Beloved Video Games That Would Make Excellent Movies

8 minute read

By Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Historically, video game adaptations haven’t been the sound investments they would appear to be. For more than a quarter-century, studios have tried to translate some of the biggest video game franchises in the world to the silver screen, and the results have been overwhelmingly negative. Super Mario Bros. Doom. Prince of Persia. It’s all too easy to think of adaptations that failed to hit the mark. However, there is evidence to suggest video game movies may finally be turning the corner.

In the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in pretty good adaptations, including Rampage, Tomb Raider, and Detective Pikachu. 2020 is set to be even better, with Sonic the Hedgehog poised to be one of the best video game movies ever made (not a high bar but hey, beggars can’t be choosers).

To celebrate Sonic finally getting the movie he’s always deserved, here are 10 other video games that would make great movies.

10. Luigi’s Mansion

Of all the Mario spin-offs out there, Luigi’s Mansion feels the most set up for a movie adaptation. The games follow Mario’s brother, Luigi, as he explores a variety of haunted locales and attempts to solve their ghost problems. Striking a more kid-friendly tone somewhere between Scooby-Doo and Ghostbusters, it’s easy to imagine a talented animation studio like Pixar delivering a crowd-pleasing adaptation.

The only real issue would be deciding whether Luigi should be fully voiced or not. Traditionally, Luigi only utters a few chosen words in his games so unless the movie is populated with more talkative characters, going with a mostly silent protagonist probably wouldn’t feel right.

Source: Screenshot via Nintendo

9. Dynasty Warriors

The Dynasty Warriors franchise has become synonymous with stale, repetitive gameplay over the years. While it’s true the series has done little to change with the times — and when it has made attempts, the results have been disastrous, to say the least — let’s set that aside for a moment.

For the uninitiated, Dynasty Warriors is loosely based on the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a historical text detailing events of China’s late Han Dynasty (c. 184 – 219 CE) and Three Kingdoms (220 – 280 CE) eras. This is a fascinating period that would make for a great historical epic; one that would not only provide roles for Chinese actors but would likely put up big numbers at the Chinese box office (an increasingly important barometer of international success). As for what the movie’s focus should be, that’s a much more difficult question to answer. Given how complex and expansive the era’s history is, it might be best to tell a more focused story revolving around an important battle, such as the Battle of Red Cliffs – a large naval battle that led to the fall of the Han Dynasty.

Source: Artwork via Koei Tecmo

8. Stardew Valley

At first glance, Stardew Valley might not seem to have much movie potential. An adaptation of a farming simulator — who would want to watch that? But those who have lost days/weeks/months of their lives to this charming and addictive video game know that Stardew Valley has more going on than just harvesting crops.

The game’s titular region is filled with a diverse range of fully-realized characters who reveal hidden depths the more you interact with them. Using its setting and characters, Stardew Valley could make for a great location-based drama or romantic comedy. Sure, it may not look much like a traditional video game movie but given what a crapshoot those have been, maybe that’s a good thing.

Source: Screenshot via ConcernedApe

7. Fire Emblem

A fantasy tactical role-playing series, Fire Emblem has been around for three decades but only started getting noticed outside of Japan after two of the franchise’s characters were featured as playable characters in 2001’s Super Smash Bros. Melee. Since then, JRPG fans have flocked to the series for its tactical turn-based gameplay and engaging narratives featuring character permadeath. While there is no shortage of Fire Emblem games to look to for inspiration, the critically-acclaimed Three Houses for Nintendo Switch arguably features the most adaptable narrative.

Set on a fictional continent divided between three rival nations, Three Houses begins as a coming-of-age tale set (the game has been favorably compared to the Harry Potter series) at a military school before turning into an epic war drama in its back half. Whether it takes the form of an anime or live-action movie, a Fire Emblem: Three Houses adaptation has the potential to be a hit in the young adult genre.

Source: Screenshot via Nintendo

6. Until Dawn

With Until Dawn, the team at Supermassive Games set out to make the video game equivalent of a slasher flick. Therefore, it only makes sense for the horror-inspired game to be turned into a movie itself! While a bit cheezeball at times, Until Dawn weaves a surprisingly good yarn, as it follows a group of friends as they try to survive a night of terror at a remote mountain lodge. At the very least, its story and characters are comparable in quality to what you’d find in your average slasher flick.

Until Dawn notably featured several Hollywood actors as part of its cast, including Rami Malek (Mr. Robot, Bohemian Rhapsody) and Hayden Panettiere (Scream 4, Nashville) and while it would be nice to see these actors reprise their roles in a movie adaptation, it wouldn’t be a requirement. Until Dawn established enough of its own lore and mythology that a movie could use its “stranded on a haunted mountain” premise as a launching point to introduce a new story and characters.

Source: Screenshot via Sony Computer Entertainment

5. Star Fox

It’s been a long time since Star Fox fans had something to celebrate. For whatever reason, Nintendo just hasn’t been able to figure out what to do with this space shooter series. Since the critically-acclaimed Star Fox 64 released in 1997, every subsequent installment has been disappointing in one way or another. But just because the Star Fox games have been kind of a mess doesn’t mean the series wouldn’t work on the big screen.

The adventures of Arwing pilot Fox McCloud and his squad of anthropomorphic animals have the makings of a cloud-pleasing animated adventure, especially if a top tier studio were behind it. A space opera featuring epic fighter dogfights and exotic locales? We’re getting Star Wars vibes just thinking about it!

Source: Screenshot via Nintendo

4. Deus Ex

One of the hallmarks of great science fiction is an exploration of how technology affects people and this is something that the Deus Ex franchise has been concerned with from the very beginning. Set in the near future (though the series jumps around quite a bit), Deus Ex presents a dystopian cyberpunk world that will look instantly familiar to fans of similar properties like Blade Runner and Altered Carbon.

The most recent games, Human Revolution and its sequel Mankind Divided, are deeply concerned with issues that are set to become (or already are) deeply divisive as we move further into the 21st Century, such as human augmentation and corporate villainy. Cast Keanu Reeves as protagonist Adam Jensen and you’ve got the makings of a fun, thought-provoking sci-fi action movie.

Source: Screenshot via Square Enix

3. Mass Effect

The fall of the Mass Effect franchise has been something of a gaming tragedy. Once revered as the pinnacle of narrative-driven gaming, the series’ reputation took a serious hit after Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending, and the commercial and critical disappointment of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Today, the future of Mass Effect is a bit hazy. Although developer Bioware is rumored to be working on a new installment, any future game will have its work cut out for it restoring players’ trust.

Regardless of what happens on the gaming front, one thing that’s hard to deny is how ripe the Mass Effect universe is for a film adaptation. Set hundreds of years in the future, with mankind having mastered spaceflight and made contact with numerous alien species, Mass Effect’s intergalactic politics alone could form the basis of an intriguing sci-fi drama.

Source: Artwork via Electronic Arts

2. The Legend of Zelda

Given its legacy and importance to the video game medium in general, it’s surprising that a Legend of Zelda movie hasn’t materialized sometime in the last 30 years. As the franchise’s longevity has proven, the fictional land of Hyrule is ripe with storytelling potential. Nintendo has produced nearly 20 games in the main series alone since the original The Legend of Zelda was released in 1986 and each one has found a way to tell a variation on the same basic premise.

By now, every gaming fan knows the Zelda template: the hero Link must navigate a series of trials in order to save Hyrule from a powerful evil (usually the sorcerer Ganon) and restore power to the kingdom’s rightful ruler, Princess Zelda. Despite its potential, Nintendo has yet to get a Zelda adaptation off the ground (ignoring, of course, the terrible 90s cartoon series). Rumors of a Netflix-produced live-action series emerged in 2015 but were quickly denied by Nintendo. It’s time for Nintendo to stop waffling on the matter and let someone make The Legend of Zelda movie fans have been waiting for.

Source: Artwork via Nintendo

1. God of War

One of the most cinematic video game series ever made, God of War has been ripe for a movie adaptation from moment one. The early God of War games follows Kratos, a Spartan warrior on a quest for vengeance across the pantheon of Greek mythology. While critically-revered at the time, Kratos’ early adventures eventually fell out of favor for several reasons, including that its protagonist was an always-angry mass murderer lacking in nuance or meaningful growth.

The 2018 PS4 reboot addressed many of these concerns head-on, modernizing the gameplay while also turning Kratos into a fully-realized character. It also shifted away from Greek to Norse mythology, opening up all sorts of new storytelling angles. A straight-up adaptation of this game, in particular, would be the most obvious route to go for a God of War movie, but taking things back to the beginning could work too. Kratos’ emotional journey from one-dimensional rage monster to caring father would make for a satisfying multi-film arc, although it would probably be best for everyone if Kratos was humanized a bit more from the get-go.

Source: Artwork via Sony Computer Entertainment

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)