The Best Live-Action Video Game Adaptations, Ranked

Highlights

  • Video game adaptations often struggle with story decisions, whether to deviate from the source material or remain faithful.
  • Some video game adaptations, like Mortal Kombat and Assassin’s Creed, have stood out with effective elements such as gore and action sequences.
  • Other adaptations, like Max Payne and Tomb Raider, have had their flaws but still showcased aspects from the games, such as cinematography and gameplay elements.

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Though shows like Twisted Metal and The Last of Us are a giant leap forward, video game-to-film adaptations haven’t had the best reputation for a while. Much of that stems from the story decisions, like whether the writers choose to go for something more original and deviate from the source game or remain as faithful as they can.

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Just as many major movie franchises see constant game adaptations, video games vice versa see their fair share of film releases. More games are now also being adapted into a TV series to have more fleshed-out stories across episodes, and these are the video game adaptations that have stood out so far, for better or worse.

10 Mortal Kombat (2021)

Several characters from Mortal Kombat

2021’s Mortal Kombat feels a slight improvement over the original live-action films from the ’90s, with a big emphasis on slight. Especially with the pure awesomeness Mortal Kombat 1 delivered, this story is still just not there and overall pretty bland, with incredibly cringeworthy writing (especially when characters are doing the job of the announcer and saying the finishing lines).

The new protagonist, Cole Young, and his family didn’t add much at all, and there weren’t any tournaments that the beginning of the film led you to expect. The only highlight for fans is finally the brutal gore missing from the PG-13 films, with Kung Lao going the extra mile with his face grind fatality straight out of the game on Nitara.

9 Max Payne

The cover art for the 2008 Max Payne movie with Mark Wahlberg holding two shotguns amid a dark dreary Sin City-like background.

Max Payne feels slow-moving, but it’s not the worst video game adaptation you can view. Its biggest misstep is the plot having less action than in the games and hardly any mystery or suspense with the villain reveal, but Mark Wahlberg is absolutely the right choice to portray the live-action character.

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What’s truly excellent about the film is the cinematography, editing, and the sets really helping to encapsulate the mood and atmosphere of the games. The story deviates from the plot of the game, but in an interesting way, still focusing on Max’s tragic backstory and the Valkyr drug but expanding the Norse mythos with Aesir Corporation and showcasing actual Valkyrie creatures hunting the users.

8 Assassin’s Creed

Split-image of two versions of the 2016 Assassin's Creed movie, with Michael Fassbender and the rest of the core cast.

The 2016 Assassin’s Creed movie accomplishes what every game in the series aims for, a new assassin character and a new historical location. This film takes you to the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century and is centered around Callum Lynch’s ancestor Aguilar de Nerha. And in an interesting twist, Michael Fassbender plays both the main character and his ancestral assassin.

Fassbender is also joined by fellow Oscar-nominated actors Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Irons as a father and daughter duo working for Abstergo to locate the Apple to eradicate violence. The core elements of Assassin’s Creed are showcased effectively. The animus design is better suited for the movie, a giant mechanical arm projecting a simulation where Callum is performing the actions of Aguilar in real time. The sets, costumes, action sequences, parkour, and rooftop chases in the historical era are perfect, and echo AC Brotherhood by having multiple assassins working together.

7 Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander's Lara Croft with a bow and arrows and the film's title across the screen in red.

Tomb Raider saw its third film adaptation in 2018, with Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander taking over for Angelina Jolie and a storyline that followed the 2013 reboot game. The new game series was intended as a more brutal and mature survival journey for Lara, but the PG-13 rating barred the movie from capturing that same tone. And it completely left out her companion Jonah, who was a great addition to the game.

Some elements of the story are one-to-one, with the plot centering around Queen Himiko and the Endurance crashing on Yamatai, while villain roles are switched around. Walton Goggins’ Mathias is not the leader of the island’s Solarii, but instead a Trinity antagonist (a group showing up in the sequel game). Gameplay elements like Lara using her pickaxe to latch onto cliffs and the crashed plane scene were nice to see included.

6 Halo

Halo Paramount Plus TV show cover

Paramount +’s Halo series sounded promising to many fans, but most will say the adaptation still fell short for them. It seems to have the same issues with the source material as Netflix’s The Witcher, and the game’s non-stop action and battles seem to have been less the focus of this story, set in a “Silver Timeline” away from the game’s canon.

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When the action sequences do show up, it’s phenomenal to see Master Chief in action and wearing his Spartan armor (yes, he’ll have it off a lot in the episodes). They show the iconic vehicles, enemies, and weapons of Halo and even switch to a first-person view to mimic the game. Another plus is actress Jen Taylor returning as the original voice of Cortana.

5 Uncharted

The movie poster for the Uncharted movie with Tom Holland's Nate, Wahlberg's sully, Antonio Banderas, and Sophia Ali's Chloe Frazer.

Across the four mainline Uncharted Nathan Drake installments, any of them would translate pretty well to live-action, bringing thrills such as the train sequence in Among Thieves or the opening cargo ship shootout in Drake’s Fortune to life. It opted for a prequel instead, with MCU Spider-Man actor Tom Holland portraying a young Nathan. However, it ended up including an Uncharted 3-inspired cargo plane set piece and an epic aerial pirate ship battle with helicopters.

For video game fans, the story feels like a mishmash of ideas from Uncharted 3 and 4 happening earlier than canon, with little character development between the early bonds of Chloe Frazer and Sully and having a villain proving no match for Rafe. Still, Mark Wahlberg once more really comes through as Sully, the dynamic between him and Nate playing off similar to the game. Nolan North’s cameo was a nice homage as well.

4 Silent Hill

Walking into Silent Hill on the original movie poster

Loosely following the storyline of the first Silent Hill game, the movie creates new protagonists Chris and Rose Da Silva, the adoptive parents of a girl named Sharon, who has a past tied to the titular haunted town. This is the rare case where creative freedom really flows and makes the horror movie as compelling as any game.

The film’s story sees Rose searching for her daughter in Silent Hill instead of Harry Mason and her husband Chris searching for his wife and daughter in the real world, while they face an insidious cult and grotesque inhabitants across the shifting Fog World and Other World.

The visuals and live-action designs of the iconic monsters are immersive and spot-on. However, while Alessa makes sense for the film’s interpretation, one major flaw is the use of Pyramid Head. He was an antagonist specifically designed for James Sunderland’s torment in Silent Hill 2 rather than to be a set piece in an entirely separate story.

3 Werewolves Within

The main cover art for Werewolves Within, with the entire cast grouped in front of a full moon Star Wars-style and the film's title next to them.

Werewolves Within is a bit of a surprising head-scratcher. It’s adapted from the lesser-known Ubisoft social deduction VR game of the same name about a group of villagers trying to figure out which of them is secretly a werewolf. Yet it strikingly beats out Assassin’s Creed with audiences and critics alike, having the honor of being a rare fresh video game adaptation on Rotten Tomatoes with a score of 86.

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If you’ve played Werewolves Within, the movie will look entirely nothing like the game. Instead of using the medieval fantasy setting of Gallowston, it’s set in the fictional Vermont town of Beaverfield with quirky satirical characters divided over a new pipeline being built. It’s also an R-rated horror-comedy filled with gore and brilliant laughs, led by a cast featuring Veep’s Sam Richardson, God of War Ragnarok’s Milana Vayntrub, What We Do In The Shadows’ Harvey Guillén, and American Horror Story’s Cheyenne Jackson.

It does its job well as an entertaining and faithful adaptation though, since it keeps you engaged the whole way through in figuring out which character might be the werewolf, even having you question the main character at a certain point. And there are multiple clever murder-mystery twists with much of the silliness still present.

The poster for Peacock's Twisted Metal, featuring Stephanie Beatriz's character. Anthony Mackie's character, and Sweet Tooth in the truck.

While Twisted Metal seemed like an odd game to call for an adaptation, much less a full-length series on Peacock, it worked seamlessly in live-action. The show is developed by the original Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Jaffe and Deadpool and Zombieland writer/producer Rhett Reese, and it will immediately give you that exact vibe.

The TV series creates an entirely original story of a post-apocalyptic landscape leading to a new lawless civilization where delivery drivers called milkmen deliver goods between cities, and you follow one such driver named John Doe, played by Anthony Mackie. His goal is to live in the dreamlike city of New San Francisco, but he encounters lots of stops along his journey with depraved groups, including the Will Arnett-voiced killer clown Sweet Tooth. He also gets caught up in a quest for revenge on a lawman when Stephanie Beatriz’s Quiet enters his life.

1 The Last Of Us

joel and ellie walking away in the last of us

The Last of Us is perhaps the most faithful video game live-action adaptation that takes some scenes word-for-word right out of the game and brilliantly uses its episodes to build better backstories and introduce aspects the game left out, like a better glimpse at the origins of the Cordyceps infection. Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann even co-wrote and directed some of the episodes.

To follow the iconic performances played by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker in the video game version is a tough undertaking, but Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey captured the perfect chemistry between Ellie and Joel, with Merle Dandridge reprising her role of Marlene in live-action. The infected scenes were much less frequent than in the game, and some events were written differently, but it all made more sense for the show.

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