raider starring Alicia Vikander would be a Best Picture contender. It’s aggregate critical rating is almost 50 percent — a real feat for the genre — and its heroine has a recent Oscar to her name. On top of that, the movie doesn’t waste resources. Tomb Raider 2018 looks kind of expensive because it is kind of expensive, giving you the computer-generated gravity-defying leaps and video-game-style gauntlet scenes you want out of an adaptation, without feeling like the studio just wanted to set some money on fire (see: Warcraft; Assassin’s Creed). The relationship at the movie’s core between Lara Croft and her father also feels genuinely sweet. The reason Raider 2.0 isn’t higher on this list is the slight tonal inconsistencies. The “better” movies here had clear identities, but Tomb Raider’s attempts at wry humor conflict with the clear desire to make a grittier Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie’s version, which was pure pulp made entertaining by that actress’s abundant charisma. Vikander rarely gets to play cheeky, but she’s capably clever onscreen when given the chance, and by the end of the movie, it feels like she could really settle into the character if she got a chance at a sequel.
24. In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007)
2007 was saturated with video-game movies, and none more expansive than A Dungeon Siege Tale, which is what happens when Uwe Boll gets the budget of his dreams. Jason Statham plays Farmer, a man who must save his kidnapped wife and avenge the death of his son at the hands of a race of animal warriors called Krugs. What’s not to love? It’s also got one of those video-game movie dream casts: LeeLee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Claire Forlani, Kristanna Loken, Matthew Lillard, Ray Liotta, and even Burt Reynolds. It’s one of those movies you watch and just go, “How?!” the entire time, and for that, it is a lot of fun.
23. Resident Evil (2002)
Paul W.S. Anderson’s first entry into the longest-running video-game film franchise is understated by comparison to its four sequels. Alice only discovers she’s a weaponized fighting machine about halfway through the movie, which means we spend a lot of time with her just being afraid while her companions try to shoot their way out of the evil Umbrella Corporation’s underground bio-testing facility, the Hive. What it lacks in martial-arts Milla, though, it makes up for in Michelle Rodriguez (the true queen of the genre) sneering her way through scenes while she shoots a big gun. The first Resident Evil brings a little more story than the rest of the franchise, which stick closer to the boss-to-boss format found in gameplay. It’s almost a thinking man’s video-game movie!
22. Double Dragon (1994)
This is one of those early-era gems from a time when studios put enough money behind video-game movies to make them look kind of cool (in a kitschy way), without going overboard and turning them into spectacles like they do now (side-eyeing you, Assassin’s Creed and Warcraft). Critically speaking, every movie on this list is terrible, which means that to be the best of the worst you need to entertain the audience. Double Dragon opens with a news sequence featuring George Hamilton and Vanna White as news anchors working with Andy Dick as a meteorologist. There’s a self-awareness to making such B-list talent the face of a tacky news broadcast in a dystopic vision of the future that feels endearing. If you can’t be a good movie, at least be tongue-in-cheek about your circumstances and let the characters have a good time. Besides, Robert Patrick plays the bad guy, and who was a better bad guy in the early ‘90s than Robert Patrick? This movie is so corny it’s almost impossible to stay mad at.
21. BloodRayne (2006)
Guess what? It’s Uwe Boll again, and he’s got a cast of genre legends in tow for BloodRayne. Kristanna Loken, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane, and most importantly, Michelle Rodriguez star in this humans versus vampires historical romp. Everything about BloodRayne is over the top. The acting, the costumes, M.Rod’s occasional British accent — it’s the exact level of prestige and resources that should be devoted to a movie based on a hack-and-slash video game about killing vampires. This is unmissable absurdity.
20. Max Payne (2008)
There were two movies that came out in 2008 that tried to capitalize on the ultraslick, black-and-white comic-book-panel aesthetic that worked so well for the big-screen adaptation of Sin City, and they were Max Payne and The Spirit. Where Spirit tried to sell its stylized adventure on the back of Gabriel Macht, though, Max Payne had Mark Wahlberg, and that gives it a leg up in the frivolous action-movie genre. Wahlberg is a New York City cop whose family is killed by assassins, and he partners with a killer played by Mila Kunis, who is avenging the death of her sister (hello again, Olga Kurylenko!). Naturally, they have to take down the mob, an evil corporation, and eliminate police corruption to win the day. At one point Wahlberg even pumps himself full of a new street drug to prevent himself from dying of hypothermia, which sets him on a video-game-style superhuman berserker rampage — all in stunning black and white!
19. Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
This is the Resident Evil in which Alice wears those silly pants missing a section between her knee and thigh on a single leg, which still makes more sense than franchise newcomer Jill Valentine showing up to the zombie-fighting party in a tube top. Apocalypse is the second Resident Evil movie, and it improves upon the first by letting Alice do more fighting. Where it falls behind the first is in its lack of Michelle Rodriguez. If Rodriguez was in your action-movie franchise one time, she should continue to be in it every time (the Fast films know this), and since these Resident Evil movies become indistinguishable at a certain point, M.Rod will serve as the primary ranking criteria.
18. Silent Hill (2006)
Silent Hill was actually pretty scary! Since it was 2006 and this movie wasn’t working with a crazy budget, the special effects could be fairly tragic at times, but the presentation of some of the game’s most gruesome characters still managed to be truly horrifying. Colin the Janitor crawling down a hallway with his black tongue wagging at a cowering woman, and the true image of hell incarnate, Pyramid Head, literally ripping the skin suit off of live bodies should shake you to your core. If you are intentionally watching a movie based on a Silent Hill video game, this movie should be exactly what is required to appease you.
17. DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)
DOA gets a lot of points for being such a good-natured video-game movie. It’s got a lot of Bloodsport in it, with fighters assembling in a secret competition to win fame and fortune, plus it gets a boost from a vengeance subplot. But unlike that movie or Mortal Kombat, hardly anyone dies. Most video-game adaptations feel like they are in competition for biggest body count, but DOA is more like an occasionally slapstick martial-arts action-comedy that’s only intentionally funny some of the time and endearingly bad the rest of the time. The acting ranges from flat to complete caricature, but it’s the kind of movie that casts Devon Aoki as a badass martial artist taking on Eric Roberts as a villain mastermind. In other words, it’s a good time.
16. House of the Dead (2007)
Uwe Boll strikes again! Make no mistake about it: House of the Dead is a terrible movie, but it gets bonus points for fully embracing its video-game roots. There’s an arming-up montage in which every regular person stranded on a cursed island filled with undead is suddenly a tactical weapons expert, and that leads into a berserker sequence featuring actual game footage cut into the movie. It’s revealing about the cast, too, that Jürgen Prochnow is the most recognizable actor onscreen.
15. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)
Once again, it’s Angelina Jolie to the rescue. Cradle of Life did what all frivolous sequels do: It took the premise of the first movie and just added more. More stunts! More action! More exotic locations! Fortunately, for this not-quite-a-franchise, it still had Jolie, who became an action star in the middle of her career and looked like she was genuinely having fun playing Lara Croft. Gerard Butler is also in tow as Lara’s handsome side piece, but Tomb Raider is about little more than hearing Jolie speak with a British accent and watching her shoot hand canons. A solid middle-of-the-pack option.
14. Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
Retribution has more Michelle Rodriguez than Afterlife (see below), so Retribution is higher on this list. What’s more, it has Rodriguez as both a final boss and a Prius-driving hippie who tells Alice she can’t shoot assault weapons because she marched for gun control. It must be seen to be believed.
13. Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
Agent 47 has the distinction of being better than Hitman (which we’ll get to), but not much else beyond that. Rupert Friend is a definite improvement over Timothy Olyphant in the lead role, and the action sequences are glossier, but you don’t really remember much about it after it’s over except for Zachary Quinto as the smirking, genetically enhanced villain.
12. Silent Hill: Revelation (2012)
For some reason a bunch of people who make decisions at a movie studio decided that Revelation was a necessary sequel six years after the original Silent Hill movie came out. But hey, at least they committed. Cast members Sean Bean and Radha Mitchell actually reprised their roles from the first one, and they were joined by Carrie-Anne Moss, Malcolm McDowell, and even Kit Harington, early in his Game of Thrones days. Revelation has a few bright spots, particularly the scene with the Bubble Head nurses demonstrating some beautifully grotesque choreography, and the VFX are vastly improved, but it will appeal mostly to people who’ve thought, “I definitely need to see Pyramid Head in a boss versus boss battle decapitating something with a chef’s knife the size of a car.”
11. Hitman (2007)
Hitman’s biggest weakness should be its greatest strength: Timothy Olyphant stars in this lukewarm effort that has him checking his charm at the door in the service of playing a stone-cold assassin. As a result, he pretty much disappears despite being in the lead role. The fight sequences are cool enough and Olga Kurylenko is fierce as a woman escaping sexual imprisonment, but it mostly just feels flat. Olyphant’s gliding, distinct walk that served him so well as U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens just looks kind of awkward here, and it makes a silly genre work a little too hard to be serious.
10. Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
Afterlife is like Resident Evil: The Raid, where everyone is trying to get out of a tower filling up with bad guys. It gives us the return of Ali Larter, who steals the movie’s marquee fight scene, but that’s not quite enough to lift it past Least Enjoyable Resident Evil Movie status. Worst of all, there isn’t any Michelle Rodriguez. Pass!
9. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
The character Chun-Li appears in the original Street Fighter, and hey, if they’re going to give a solo movie to any one side character, it’s great they chose a woman! Neal McDonough makes a great villain as a man who transfers the last of his conscience into his infant daughter, and Michael Clarke Duncan brings all his baritone to a few scenes as the henchman Balrog, but seeing Robin Shou in a supporting role feels like slumming after you’ve watched him lead the greatest video-game movie of all time, Mortal Kombat. The real reason to turn out for Legend of Chun-Li is Chris Klein. The Chris that once ruled Hollywood plays his role of cocksure, kind-of-gross Interpol agent Charlie Nash to the hilt, making you feel a little like he’s thinking, “If this is the last role I’m going to play, then damn it they will remember me!” That kind of commitment in a 15-years-later sequel to a cheesy video-game movie is truly admirable.
8. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
Annihilation just has too much going on, and in a movie about awesome-looking fights, no one wants to wonder where the narrative thread went. The sequel retains Robin Shou as the great Liu Kang, which is a bonus, but it loses Christopher Lambert, who just brought that extra-special something to the role of Rayden (no offense to his successor, James Remar). The ever-intense Brian Thompson brings his usual 150 percent to the role of Shao-Kahn, but the cavalcade of forgettable new game characters like Jade, Sindel, and Reptile is too much of a burden. Annihilation isn’t even remarkably bad. It’s just unremarkable.
7. Wing Commander (1999)
The poster for Wing Commander tells you everything you need to know: The logline promises “At the edge of our universe, all hell is about to break loose,” and the marquee names above the title card are Matthew Lillard, Saffron Burrows, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Tcheky Karyo. That’s some 1999 prime time, right there.
6. Warcraft (2016)
Poor Warcraft. It tried so hard and wanted so badly to make us happy, but despite all the time and all that money and the best efforts of director Duncan Jones, the final product was a whole lot of “meh” with great visual effects. Here’s the thing: You just can’t hang a massive wanna-be blockbuster on the star power of Paula Patton and Ben Foster. That’s not fair, but it’s the truth. Preacher cast members Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga are here, too, and despite being arguably the biggest stars in the movie, they’re not even in the lead roles. Where the story is concerned, you empathize most with the Orcs, but all the ones you actually care about just die, and the movie has about three fake endings before the real one, which isn’t satisfying at all. Ultimately, Warcraft fell into one of the biggest traps of video-game movies: It expended far too many resources on a project that didn’t need to exist in the first place. No one needed to make an ultra-immersive World of Warcraft cinema experience, because it already exists online but better, which is why it ends up so low on this list. But hey, at least they seemed to like it overseas.
5. Need for Speed (2014)
Despite the fact that the cast of the Aaron Paul–fronted Need for Speed includes Imogen Poots, Rami Malek, Dominic Cooper, and even Michael Keaton in an admirably committed turn as an omniscient, eccentric rich guy who just wants to see people street race exotic cars, it manages to be way too boring. Thanks to the fact that, at more than two hours long, Speed becomes an unnecessary endurance test, with a lot of time wasted not showing the best people in it. Really, any movie exceeding 100 minutes in this genre is just plain rude. “Need for speed”: It’s not just a title, it’s also a worthwhile video-game-movie runtime guide.
4. Alone in the Dark (2005)
This is the fifth of six movies on our list directed by Uwe Boll (one more to come!), and he really outdid himself with the casting for Alone in the Dark. It’s got Christian Slater ten years before his Mr. Robot resurgence and Tara Reid as an anthropologist and assistant museum curator. Boll, who’s at least good at injecting levity into his movies, struggled to find the humor in this rough outing.
3. Assassin’s Creed (2016)
Ah, 2016. The year that video-game movies tried to do way too much in a genre that has never produced a good movie. How do you waste the talents of Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard this thoroughly? Not to mention Charlotte Rampling, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, and Michael K. Williams. Director Justin Kurzel made strange magic with Cotillard and Fassbender in last year’s Macbeth, and they should have just left it at that.
2. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
The titular prince, Dastan, was played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Additionally, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina played characters named Nizam and Sheik Amar, respectively. Casting these three men as Persians automatically starts Sands of Time well behind the pack, and not even the ridiculousness of watching Gyllenhaal try to save the world with a dagger that alters time can help the movie make up for lost ground.
1. Postal (2007)
Here it is, a movie that should make you think Warcraft is high art. Postal opens on two terrorists in the cockpit of a plane, fighting about how many virgins greet martyrs when they enter heaven. The argument ends with them deciding to fly to the Bahamas instead, but then the passengers of their hijacked plane revolt and force it to crash into the World Trade Center. Everything hovers around that level of bad and offensive for the rest of the movie, making this an easy call for definitively worst video-game adaptation ever. Uwe Boll, you make it so hard to love you.