RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Aug 4th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Movies, Games, Game movies

 photo Wreck-It Ralph_zpslves0z8v.jpg
Photo from IMDB

With the summer movie season in full swing, and the fairly recent announcement that Wreck-It Ralph will be getting a sequel, I thought it would a fun time to look back on some of the best examples of the oft-forgotten genre (if one could even call it its own genre) of video game movies. My hope is to provide a fond look back for those of us who've seen some of these, and for those who haven't, or for some of the younger crowd who may not have stumbled upon the older ones, to give some good recommendations.

Now to be clear, I'm not referring to films based on games, so you'll not see Prince of Persia, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy: Advent Children, or even the recent Warcraft highlighted here. I'm also not referring to documentaries like IndieGame: The Movie (even though that is really great and everyone should watch it). What you'll find here instead are a handful of films that use video games merely as a backdrop, providing a fun digital setting to tell an underlying story unrelated to any actual video game plot. They're presented here in no particular order, and I'm sure there are others out there I've overlooked, so I'd love to hear which of these you liked, hated, or if you have recommendations of your own. Speak up in the comments and let us know.

1. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

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Photo from IMDB

This is probably one of the more obvious choices. Based on the 6-book series of graphic novels of the same name, Scott Pilgrim finds the title character falling in love with a mysterious girl he sees in a dream. After a successful first date, he finds out that in order to keep dating Ramona Flowers, he must fight her seven evil exes.

This movie has its share of problems, and its bombing at the box office shows it. The story is shallow, Michael Cera does what he does best by playing himself, and Mary Winstead's Ramona is flat and boring. To top it off, the relationship the entire movie is predicated around is ridiculous, as they just start dating with no preamble, friendship, or mutual friends. Neither character is particularly likable and they don't even treat each other all that well.

All that said, everything about this movie cries fan service. It displays the Canadian setting and characters represented in the comics surprisingly accurately. The cinematography is amped, energized, and filled to the brim with little video game sound effects, pop-up heart containers, and onomatopoeia. Each battle Pilgrim has with an evil ex is choreographed bombastically with fighting game-style visual flair. It's laid on heavily enough that some may find it unbearably pandery, but it's pretty cool seeing a geeky Michael Cera kicking dudes' a@#es to win the heart of a girl, and stupid quips and one-liners like "if your life had a face I would punch it" will have you unable to help but laugh.

2. Tron (1982)/Tron Legacy (2010)

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Photo from IMDB

The original Tron did amazing things for digital effects upon its release over 30 years ago. Kevin Flynn is a computer programmer who had his career and game's code stolen from him, leaving him to become an arcade owner by day and a hacker by night as he tries to recover evidence that he actually created them. In the process, he finds himself getting sucked into the computer world itself and having to work with programs to defeat the dictator-like Master Control Program by playing the same games he created.

The representation of the computer world and the lives that the programs lead inside it blew people away back in the early 80's, and it's still a uniquely striking effect to this day. Seeing programs do battle with electronic Frisbees and racing lightcycles was thrilling, and even more so in the sequel 28 years later. Tron Legacy basically does exactly what it has to as a sequel. It gives tasteful nods to its predecessor and updates the computer world for the 21st century. It doesn't always gel together as well as you'd want, but it's still a delightfully competent sequel.

3. The Last Starfighter (1984)

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Photo from IMDB

Another relic of the early 80's, The Last Starfighter stars Alex Rogan as a college kid stuck in his go-nowhere life working around his family's trailer park. He has greater aspirations however, and dreams of going away to make a better life for himself and coming back for his girlfriend.

He loves to play his Starfighter arcade game in his free time, and when he finally beats the game, it's not only the highlight of the entire trailer park (they don't get much excitement in their lives), it changes his life forever. It turns out the game is actually a recruitment tool for Starfighter pilots in an intergalactic war, and Alex soon finds himself swept away to be the sole defender of the galaxy in the same Starfighter spaceship he piloted in the game.

Great CG effects (for their time) and bizarre aliens do a great job of making the other-worldly setting believable. The memorable characters hit home by telling a story of believing in one's ability to do great things despite a humble background, plus the idea that all the time we spent playing games as kids could turn out to foster worthwhile real life skills someday is pretty cool.

4. The Wizard (1989)

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Photo from IMDB

You probably knew this was going to be on this list somewhere. Everyone who got into gaming in the era of the NES should remember The Wizard. Depending on who you talk to it's either one of the greatest movies ever made, or one of the worst. With Fred Savage in the starring role, it doesn't give the best first impression. He and his half-brother Jimmy run away from home and hitchhike all the way to California to compete in a national vide game competition.

The Wizard is such a blatant Nintendo advertisement; nearly every video game featured in it is from the NES, including the first official footage of Super Mario Bros. 3. Like most other 9-year old gamers at the time, I wanted to play Super Mario Bros. 3 more than I wanted to breathe, and was still a fan of Fred Savage from watching The Wonder Years, so for me this was a no-brainer. It even managed to make the train wreck Power Glove peripheral seem cool.

Underneath all the Double Dragon and Nintendo Power marketing however, The Wizard actually manages to tell a somewhat moving tale as we learn Jimmy is a troubled boy searching for closure to his sister's death that tore his family apart. As his divorced parents and a professional child-fetcher track him down, hilarity and heartfelt moments ensue.

5. WarGames (1983)

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Photo from IMDB

Continuing the trend of game movies from the 80's, WarGames sees a pre-Ferris Bueller-era Matthew Broderick playing an alienated, but very intelligent, computer geek named David Lightman. Bored with breaking into his high school's computers to inflate the bad grades of himself and the girl he likes, he moves on to hacking what he believes is a major video game company to play their latest and greatest games. Little does he know, the server he's broken into is actually NORAD's new-fangled AI in charge of the entire country's military defenses. When he finds out an innocent game of Global Thermonuclear War is turning gears that could mean the start of World War III, he seeks out the AI's original programmer in an effort to convince the government to pull the plug before it launches nuclear missiles.

To someone who felt awkward in school and dreamed of being a hacker or programmer, David Lightman is a very relatable character. His ingenuity coupled with the haunting personality of the AI computer's synthesized voice, captured the minds of many young computer prodigies. And he taught us all how to hack a public pay phone which, while no longer possible, was way cool to see back then.

6. Grandma's Boy (2006)

 photo Grandmas Boy_zps5znafksx.jpg
Photo from IMDB

Grandma's Boy is the story of a couple of game testers playing a company's hot new AAA title. They're potheads who pretty much play games and party all the time. Throw in the compay's beautiful newly-appointed project manager, Samantha, and this is a great stoner comedy to turn your brain off to for a couple of hours.

The game the guys are working on is fictional, but all over their office you can see posters and props for real games. It makes things believable and lends credence to their job. On top of that, the game's genius creator and head programmer, JP, is hilariously eccentric, sporting a Matrix-style outfit and randomly breaking into robot voices when he's nervous or upset.

7. Brainscan (1994)

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Photo from IMDB

Brainscan is another flick that on first look might turn some people away, no thanks to Edward Furlong. Arguably at the height of his career after the smash hit that was Terminator 2, he plays a kid with a very rich, but rarely present father. He loves horror movies, heavy metal music, and has all the latest and greatest computer equipment and games. Upon learning of a groundbreakingly immersive new title, he picks up a copy post haste.

The game turns out to be an incredibly lifelike simulation of a grizzly murder. After his first gaming session, Furlong's character is blown away by its realism and brutality. He eventually learns of a murder in his hometown that is impossibly similar to his in-game experience, and that's when The Trickster shows up to tell him he must play through the rest of the game's levels to completion to save himself. Battling the ramping up pressures from his friends and the cops, in addition to the increasingly intense game simulations, he struggles to keep the situation under control.

Edward Furlong is very Edward Furlong and The Trickster is laughably ridiculous, but the story itself is intriguing and the horror aspect fairly well done, so I can still feel ok recommending it. Plus, it has a twist ending that is both a head trip and a little disappointing at the same time.

8. The Thirteenth Floor (1999)

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Photo from IMDB

Some of the best speculative science fiction films may have come from the 80s, but with the 90s came the explosion of the Internet, video games, the promise of virtual reality, and technology in general, and this was reflected in the films that were made in that decade. The Thirteenth Floor shares some similarities with The Matrix and Tron in that it deals with people trapped in a virtual computer world, but by keeping the pseudo-science more restrained it manages to feel much more realistic.

What if we created a virtual simulated world based on 1930s era Los Angeles and had the ability to enter it at will, and not only used it as a way to live another life, but the only way to do that was to take over the body of one of the simulated people living in it? To take it further, what if the other people in that simulated world started recognizing that the sim being taken over was acting differently, and eventually discovered that the people of the world "above" theirs were basically using them for their own entertainment?

This film raises a lot of the same discussions The Matrix did about the nature of what it means to be human, whether we can really prove if we're living in a simulation or not, and if that's even a thing worth discussing, but without the Terminator-style wiping out humanity shtick. If you're the type who likes philosophizing about that kind of thing and want something more grounded, seek this one out.

9. The Lawnmower Man (1992)

 photo Lawnmower Man_550_zpsjvglasug.jpg
Photo from IMDB

Before Pierce Brosnan was hunting down super villains and causing mass destruction as agent 007, he was a computer programmer using chimps as test subjects for his virtual reality simulations. The mega-corporation he works for wants to use the technology for military purposes, but Brosnan is more interested in its applications for education and learning. In frustration, he starts experimenting on an intellectually-challenged groundskeeper named Jobe who works for a nearby church. By blasting Jobe with flashing lights inside a VR environment, he starts getting smarter, gains telepathic abilities, and develops delusions of grandeur, obsessing about uploading himself to the world's network of computers.

Originally billed as being based on a Stephen King short story, this adaptation bares little resemblance to King's tale, and in wonderfully laughable 90s fashion has aged pretty terribly. The VR simulated worlds and video games Jobe participates in may have looked amazingly rad 20 years ago, but these days they look like hot garbage, especially now that we live in a post-Oculus and Vive world. Some might enjoy having a couple (or many) drinks with friends, putting this in, and thinking to themselves "oh 1994, how naive we all were back then," but unless you're into that kind of movie watching you're not really missing anything by passing on this one.

10. Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

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Photo from IMDB

To bring things full circle and end on a high note, we have one of the best video game movies ever. Wreck-It Ralph is a Pixar movie in all but name, and with that comes the expected level of quality in story, animation, and characters. I probably don't need to explain the plot of this one to this crowd, but just in case, here it is. Ralph is kind of a cross between Donkey Kong and one of the animal monsters from Rampage, spending his days smashing up a mid-rise apartment building. Fix-It Felix Jr. is the hero who fixes all the damage and, with the help of the building residents, succeeds in throwing Ralph off the top of the building every time it happens. Bored and depressed with his role as the constant bad guy, Ralph decides to "go turbo" and jump to a new game in the arcade to earn a medal, proving he can be a good guy like the rest of them.

The grand adventure that follows is full of heart, humor, and video game references galore. Unlike so many other films before it, it's obvious right from the very start that the producers behind Wreck-It Ralph were either gamers themselves, or really did their homework to treat the subject matter with respect. From the depictions of action-packed first-person shooters and cart racers, to seeing Q*Bert down on his luck from not getting attention in so long, almost every scene will have you trying to name as many characters and tropes as possible. Bumbling Ralph, gentlemanly Felix, adorable cart racer Vanellope von Schweetz, and hard-nosed Sergeant Calhoun are endlessly endearing, and you come to genuinely care about every one of them. Right up there with the likes of Toy Story, Wall-E, and Monsters Inc., Wreck-It Ralph is fantastic, and if you have any love whatsoever for animated movies or video games I can't recommend it enough.

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This was a really fun read and a few brought back some good memories from my childhood (especially Lawnmower Man Wink  ).  As I mentioned to you in a PM, as I went through the editing of this article, I kept thinking of films I would add to your list, and they just happened to show up as I neared the bottom.  The most notable of which was Brainscan.  Funny that you included this film, as it was one I had been looking for since early this year.  The DVD can be kind of pricey at $15-$20, but I was able to find it in a 4-movie horror collection at a pawn shop for just a buck. 

I'm glad that you mentioned the new Tron movie as well. I know there were a good deal of haters out there, but I actually really liked the sequel (yes, I would call it a sequel even though it bears the same name).  And you can't beat that awesome Daft Punk soundtrack.

Great read!
It's nice to see someone else appreciate Brainscan. I didn't know the DVD of that could be that expensive, that's pretty crazy. I also agree that Tron Legacy is often underappreciated. The whole iso thing was dumb but I really liked a lot of the rest of that movie.
Oh, how I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim, Tron and Tron Legacy, Wreck It Ralph, Thirteenth Floor, WarGames, The Wizard, and The Last Starfighter.  These (well, maybe not The Wizard) are some of my favorite movies.

Got both soundtracks to Tron Legacy.  Big fan of Daft Punk and Techno in general.

I liked the first Silent Hill movie, and the second one I kinda liked where they went.

Absolutely enjoyed Halo: Forward Under Dawn.
I'd not heard of Brainscan, so I'll have to add that to my watch list at some point.  You're hitting me right in the nostalgia there with Tron, The Last Starfighter, and The Wizard.  I still enjoy these movies, and go back to them somewhat frequently.  Nothing wrong with a trip down memory lane.  I never actually saw Lawnmower Man all the way through, so maybe I need to rectify that.  I also didn't know anything about The Thirteenth Floor, aside from the name, so having a bit of plot detail now, I might have to check that out.  Nice article!

"The last Starfighter......is dead!" - Xur
I wish they would have done a true adaptation of Stephen King's lawnmower man. A bizarre story of a Satyr (Goatman) that shows up at some rednecks house to mow (eat) his lawn.

I'm a big fan of video game related movies... so here's my thought on each in your list:

1. Scott Pilgrim - I'm sorry, I actually found this one really boring. Don't hit me.
2. Tron - classic, of course.
3. Last Starfighter - a favorite of mine as a child. Watched again this year and it still holds up. The special effects are amazing for the time.
4. The Wizard - classic. Love it.
5. War Games - still on my list of "To See."
6. Grandma's Boy - hilarious! Love this one.
7. Brainscan - I've seen this like 50 times. Loved it as a kid, love it now. Watched it recently.
8. Thirteenth Floor - never heard of this.
9. Lawnmower Man - loved it as a kid. Watched it recently (thanks to VR hype). It's a neat time capsule of the time. Goes on way too long, though.
10. Wreck-it Ralph - fantastic.
Amazing that within the last few weeks I either just watched all of these films, or chatted with friends about it at work.  While I don't know if I like all of these movies, I can point to scenes in each movie that keeps them in my memories.  Props to you for Tron Legacy (really love this movie) and Brainscan (bought the soundtrack).  Thirteenth Floor was also pretty good, and it was a shame that it was overshadowed by the massive amount of awesome movies that came out in 1999.

Great article, zophar.
@slackur: I loved the soundtrack to Tron Legacy as well. I went to a Daft Punk cover bank show a couple years back; they didn't do any songs from the movie unfortunately (but not surprising), but if you like dance music and get a chance they're a really great show. Re: Silent Hill, I only remember seeing what I think was the first one. My memory of it is a little hazy, but I remember it being decent and getting kind of dumb at the end. It's been a long time though.

@MetalFRO: I hear you on going back to these from time to time. I like putting on old movies from my childhood and using them as background when I'm doing other things of if I just want something familiar and pleasing while I fall asleep. Let me know what you think of the ones you haven't seen if you end up tracking them down; I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

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