The 2010s were quite a year for movie and TV adaptations of video games. Hooboy, from Detective Pikachu to Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, to whatever the heck the Heavenly Sword adaptation is, we saw quite the run of the gamut in the past 10 years. While we started off in a pretty rough place, we ended on some high notes. So, for our obligatory end-of-decade countdown, here’s 15 of the most notable video game adaptations since 2010.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
This decade has been so long that I didn’t even remember Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time came out during the decade it until I started researching for this article. So, a big-budget adaptation of a popular action game franchise, backed by Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer—aka the guy responsible for Pirates of the Caribbean—and starring the suitably attractive Jake Gyllenhaal. What could go wrong?
Apparently, everything. Yikes. The trailer alone was a mess from start to finish, unable to decide if it wanted to be a coy love story or a heroic action movie, with some frankly bizarre camera decisions. Critically and commercially panned, the movie currently has a rating of 37% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 58% audience score. Still, it was the highest-grossing video game movie at the time of its release (step it up, Resident Evil: Afterlife). Mercifully, there was no sequel.
Unfortunately, it seems the movie may have also ground the game franchise to a halt, as there have only been two releases in the nine years since it came out: a remake of The Shadow and the Flame and a mobile app released in 2018.
Heavenly Sword (2014)
Heavenly Sword flew under so many people’s radar that myself and several of my colleagues here were unaware of its very existence until our resident bad game and movie expert pointed it out to us last week. With an excellent cast including Anna Torv and Alfred Molina, this adaptation of the 2007 game was produced by Blockade Entertainment. Don’t forget that name, kiddies, it’s going to come back again.
Did I say yikes for Prince of Persia above? I take that back and apply it here. Oooboy. Did they take all that CGI from the original game’s cutscenes? Because that would explain a lot. It wouldn’t explain how it got funded in the first place, but other than that, the trailer is a montage of gobbledygook explaining nothing of the plot. Judging by the Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 28%, the actual movie doesn’t do much better. It also significantly deviates from the plot of the game, leaving a door open for a potential sequel.
While Blockade Entertainment and writer Todd Farmer may wish to pretend the movie doesn’t exist, with it neither on their website nor his Wikipedia page, it does indeed.
Need for Speed (2014)
Fast and Furious-type adaptation starring Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad? Cool, should be pretty straightforward; it’s not like the Fast and Furious movies are difficult to emulate, should be a cinch. Action movies are always fun, too.
Excuse me, I have an apology call to go make to some producers. That looks like anything but fun. Why was half the trailer in slow motion? The second trailer I found makes it look like they tried to cross Fast and Furious with Ocean's Eleven, so perhaps that’s where they went wrong. Either way, I’m not the only apprehensive one, as the movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 22% with an audience rating of 57%. Fast and Furious probably took this as their cue that maybe video games weren't as difficult to make as they'd thought, considering there's an official one coming out in 2020.
I think the ultimate takeaway here is that AMC doesn’t pay as well as you think they do, and as long as you make back your budget, they’ll greenlight a sequel to anything.
Hitman: Agent 47 (2015)
The follow-up to the 2007 film Hitman, Hitman: Aent 47 is a reboot and a fresh take on the character with almost an entirely different cast and crew. One of the few holdovers is co-writer Skip Woods, who also wrote the original film. The most notable thing in his B-movie backlog of films is 2001’s Swordfish, so maybe he learned from the mistakes of the first film and can help turn this thing around.
Maybe not. To be fair, action movie clichés and bad special effects aside, this at least looks better than anything else we’ve seen on the list so far, if not particularly faithful. Then again, with a critical Rotten Tomatoes score of 9% and an audience score of 40%, this is the lowest rating we’ve seen, so maybe I’m giving the trailer too much credit.
Fortunately, unlike with Prince of Persia, it seems that two bad adaptations weren’t enough to keep this franchise down, with two new games released in the years since the movie came out (and the release of an HD collection to boot).
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (2016)
Look at that, it’s Aaron Paul again! What a nerd. I’m kidding, I’d kill to be in a video game movie. So, Kingsglaive was part of Square Enix's effort to turn Final Fantasy XV into its own comprehensive universe, much like they have done with Final Fantasy VII in the years since its release.
I’m definitely in the minority among the staff here, but I actually didn’t like the movie. I got bored and walked out two-thirds of the way through. Still, with a Rotten Tomatoes critic score of 12% and an audience approval rating of 68%, it’s hard not to see it both ways.
The animation is beautiful, there’s no denying that. But expositing 80% of your game’s back story in an additional movie might not have been the smartest choice ever, given how the franchise ended up going. Then again, we’ve got Final Fantasy VII Remake coming out soon, so maybe they just need to give it 20 years.
Assassin’s Creed (2016)
With such a juggernaut, story-rich franchise at their disposal, it’s no wonder Ubisoft went to the movies with Assassin’s Creed. While the games have ranged in quality, the franchise as a whole has enough of a template and, to be honest, an excellent means of fitting in a film adaptation or reworking the premise to fit a film.
I could be wrong, but as I recall, the big draw of the Assassin’s Creed franchise was not actually the modern day scenes, wandering around weird labs and watching people in scrubs fighting. Perhaps someone ought to tell the trailer people this. Then again, with a critic score of 18% and an audience score of 43%, let’s hope they got the message. Setting aside the overly long setup and some of the odd artistic choices, it’s still no wonder that the planned sequels to this were among the first things canned by Disney in the wake of their takeover of Fox.
In an odd twist to some of the franchises above, the movie may have helped kick Assassin’s Creed up a notch, with the lackluster middle installments of the franchise from around the movie's release being overshadowed by Assassin's Creed: Origins and Odyssey, released in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
As a franchise, Warcraft has a lot of rich lore to draw from and plenty of wiggle room with characters, and like Assassin’s Creed, I can understand Blizzard wanting to take a whack at moneymaking such a long-running and popular franchise. Dominic Cooper, after Need for Speed, apparently felt the need to try another video game movie on for size as well.
Man, that is a lot of CGI for a live action film. That’s just gobs and gobs of CGI. Perhaps a bit too much. Still, it looks like a fun movie. Not the best video game movie I’ve ever seen, but we’ve come a long way since the Prince of Persia. And at 28% critic and 76% audience score, we’re at least inching up the totem pole here.
For those who have a hankering to play the original Warcraft after watching the movie, it was added to GOG in 2019, so go have some fun.
Ratchet & Clank (2016)
Hopefully you listened when I said to remember Blockade Entertainment above, because here they are again. Two years later and moving on from the disasterpiece that was Heavenly Sword, they decided to try their hand at adapting an action-platformer instead.
Okay, I have some questions. Actually I’m not even sure where to begin with the questions because what? Let’s start with why they decided to adapt a series with several T ratings into a PG children’s franchise, because that just cuts you off right at the knees to begin with. Secondly, are these the least clever fourth-wall breaks or what? Critics and audiences apparently seemed to feel that the rest of the movie followed along the tone of the trailer, giving it a 22% and 42% approval, respectively.
This is actually one of the few films on this list to post a loss, making back $14 million on a $20 million budget. Ouch. It also appears to have canned any future games for the time being, with the last one coinciding with the movie’s release in 2016.
The Angry Birds Movie (2016)
Chances are, if you’re over the age of 15, you remember the Angry Birds craze. With increasingly good cell phone technology, this was the one of the first times that a mobile game swept the public consciousness in such a way, grabbing both casual fans and gamers alike. Clearly, they needed to make a movie out of it then.
I’m clearly not the target demographic, so I’ll go a little easy here. There’s way too much potty humor and none of the jokes are great, but considering it’s based on a mobile game which doesn’t come with a lot of plot, they didn’t have much to work with. Also, why are the pigs green? Maybe I’m coming at this with too much of an adult mind, but according to Rotten Tomatoes the critic score was 44% and the audience score was 46%, so at least I’m not the only one.
Whatever this movie did to attract kids worked, apparently, as a sequel was released in 2019 (with a VR experience, too). I’ve heard tell that the sequel is actually a step up from the original, so presumably the door is still open for a third film in the franchise if they wish.
Originally envisioned as a movie, an adaptation of Castlevania had reportedly been in the works since 2007, until we finally got the first season of the show released on Netflix in 2017. It's definitely the longest wait time for any of the titles on this list.
Cute touch with the NES, but given that we didn’t see much of Castlevania before the series premiered, some people were still skeptical. Luckily, this came out in 2017, and we finally got a good adaptation! Helmed by Adi Shankar, the series is currently in production on its third season and has been lauded for the visuals, writing, and voice cast. With a critical approval rating of 80% for the first season and 100% for the second, as well as an audience score of 89%, Castlevania proved beyond a doubt that video games could be adapted well to movies or TV shows, if done correctly.
While there’s no release date yet for the third season, Shankar announced that he will also be working with Netflix to adapt Devil May Cry, Hyper Light Drifter, and Assassin’s Creed as part of a shared “Bootleg Verse.”
Tomb Raider (2018)
Preface – I’m a huge Tomb Raider fan. While I like the older games—and they certainly have their good points and charm—I’m absolutely in love with the 2013 reboot series. So, when I found out they were doing a reboot movie, I was thrilled. After all, the original with Angelina Jolie had been surprisingly fun and, in an odd way, did capture the spirit of the games. Plus, the reboot series has a ton of story-rich material to work off.
Huh. So, the plot deviates quite heavily from the game it’s adapting, seemingly in favor of dropping a heaping load of Trinity on us from the second and third games. There’s a lot to like about the film, Alicia Vikander being one and the exploration of Lara and her father’s relationship as another, but there’s some notable absence: Jonah!? Roth, crazy cultists, any of it really. It’s a pretty loose adaptation to be sure, but it ends up coming across as a fairly bland Indiana Jones rip-off. Reception was mixed, with a critic score of 52% and an audience score of 55%.
My own personal biases aside, it did outperform the original two movies, and a sequel is in production, set to come out in 2021. God knows what they’ll do with the plot since the first one is so mangled, but I’m personally hoping for some gorgeous sub-Arctic landscape shots.
Detective Pikachu (2019)
To be honest, given the continued worldwide popularity of Pokemon and the fact that they’ve been turning out anime movies and TV shows for years, it’s surprising that we went this long without a live-action adaptation. Starring Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds (aka Deadpool), the hype surrounding this from the first trailer on was unbelievable.
He’s so cute! So fuzzy! Mr. Mime is so creepy! Based on the Pokemon spin-off game of the same name, Detective Pikachu was straight-up amazing. Fun for the whole family! And it's one of the growing number of shows and movies that prove yes, you can make a video-game movie right. Compared to where we were at the start of the decade, Detective Pikachu shows we’ve come a long way. Admittedly, with a critical reception of 68% and an audience score of 79%, it was received warmly, but not too hot.
That of course leaves room for improvement in the announced sequel, as well as rumored spin-offs that are hopefully in the pipeline. Then again, with the current status of second-highest grossing video game movie of all time, it’s pretty much a given.
The Witcher (2019)
Toss a coin to your Witcher and yada yada. For those of you reading this article in 2020, you can probably skip this entry. For those in the mysterious future that I’m talking to – this was hotly anticipated, particularly as Netflix had hit a bullseye with Castlevania just two years before. Not to mention, Henry Cavill’s casting set the DC Extended Universe on its head, but that’s a tale for another time.
For those who don’t know, The Witcher games are based on a series of Polish novels. It is also, as of the time of writing this, the most popular TV show in the world right now. So yeah, Netflix can do good. While I can’t speak for the accuracy and faithfulness of the adaptation to either the original books or the games, a 61% critic rating and 93% audience approval is nothing to sneeze at.
With all of this, it should come as no surprise that a second series has already been commissioned and is scheduled to be released in 2021.
Doom Annihilation (2019)
Here we go again. After the poorly received Doom movie in 2005, apparently 14 years later and direct-to-video (really Netflix) is the way to make a new one. Well, there’s new Doom hype after the 2016 game, so let’s give it a go.
Second thought, let’s not give it a go. And third thought, I would like to retract what I said before about Netflix and video game adaptations. According to our bad movie expert, “It was real bad,” and not just a terrible trailer. I’m not actually quite sure what that trailer was supposed to look like, but I’m quite certain it’s not Doom. Audiences have agreed with me, and it has a 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In December 2018, before the movie was released, there was talk of a possible sequel and that the Barons of Hell might be involved. Let’s hope that’s been quashed. Or maybe turn it into a TV show, since Netflix seems to do better with those.
Costume Quest (2019)
Costume Quest! Last on the list and first in my heart. Based on Double Fine’s adventure game of the same name originally released in 2011, Like with The Angry Birds Movie above, I am not the target demographic for this. However, as a huge fan of the games, I was actually super excited to see this.
That. Looks. Awesome! Okay, the plot changed a bit from the games, but it still keeps the same premise of Wren, Reynold, Lucy, and Everett fighting monsters using their Halloween costumes! And the monsters have an unhealthy obsession with nougat and/or other Halloween candy. It’s not super clear, as no one has shown up dressed as a piece of candy corn yet to test if they’ll get abducted, but the night is still young. Plus, most of the changes, from the episodes I’ve seen, have simply been expanding the world and the story, which isn’t a bad thing. The spirit of the games is still there, front and center.
So far, one season of Costume Quest has been released on Amazon Prime in two parts, with a Holiday special just released in December. No word on a second season yet, but my fingers are crossed.
So, now that we’ve had a decade full of ups and downs wrapped up, what do we have to look forward to in the 2020s? More seasons of The Witcher and Castlevania, an expanded Bootleg Universe, a Detective Pikachu sequel, and the highly controversial Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Will this be better or worse than the last decade? Who knows, but we’re going to be in the front row to find out.