Video game movies have a reputation for being bad. Even when they don’t suck, they are not exactly high cinema. It’s not surprising then that some of the best video game movies are movies that are not based on properties.
These are some of the best video game movies that are not based on properties.
Honorable Mention: Players
Players gets a shoutout as an honorable mention because it’s one of the newest examples of video game media not based on a property, and it’s one of the most accessible entertainments on this list. It is also just a very good show.
Players is created by Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, the guys behind Netflix’s American Vandal, and they bring another mockumentary-style show. This time, they focus on a fake Esports team and the power struggle between an up-and-comer and an old talent.
The show isn’t just a funny look at the Esports world; it’s also a poignant look at nostalgia vs. determination. By the end of Players, you’ll be asking yourself if it’s better to relish your victories or immediately push towards the next goal.
Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault do a great job of starting a show as a farce and then slowly turning the show into something much more. We’ll see if they decide to do a second season, but we are fine with the one incredible season we got.
The Wizard is a Fred Savage-led film about a wunderkind Super Mario Bros gamer on an odyssey to California to compete in “Video Armageddon.” The film didn’t garner much critical support at the time, but in years has become something of a cult classic.
At the time, The Wizard was seen as a quick cash grab from Nintendo to promote Super Mario Bros 3 and the dreaded power glove. The one thing that can be said, though, is this movie is the only thing that made the power glove look cool.
Despite all the hate, The Wizard has become a nostalgic trip for Nintendo fans. It may not be the best video game movie, but it’s certainly one worth seeing.
War Games is another 80’s film that has grown in popularity since its release. This time led by a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. The plot is typical 80’s fodder, relying on a 1983 audience having no idea how computers work.
Matthew Broderick’s David is a computer genius who accidentally stumbles into NORAD, a military computer that simulates war. David then unknowingly starts a game of thermonuclear war with the computer, which could destroy the entire planet. The day is finally saved as David tricks the computer into giving up playing Tic Tac Toe against itself.
If this all sounds absurd and hard to believe, it is. But the performances from Broderick and Sheedy make it an enjoyable film. And it’s always fun to see kids outsmart the U.S. government.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
Jumanji is a classic 90’s film starring Robin Williams and a board game that comes to life. The reboot couldn’t completely capture the original’s charm, but a solid cast and new take on the formula give it a spot on our list.
In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the kids find an old video game cartridge that casts them into the game. The real high point of this film is the comedic duo of The Rock and Kevin Hart. The two had already become known for their onscreen chemistry, and their roles here solidified the duo. Even Jack Black seems to struggle here, comedically acting behind these two.
A sequel was released a few years later that kept the same charm but never hit the highs of the reboot. The film does a good job of paying homage to the original while bringing a new audience into the world. Welcome to the Jungle is a great video game movie and one that the whole family can watch.
The Last Starfighter
The Last Starfighter tells the tale of a teenager recruited to fight an alien invasion through his skills as a video gamer. The film shares themes with the novel Enders Game and the famous Polybius urban legend. The idea that video games could be used to attract soldiers was new but one that has persisted since the film’s release.
Unlike some of the other films on our list, comedy and acting aren’t the film’s strongest suit. Instead, the plot of a teenager being recruited to wage intergalactic war is what sets this film apart. The themes and fantasy of it all captivated audiences at the time, and the film remains a classic.
Free Guy is a Ryan Reynolds-led film that shows what would happen if an NPC gains sentience. The plot is fairly innovative for Hollywood, and the performance by Ryan Reynolds is spot on.
The film gives us strong Lego Movie vibes but making the setting a Grand Theft Auto-type world was a smart move. Our main disappointment with the film came from Taika Wattiti’s performance. Taika is known for being over the top, and playing the owner of an evil video game corporation felt like a perfect fit. Unfortunately, he never hits the highs we see in his other works.
That aside, Free Guy is a fantastic film and does a great job utilizing Disney properties. If you’ve ever wondered what the world of an NPC was like, this film lets you behind the curtain.
Indie Game: The Movie
Indie Game the Movie follows two indie developers as they set out to create games that buck the AAA trend. The games followed are Super Meat Boy and Fez, two indie darlings that would have made a splash without the film.
The film was released in 2012, and at the time, indie gaming was not the huge market it is now. The gaming sphere was flooded with AAA titles, and everyone patiently waited for the next Call of Duty. These developers took a risk to make their small games, and while Super Meat Boy delivered early, Fez struggled in development hell for years.
Indie Game the Movie is a fascinating look into the world of Indie game development. Watching these developers create their art is compelling, showing the blood, sweat, and pixels that go into our favorite games.
Ready Player One
Ready Player One suffers only by being adapted from a fantastic novel that acts as a love letter to the 80s and geek culture. Steven Spielberg did his best, adapting the novel to the screen. But some areas just couldn’t translate perfectly.
Ready Player One puts us in a dystopian future where trailers are turned into apartments, and everyone spends their days in VR. The film introduces the idea of a metaverse and the dangers of spending all your time there.
The main protagonist is Wade Watts, who finds the first of three keys in the VR world that will lead to winning the creator’s fortune. It is not an original plot, but the use of countless properties and 80’s nostalgia make it a fun trip.
The film is more than deserving of being on our list, but in this case, the book is better.
Tron is another classic 80’s film, this time about the world inside a video game. Jeff Bridges stars as a video game engineer that must duel against other programs inside Tron. For a 1982 film, Tron was ahead of its time.
The movie is best known for starring a pre-Dude Jeff Bridges, and its early CGI. The CGI is nothing to write home about today, but at the time, the film felt like the future. A sequel, Tron Legacy, was released 18 years after the original, proving the staying power of this film.
The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters
King of Kong contains everything needed for a great documentary. An underdog attempting to dethrone a villain. A champion with questionable integrity. And an organization with shady motives trying to keep the underdog down.
King of Kong tells the story of Steve Weibe as he attempts to take the Donky Kong record away from Billy Mitchel. Billy Mitchel had long been a controversial figure in competitive gaming, and his personality is on full display here.
The documentary is full of twists and turns that leaves you wondering what is real and what is doctored. King of Kong is a great film not just for video game fans but for any fans of documentaries.
Do you agree with our list? Any other video game movies we missed? Let us know in the comments.