The Best Movie-Based Games Ever

There’s nothing new under the sun, as the saying goes. Every creative endeavour takes inspiration from somewhere else in one way or another, and that’s certainly true in video games. It could even be argued that there has never been a truly original idea in video games. I won’t expand further on that for now, but I would challenge any readers to present an original, completely uninspired-by-other-sources idea in a video game. Not that we gamers should be upset by this: it’s true for literature, TV, films and music, as well as games.

That depressing note aside, I thought this week I should take a look at video games based on movies, purely because it’s a deeper well from which to draw than “games based on books”, “games based on musicians” or “games based on ballets”. That said, I can name at least five book- and musician-based games, though I confess I am struggling to think of any ballet-based games. Please leave your suggestions in the comments below if you think of any.


This would make a great game, wouldn’t it? No? You philistine.

As we all know by now, Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari 2600 was the first licensed movie-based game. I said so back in my blog post on Eight Unbelievable Game Tie-Ins, so it must be true. On further investigation, however, there were several games based on movies before that, so either I was wrong, or they were unlicensed and therefore I’m still right by a technicality. Guess which of those options I’m choosing. However, all the movie tie-ins before Raiders of the Lost Ark (and most since) were terrible, and I’m in a positive mood this week, so we’re going to look at some of the very best movie-based video games.

GoldenEye 007 (N64, 1997)

We’ll get this one out of the way first, shall we? Any list of good movie-based games is pretty much guaranteed to feature GoldenEye 007, and while I hate to be cliché, there’s a good reason for its wide popularity.


GoldenEye featured scenes from the film re-imagined and fleshed out into video game levels, all of which made you feel like James Bond, using gadgets, shooting bad guys and even driving a tank. If you knew anyone with an N64 at the time, though, you’ll remember seeing four people crowding around a TV screaming at each other, things like “stop watching my screen!” and “no playing as Oddjob!”. Yes, it was the multiplayer that really made GoldenEye.

While the single-player mode was fun, multiplayer really gave the game its longevity and still hits gamers of a certain age with overwhelming waves of nostalgia. Different rule sets (“slappers only”), different weapons and different levels made it a new experience every time, and I personally saw the sun come up more than once after a mammoth multiplayer session. Well, I would have done, if I could have torn my eyes away from the screen.

Recently, Pierce Brosnan appeared on Jimmy Fallon’s talk show, playing multiplayer GoldenEye. Predictably, he wasn’t very good at it:

On a tangentially related note, the box art for GoldenEye was a familiar sight to many gamers back in the late 90s, but now it has been forever ruined by one image:

If You See It

Rambo (Arcade, 2008)

The first Rambo film, based on David Morrell’s novel, was a serious, insightful piece about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, survivor’s guilt, the Vietnam war, and the difficulty veterans had in re-integrating into society after its conclusion. That would make a pretty terrible video game if adapted, to be honest. Instead, we have adaptations of the second and third movies, which are serious, insightful pieces about shooting a lot of bullets, cheesy one-liners, explosions and being awesome.

Rambo DLX (Refurbished)

The Rambo arcade game, released in 2008, epitomises the ridiculous direction that the movies took after the first instalment. You gun down literally thousands of bad guys in set-pieces punctuated with movie footage, but most of the game involves holding down the trigger. Screaming in rage is optional, but as you mow down more enemies you build your “rage meter”, which when filled makes you invincible and shoot people even harder. The only way in which it deviates from the absurdity of Rambo II and III is that you have to reload, though you do this by aiming away from the screen and don’t even have to let go of the trigger.

The true joy of playing Rambo is in foregoing a partner and operating both massive gun controllers by yourself. Anyone who can’t laugh and enjoy the absurdity of the game’s visceral nature while doing so needs to lighten up a bit. Or get stronger wrists.

The very first Rambo game (NES, 1987) ends with Rambo turning Marshall Murdock, the corrupt commander of his mission, into a frog. This is accomplished by throwing the Japanese written character “ikari”, meaning “anger”, at him. Your explanation for this is at least as good as mine, especially if you’re in some way criminally insane.

The Thing (Windows, Xbox, PS2, 2002)

Just to confuse you, “The Thing” is now the name of the original 1982 film, the 2011 prequel film, and the 2002 video game. Who says originality is dead?

The Thing

The video game of The Thing is actually a sequel to the original film in terms of story. You take on the role of a special forces team member dropped into the Antarctic base to find out what happened to everyone (spoiler: they all died). Along the way you have to work out who among your squad mates is a shape-changing alien that’s trying to eat your face, while convincing them that it’s not you. If they don’t trust you enough, they might shoot you, or even reveal themselves to be an alien face-eating monster thing and try to kill you.

What made The Thing (the movie, I mean) great was the fear of the unknown, and an enemy hiding behind a friendly face. The game really plays on that fear, and if your palms don’t sweat so much you’re ready to drop the controller, you’re a braver person than I am.

Chronologically, including both films and the game, the order is The Thing, The Thing and then The Thing. A sequel to this game was planned but eventually cancelled. I wonder what they would have called it?

Aladdin (Mega Drive, NES, Amiga, Windows, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, 1993)

Robin Williams’ sad death recently got me to remembering all his great movies: Good Morning Vietnam, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Hook… okay, not Hook. His unique talents were perfect for the voice of the Genie in Aladdin, and while that’s only tangentially related to the fact that we’re talking about the Aladdin video game, I think it’s still worth taking a moment to remember him.


Right, that’s enough melancholy. Aladdin was released a year after the movie, on the Sega Mega Drive, and was a colourful, cartoony platforming game. While it was great fun to play, difficult as it was, the most outstanding feature was the traditionally-rendered animation, on which Disney’s animation studios collaborated. Aladdin made players feel like they really were in a Disney cartoon, racing through the streets of Agrabah, navigating the Cave of Wonders and facing off against the evil Jafar. The fantastic music really helped, too.

While Aladdin did nothing really new, it did everything so well that it instantly earned a place on any great movie-based game list. The music, visuals and controls were near-perfect, and though almost no-one ever completed it because it was so damned hard, no-one really minded.

When it comes to movie games, Aladdin really did show us “a whole new world”. And now you have that song stuck in your head. You’re welcome.

The Fast and the Furious (Arcade, 2004)

Hang on, hang on. Don’t leave yet. Yes, The Fast and the Furious was a terrible, terrible film, with a plot thinner than an MP’s excuses and acting so bad it would make Anna Nicole Smith cringe, but it did have one great legacy. If you think I’m talking about the sequels, then actually you probably should leave now, and go and watch some good films.

The Fast and the Furious Motion DLX

That’s right, the film has spawned a plethora of The Fast and the Furious arcade games, and surprisingly some of them are actually pretty good. The first shares its name with the first film, and thankfully that’s mostly where the similarities end. If you haven’t played any driving games before, and have never driven a car, the aim is to hold a pedal down with your foot and turn a wheel to make a car go to where you want it as quickly as possible. I’m sorry if that’s patronising, but I try to be inclusive in this blog.

The Fast and the Furious has you racing across a dozen tracks throughout America, finding short cuts and doing jumps and tricks as you go. Like Aladdin, it’s nothing new, but does what it’s meant to with aplomb. The cars are fun to drive, the courses are interesting and there are a bunch of options for upgrading your car and saving it with a password system, meaning it’s easy to shove a whole bunch of 50p coins in without even thinking about it.

The game was ported to the Nintendo Wii under the name Cruis’n, which pains me somewhat to even type. Apparently it wasn’t very good, which just goes to show that removing The Fast and the Furious from something can in rare circumstances make that something worse.

Spider-Man 2 (PS2, GameCube, Xbox, Windows, GBA, N-Gage (yes, N-Gage!), OSX, Nintendo DS, PSP, pretty much everything really, 2004)

Back before Sony decided to ruin the Spider-Man franchise with too many Tobey Maguire films and then those pointless Andrew Garfield ones (do yourself a favour and avoid them; save time by looking up the word “mediocre” in a dictionary instead), they actually made a couple of good ones. Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 were both pretty good for superhero films, that told about as believable and interesting a tale of a teenager who gets bitten by a spider as they could.

Spider-Man 2

Spider-Man 2, alongside GoldenEye 007, is held up as one of the shiniest shining examples of a shiny game based on a movie. As the eponymous web-slinger, you swing, crawl and jump around New York, fighting crime and saving people, and occasionally progressing with the plot and taking on a super-villain or two. The plot is, like the plot of so many games, almost inconsequential. What’s important is the feel of the game, and while swinging around the city, climbing walls and firing webs at muggers, you really get to feel like Spider-Man himself.

There have been many Spider-Man games since the 80s (of course, there’s a Wikipedia page for that) but Spider-Man 2 still holds up as the best example. Like so many games that rely on their technology, it’s worth tracking down and playing now before it becomes too dated to be fun any more, like GoldenEye, Fantasy World Dizzy, and croquet.

The home console versions were fantastic, the handheld versions were fine, but the Windows version is one to most definitely avoid. Its only redeeming feature is Bruce Campbell’s narration.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (PS3, Xbox 360, 2010)

Released to tie in with the film, yet owing much more to the plot (as well as aesthetics) of the graphic novels, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game is a side-scrolling beat-‘em-up in the same vein as Final Fight and Castle Crashers.

Scott Pilgrim

Playing as Scott, Ramona, Steven Stills or Kim Pine (or all four if you have four pairs of hands), you have to fight your way through seven levels and defeat Ramona’s seven evil exes. Although it’s a classic formula of four-player fighting, similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s a fun game with a lot of humour, and great respect for its genre. You’d expect nothing less from the creator of a highly-respected series of graphic novels that are packed with references to video games, between the poignant musings on emotional baggage and relationships.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game probably won’t convert anyone to enjoying the franchise if they don’t already, but it will give you sore thumbs and a big dopey smile. Can we really ask much more than that as gamers?

All right, so I technically cheated with this one. It’s not really based on the movie, but they came out at the same time. There’s also the fact that Edgar Wright, the director of the movie, provided some creative input. Are you really going to complain about it?

Star Wars (pretty much every single platform, ever, since 1983)

I suppose you were waiting to see which Star Wars game would make it onto this list. Surprise! I refuse to choose just one.

Star Wars

The Star Wars franchise has spawned dozens upon dozens of games in the last 30-odd years, and while some of them have been truly awful (Masters of Teras Kasi), unexpected (Star Wars Pinball) or just plain weird (Angry Birds Star Wars), there have been plenty which were not only great movie tie-ins, but fantastic games in their own rights.

Of particular note are: Star Wars Episode I: Racer and its arcade port, Star Wars: Racer Arcade, which were fantastic games based on the podracing scene from Episode I, all of the Rogue Squadron games, which saw you flying X-Wings, Snowspeeders, the Millennium Falcon and others in various space- and land-based missions, the Jedi Knight games where you got to run around slicing up Stormtroopers with a lightsaber, and the X-Wing/TIE Fighter games which managed to be exciting space simulations, despite no-one actually knowing what it’s like to fly a spaceship since we live in the boring 21st century on Earth.

Star Wars games have also been used to expand on the story of the films, alongside all the comics, cartoons, novels, radio plays, etc., etc. The Knights of the Old Republic games are even set 4,000 years before the films, telling a story that’s long been forgotten by the time of Luke Skywalker but still manages to feel like Star Wars. Even though the intellectual property has been sold to Disney, and the beloved LucasArts games studio has closed its doors, there will always be Star Wars games. At least, until real life becomes more interesting than them.

As an aside, “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords” wins my vote for “most unwieldy title for a video game ever”.

Those are some of the best movie-based games ever. As long as there are movies, there will be shoddy tie-ins, but it’s reassuring to know that sometimes games developers can treat source material with reverence and respect, and create something that enhances the brand rather than damaging it.

There are surely a ton of games missing from this list that you’d like to tell me about, however. Maybe you have fond memories of playing The Lion King as a child (nope, it was too hard to be fun) or you loved Telltale’s Back to the Future games in more recent years (which narrowly missed being on this list). Let me know! You can get in touch with me through the comments below, via Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or email [email protected].

Written By: Dave Morgan

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