There’s no denying that the recent debut of The Last of Us, the live-action TV adaptation of the hit video game of the same title, has set fandom ablaze with its faithful retelling, but you might be wondering why many are calling it the best video game adaptation ever made, when there are clearly other popular, deserving movies, TV shows or animated movies out there.
That said, video game adaptations have suffered an ill, sullied reputation for the longest time, as the majority do not do the source material much justice. Be it an ill-conceived animated series, or poorly constructed show, live-action works often take the brunt of harsh critique (Dragonball Evolution anyone?), as it’s the most common one to have accrued poor reception and negative feedback over the years.
The Resident Evil franchise is a prime example, as the movies, led by Milla Jovovich, are notorious for consistently scoring a mixed-to-negative response. The reboot hasn’t fared any better, and this repeated showing, most recently in the form of a Netflix series, only reinforced the notion that some video games do not warrant, or deserve, the desecration of an adaptation.
Still, a recent string of successes has proven otherwise. The animation scene is now home to Netflix’s critically-acclaimed Arcane and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners series, themselves based on League of Legends and Cyberpunk 2077, while HBO’s The Last of Us continues to shatter expectations with one exceptional performance after another. The numbers speak for themselves – in addition to scoring the streamer’s second-best debut of the last decade, the show also snagged a second season with its overwhelming popularity.
In spirit of the title’s continued triumph, here are 15 video game adaptations from various mediums that have become success stories in their own right, and should also be recognised alongside some of the best adaptations currently available.
1) Ace Attorney (2012)
Objection? We say perfection. The Japanese live-action feature adaptation of Ace Attorney is appropriately over-the-top just like the games, and proves to be a delightfully faithful execution of the franchise. It’s cheesy, hilariously absurd, and full of uh, delicious unresolved tension between the protagonist duo of Miles Edgeworth and Phoenix Wright, but bears the same endearing charm that permeates every game in the series. An entertaining watch through and through, especially for fans.
2) Arcane (2021)
Came for the visuals, stayed for everything. Riot Games’ League of Legends animated series, Arcane, is a narrative masterpiece that dazzled and thrilled as much as it tugged at the heartstrings of viewers. Focusing on two connected narratives, the show does an excellent job at fleshing out its characters and setting – even for newcomers – and elevates that further with striking, breathtaking animation, fantastic writing, and excellent soundtracks.
3) Castlevania (2017)
There’s plenty to like about Netflix’s adaptation of Castlevania, from its cast of characters and breakneck action scenes to the detailed gothic aesthetic. More impressively, it tells a compelling, exciting tale by weaving in various story elements from the games, and balances an in-depth exploration of major themes and dark subject matter with humorous moments. It’s a grim tale for grim characters, but it’s one that viewers will undertake willingly.
4) Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022)
It’s not often that a game can boast of its zero-to-hero status, but CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 certainly fits the bill – and its animated counterpart Cyberpunk: Edgerunners gets a lot of credit here. The series released to critical acclaim and quickly became an award nomination darling, capturing the hearts of many with blistering action, a gorgeous, stylish visual flair, and a stirringly human narrative. Awe, laughter, and tears go hand-in-hand for this one.
5) Detective Pikachu (2019)
Pikachu in a detective’s hat, thrust into a world of CGI? It’s natural to feel sceptical about the execution, yet Detective Pikachu somehow surpassed expectations with its fun and robust presentation. Staying true to the franchise’s family-friendly roots, the live-action feature is an entertaining, if intriguing, romp that delivers plenty of heart and laughs, with adorable critters (the family of Bulbasaurs, anyone?) only driving home the familiar sensation of nostalgia.
6) DOTA: Dragon’s Blood (2021)
Having Davion as the focus for DOTA: Dragon’s Blood was the right move, because the charm he brings as a fan favourite character proved sufficient to get it off on a good foot. The momentum didn’t falter halfway, either: between the heart-racing battle sequences, detailed characterisation, and interesting ideas, the show has a lot to offer for fans, lore enthusiasts, and newcomers alike.
7) Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
As the sequel to the beloved Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children isn’t the most accessible for those without an understanding of the game’s events. The animated feature, after all, is pure fan service, and that’s not a bad thing here – the return of Cloud Strife, mesmerising action scenes, and increased character exploration makes this a delightful, nostalgic experience for fans. The real star, however, is its praiseworthy visuals, which certainly put other animated CG films of its era to shame.
8) Like A Dragon (2007)
From the director of the live-action Ace Attorney movie comes Like A Dragon, an equally fun and wacky take on Sega’s Yakuza series. The adaptation leverages on its deft execution of black comedy to introduce elements from the games, such as random yakuza street brawls, unrealistic healing and power-up methods, and the hilarious rivalry between main characters Kazuma Kiryu and Goro Majima. Coupled with great pacing, it puts forth a chaotic, entertaining spectacle – even with the bizarre, head-scratching ending.
9) Mortal Kombat
Both the 1995 and 2021 adaptations of Mortal Kombat share the same title, and they each have their own share of merits. The former is fun, campy, and lighthearted, while the latter reboot scores extra points for its gore and excellent cast. The 1995 original embraces the source material and actually features the titular fighting tournament; in comparison, its 2021 counterpart explores wildly inventive fight scenes. Take your pick.
10) Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is a love letter to fans of the games, building on its predecessor to bring more familiar faces to the silver screen. While the titular speedster, Dr. Robotnik, and Tails have always been part of the cast, both Knuckles and Shadow (in voice) only made their debut here. The addition of these two fan favourites, along with the dashes of silly comedy and clever nods to the source material, makes it an amusing affair that sticks mostly to its video game roots.
11) Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist (2014)
Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist is one of the most respectful Street Fighter adaptations out there, striking a fine balance between telling a sincere narrative and revelling in fan service. The series
does a phenomenal job at unravelling the story as it does with the action scenes, serving up stellar displays of well-executed combat sequences that pay homage to each character’s signature moves. Here’s a message for any future live-action Street Fighter productions – level up your game, please.
12) The Witcher (2019)
While Netflix’s The Witcher series isn’t technically a game adaptation, it bears mentioning for fans of CD Projekt Red’s critically acclaimed The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The title, after all, has breathed so much new life into Andrzej Sapkowski’s fantasy novels, and built a framework for how an exceptional adaptation should be. The live-action series takes some of these cues and transforms the old fable into a fresh experience, born from intricate world-building, thoughtful character development, and deep thematic exploration. Henry Cavill as the perfect Geralt is an added plus.
13) The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf (2021)
Where The Witcher centres on Geralt, The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf shifts its focus to Geralt’s mentor and fellow witcher Vesemir in his younger days. The result is an animated film that impresses with its fluid visuals, action-packed story, and a striking character study, establishing itself as a solid addendum to the world of The Witcher. Despite being more for fans, it holds enough charm to be enjoyed on its own.
14) Tomb Raider (2018)
Tomb Raider has its flaws, but at the very least, it manages to capture the adventurous spirit of the games. The live-action film is a guilty pleasure that delivers, and Alicia Vikander’s acting prowess only acts in its favour – the main star proves successful at conveying the part-athlete-part-sleuth nature of Lara Croft. Throw in some thrilling action, expertly choreographed stunts, and nods to its game roots, and the finished product is an enjoyable viewing affair.
15) Werewolves Within (2021)
Witty dialogue? Check. Charming, sharp humour? Double check. Dramatic story twists? Triple check. More amusing than thrilling, Werewolves Within is a rare comedic gem that takes after Ubisoft’s 2016 VR game of the same name. The efforts are largely successful, with the whodunnit movie (or weredunnit, if you’d prefer) going full throttle on the chaotic energy to bring the right kind of campy appeal and a good time to audiences.
With the surging popularity of The Last of Us, the video game adaptation fever is certainly at a high. Recent works have demonstrated that the curse can be lifted, and that’s an optimistic and promising step towards a brighter future for the industry, especially with the litany of video game adaptations that are currently in the works, including Netflix’s Horizon Zero Dawn and Amazon’s God of War.
The general consensus seems to be that animated series tend to be the better narrative tool, but the live-action format does have a lot of room for creative exploration as well, and it’d be nice to see it flourish more moving forward. Perhaps it’ll be the rise of video game adaptations soon? It’s too early to determine, but the direction has never been clearer.