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From Mario to Sonic 3: The Video Game Movie's Evolution

4/16/2020 • 5 min read

(Updated 01/10/2024)

For years, the phrase "video game movie" was always followed by the word "curse." Turns out that a great video game movie is pretty difficult to make! Just ask Nintendo's Mario, the central figure of the first big video game movie — and the center of one of 2023's biggest new titles, too. A good game often prioritizes interactivity over character development, while movies, which can't be interactive, rely on change and character evolution. For a long time, producers had trouble making those two polarized approaches to storytelling work together.

Filmmakers have begun to crack the game-to-movie code, however. In the last few years, we've seen a few great adaptations, which suggests the future may be bright for movies based on video games. Mario got a new lease on movie life this year, and HBO's impressive serialized adaptation of "The Last of Us" captivated audiences for nine episodes.

The long-awaited FIVE NIGHTS AT FREDDY'S movie was a huge hit, and this year we'll also see BORDERLANDS, starring none other than Cate Blanchett, and SONIC 3. Until then, let's scan back over the evolution of the video game movie.

Super Mario Bros.

For better or worse, it all started here. Video games had been popular for more than a decade before Nintendo's main mascot hit the big screen in 1993, with Bob Hoskins playing the adventurous plumber, Mario. Beyond some of the basic ideas and character names, SUPER MARIO BROS. really isn't much like the pipe-jumping, world-bouncing games it is based on — and yet the movie is still entertaining, in part because it is such a strange relic of a time when the rules of video game adaptations had not yet been written.

Mortal Kombat

Two years after SUPER MARIO BROS., fighting game mania helped usher MORTAL KOMBAT onto the big screen. It helps that the structure of the original games is a lot like the setup for many martial arts tournament movies, from ENTER THE DRAGON to BLOODSPORT. With over-the-top characters and effects, this movie is a fast-paced brawler that certainly looks like the games, even if the headline-grabbing gore of the arcade experience was significantly toned down. This was the second movie from a relatively new indie British director, Paul W.S. Anderson, who would go on to be a video game movie mainstay thanks to the next movie on our list.

Resident Evil

Paul WS Anderson liked the original "Resident Evil" game so much that he wrote a script he later called a "rip-off" of the games — and which was eventually re-written to be the first RESIDENT EVIL movie. Despite the film being only very loosely based on the games, it did something few other game-based movies have managed, by creating a character — Alice, played by Milla Jovovich — that fans were eager to see back on the big screen. Five sequels followed between 2004 and 2016, all featuring Jovovich, making RESIDENT EVIL one of the most successful game-to-film adaptations.

Tomb Raider

Yes, there were two TOMB RAIDER movies starring Angelina Jolie in the 2000s, and Jolie was a great choice to play adventurer Lara Croft. The 2018 "reboot," simply called TOMB RAIDER, and based on the 2013 game reboot, is one of the most faithful game-to-movie adaptations. With Alicia Vikander in the lead role, the movie is energetic and muscular, with thrilling and gritty action sequences that capture the game's spirit while also standing on their own as achievements in the cinematic realm.

The Angry Birds Movie 2

Since the ANGRY BIRDS movies are based on mobile games they aren't always included in conversations about video game adaptations. That's too bad because THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2 might be the best movie based on a video game, period. That's no small feat when the game upon which the movie is based doesn't really have characters or even a story. That's where the filmmakers stepped in, and for this sequel writers Peter Ackerman, Eyal Podell, Jonathon E. Stewart and director Thurop Van Orman came up with a wacky, wild adventure that always makes. time to treat birds and pigs like people — in between the entertainingly chaotic setpieces.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog came around just a few years after Mario did, and fans waited a long time for his big-screen debut. The movie reflects an unprecedented turn of events, where the filmmakers and studio revamped the Sonic character design based on fan feedback. That revision, combined with the boundless energy of star Jim Carrey, turned SONIC into an effective and fast-paced adaptation of the games. It's funny, engaging escapism, which is precisely what helped turn the Sonic games into hits in the first place.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

While the first movie based on Nintendo's signature character Mario was not what the video game company asked for, this one was different. Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment (makers of the MINIONS movies) teamed up for THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE, and the result was a worldwide smash which wiped away any lingering bad memories of that original Mario movie.

Five Nights at Freddy's

This adaptation of the wildly popular survival horror game series follows a troubled security guard as he begins working at the shuttered Freddy Fazbear's Pizza — a business that once entertained children with a cadre of musical animatronic mascots. While spending his first night on the job, however, he begins to realize there's a lot more going on at Freddy's than he originally thought. The movie was a hit and a sequel is already in development.


Eli Roth directs the adaptation of the bullet-riddled and occasionally very funny sci-fi game series. Cate Blanchett stars as the outlaw Lilith, "who returns to her home planet of Pandora to find the missing daughter of Atlas, one of the most powerful guys in the universe. Once there, she puts together a powerful, if unstable, team of miscreants who must battle aliens to find the girl and save the galaxy in the process." With a release date set for August 2024, we're still waiting for the trailer, but will share it as soon as possible.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

We're waiting for a trailer and other full details about SONIC 3, but we know that Shadow the Hedgehog is on deck to play a significant role in the new story. Dr. Robotnik is unlikely to factor in, as Jim Carrey announced his intent to retire from acting back in 2022, but there's plenty of other Sonic lore for the filmmakers to draw upon for this December 2024 release.


BORDERLANDS opens on August 9.


All images courtesy of Lionsgate.

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