With Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed hitting theaters, this year could mark a turning point for films based on popular video games. However, just as Hollywood continues to turn to the world of gaming for inspiration, a number of films have aimed to tackle video games head-on, building their stories around gaming conventions in imaginative ways. Over the years, several of these attempts have proven successful, developing into beloved properties in their own right. Here are a few of the films to make the best use of the gaming world. For the record, we’re focusing only on narrative features. Otherwise, 2007 documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters would surely have made the list.
1. Tron (1982)
This Disney film stars Jeff Bridges as a computer programmer who enters the Grid, the software world of a mainframe computer. The film’s visual effects may now appear dated, but at the time, its depiction of the digital world was innovative and fresh. Its story too touches on a theme that would only become increasingly more prevalent as technology progressed. Designed to look and feel like a real-life video game, Tron quickly developed into a cult classic and spawned a sequel, Tron: Legacy, nearly 30 years after its release.
2. WarGames (1983)
In his first leading role, Matthew Broderick stars as a hacker who accesses a military supercomputer and inadvertently sets off the beginning of World War III. One of the biggest box office hits the year it was released in theaters, WarGames earned critical acclaim and predated Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game novels, which deal with similar themes involving the cross-section between computer simulations and warfare. Moreover, it (along with Tron) set the stage for a long string of gaming-themed films throughout the 1980s.
3. Existenz (1999)
Filmmaker David Cronenberg is often associated with the world of body horror, thanks in large part to the gruesome transformation sequences in his 1986 remake of The Fly. However, this underrated release is also significant proof of the director’s fascination with body horror. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law star in the film, which is set in a near future where biological video games have distorted the concept of reality. Often compared to The Matrix, Existenz is an intriguing meditation on the perilous road that may lie ahead with society’s obsession with technology. Though the film was a disappointment at the box office, it has become more respected as time has gone by.
4. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
After back-to-back comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz took aim at zombie horror and buddy cop films respectively, director Edgar Wright took a break from his Three Flavors Cornetto trilogy (which concluded with The World’s End in 2013) with this adaptation of the Bryan Lee O’Malley comic books. Michael Cera stars as the title character, a bassist/slacker with a checkered romantic history who falls for the mysterious Ramona Flowers and must face her seven evil exes in battle. A coming-of-age action comedy, the film relies heavily on video game iconography to frame each of its action sequences and even features a boss battle. Accordingly, the hilarious, frenetic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has amassed a devoted cult following.
5. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Walt Disney Animation Studios has been on a hot streak so far this decade, and this clever riff on retro gaming was no exception. John C. Reilly stars as the titular villain of an old-school Donkey Kong-esque arcade title, who decides that he wants to be a hero for once. Wreck-It Ralph not only incorporates a lovely message for viewers in the onscreen action but features cameos from a number of characters from video games like Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter, and Pac-Man.
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