Best Video Game Movies of All Time
Video Game movie adaptations are one thing, but this list is for movies about gaming!
Video games have exploded in popularity in recent years. That's not to say they haven't always been popular, but now, more than 2.6 billion people play video games worldwide. Hollywood has been trying to cash in on the video game craze since the early 90s with half-baked executions like the Super Mario Bros. Movie. More recently, however, we've been graced with fewer adaptations and instead have been treated to movies about video games.
More than 2.6 billion people play video games worldwide.
In this list, I'll be showcasing some of the best movies about video games- movies where video games play a pivotal role either in the plot or in the setting of the movie. You won't find any video game adaptations here like Mortal Kombat, Warcraft, or the most recent Sonic The Hedgehog movie.
Starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, and Cindy Morgan
A computer hacker is abducted into the digital world and forced to participate in gladiatorial games where his only chance of escape is with the help of a heroic security program. Both the original Tron and the 2010 reboot, Tron: Legacy, are equally good movies. It's amazing to see the visual effects at the time and what was possible without the myriad of CGI programs we have available today. While most of the movies included on this list reference some form of a real-world video game, it's typically the game that comes first; whereas with Tron, the arcade cabinet was released nearly simultaneously with the premiere of the movie (about a month later).
The Wizard (1989)
Starring Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, and Jenny Lewis
A boy and his brother run away from home and hitch cross country with the help of a girl they meet to compete in the ultimate video game championship. It's more endearing than it sounds and definitely hits all the nostalgic feels with classic NES and arcade games scattered throughout the film. The penultimate battle features a battle in Super Mario Bros. 3 which had yet to be released in the United States. With official product placements from Nintendo including the Power Glove… "it's so bad!", The Wizard is a fantastic time-piece that hits all the nostalgic feels and the early days of eSports and gaming. It's essentially a more PG-friendly Stand By Me mixed with video games.
Starring Edward Furlong, Frank Langella, and T. Ryder Smith
A teenager is part of an interactive video game where he kills innocent victims. Later, the murders become real. The only horror movie on this list, Brainscan is one of those rare cult classics that will either be hit or miss with viewers. Brainscan is like an episode of Black Mirror or the Twilight Zone but with a 90s vibe. If you haven't seen this film, I can't blame you. It was a critical and financial failure and was withdrawn from theaters after only 2 weeks. Still, it's developed a cult following in the horror sci-fi thriller category. It's like the movie Little Monsters, with Howie Mandel and Fred Savage, but given the 90s grunge rock treatment.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kieran Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Allison Pill, Aubrey Plaza, Brie Larson, Jason Schwartzman, and Chris Evans
In a magically realistic version of Toronto, a young man must defeat his new girlfriend's seven evil exes one by one in order to win her heart. Littered with a myriad of video game Easter eggs for the keen-eyed viewer to catch, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World isn't necessarily about video games per se, but uses video game elements as a means to tell this comic book story. It's quite the hipster movie coming out at the height of the Cera-craze, featuring quick-paced banter and comedy mixed with stylized video game and comic book graphics. Nonetheless, it's visually entertaining with great one-liners and memorable moments you'll want to revisit for years.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Starring John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Sarah Silverman, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling, Joe Lo Truglio, and Ed O'Neill
A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives. What's not to love about a Disney movie about video games, am I right?! With tons of real video game character cameos and a look at what our favorite gaming heroes and villains do once the game turns off, this film is nothing short of Disney magic. It's like Toy Story but for video games, heartwarming storyline included. Definitely a must-see for adults and children alike.
Starring Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Michelle Monaghan, and Peter Dinklage
When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of video games. Maybe it's because I grew up with Adam Sandler, but I find his movies classic and funny. Sure, some are better than others and this isn't necessarily the pinnacle of his work, but it's a great tribute to the original arcade games and competitions that paved the way for the future of gaming and eSports. With Peter Dinklage playing a parody of the infamous Billy Mitchell from the amazing documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, Pixels is a great family-friendly movie with lots of nostalgia for my fellow millennials.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black
Four teenagers are sucked into a magical video game, and the only way they can escape is to work together to finish the game. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is actually not as bad as you might expect. It's a fresh take or reboot on the classic movie with Jumanji being a video game instead of a board game. While they don't lean too heavily on the video game graphics like in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, they do, however, toy with a lot of popular game mechanics- like the idea of respawning but with a set number of lives. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a great cast, definitely has more than enough funny moments to keep you entertained for its 2-hour runtime.
Ready Player One (2018)
Starring Ty Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Lena Waithe, T.J. Miller, and Simon Pegg
When the creator of a virtual reality called the OASIS dies, he makes a posthumous challenge to all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune and control of his world. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel with the same name, Ready Player One is a fantastic look into the most exotic VR experience ever contrived called the OASIS. With video game characters from all games sprinkled in at different points, thousands of Easter eggs, and nods to previous Spielberg movies, Ready Player One is a true gem of a movie that dives into a magical VR world every gamer would want to experience.
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Craig Parkinson, Alice Lowe, Asim, Chaudhry, and Will Poulter
A young programmer starts to question reality when he adapts a mad writer's fantasy novel into a video game. Sure, it might seem like a gimmick to implement a "choose your own adventure" movie, after all, the books were never really that great. Bandersnatch isn't the strongest entry in the Black Mirror series, but this interactive film experience is fun and interesting. Multiple endings will have you wondering what you missed or what path you might be able to take to change the outcome of your character's destiny. At the very least, it's worth a single pass through even if you choose not to make any selections and let the cards fall as they may.
Honorable Mention: Pokemon Detective Pikachu (2019)
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, and Ken Watanabe
In a world where people collect Pokémon to do battle, a boy comes across an intelligent talking Pikachu who seeks to be a detective. I contemplated whether or not to include Pokemon Detective Pikachu because it's not necessarily about video games. Then again, it's not a traditional Pokemon story by any means and there is no Detective Pikachu game as of this writing. These points coupled with the fact the movie takes place in a video game world, I gave it a pass and decided to give it an Honorable Mention. Pokemon Detective Pikachu is the perfect jumping-off point for fans of the series who've been trying to get their friends, parents, or significant others on board the Pokemon hype train. It's heart-warming, funny, and the perfect entry for Pokemon as a live-action movie.