23 Great Video Game Movies Not Based On Video Games

Inspired by the recent release of Tomb Raider, the latest video game movie failing to rise above dull, and the opening of Ready Player One, a film that packs tons of video games references in its story, here’s a fun list that challenges the subject matter. Either directly inspired by or inadvertently attuned to familiar concepts, lots of films could be considered to have the required components of a video game. While reviews often call attention to this idea in a negative manner, I thought it would be fun to go over the many ways some great films have a way of aligning with typical tropes found in video games. Going further, since the adaptations of actual games have yet to yield a great film; it’s neat to look at all the excellent movies that are merely video game adjacent. Some of the films listed are worth direct comparison, but others, more or less, happen to fit the line of thinking I’m going for. Regardless, this list is presented in alphabetical order. Feel free to either enjoy or be gobsmacked by the films I dare mention on a list such as this. Army of Darkness Think Warcraft/Brutal Legend. While Sam Raimi’s zany medieval epic is certainly its own thing, thanks to being the third installment in the Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness is not too far away from being one of the most self-aware and anachronistic fantasy games out there. You have comedic hero Ash Williams (Bruce Cambell) armed with a shotgun and a chainsaw, fighting Deadites, during the Middle Ages. That’s great material for an open-world game utilizing magic potions and ancient shells to be used in battle against large bosses such as possessed witches and Evil Ash. Children of Men Think The Last of Us. Director Alfonso Cuaron’s brilliant dystopian thriller can be boiled down to a science fiction-based escort mission. The story involves a reluctant hero (Clive Owen), taking on the challenge of delivering a pregnant refugee (Clare-Hope Ashitey) to the “Human Project,” a group that will hopefully cure a global epidemic. This linear task is full of objective-based side missions to help have it completed, along with additional characters that come and go. Taking it a step further, Emmanuel Lubezki’s brilliant cinematography is made up of cleverly-staged unbroken shots (achieved with some visual trickery) and lots of moments that follow Owen’s character. It practically functions as a third-person gaming experience given the constant urgency of the film. Coraline Think LittleBigPlanet/Myst. The brilliant stop-motion animation studio Laika had a great property on their hands when taking on the dark children’s fantasy novel Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. It was an excellent choice to get Henry Selick to direct as well. The result is a film about exploring a fantastical alternate world, where things are both idyllic and not what they seem. The gaming connection becomes even stronger when considering the third act, which revolves around Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning) being tasked to retrieve a ghosts’ eyes, as well as find her parents. Fulfilling this objective would take her to the final boss battle with the Other Mother (Teri Hatcher). It’s a fun movie full of increasingly difficult levels. Crank Think Grand Theft Auto. This wildly entertaining dark comedy-action flick from Neveldine/Taylor happily celebrates its video game inspirations based on the setup alone. Jason Statham’s Chev Chelios is a hitman poisoned with a drug that slows down his heart rate. This means Chelios will have to keep his adrenaline pumping to survive. With this premise, the movie takes to putting Chelios into one extreme situation after the next, with little regard for the rest of the world. The shooting and editing style of the film makes this all the more apparent that many rules are thrown out the window in favor of a gleefully violent open-world movie that only went further in the sequel, Crank: High Voltage. Death Race Think Mario Kart.  Having already invested himself in the video game world multiple times through movies, Paul W.S. Anderson seemingly couldn’t help but apply the same logic to his Death Race remake. The film has less in common with the Roger Corman-produced cult favorite Death Race 2000 and more with the go-kart racing games featuring Mario and his pals. This Jason Statham-starring, sci-fi-action flick features a series of gladiator matches that involve three-part races on a closed track. Adding on to the Mario Kart-ness of it all, the racers can drive over pressure plates to activate various weapons. With a plot as simple as it needs to be, it’s hard not to have the mind wander and think about what would happen if missiles were replaced with colorful turtle shells. Dredd Think Wolfenstein. The well-received comic book film that was received indifferently by general audiences is a great example of stripped down, efficient action filmmaking. Even when considering the various sci-fi concepts on display, social commentary taking place, and other flashy elements to provide Dredd a distinct look, it all boils down to a series of levels a killing-machine has to climb, before reaching the final boss. Armed with a variety of different weapons and deadpan commitment by an effective Karl Urban, there’s plenty to take in as far as enjoying the film presented and recognizing how it accomplishes its beautiful carnage. Edge of Tomorrow Think Halo/Majora’s Mask. Adapted from the light novel All You Need is Kill, which was inspired by video games, Live. Die. Repeat. Edge of Tomorrow so clearly works as a movie with a standard gaming device that I’m surprised that wasn’t one of the many ways to try and market the well-reviewed film that struggled to find a bigger audience during its theatrical run. Helping this movie succeed is Tom Cruise’s performance that works as both a committed comedic/dramatic display of athleticism and a possible comment on the amount of injury he chooses to sustain for audience’s entertainment. There’s also Emily Blunt in full-on warrior mode. Both characters understand the setup, which allows them unlimited lives, as they relive the same day over and over in a relatively generic alien invasion plot. It’s the high concept idea that fully pushes this film to exciting levels, not to mention some stellar visuals and action sequences from director Doug Liman and his team. Existenz Think Dear Esther/Deus Ex. David Cronenberg stepped into the gaming world the best way he knew how to – by associating virtual reality with the thrills of body horror. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law star in a film that presents the idea of biotechnological virtual reality gaming, which has players insert game cables into ports installed on their bodies. Thanks to a twisty premise that finds the story playing with the audiences’ understanding of reality, being inside the game is a confusing prospect, as one begins to wonder how deep this whole idea can go. The addition of terrorist plots, corporate conspiracy, and other elements easily add to the entire role-playing experience as well. Hardcore Henry Think Duke Nukem/Bulletstorm. It only takes a couple of minutes to see why this film so easily fits on this list, though I would be lying if I didn’t say Hardcore Henry stretches the limits of what can be considered a great film. It comes down to the innovation, as director Illya Naishuller did all he could with a low-budget to create a film shown from the first-person and load it with nonstop action fit for any shooter. A threadbare plot, one-dimensional characters, various levels, and lots of violent action lead to a continually engaging film. Best of all, Sharlto Copley pops up repeatedly as a non-playable character that hilariously provides new levels of detail as to why things are happening, taking on numerous skins in the process. John Wick: Chapter 2 Think Max Payne. While the first film could comfortably fit on this list as well, John Wick: Chapter 2 takes things to another level concerning the amount of action, variety, and gleeful absurdity as the series found a way to open up its world. As a hitman forced to perform a task, Keanu Reeves’ John Wick becomes entangled in nearly non-stop chaotic action in the second half of the film. It’s all perfect for a great third-person shooter, complete with the time taken out to add cutscenes to provide additional story material. This should not minimize the effectiveness of an operatic cinematic experience such as John Wick: Chapter 2, but with such fully-realized gun fights and more, it’s easy to see the connection. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Think Uncharted/Pitfall. The wild box office success took the concept of video games head-on with the choice to evolve the Jumanji board game into a world structured through gaming logic. The heroes all have three lives to work with, special abilities, and a shared objective made all the more challenging to accomplish thanks to enemies and a central boss. Thanks to an awareness of the characters, with actors all playing against type, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle easily worked to provide an adventure gamers, and all audiences could invest in. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters Think Donkey Kong. The King of Kong almost defies the nature of the list, as the film is a documentary based on the people who play video games. However, it is a video game not based on a video game, but the subject of one. Seth Gordon’s film works as an underdog story of an average guy who attempts to achieve the highest score ever for the Donkey Kong arcade game. He’s met with challenges thanks to the reputation of Billy Mitchell, a gaming veteran, who holds high favor with Twin Galaxies, an organization dedicated to tracking high scores in arcade games. What unfolds is a serious documentary about a subject that is inherently funny to see as far as the personalities on display. Kong: Skull Island Think Far Cry/Turok. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is an avid gamer (and currently working on a Metal Gear Solid movie). His bizarre take on King Kong that mashes up a kaiju movie with the Vietnam era does well to bring all the weird quirks Vogt-Roberts loves as far as movie and anime references, along with clear inspiration from video games. The film works as an adventure shooter/survival horror, where characters are trying to escape an island full of massive monsters. They’re equipped with a sense of humor and rifles, as they make their way through the jungles of Skull Island, hoping to steer clear of Kong and the Skullcrawlers in the process. The Last Starfighter Think Star Fox/Space Invaders. This 80s favorite is another film indebted very clearly to the advent of video games that were coming out around that time. Thanks to the development of CGI to assist in creating certain effects to realize The Last Starfighter’s concept better, the film works as being better made than one may think for its time. The story concerns a teenage kid (Lance Guest), who is recruited to fight in an interstellar war against aliens. It can be deemed cheesy, but the notion of how video games inspired a film like this works to set it apart and provide it a spot on this list. The Matrix Reloaded Think Watch Dogs/Assassin’s Creed/Infamous. First off, I have a real affinity for The Matrix trilogy as a whole and not just the first film. I found it inspiring to see an original cinematic vision come along and operate on its own terms. The Wachowskis took so many of their favorite inspirations and channeled it into a series of film that is part kung-fu movie, and part dystopian sci-fi adventure. The Matrix Reloaded, in particular, is a sequel with a variety of video game-like concepts. Thanks to a main character with exaggerated abilities, a range of levels to jump around to, and even cinematography choices that incorporate a virtual camera, comparisons to a video game were not hard to make during the time of its release. The very idea that much of the film takes place inside a virtual reality construct only amplifies the connection a movie like this has to a gaming world. Mad Max: Fury Road Think Burnout/Fallout 3. Part of what helped Mad Max: Fury Road achieve the status of being one of the greatest action movies of not only recent years but of all time was its stripped-down narrative. While plenty of rich thematic ideas are lurking right beneath the surface, the film amounts to being one big car chase, moving from point A to B and then back to A again. It helps it to fall perfectly in line with any number of battle racing games, let alone open-world games that focus on a dystopian future. With the car crash craziness on display, it’s easy to see how video game mechanics fall into place when watching the hero cars do their best to survive a long desert race track with enemy cars out to get you. The Raid: Redemption Think Ghost Recon/Street Fighter. Short on character and story, high on action and fight choreography, The Raid is as much a martial arts action film as it is a survival horror game come to life. Yes, the film stars a highly trained Iko Uwais as a member of an elite squad tasked to infiltrate a Jakarta high-rise building, but it quickly becomes a nightmarish scenario. While being able to take on armed enemies on his own, there’s as much cat-and-mouse tension in the attempts to remain hidden from the overwhelming odds that are laid before the cops. Beyond the horror aspects, however, the gaming element comes from having multiple levels that involve fistfights and gun battles. Rarely stopping for more than a few character-beats that resemble cutscenes, one can look at the precise direction taking place in this well-made action flick. Run Lola Run Think Mirror’s Edge/Catherine. Tom Tykwer’s breakout film is a fast-paced thriller that heavily relies on the role of chance in the lives of the characters. It allows for second chances of living until the character (or player) gets it right, showing the cause and effect consequences that playout by choosing the incorrect path to success. On top of all that, Franka Potente stars as a character who must fast travel her way through Berlin to achieve the primary goal. This means continuously running as a techno soundtrack scores the whole adventure. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World Think River City Ransom/Zelda/Guitar Hero. Edgar Wright’s delightful comic book adaptation is chockful of gaming references. Not hurting is Wright’s ambitious directorial style that angles to make the viewer feel like they’re watching a video game come to life. This action-rom-com concerns the plight of Michael Cera’s Scott Pilgrim, as he battles the evil ex-boyfriends of his newest girlfriend, Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). The film works a sort of RPG beat-em-up, as we follow Scott through different action sequences and music-based action sequences. It’s quite the trip for any gamer or casual movie watcher. Shoot ‘Em Up Think Time Crisis. Clive Own joins Keanu Reeves on this list, for being the lead of films so easily fit for a gaming environment. Shoot ‘Em Up is more along the lines of Hardcore Henry as far as being a nonstop ride of sorts. Owen plays a random drifter named Smith, who involves himself in an action-movie plot that has him protecting a baby from evil hitmen and government agents. Director Michael Davis based this film on the battle scenes from John Woo’s Hard Boiled, and it shows, as Shoot ‘Em Up functions purely as a gun-based third-person shooter. There’s some time to learn about Owen and the film’s heavy, Paul Giamatti, but they mainly exist to get you from one shootout to the next. Tron Think Pong/Pac-Man/Breakout/Defender. The cult-favorite Disney adventure easily earns a spot on this list thanks to its very concept of literally bringing a human inside of a video game. Jeff Bridges takes the lead role as a computer programmer and all-around great guy and gamer, Flynn, who finds himself using his skills as a gamer to defeat the evil programs housed within the virtual world he becomes stuck in. It was ambitious for its time and remains fun to this day (having songs by Journey can help with that). Classic elements like the Light Cycle matches keep the film rooted in game-based action sequences, with the film having a distinct look to see its ambition shine further through. WarGames Think Missile Command. Stories about hackers were big in the 80s, given the rise of computers and the Cold War era the world was in. War Games was something of a light take on Fail Safe, as it revolved around a possible nuclear war thanks to a supercomputer not programmed to distinguish between simulation and reality. Matthew Broderick stars as the hacker this time around, and he finds himself running a nuclear war simulation with WOPR, thinking that he’s merely having fun with a computer game.  The result is a tense thriller that dove into the inflated dangers of gaming with machines that had too much power. Wreck-It Ralph Think Donkey Kong/Super Mario/Q*Bert/Mario Kart. This Oscar-nominated animated adventure from Disney is another film directly taking on what the world of video games has had to offer. Using a fictional game, Wreck-It Ralph fits right in with the world of gaming by placing a bad-guy type (voiced by John C. Reilly) in the middle a universe surrounded by iconic and familiar video game characters. The humor stems from a mix of comedic gags and in-jokes revolving around what it is to play arcade games, console games, and more, thanks to the writers who apparently grew up playing all sorts of video games. The resulting film is an amusing story that puts together a new way of approaching a hero’s journey, with tons of fun references seen throughout. ***

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