There are a lot of “video game movies” to choose from. A film adaptation of a video game, such as Super Mario Bros. or Mortal Kombat, in which the video game’s environment and characters are brought to life on the big screen. Movies “about video games” are something we are lacking. It’s refreshing to see movies that don’t just swoop in and steal more intellectual property, but instead examine one of our most vital mediums of entertainment.
Possibly because of this, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was an unexpected success. As if the hazards of a board game were real, the 2017 follow-up to the iconic Robin Williams-starrer Jumanji from the 1990s took that delectable notion and updated it for today’s environment of how we play games. Is it possible to get pulled into a video game and lose control of your body? The threats were genuine, right? As a result, the film becomes a reflection on how we interact with computer games in addition to its blockbuster-required humor and set pieces (and its movie star magnetism from Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan).
In anticipation of the upcoming December 13th release of Jumanji: The Next Level, the next film in the new Jumanji meta-franchise, here is a list of the best films about video games. Are you ready to get started?
1. Indie Game: The Movie
An honest documentary, Indie Game: The Movie, is both uplifting and heartbreaking. We may not have seen a better “temperature take” of contemporary video gaming culture than this film, which was released in 2012. Three critically renowned independent games are profiled, as well as the eccentric creators behind them: Super Meat Boy (Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes), Fez (Phil Fish), and Braid (Edmund McMillen) (Jonathan Blow). It’s enlightening in its depiction of the present generation of video game makers as they were brought up in a time when video games were still in their infancy. Video games were a constant presence in the lives of these future artists as children, but they were obviously too young to own them. As was the case with Moses and the Ten Commandments, they were instead transmitted through external means. As a result, the developers of video games (who plaster posters all over their walls) worship the medium with a mix of awe and ambition that is both appealing to children and adults. Indie Game: The Movie can inspire you to get started on a passion project you’ve been puzzling about. This is terrible in every other aspect, though. Every artist has a bad day. When a creator pushes themselves to the limit, they merge their work with their true selves. For some reason, I can’t help but think of art mimicking life when Phil Fish says, “I would murder myself” when asked what will happen to him if he doesn’t finish Fez by the end of the panel. As a retroactive warning sign for #GamerGate, Indie Game: The Movie takes an exposé-level look at the unhealthiness hiding in the most fundamental elements of these all-male artists. Edmund McMillen, a co-developer on Super Meat Boy, particularly disturbs me. Danielle, his wife, appears to be a happy and contented woman in his eyes. The combination of his attitudes toward women and his determination to “push past bounds” appears to have led to some ugly behavior. To my eye, it appears that you play as a gigantic erect penis engaged in thrusting combat with a villainous, vaginal boss in one of his games (The C Word). He seems to be committed to the “anything may be a border that’s pushed to an outrageous comedy” point of view, which is at best a very terrible extension of his views about sexual relationships between men and women, without bothering to grasp the context. If you want to lose this game, you’ll have to intentionally perform violent sexual assault on someone else. It’s easy for me to identify with his (and other creators’) battles to not feel like an outsider, his anxiety and stomach problems, and his difficulties relating to others. However, the use of pain in art has its drawbacks. And the sword appears to swung in every direction in Indie Game: The Movie — and in many ways, our contemporary gaming universe.
Gamer, a 2009 sci-fi action film starring Michael C. Hall, features a memorable dance scene in which he and his minions beat Gerard Butler to a pulp. In my opinion, just this moment alone should propel the picture to the top of every “best of film” list ever compiled, regardless of the year or issue it deals with. Until then, you may find me over here shouting Gamer’s praises to the heavens. With its “bro-y late 2000s FPS shooters” aesthetic (think muted brownish colors and beefy boys holding assault rifles in games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare), the maniacal Crank franchise writers/directors Neveldine/Taylor take a sleazy premise and turn it into a downright mind-numbing, eye-straining final product. All of this is meant as the highest compliment. In the year 2034, humanity have become hooked to a video game created by the wicked Hall called Slayers (subtle, Gamer ain’t). Players like Logan Lerman, who plays his avatar like a genuine human being rather than a computer program, do extremely well with their avatar. In Slayers, characters can earn their freedom by winning 30 matches in a row, but this is a rare occurrence. As a result of the Humanz’ (subtlety is overrated!) muckraking activities, Hall decides that Butler’s winning streak has gone on long enough, and creates a gang of new players (headed by Terry Crews, of course) who can cheat the system, sending Butler on the run for his life, digital or otherwise. Filmmakers who are more in tune with our postmodern, fast-paced ability to process rapidly altering information than any other 2000s filmmakers have chopped and twisted Gamer, like the Cranks, with insane pieces of action. In addition, Neveldine and Taylor’s “patience” is apparent, as is the proportionate rise in budget and narrative/visual concentration. Aside from Hall having the time of his life, we also get to see varied actors like Ludacris and Kyra Sedgwick conduct joyous acts of performative joy while chomping on scenery. The peculiarities and imperfections that make up Gamer make it a worthwhile read for me. Mountain Dew, all William Gibson’s novels, 18 suicide sprints and a stream-of-consciousness screenplay: this is how it seems like it was made. Mad Max: Fury Road has received great accolades for its relentless pace, harsh aesthetics and crystallized picture of mayhem. Surely Gamer deserves the same acclaim?
The Disney+ tagline for Tron declares, “It’s an amazing adventure that everyone will enjoy!” Contrary to popular belief, I am of the opposite opinion. Tron, Disney’s live-action 1982 sci-fi blockbuster, is something of a challenge for me. This film’s pioneering use of computer-generated graphics, which was widely hailed as groundbreaking at the time, now feels out of place and unnatural. In terms of pacing, the script is complex, the score is ridiculous, and the performances aren’t geared toward the typical family audience. However, this does not imply that I consider Tron to be a museum piece that should not be enjoyed for its entertainment value. In the right frame of mind, Tron plays like a refreshingly out-of-the-box Amblin film — as if 1980s Steven Spielberg were to direct a 2000s script written by Spielberg. Evil tech corporation ENCOM imprisons computer programmer and actor Jeff Bridges, who performs admirably and unaffectedly as always, in the role of Kevin Flynn. He tries his hardest to return to the real world while contending with the game’s numerous AIs and algorithms in both existential and physical ways (lightcycle and deadly techno-frisbee clashes!). A combination of precise technical techniques and atypically auteur-driven stylization in visual effects has yielded the characters in this film, which I find mesmerizing. Primitive colors displayed in harsh angles on top of unfinished wireframe renders are used by Moebius, otherwise known as French comic book designer Jean Giraud. Using a variety of photochemical/digital techniques that took hours to finish on a single frame, we photographed the game’s actors on 65mm black-and-white film. The end result is endearing and hazardous at the same time, and it’s easy to consume but keeps you at a distance. To put it another way, it’s safe to say that Tron is the best movie we’ve ever made about the early days of video games. Do you think Pong is going to kill us all, or will it mesmerize us all?
4. Tron: Legacy
The Dark Knight and Suicide Squad may be viewed as the apex and the nadir of the recent trend of rebooting classic films in a more somber, realistic, and “gritty” tone by film historians. I sincerely hope that Joseph Kosinski’s directorial debut, 2010’s Tron: Legacy, receives more than a passing mention in this discussion. “Gritty” fits like a slim-fitting blazer on the catwalk. Only neon explosions can be seen in its light cycle sequences since the hues have been desaturated to a pale grey or light blue. Claudio Miranda’s cinematography frames each instant of the bloodsport like a cyberpunk chiaroscuro painting in the film’s light cycle segments, which run at breakneck speed and are frighteningly violent. Incorporating the nihilistic funk of Daft Punk’s Human After All period with an orchestral backing, the score just rocks. Despite its oppressively dark tone, Tron: Legacy is a lot of pleasure to watch because of Olivia Wilde’s hilarious performance as Quorra. However, we must address one digital elephant in the room. There’s something strangely disconcerting about the “young Jeff Bridges” in the picture, but the main antagonist Clu, played by the film’s wonky-beyond-wonky CG “young Jeff Bridges” (Codified Likeness Utility). The character is a visual contrast to Jeff Bridges’ lived-in, age-appropriate skin, a narrative contrast to the fight between malevolently efficient computer intelligence and stubborn human nature, and even a meta-level contrast. Known for his use of cutting-edge CGI effects in Gears of War and Halo 3 advertisements, Kosinski has the keys to the Tron heritage. He knows exactly how to create visually stunning landscapes and pictures for his stories without encountering any road blocks. Aside from the fact that Bridge’s Clu seems completely out of place. Despite this, the film and many works of speculative fiction are enhanced by Kosinski’s technological limitations: Because of that one obstinate thing, humans will always triumph against technology. When it comes down to it, people play video games, not the other way around. Tron: Legacy serves as a shining example of this fact.
In the summer of 1983, John Badham’s WarGames was described as the first film to show the presence of computers and video gaming as a given, rather than a fresh notion, in Softline, a magazine dedicated to early Apple computer news. “Without the widespread use of microcomputers, the film would not have been possible. Everything about it is taken for granted as an inherent element of the American middle-class lifestyle. As a child (like Broderick) or an adult (like the military officials who say things like “I don’t understand these computers very well”), watching Matthew Broderick (charming as ever) zoom through seemingly complicated computer systems with ease in his fingers and mischief on his mind will ring familiar to any viewer who grew up with the Internet. Younger brains may be better equipped to notice and adapt to novel patterns because of their heightened sensitivity to sensory input. Could be because of the stereotypical picture of a video game player as a younger person who can notice and adapt to new patterns quickly. It’s possible, however, that this capacity could be abused. Against a system as powerful and capable of recognizing patterns as our own, but lacking the human advantage of critical thinking that occurs when we go outside of the pattern? So, if that were to happen, you’d have the intriguing premise of the movie WarGames, in which hacker/gamer Broderick unwittingly sets in motion events that could lead to World War III by hacking into the military computer. “WarGames” explores many of the same topics as Black Mirror episodes like “Bandersnatch” or “Shut Up and Dance” with a lighter touch, crackling sense of humor and a resolution that’s as uplifting as it is existentially nerve-wracking. “WarGames” Realistic violence is prevalent across the video game industry. In WarGames, we’re reminded that actual violence isn’t something we can play with.
6. Edge of Tomorrow
Edge of Tomorrow is perhaps the closest film experience you’ll get to being a sentient video game character paired with a player. The Doug Liman-directed film, based on the critically acclaimed 2004 manga novel All You Need Is Kill, accomplishes one of my favorite things with Tom Cruise: It makes him a damn coward. The story takes place in a dirty third-person alien/military shooting environment. Similarly to Magnolia, Cruise tries to hide his lack of battlefield experience with sniveling bravado that only comes from the comfort of a desk in this film. It’s a nasty revelation for him, though, when he’s compelled to engage in combat to clear the area of some hostile aliens. There followed a harsh awakening. After then, there were a slew of other harsh awakenings. As you can see, each time he is knocked out, he wakes up and begins the fight all over again. Turning his adventure into a video game level — a tough run-and-gunner like Cuphead that relies on patterns. Learn from your mistakes and dodge instead of standing still; feel the temporary sense of victory as you inch closer to completion; die again, resurrect and apply your new lessons; and repeat this process until you reach the end. Does this sound familiar to you? Emily Blunt, his reluctant ally-turned-sage who completely destroys the extraterrestrial adversaries, chooses to educate Tom Cruise the fundamentals of being an adequate soldier along the road, which is just what he needs (think a tutorial level guide crossed with a no-bullshit take on GLaDOS crossed with your older brother who made fun of you for dying too early in World 1-1). Even as these two go head-to-head in combat, the film’s dark sense of humor (pitted cruelly against the vicious acts of uncaring violence) becomes more and more prominent as “the video game playing experience” takes center stage.
Unless: As the plot thickens, the line between “player” and “character” blurs even farther between these two terms. While the sorrow and frustration that Cruise is feeling can be compared to that of a player, it has an added poignancy because it is something that he has experienced firsthand. It’s possible that Jumanji: The Next Level or Edge of Tomorrow may show you what it’s like to fly into your favorite video game in your dreams, or that Edge of Tomorrow will show you what it’s like to fly into a morbidly amusing nightmare.
7. The Wizard
After witnessing The Wizard, I was astonished. According to friends who have talked to me about it, it’s known as a cheesy, product-placement-heavy camp classic. This is a relic of the Nintendo era from the late 1980s, but that’s about all it’s good for. At the beginning of the book, I was hoping for something like this. It’s true that the movie slows down at times to let us bask in the glory of classic Nintendo games like Super Mario Bros. 3. (which is, in fairness, a glorious game). And, of course, there is the classic remark, “I love the Power Glove,” delivered by a character utilizing the short-lived controller device known as the Power Glove. “It’s so bad,” And yet, there is an almost perversely tragic narrative about dysfunctional families, fathers and sons, divorced, traumatized children and the damn death of a child hidden within all these cheesey moments Awe-inspiring and awe-inspiring, this film is relentlessly bleak.
All of this is in service of (and thus at odds with) the serious, heavy stuff, despite the bright, flat lighting, frequently funny soundtrack, and great kid performers. That isn’t all, either. Thank you for going there, and I think it succeeds. There are no names given to the mental disorder that may have been aggravated by the loss of Jimmy Woods’ sister in the film’s title character Jimmy Woods (Luke Edwards). During an unexpected road trip to a video game tournament, Jimmy’s brother Nick (Fred Savage) realizes that Jimmy is a great video game player—so incredible that they can make money—and they bring along a young Haley Brooks (Jenny Lewis, who went on to become an incredible musician). This is when things get personal, dear reader. Despite the fact that Jimmy’s condition is never explicitly described, it reads like autism to me. And I was diagnosed with autism when I was his age. My emotional triggers felt like tidal waves when I tried to communicate with others. My family and friends were often baffled by my preference for routines, traditions, and patterns. Like Jimmy, I greatly benefitted from the incorporation of patterns into video games’ social aspects. Suddenly, my irrational desires were a source of strength rather than a weakness. The discovery of video games has been a major factor in helping me better understand where I fit on the spectrum (alongside lots and lots of therapy and self-work, which I cannot recommend enough).
The word “autism” is never spoken in this picture, and I can appreciate the argument that its “casual savantism” is an example of one of many Hollywood generalizations about the illness (i.e. Rain Man, The Good Doctor). What about me? When I walked into the movie, I was hoping for a lighthearted, video game-chasing adventure. I walked away with a new favorite in my sights. To put it another way, I adore The Wizard of Oz. Honestly, it’s a mess.
8. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Exacting examination of one of the most specialized subcultures we have. A documentary, suspense thriller, expose and worldwide David-versus-Goliath story. “The King of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters” encompasses several different aspects. Finally, it’s a joy to watch. Donkey Kong is one of the most influential arcade games ever developed, and this documentary by Seth Gordon delves deep into the world of arcade game high score tournaments. Donkey Kong’s highest-scoring player is Billy Mitchell, a character you’ll instantly find yourself rooting against. An American flag tie, a burning mullet, and an oppressively self-assured demeanor are all trademarks of this Florida-based hot sauce supplier. Steve Wiebe, the man he’s up against, is a man you’ll fall in love with at first sight. In addition to being a sweet, kind, and quiet person, he’s also a master at playing Donkey Kong (and not being a jackass about it). Alternatively, is the word “peerless” not quite the correct one? A slew of elements, ranging from the fabrication of cabinet circuit boards to the legitimacy of VHS tapes to human nature, complicate things at every turn, making Wiebe’s achievements even more impressive. When it comes to archaic power systems and toxic masculinity, The King of Kong is a Nostradamus-esque clairvoyant into the world of YouTube streaming celebrities and online gaming scandals, even if it’s designed to explore these topics. Do some Googling after you finish watching this film, as the usual cathartic ending you’d expect from a narrative like this may not be provided. Trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, some of the film’s history was rewritten in the film’s special features. It wouldn’t be a video game if it didn’t have additional content.
9. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World
Film director Edgar Wright, who directed Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, does not explicitly focus on video games. “It’s a song about love and a song about the past and a song about the future.” However, this film is awash in video game culture, from its narrative structure to its aesthetics, in ways that are both aesthetically beautiful and difficult to analyse. With a 16-bit synthesizer rendition of Universal’s renowned theme song, we’re introduced to the brand’s pixelated, chunky emblem. An instantly recognizable The Legend of Zelda theme is heard in the opening shot, which serves as an excellent teaser for the entire melody that will be heard later in a bizarre dreamscape. It’s no surprise that Scott Pilgrim (and Young Neil’s) obsession with video games is woven into the fabric of the entire film, from the “fighting game voiceover” of Bill Hader, to the shifting visual language and aspect ratios of the film, to the framing structure of the entire plot. Wright’s reverence for pop culture is evident throughout. In order to win a girl’s heart, must you first defeat a “ultimate boss”? It sounds like every video game from the golden era. It’s not all glitz and glamour for Wright and his co-writer Michael Bacall, though. It’s hard for Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) because of his tendency to live life like he’s the protagonist of a video game. Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) is as casually tossed aside as his struggles against Ramona’s “evil exes” in his pursuit of Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). “Scott won the power of self-respect!” The film’s concluding conclusion for these three characters complicates everything seen before, including (and still employing) video game jargon. A final thought: For those who enjoyed the movie and want to see more from the Anamanaguchi chiptune band, check out the 2010 retro side-scrolling beat ’em up video game.
10. Wreck-It Ralph
A video game enthusiast will like Wreck-It Ralph. Wreck-It Ralph is for everybody who has ever seen a Disney film. This movie is for everybody who’s ever had to do something horrible in order to get what they thought was a better outcome: Wreck-It Ralph is for them. It’s a comedy that appeals to a wide range of people because to its clever satire of video games and other pop culture references. The protagonist, played by John C. Reilly, has had enough of being the bad guy in his video game. For once, he wants to be a hero and be recognized for his bravery. Vanellope von Schweetz (the flawless Sarah Silverman) is a fellow misfit who joins him in a Mario-Kart-combined-with-candy game. Is it possible for the two to help each other realize their potential? In Wreck-It Ralph, the answer to this question is unequivocal, delivering a great blend of witticisms, heartfelt moments, and truly stunning set pieces that both lampoon and remind us of the joys of various genres (from gritty first-person shooters to literally sweet kart racing) (seriously, I need Sugar Rush on my Switch, and I need it now). Wreck-It Ralph, despite providing us with a slew of memorable cameos like Zangief, Sonic, Pac-Man, Bowser, and many more, contains fundamental problems about identity that lie in the margins of every video game we have ever played. When we play a video game, we take control of a different character and direct their actions. If these characters have other ideas, what will happen to them? What about the non-player characters, who are programmed to do the same thing over and over again? Is it possible for them to break free of their code and embark on a voyage of their own design? Wreck-It Ralph uses both Ralph, Vanellope, and a third character, whom I will not identify for fear of spoilers, to examine this casually existential subject (in a frickin’ Disney kids’ movie!) To date, Wreck-It Ralph is alone as the best video game movie ever made.