Five films about video games that are actually good

The issue of video game to film adaptations has already been covered many times, always arriving at the same conclusion: they’re crap. But wait, there are actually good video game films out out there. To find them, you just have to look in the right places… namely further down the page.

The following five films are more about video games than of them – and they’re so much better for it.

5. Tron (1982)

IMDB – 6.7
ROTTEN TOMATOES – 70%

Just before Tron: Legacy was released, the world collectively suffered from pink eye as nostalgia surrounded the original Tron. It seemed just about everyone sought to herald it as a classic that had been overlooked and underappreciated in equal measure. Then Tron: Legacy came out and it was alright. And because that was alright, we realised that the original Tron was only alright. But you know what? It’s alright. Alright?

Tron (the film) saw Jeff Bridge’s hacker, Kevin Flynn, getting sucked into Tron (the fictional arcade game), where he fights for survival and tries to bring down the evil Master Control with the help of Tron (the security program). We could look back at it now and scoff at the suits and some of the effects but it’s from 1982 for god’s sake! It gave us light cycles, Xtreme Pong, and 96 minutes of Jeff Bridges. That’s a good thing.

4. eXistenZ (1999)

IMDB – 6.8
ROTTEN TOMATOES – 71%

I switched onto eXistenZ one insomnia-riddled night with only Freeview for company, and to say I’m glad I did would be an understatement; this was the first David Cronenberg film I ever saw. It’s weird enough watching a Cronenberg movie at the best of times, so the prospect of watching one late at night and with a less-than-fully functional brain should present a number of problems.

It didn’t. ExistenZ, whilst flawed, is pretty fantastic.

In a world not too many years from now, game companies have upgraded video games into virtual reality consoles accessible through game pods which users plug themselves into. Unsurprisingly not everyone on earth appreciates this move into Lawnmower Man territory (warning: this list does not contain Lawnmower Man), and when so-called “realists” attack the world’s greatest game designer, Allegra Geller, she has to go inside the game to fix it. Thankfully, Geller doesn’t settle for a Second Life clone and we instead get a high-tempo chase through a warped existence of heightened emotions. And guns made of food.

3. WarGames (1983)

IMDB – 7.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES – 97%

Oh that Matthew Broderick. When he’s not having a day off, or tracking a giant lizard monster through the streets of New York, or even inspecting things with gadgets, then he’s being a l337 h4xx0r who threatens the world with war. Global Thermonuclear War.

Broderick is David Lightman, a hacker who, after digitally improving his school grades, just wants to play Defcon. Unbeknownst to him though, Defcon doesn’t exist until 2006 so he hacks into a supercomputer designed to run nuclear warfare simulations, as well as charming games of chess and tic tac toe, instead. Uh oh, turns out the supercomputer is connected to the US Defence network and soon the military believes the USSR has skipped Defcon and gone straight to wanting a live-action Metro 2033.

I watched this on VHS on many a weekend in the mid-90s with good reason: it’s great. There may only be one Ferris Bueller, but WarGames might convince you that he’s got a brother who could set Skynet in motion.

2. Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

IMDB – 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES – 96%

Struggle and sacrifice. Indie Game: The Movie. Struggle and sacrifice.

At the end of 103 minutes you’ll have a new found respect for every single video game. Even Daikatana, or Superman 64; even ET: The Extra Terrestrial,

The torturous final months before the release of Team Meat’s Super Meat Boy and Polytron’s perennially delayed Fez, amake up much of the film’s run time, interspersed with the opinion of some of the top video game journalists around (no, we weren’t asked to contribute) as well as Braid mastermind Jonathan Blow. And what’s revealed is such a fight, you’ll find yourself willing success even though you likely know the result.

We’ve already done a feature about how coding and hacking is best portrayed in films but not even Swordfish comes close to the tension that arises from watching Phil Fish of Polytron struggle to make a playable demo of Fez whilst struggling with a court case brought on him by his ex-business partner, all the while tackling two giant mutton chops that are slowly taking over his face. It takes a film pretty special to beat this.

1. The King Of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)

IMDB – 8.2
ROTTEN TOMATOES – 96%

There are times at the beginning of King Of Kong where you wonder how real this film really is. It doesn’t help that loveable everyman Steve Wiebe’s attempt to break the world record at Donkey Kong is often thwarted by Billy Mitchell, the apparent lovechild of Peter Dinklage and Nick Cave, and nor does it help that Walter Day, head of record collater Twin Galaxies, looks like a beardy Robert Duvall. But once you get through the initial disbelief, you’re not so much asking “is this really real, for real?”, you’re wondering “can he do it?” Can a pretty unremarkable man achieve a pretty remarkable score on a game popular several decades ago?

While we’re used to heroes and villains in films, Mitchell, who permanently resembles a supermarket manager with his blue shirt, tie, and shoulder-length hair ensemble, presents the natural counterpoint to the affable Wiebe, who finally finds something he can find validation through. No matter how much he tries to hide it, Mitchell needs his record, too, and thus is born a classic struggle to the extent that you expect to hear “we’re not so different, you and I” in a smoky boardroom at some point.

As Wiebe practices in his garage and travels cross-country to get some recognition, and Mitchell’s acolytes set about discrediting Steve’s achievements, you’ll be so drawn in that you can ignore the fact that the man behind Horrible Bosses and Four Christmases managed to direct this.

If you’ve ever tried to set a high score, or get an achievement – you must see this film.

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