SALT LAKE CITY — Video game movies are cursed — or if not cursed, something close to it — and the faster Hollywood accepts that, the better for everyone.
Out of approximately 40 or so attempts at adapting games into feature-length movies (beginning, appropriately enough, with the complete travesty that is the “Super Mario Bros.” movie), not a single one has ever managed to be genuinely good.
In fact, not a single one has even managed to score mostly better-than-average reviews among critics, at least according to review aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. (And that’s really not hard to do: “Sharknado” has an 82 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Let that sink in for a while.)
This is a recurring phenomenon over the last three decades, and no amount of star power or talent seems to be able to change that.
Just last weekend, the Alicia Vikander-starring “Tomb Raider” took a hard swing, delivering a grittier, more grounded take on the popular heroine (previously portrayed by another Oscar-winning actress, Angelina Jolie), and it came the closest of any video game adaptation so far. But even it left critics split cleanly down the middle, earning just 50 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 48 on Metacritic. That’s still a sizeable improvement over the next highest-reviewed game-to-movie adaptation, “The Angry Birds Movie” (43 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, 43 on Metacritic), but that isn’t really saying much.
Movies about video games, on the other hand? Well, that’s a different story entirely. There have been train wrecks among them, too (*cough* “Pixels” *cough*), but there have also been some remarkably good — nay, great — films dealing with games as a subject as well as gamers and gaming culture in general.
Take this weekend’s release of Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One,” a movie about a high-stakes Easter egg hunt inside a fictitious video game world that, rather fittingly, is itself jam-packed with pop culture Easter eggs that even the most eagle-eyed audience member won’t spot them all in a single viewing. (In fact, even Spielberg said he has yet to find them all, according to Entertainment Weekly.)
The good news is it’s far from the only example. Here are a few other movies about video games, several of which actually pop up as Easter eggs in “Ready Player One”:
For anyone who’s seen “Ready Player One” or read the book it’s based on, this movie might sound a little familiar. Set in a futuristic dystopia where an illegal virtual reality game called "Avalon" has become a world unto itself with huge payouts for the best players, a top-tier "Avalon" gamer goes in search of a more advanced level of the game hidden somewhere inside it. Although a Polish-language film, “Avalon” was directed by Mamoru Oshii, the legendary anime director behind the original “Ghost in the Shell.”
Rotten Tomatoes: 80 percent
'Indie Game: The Movie'
This documentary, which premiered at Sundance in 2012 (and was named best documentary by the Utah Film Critics Association), showcases the sometimes insane lengths indie developers go to in service of their art.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent
'Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle'
This surprisingly fun sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams comedy about a magical board game hit theaters this last December, updating the concept for a more tech-obsessed generation. Instead of a board game, this time around it follows four players who get sucked into a “Pitfall”-style jungle platformer, each becoming their avatars from the video game. For anyone who didn't catch it in theaters, it’s out on Redbox now.
Rotten Tomatoes: 76 percent
'The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters'
A documentary about a mild-mannered middle school teacher and a hot sauce mogul vying for the high score on “Donkey Kong” might sound like it would only appeal to a very niche audience, but that could hardly be farther from the truth. There’s a reason Hollywood has been threatening to remake this movie since it debuted at Slamdance in 2007. “King of Kong” is a crowd-pleaser if ever there was one, offering a bizarrely poignant look at the world of diehard competitive arcade gamers. And it features probably one of the best movie villains of the last 20 years.
Rotten Tomatoes: 97 percent
'The Last Starfighter'
A video game whiz finds out his favorite arcade game is actually a recruitment tool for a real intergalactic war in this classic bit of '80s wish fulfillment that’s also referenced in “Ready Player One.” (Anyone looking to brush up on '80s geekdom before checking out Spielberg’s new movie should definitely include this one on the list.)
Rotten Tomatoes: 76 percent
A technological marvel when it came out in 1982, “Tron” was one of the first movies to ever use computer animation extensively, paving the way for modern CGI-driven blockbusters, including, of course, “Ready Player One” (which also owes a not insubstantial narrative debt to it). The story follows a computer programmer who gets sucked into the digital world and has to compete in gladiatorial-style games as he tries to escape with the help of a security program.
Rotten Tomatoes: 70 percent
'WarGames'Comment on this story
Another must-watch bit of '80s nostalgia about a video game whiz saving the day, “WarGames” stars a pre-“Ferris Bueller” Matthew Broderick as a teen who hacks into a military super computer and accidentally launches the countdown to World War III, believing it to be a computer game.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent
Like “Toy Story” for video games, “Wreck-It Ralph” is in some ways the closest movie on this list to “Ready Player One” in the way it’s jam-packed from start to finish with video game-specific Easter eggs. A highly anticipated sequel, “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2,” is set for release later this year.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87 percent