Total Recall

10 Awesome Video Games That Were Made Into Terrible Movies

In this installment of Total Recall, we look at some of Hollywood's worst attempts to bring video games to the big screen.

by | July 22, 2015 | Comments

As film fans know, video games have been used to inflict pain and senseless brutality at the cineplex for years now. In honor of that miserable tradition, we elected to devote this feature to a look back at some of the least entertaining game-to-film adaptations Hollywood’s ever produced, and while there was definitely no shortage of contenders, we narrowed it down to a particularly pungent few while making room for plenty of variety (in other words, only one Uwe Boll film made the list). Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start: It’s time for Total Recall!

Alone in the Dark (2005) 1%


(Photo by Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Here’s where we admit what many of you have known all along: If we’d done things a little differently, this list could have been largely comprised of Uwe Boll movies. For whatever reason, Mr. Boll has displayed a deep affinity for video game adaptations over the course of his remarkable career, and the “bad game movie” subgenre’s byways are clogged with the effluvia of his cinematic efforts. In the interest of variety, however, we decided to limit his appearances here, leaving us with one obvious choice: 2005’s Alone in the Dark, an alleged sci-fi thriller starring Christian Slater as a paranormal detective and Tara Reid as a scientist — both of whom are investigating the disappearance of an ancient civilization that prayed to space demons. Extremely loosely based on the Alone in the Dark game series — which was itself loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s writings — the movie found itself alone in the dark with scores of sparsely populated theaters playing host to scornful critics like the San Francisco Examiner’s Rossiter Drake, who guffawed, “The late Gene Siskel once devised a simple method of measuring a film’s worth: ‘Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?’ Alone in the Dark doesn’t come close to matching that standard.”

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Doom (2005) 18%


(Photo by Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection)

He has since ascended to “franchise Viagra” status, but Dwayne Johnson’s early years as a Hollywood action hero were a little bumpy. After his breakout appearance in The Mummy Returns, he struggled to find a solid fit for his beefy build and natural screen charisma, occasionally turning in critically lauded performances in box-office misses (The Rundown) or working overtime to prop up misguided action flicks (Walking Tall). 2005’s Doom falls into the latter category, repurposing the hugely popular first-person shooter as a sci-fi thriller about a crew of soldiers sent to rescue a colony on Mars after residents accidentally open a portal to Hell and unleash a horde of murderous creatures. While the film included plenty of the tunnel-bound warfare that fans of the game had come to expect, the end result was — as critics would repeatedly point out regarding plenty of like-minded pictures over the years — more fun to play than to watch. “Doom,” pointed out Roger Ebert, “is like some kid came over and is using your computer and won’t let you play.”

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Double Dragon (1994) 13%

(Photo by GramercyPictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)


How do you make a movie out of a game based on nothing more than a pair of brothers pummeling the bejeesus out of bad guys? If you’re Double Dragon screenwriters Michael Davis and Peter Gould, the unfortunate answer is “come up with a convoluted story involving halves of a mystical amulet” — and things only went downhill from there, after director James Yukich built a cast that included future Party of Five veteran Scott Wolf and former Who’s the Boss? star Alyssa Milano. The result was a deeply hokey 90 minutes of low-budget chop-socky action that provoked near-universal guffaws from critics like Luke Y. Thompson of the New Times, who wondered, “How hard would it be to come up with a story at least as good as that of the original Nintendo game? Impossible, apparently.”

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Hitman (2007) 16%


(Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

There have been so many lame game-to-film adaptations that it can be tempting to believe there’s simply no point in trying to bridge the two mediums, but there really are video games that look like they might make good movies; unfortunately, as 2007’s Hitman proved, even the most cinematic backstory doesn’t necessarily mean a polished final product. Starring Timothy Olyphant as Agent 47, a member of an army of bald and bar-coded assassins who finds himself double-crossed by the shadowy organization that trained him from birth to kill, it looked on paper like just the sort of globe-trotting action thriller that might keep 007 fans satisfied between Bond sequels — yet the end result was a picture every bit as smoothly anonymous as its protagonist. A planned sequel was scrapped, and although Hitman’s $99 million box office tally ensured an eventual reboot (due in August) that might do a better job of distilling the game’s appeal, the original is still a case of sadly wasted potential. “47 doesn’t even want the girl,” pointed out a frustrated Tricia Olszewski for the Washington City Paper. “What kind of action movie is this? A skippable one, ultimately.”

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Max Payne (2008) 15%


(Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)

For a certain breed of filmgoer, all you really need to make an entertaining movie is hand Mark Wahlberg a gun. Max Payne, director John Moore’s adaptation of the hit video game series about a vigilante cop gunning for justice after the murders of his wife, child, and partner, was made exactly for those people and pretty much no one else — with the possible exception of Sin City fans who want to watch a movie that wishes it could be Sin City, or maybe noir enthusiasts who feel the genre needs more murderous winged man-creatures. For just about everyone else, Max Payne is a painfully misguided hash of “gritty” action and digital effects, all directed within an inch of its life; as Michael Phillips wrote for the Chicago Tribune, “You find yourself rooting against Payne’s survival, even with a good actor in the hollow role. There’s nothing inside the film’s sour, slovenly spirit of vengeance.”

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Mortal Kombat Annihilation (1997) 4%

(Photo by New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett Collection)


The first Mortal Kombat may not have been a major work of cinematic art, but it had its moments, and overall made for a pleasantly undemanding afternoon of chop-socky entertainment with mystical mumbo-jumbo overtones — and it was rewarded for achieving those limited goals with a surprising run of box office domination and a gross approaching $125 million. Sadly, little of that fun — or the original cast — remained by the time Mortal Kombat: Annihilation arrived in theaters, and the result was a box office bomb that put the nascent Kombat franchise into a development deep freeze from which, at the time of this writing, it’s still struggling to escape. “Never — at least not since the first Mortal Kombat,” sighed the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea, “has tedium been so loud, so full of backward flips and flying fists to the kissers of centaurs from another realm.”

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Silent Hill: Revelation (2012) 10%

(Photo by Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films/Courtesy Everett Collection)


Critics pooped all over the first Silent Hill movie, but it made nearly $100 million anyway, so six years later we were treated to Silent Hill: Revelation, which picked up after the events of the first film (but followed the plot of the Silent Hill 3 video game) by following the harrowing new exploits suffered by Christopher Da Silva (a returning Sean Bean) and his adopted daughter Sharon (Adelaide Clemens) after her mother (Radha Mitchell) is trapped in a sinister ghost dimension. It’s a premise with a certain spine-tingling promise; alas, very little of it translated to the screen, and Silent Hill: Revelation ended up grossing roughly half of what the original made. “It’s never a good sign,” groaned Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times, “when the trailers playing before a film have richer, more complete narratives than the feature you’ve paid to see.”

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Street Fighter (1994) 12%

(Photo by MGM/Courtesy Everett Collection)


Given Street Fighter’s lowly reputation, one would hardly guess it made nearly $100 million during its box office run, but that’s the risk a filmmaker runs when he puts a beanie on Jean-Claude Van Damme and casts Raul Julia as a bizarre military dictator — and that’s exactly the sort of infamy that awaited this misbegotten attempt to turn mountains of arcade quarters into box office glory. As with Double Dragon, one of the chief problems was that of plot — specifically, how to spin one out of a game that revolved more or less solely around people beating each other up — and writer-director Steven de Souza compensated by imagining a surreal standoff between the megalomaniacal M. Bison (Julia) and a Megaforce-style military force dubbed the Allied Nations. We could delve into the narrative further, but the end result would be the same: Plenty of silly fight scenes and a heaping helping of horrible reviews from critics like Stephen Holden of the New York Times, who dismissed Street Fighter as “A dreary, overstuffed hodgepodge of poorly edited martial arts sequences and often unintelligible dialogue.”

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Super Mario Bros. (1993) 28%

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection)


We all knew this was going to make the list, right? The grandaddy of all game-to-film box office bombs, 1990’s Super Mario Bros. was supposed to be gaming’s Hollywood coming-out party — proof that not only had video games truly arrived as entertainment with real staying power, but that gamers were an audience just waiting to be tapped by film studios who could make millions bringing pre-existing franchises to the big screen. All of which sounds great, but fails to take into account the fact that directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were trying to make a movie out of a game about sibling plumbers who run through a series of bizarre worlds in pursuit of a princess who’s been captured by a giant turtle, and who have to battle an insane menagerie of villains (including sentient mushrooms) along the way. After an extensive casting search that included attempts to lure in Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Tom Hanks, the filmmakers eventually hired Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo to play brothers Mario and Luigi, while Dennis Hopper agreed to portray the villainous humanoid reptile-thing King Koopa, but all the acting talent in the world couldn’t have made a dent in the cacophonous mess that is Super Mario Bros., which turned out to be such a critical and commercial dud that the game’s developer, Nintendo, swore off film adaptations for decades. “Kids might get a charge out of the mayhem,” groaned the Charlotte Observer’s Lawrence Toppman. “I got the vapors.”

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Wing Commander (1999) 10%

(Photo by 20th Century Fox/Courtesy Everett Collection)


By the late ‘90s, Matthew Lillard and Freddie Prinze, Jr. were ready to graduate from teen romcoms… which they signaled, unfortunately, by signing up for the disastrous big-screen adaptation of Wing Commander, which found them trying in vain to wring big-screen thrills out of a hokey story involving a future interstellar war between humans and an alien race of catlike bipeds. It’s a premise that sounds thoroughly silly to Commander novices, and director Chris Roberts compounded the problem by making several key changes to the game’s characters and mythology that alienated core gamers who might have otherwise turned out for the film. Observed Anita Gates for the New York Times, “Wing Commander is based on a video game and has roughly the same degree of character development. That is all most moviegoers will need to know.”

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