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5 video game live-action adaptations that were substandard at best (and 5 that were absolutely deplorable)

Nathan Drake and the Master Chief on the silver screen (Images via Sony and Paramount Pictures)
Nathan Drake and the Master Chief on the silver screen (Images via Sony and Paramount Pictures)
Sidhartha Deka

Video game adaptations are a mixed bag, especially the live-action ones. While once in a blue moon, people might be treated to rare gems such as Mortal Kombat (1995), Detective Pikachu, and Sonic the Hedgehog, more often than not, it's the opposite experience.

Most adaptations of this sort either fail to meet the expectations set by the games or are okay to watch once and then forgotten. Some don't even pass the vibe check.

Yet, this entertainment genre keeps churning out releases every so often, with a host of future movies and TV series greenlit for the coming years.

Before these new releases arrive, though, here are some that have already hit the silver screen, five of which were substandard experiences and five utterly unacceptable.

Note: This article reflects the writer's opinion.


Five barely passable live-action video game adaptations

1) Uncharted (2022)

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With all the action and story already present in the Uncharted video games, it's a wonder why it took so long for a live-action adaptation. Distributed by Sony and produced under Playstation Productions, this movie starring Tom Holland in the role of a young Nathan Drake was released in February.

Mixing in elements and plot points of various games throughout the story, the Uncharted movie follows Nathan Drake as he teams up with professional fortune hunter Victor "Sully" Sullivan (Mark Wahlberg) to find a hidden pirate treasure. Along with Sully, the film also introduces series mainstay Chloe Frazer (Sophia Taylor Ali) as a fellow treasure hunter.

The overall story is fun to watch and has decent writing along with a few twists here and there. While Holland is a good actor, he never quite manages to capture the same level of charisma as Nathan Drake from the games.

Of course, when compared to voice actor Nolan North, many will fall short. The villains are mostly one-dimensional, and character arcs are subpar.


2) Warcraft (2016)

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Released in 2016, Warcraft was a much-awaited movie adaptation of a video game series at least two decades old. Rich with lore and exciting characters, the Warcraft universe was primed to be a great source of entertainment for a movie audience.

While pulling some elements and characters from the first game in the franchise, the movie's plot focuses on the war between the orcs and humans. Telling a primarily original story, it serves somewhat as a launching point for the larger Warcraft world, intended to be shown in subsequent movies.

While receiving negative points from critics, it still managed to attract lots of audiences. The movie grossed well worldwide, with many saying that the overall experience did feel like Warcraft despite the mediocre story.

A new Warcraft movie was said to be in development in 2020, but no further updates have been heard so far.


3) Mortal Kombat (2021)

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Mortal Kombat video games have had a few live-action adaptations, but the first one is probably the best. While video games get remakes, movies also get reboots, wiping the slate clean and starting over from scratch. Such was the case with the Mortal Kombat movie released in 2021.

The plot is halfway decent, with many fan-favorite characters like Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Mileena, Jax, etc., making an appearance. The movie manages to feature many one-on-one fights between characters, showcasing iconic fatalities. The action is good and bloodier than its predecessor, a sign of the times.

The inclusion of a new character, Cole Young, was ultimately a failed attempt to bring in fresh faces, as his overall arc in the film feels forced.

It may be a little tongue in cheek with its references, with characters literally shouting phrases that the announcer uses in the games, but both Scorpion vs Sub-Zero scenes were top-notch fights.


4) Tomb Raider (2018)

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While Lara Croft has more than one cinematic outing, since the video games themselves have been rebooted, one adaptation has been released based on the new continuity. Telling the events of the reboot game and its sequel, albeit merging a few plot points, the movie was released in March of 2018.

The story follows Lara Croft, recast from the older movies, as a younger character (player by Alicia Vikander) as she tries to figure out a mystery left by her missing father, which leads her to the island of Yamatai. Taking much inspiration from the 2013 video game story and the combat, the movie evokes a similar feel, albeit on a reduced scale.

While the writing is not the best, and the movie could do with some more action sequences and puzzle-solving, it still works as a Lara Croft origin story. A sequel seems to be in the scripting phase, as last heard of, which might set the plot along the line of the Rise of the Tomb Raider game.


5) Street Fighter (1995)

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Released four months after the commercial success of the original Mortal Kombat movie, Street Fighter sought to elicit a similar response from the audience. Although it failed at that, compared to the films that came after (especially MK: Annihilation), it still stands as a fun story to watch and a barely decent video game adaptation, at least for its time.

Telling the story of Col. William F. Guile (played by Jean-Claude Van Damme), an Allied Nations soldier going up against the nefarious General M. Bison (Raul Julia) to save a bunch of war criminals, the film's plot is rudimentary at best.

It introduces a handful of characters from the video games, giving them some narrative reason for being in the movie, and the story plays out mostly as expected.

However, one of the film's highlights has to be Raul Julia's performance, a lighthouse amidst the foggy representation by the other characters. Julia fully embraces the role of a video game antagonist and holds nothing back. His delivery in many scenes carries some of the film's most memorable and quotable moments.


Five messy live-action video game adaptations

1) Halo (TV Series) (2022)

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Ah, the latest failed attempt at a live-action adaptation, Paramount and 343 Industries' Halo series falls short of the video games it is inspired from. While the series does well in some aspects, such as the lore, production value, and designs of the Spartan suits and weapons, it misses a few key elements. Namely, the Master Chief.

Master Chief is a stoic personality in the video games, choosing to talk less and act more. In the older titles, that was more due to a lack of technology.

Halo Infinite did give players a Master Chief who chose his words carefully yet still delivered a heartwarming performance, displaying a flawed character trying to do the right thing. Even while doing so, Steve Downes' delivery makes Chief seem like a larger-than-life character.

However, the TV series seems to think that the Chief needs to be brought down to a human level of relatability, stripping him of the same status as the game. This was a very large disjoint for fans of the games and ultimately made it difficult to picture this Master Chief as the one they had been playing all these years.


2) Monster Hunter (2020)

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After the success of the Monster Hunter video games, Capcom decided to try their hand at a silver screen adaptation of the franchise. Handing the reins over to director Paul W. S. Anderson (the mind behind the cult classic original Mortal Kombat movie) and produced by Toho and Constantin Film, the film seemed to be in good hands.

However, upon release, it would become clear that this was another instance of a live-action adaptation not understanding the assignment and deciding to wing it on its own. Forgoing any actual monster hunters, the film followed a group of US soldiers who had been transported into the world of the Monster Hunter Universe, as imagined by the movie's writers.

This in and of itself was the first point of contention for many fans of the series. The other things they had problems with were the reduced screentime given to the actual Hunter (meant to stand in for the game's character), the overreliance on military ballistic weapons, and setting up Rathalos as the biggest threat (in the game, it's quite a beginner monster).

Compared to the games as well, the movie hardly holds up. Most of the film is set in the desert setting, whereas gamers can visit a variety of environments in the game.

The movie is also bland visually compared to the vibrant and colorful in-game world. All in all, Monster Hunter failed to bring in casual viewers and even game fans alike.


3) Assassin's Creed (2016)

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When an Assassin's Creed movie was first announced, many fans of the video game series were overjoyed. They had faith that since the game series is such a narrative-driven experience, the movies would have a lot to pull from to be faithful to the source material.

Despite having a great cast (Michael Fassbender, Jeremy Irons, et al.), the movie quickly falls apart. The entire setting and representation seem at odds with what was established in the game.

Abstergo feels more like a criminal organization than a million-dollar research company going into the entertainment business. The animus is a completely redone, needlessly complicated machinery. The bleeding effect is near-instantaneous rather than something that happens after prolonged exposure to the animus.

Other than these inaccuracies, the writing itself was not up to par. It focused more on the present-day narrative than on the assassins in the past.

While people always grew attached to the assassins in the game, in the movie, viewers develop no such feelings for Aguilar (the assassin protagonist during the Spanish inquisition). Such wanton disregard for quality and story made Assassin's Creed a memorable boring experience.


4) Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)

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After the unlooked-for success of 1995's Mortal Kombat (one of the best video game movies ever made), naturally, an attempt was made to replicate this success with a sequel. What could go wrong? Evidently, a lot.

One of the first problems for this film was replacing many actors from the beloved first movie. While not officially stated, it is widely accepted that the older actors stepped out due to the terrible script. Speaking of the script, it doesn't do the characters any justice, with wonky lines plaguing in the most serious of moments.

This video game movie is chock full of so many new extra characters that the hour and a half runtime is hardly sufficient to give them any backstory (or reason for existing). There are multiple continuity errors, production errors, and editing fiascos that are generally unpleasant to watch.

Playing an actual round of any Mortal Kombat title is more entertaining than this movie, even at its best.


5) Super Mario Bros (1993)

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If monstrosities could be formed into an hour and forty-five-minute long movie, it would be the Mario Brothers. Released in 1993, this film was a displeasure for the target demographic of video game players of the time while also featuring a lousy story, shoddy writing, and just an overall departure from the source material.

A loose adaptation of the Super Mario Bros. video game for the NES, the movie tells the story of two ordinary plumbers, Mario and Luigi, taken to another world ruled over by humanoid reptiles and governed by Koopa (Bowser). Indeed the movie is filled with many famous characters from the Mario franchise, albeit looking nothing like their video game counterparts.

Ultimately a confusing story with many unnecessary elements, such as the Italian mafia, Super Mario Bros was met with much criticism and failed to capture the audience's hearts. And while a new Mario movie is in the works, only time will tell if it will be any better or worse than this one.


Edited by Ravi Iyer

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