Last weekend, I went and saw Free Guy, a fun video game movie. While I’m not much of a review guy, if you like The Lego Movie and Deadpool, this is the movie that fits perfectly between those two, in all of it’s PG-13, self-referential, cameo-filled, goodness.
There are two types of video game movies. First, there are movies based on video games, which I’ve already written about the Video Game Movie Curse. The Mortal Kombats, the Assassin’s Creeds, the Angry Birds the Movies. Then, there are movies that are based on the idea of video games. Because that is what Free Guy was, let’s talk about that.
Tron: Legacy (2010)
The first movie to be placed in a fictional video game, was Tron (1982). This movie was one of the first to use an extensive amount of CGI, which was necessary for this neon-on-black stylization that the movie is known for. It was a box office success, and was even nominated for two Oscars. Then in 2010 was it’s sequel, which wasn’t the best movie, but man it was fun to watch. Following characters and players alike that are stuck in the world of a video game, with Daft Punk music and cool visuals, the movie is a good time, and really brought the idea of the video game movie to the forefront.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
Scott Pilgrim is an anomaly on this list, because it’s technically not set in a video game, but is based on a comic book that is styled like a video game. The main character has to fight his way through the seven ex-boyfriends of the girl he wants to date, in over the top ways, with flaming swords, flying through the air, and leveling up. The comic was a love letter to the classic video game aesthetic, and this movie delivers on that love.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
This movie might be the quintessential version of this sub-genre, where a villain of a video game, who knows he lives in an arcade, decides he wants to be a hero, and is willing to go to a different game to get there. The story is fun, the characters are dynamic, and the cameos of the history of video games is so extensive that you fully believe in this world, that every arcade character hangs out together when the doors close.
This movie, no offense to Adam Sandler and friends, is bad. “When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth in the form of the video games.” Now, Adam Sandler has rarely claimed to be the creator of good stories. Instead, he has fun, making his own movies with is friends, and changes the set to go do it again. If you like Adam Sandler and his style of filmmaking, more power to you. He just won’t often be found on a list of Best in a category, unless it’s Best Films of Guys Being Buds.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Maybe the most popular movie on this list, because of Star Power alone. This Stand-Alone Sequel to the 1995 Robin Williams movie has Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, with a Nick Jonas cameo. In it, four classmates, each with their own Breakfast Club style set of issues, are sucked into an old video game, and suddenly transform into the version of themselves that they need to be to grow through and out of those issues. The movie fully understands what makes video games great, and what fans of games love to poke fun at, but would never leave behind. The movie is solid, and worth your time. Just don’t watch the sequel.
Ready Player One (2018)
Based on a book, set in a post-Late Stage Capitalist Shanty Town, our hero goes into a Virtual Reality world, where his knowledge of ’70s-’80s-’90s pop culture makes him a hero. The movie has gone through a rollercoaster of fandom since it came out. When it was just a book, or audio-book narrated by President Wil Wheaton, it was incredibly popular. When the movie was made and first came out, it was praised by the book fans for bringing their world to screen. Then, when the general populace got around to it, suddenly OG fans couldn’t appreciate it anymore, and pointed out it’s flaws. Then the general populace turned on the film, and it’s “even ugly people deserve love” pseudo-love story. Now, whatever your opinion is on this film, you are probably in the minority, as there is a constant, yet diluted, ebb and flow of appreciation for the movie.
Free Guy (2021)
Lastly, we have the Ryan Reynolds, Taika Waititi movie that just came out. Set in a GTA Online-esque setting, the movie balances the In-Game story about Guy and his effort to become a good person to win the girl of his dreams, and the Meta-Real World story about the company that makes the game, watching Guy, an NPC, go out of his programmed loop, and trying to figure out how, and whether or not they should stop him.
It seems that these movies are still ramping up, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we get several more in the next decade, before someone makes the “ultimate” video game movie, and it declines hard from there.