From Tron to Jumanji: The Best Video Game Movies of All Time | Game
When most people think of movies about games, they immediately think of the astonishing light cycle chase in Steven Lisberger’s visually daring film. With its underlying themes of dehumanization and corporate greed in the digital age, Tron was more than an action game with beautiful effects and a cool arcade setting; a fact underlined by a committed lead performance from Jeff Bridges.
In this action-comedy, Guy (Ryan Reynolds) discovers that not only is he living in a video game—one that bears a not insignificant resemblance to the lawless cities of Grand Theft Auto Online—but he’s not even a hero: he’s a non-player character. This realization sets off a chain of high-octane events inside and outside the game, as a couple of the developers try to save it from a money-grubbing, unethical studio head.
Steeped in video game sound, visuals and style, this beloved Edgar Wright cartoon action comedy is structured rather like a Street Fighter campaign, as Scott (Michael Cera) faces the seven evil exes of his girlfriend Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Video games are a prism through which Scott understands himself and the world; the same goes for the film’s diehard millennial fans.
Less a movie, more a 90-minute commercial for Nintendo, The Wizard follows geek nerd Jimmy Woods (a young Fred Savage of The Wonder Years fame) as he takes a road trip across the United States to compete in a gaming tournament. The finale, based on Super Mario Bros 3 – which wasn’t quite out in the US at the time – was perhaps the most cheeky product placement in cinema history.
Released at the end of the Cold War, amid a wave of deep nuclear paranoia, WarGames introduced a generation of fledgling computer users to the concepts of hacking and artificial intelligence. Matthew Broderick’s sleazy nerd gains access to Norad’s military mainframe and nearly starts a third world war when the AI system decides to react. Have the words “Shall we play a game?” ever had more sinister connotations?
The Last Starfighter
In the ultimate gamer fantasy story, talented shoot-em-up player Alex Rogan is recruited into an alien army when they see him get the highest score in the eponymous Starfighter arcade game. Yes, it’s basically a story about the abduction and militarization of a minor, but this was the 80s, and at the time it counted as feel-good entertainment.
Bringing his delightfully slimy blend of body horror to the new genre of existential VR thriller, David Cronenberg assembled a stellar cast including Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe and Christopher Eccleston into this imaginative tale of warring tech companies and rebellious game designers who fighting to dominate cyberspace as reality collapses. Along with Strange Days, Virtuosity and The Matrix, it made us fear virtual worlds two decades before most of us would ever experience one.
Maybe we’re cheating by grouping these two Disney animated films together, but bear with us: where the first Wreck-It Ralph game was a fairly simple appeal to the nostalgia of the gamer parent generation, with its arcade machines and cameos from Pac-Man and Q-Bert, the sequel develops this premise by showing how online gaming has become a dividing line between the older generation of gamers (only Ralph) and their children (represented by Sarah Silverman’s character) – or a way to unite them. Together, these films tell a story of how gaming has evolved across generations.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
Following the intense rivalry between players Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell over who is the greatest Donkey Kong player ever, The King of Kong is a fascinating and often very funny documentary about obsession and ego that still resonates today.
Indie game: The Movie
James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot’s quiet, sensitive documentary effectively documents the birth of the modern indie game development scene, chatting with stars of the era Phil Fish (Fez), Jonathan Blow (Braid) and others as they consider the financial and emotional costs of making weird games on the beginning of the 21st century.
Not a film about playing games, but a film about making them, inspired by the wild west of the British 1980s development scene. We follow the young protagonist Sam (Fionn Whitehead) as he is engrossed in the process of creating his first video game. Naturally, this being Black Mirror, things get weird – and the viewer can choose how the story unfolds at various crossroads, bringing this film closer to the interactivity of the games themselves.
Produced at the dawn of the massively multiplayer role-playing game era, this absorbing and thoughtful documentary follows players from Everquest and World of Warcraft as they forge new identities and relationships in these formative shared digital domains. A ground-breaking work in sociocultural anthropology.
This 2017 reimagining of the mid-’90s Robin Williams film swaps the magical board game setting for a video game, using the premise of players being zapped into the ludic landscape for plenty of decent laughs plus some snarky commentary on gender roles in gaming culture. The cast commits to their roles, whether it’s Karen Gillan acclimating to her Lara Croft persona or Jack Black’s absolute male body horror.