With Hitman: Agent 47 hitting theaters this weekend, it’s a good time to take stock of the fact that, man: it’s really hard to turn a videogame into a movie or a television show. In fact, judging by the evidence of the following attempts, it’s almost impossible to do so and have the end result be objectively good. (Subjectively? Well, just wait until you make it to In The Name of The King or Wing Commander, guilty pleasures, both.) If you don’t believe me, then let your eyes wander downwards and think to yourself, “My, suddenly Hitman looks awesome.”
THE SUPER MARIO BROS. SUPER SHOW! (1989)
Before Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo made the world fear the prospect of a live-action Super Mario Bros., this short-lived series made the very concept feel like an extremely confusing, wonderful beast. Not only were Mario, Luigi and Princess Toadstool all present and correct, but so were celebrities including Vanna White, Roddy Piper and Ghostbusters’ Ernie Hudson. Oh, and a live-action Inspector Gadget, because why not?
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (1993)
Given the massive success of Sega’s super-fast blue hedgehog, it’s no surprise that he anchored his own Saturday morning show. Instead, the surprise was that it was one of two Sonic shows that ran concurrently, and the one more willing to kill off characters or deal with the dystopian setting of the mythos. While far from any true darkness, rewatching it now, it feels curiously ahead of its time.
MORTAL KOMBAT: THE MOVIE (1995)
First off, no; this isn’t the one with Kylie Minogue in it — that was Street Fighter, which isn’t on Netflix. However, this movie does have Christopher Lambert, proving yet again that a man named after a cheese can be unafraid to live up to his name when it comes to his acting choices. There’s also a suitable amount of action for an adaptation of a punch-em-up, but let’s be real: you might still have more fun playing the game.
WING COMMANDER (1999)
Merely the cast list from this turn-of-the-century classic should explain its greatness: what other movie could bring together Freddie Prinze Jr., a young Saffron Burrows, PBS’ own Poirot David Suchet, and Matthew Lillard? More to the point, bring them together to fight an intergalactic war almost seven centuries in the future? Truly, the very zenith of cinema can be found here.
LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER (2001)
Actually, maybe the zenith of cinema can be found in Angelina Jolie’s first outing as digital masturbatory object and female Indiana Jones — as if those two things are contradictory! — which also sees quite how many people will stay tuned to a movie lacking in plot, direction and even coherence purely because they are in love with the central actor. Answer: enough to get it a sequel, thereby proving that all of us should be ashamed. Relatedly, the second one’s also on Netflix.
IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE (2007)
A high fantasy movie directed by famously pulpy director Uwe Boll, In The Name of the King knows exactly what its undemanding audience wants out of an adaptation of the Dungeon Seige video game series: a soundtrack peppered with heavy metal from Europe and Jason Statham as the hero of the piece. You’re thinking “It couldn’t get better,” but then I tell you that Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman and Burt Reynolds also make appearances.
THE KING OF FIGHTERS (2010)
You have to give it up to this adaptation of the beat-em-up game: while there’s a plot here, it’s a plot that revolves around the existence of an alternate dimension where the best fighters meet up to have fights for fun. They’re not even trying, which makes a cast that includes Maggie Q, Ray Park and ABC Family regular Sean Faris feel almost surplus to requirements. Why not just put the actual game onscreen and see if anyone could tell the difference?
POKÉMON THE MOVIE: BLACK/POKÉMON THE MOVIE: WHITE (2011)
There have been many, many installments in the movie series based on the ubiquitous videogame/card game/toy franchise — so many, in fact, that the two stories that make up the diptych are the fourteenth movie in the franchise — with each version telling essentially the same story with the obvious exception of the Pokémon that appear. While everything else about the movie is almost impossible to parse for anyone over the age of 14, the weird Rashomon gimmick ends up being oddly compelling.
PAC-MAN AND THE GHOSTLY ADVENTURES (2013)
One of the first videogame stars — and, in our heart of hearts, we can all admit that he’s still one of the best — returns for a relatively recent animated series, complete with CGI visuals that makes that whole “Oh, yeah, he eats his enemies” thing oddly realistic and more than a little unsettling. What does it actually mean to eat a ghost, after all?
HALO 4: FORWARD UNTO DAWN (2014)
Tom Green, of all people, headlines this glimpse into the training and early career of the soldiers you see in SF game Halo. Turns out, it sucks, not least of all because you keep thinking that you’re watching Blood & Chrome, that not-particularly-prequel to Battlestar Galactica from a few years back. It’s also a prequel to the game series itself, introducing the Covenant to humanity for the first time. (Well, except for Master Chief, but you’d expect that of him.)