The explosion of streaming services has been good news for video game adaptations. The console boom of the 1980s led to a spree of video game adaptations and an almost instantly terrible reputation that the genre struggled to shake.
Now, a highly competitive space finds new streamers looking to make their mark and media giants trying to keep a grip on market share. Both see new value in getting it right, but adapting video games has always had a risky logic. They arrive with a built-in audience but a highly critical one. With ever-increasing content pouring into homes, the idea of viewers switching between console and streamer on the same screen is irresistible.
We’ll see more adaptations or reimaginings of video games in the next few years. The long-rumored return of Nintendo’s flagship icon to movies is a certainty. Returning Mario to plumb on the big screen has been hinted at since he stuck his neck out in 1993’s infamous blockbuster, Super Mario Bros. We’ve all learned a lot since that first video game movie.
The Witcher doesn’t make this list as Netflix’s smash hit took its lead from the original book series, not the games. But that sprawling and successful franchise played a big part in redeeming adaptations. It just took networks and streamers a few decades to catch up.
Over half the games below have been released this decade. After years of being derided (Warcraft), misunderstood (Silent Hill), or mishandled (Prince of Persia), it feels like adaptations have overcome a sticky control stick and turned a corner.
Here are the adaptations that the new big screen Mario Chris Pratt has to jump on.
10. The Cuphead Show! (series, 2022)
Just sneaking into the list is this fast-paced slapstick animation. The Cuphead Show has received near unanimous praise for its retro but innovative animation, performances, music, and humor. The hilarious antics of cup brothers Cuphead and Mugman and their misadventures on Inkwell Isle have received two series on Netflix.
The series expanded the original Cuphead game’s run and gun shoot-em-up stylings but retained the dark central story: The brothers must constantly evade the devil, who’s intent on harvesting Cuphead’s soul.
9. Pokémon Detective Pikachu (movie, 2019)
Few people were hopeful when Ryan Reynolds was cast as the deerstalker-wearing version of the curious yellow Pokémon. Still, this mystery off-shoot edged toward an impressive half-a-billion-dollar haul on its theatrical run, with most criticism reserved for the story. Detective Pikachu wisely focused on the character and Reynolds’ performance, and the sharp script went down a treat. It’s the second highest-grossing video game movie of all time, after Warcraft.
8. Halo (series, 2022)
Paramount Plus’ high-profile and ambitious epic had to carry the network’s launch promos and end the franchise’s prolonged difficulty making it to the screen. There’s no doubt Halo: Combat Evolved was a revolutionary game. Bungie’s first shooter changed the genre and became Xbox’s first must-have title, launching one of the most successful multimedia franchises ever.
Could an adaptation that mutated from movie to series make the name of a new streamer? Halo bent the rules of the established game lore but won enough fans with its impressive action scenes to earn a second series. The subsequent run will have to do a bit more to keep a spot on this list.
7. The Angry Birds Movie 2 (movie, 2019)
This sequel pulled an old trick out of the bag. Yes, we’re all used to birds and pigs being sworn enemies, but in the second movie, they had to join forces to stop an advanced weapon that threatened both their islands. The astonishing $350 million haul of the first film made this cooling of relations inevitable.
While it didn’t match its predecessor’s box office, it edged ahead in this list with its surprisingly good sense of humor, dedicated slapstick, impressive cast, and a dash of mystery. That summer, many parents breathed a sigh of relief as they left movie theaters. They’d just seen one of the highest-rated animated adaptation of a video game of all time.
6. Batman: Assault on Arkham (movie, 2014)
Not a comic adaptation but a spin-off from Rocksteady Studio’s phenomenally successful Batman: Arkham game series, the 20th feature in the DC Universe Original Animated Movie line, Batman: Assault on Arkham is set after Arkham Origins and about two years before Arkham Asylum.
Assault on Arkham shifts the focus onto DC’s Suicide Squad, including Deadshot and Harley Quinn, which is ordered to break into the asylum only to, unsurprisingly, run up against some colorful inmates and the Dark Knight. Drawing out the franchise’s approach to Gotham City, it’s an interesting experiment that didn’t quite live up to the reputation of the games.
5. Pokémon: The Series (series, 1997-1999)
For Pikachu to land two spots in this top ten, it has to be something special, right? It doesn’t come much bigger than this. A crucial part of the massive media franchise that told us we had to catch them all and has subsequently shown incredible powers of reinvention, the original series followed Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum’s quest to become a Pokémon Master alongside his partner Pikachu.
The series has since developed into separate chapters reflecting new video games, amassing a phenomenal 1000 episodes on the way. The format’s readiness to adapt was evident when it jumped from networks to streamers, becoming one of Netflix’s most-watched shows.
4. Dragon’s Dogma (series, 2020)
Capcom’s hack-and-slash video game was first released in 2012 and received praise for its action and gameplay, if not its narrative. Still, it led to further games, including a Japanese MMORPG and this adaptation on Netflix.
The series fleshed out the story, using the blank canvas of an open-world adventure as a strength. It helped that the protagonist had a clear and distinct purpose — to find and beat the dragon that stole his heart.
3. Werewolves Within (movie, 2021)
Red Storm’s multi-player VR game was ready-made for adaptation, having taken inspiration from the parlor game Mafia itself. The low-budget comedy horror brought together an ensemble of comic actors who start to suspect one of their number is a werewolf when they are trapped in a small Vermont town during a snowstorm.
It’s tricky to balance horror and comedy, but Werewolf Within keeps the scares and laughs up. For director Josh Ruben, it was an inspired choice for the middle part of the loose horror trilogy he started with Scare Me.
2. Castlevania (series, 2017 – 2021)
Another adult animated series streaming on Netflix, Castlevania develops the dark fantasy of the highly regarded platformers that have been bothering consoles since 1986. A jewel in the crown of publisher Konami, it continues the theme of mashing Japanese sensibilities with Western gothic horror. As with the game, the cliches and high stylization that come with that aren’t for everyone.
Across its four series, Castlevania was generally well regarded for its performances and style, although the writing — led by Warren Ellis — divided fans. The show was successful enough to secure a spin-off focussing on descendants of the series’ protagonists tackling vampires in revolutionary France.
1. Arcane: League of Legends (series, 2021)
Holding an astonishing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the animated series Arcane was announced ten years after Riot Games’ League of Legends was released. A multi-player online battle arena game sounds tricky to adapt into a satisfying series, but Arcane’s first season swept up acclaim. Almost every aspect received praise, from the music and animation to emotional weight and world-building.
Arcane wisely plays out the conflict brewing between the utopian Piltover and dystopian Zaun through the relationship of sisters Vi and Jinx. It’s a determinedly adult animation, but under the watchful eye of Riot Games, it’s gained particular praise for its broad appeal. This show attracted fans immersed in the game’s lore as well as casual viewers. It set a record as Netflix’s highest-rated series within a week of its premiere. That means a second series is on the way but be patient — the first took six years to develop.