This article was originally published on May 1, 2019 and shared again for Christmas 2019.
Ever since that fateful day in 1982 when Atari gave one of its developers a mere six weeks to churn out a game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the general consensus has been that games based on movies are almost always trash.
The key word there is ‘almost’, though. While it’s indeed true that almost every film tie-in is a dull, often rushed affair designed more to support the movie than offer legitimately brilliant gameplay, there have been some significant exceptions to this rule over the years.
The following titles still hold up to this day: not just as good movie tie-ins, but genuinely entertaining games in their own right. They’re proof that no matter how many garbage movie-related games you’ve played over the years, the next one might just buck the trend and be decent. Okay, probably not. But these ones are, is what we’re saying.
Although there were still some entertaining movie tie-ins before GoldenEye sauntered into our lives, there’s still no denying that this was the first game to make everyone stand up and declare: “THIS is how you handle a film licence.”
One of the reasons for this may be because developer Rare wasn’t held to the tight deadlines most other tie-ins are committed to. Whereas most publishers demand that a game’s ready in time for the movie’s release so fans of the film can buy it on the way home from the cinema, this wasn’t the case here.
The GoldenEye film hit cinemas in 1995, a year before the N64 had even launched, meaning deadlines weren’t an issue for Rare. Instead, it had so much time that it was able to scrap the original idea (an on-rails shooter) and evolve it into the FPS masterpiece it remains to this day.
Even the multiplayer – the most famous element of the game – wasn’t added until six months before launch, meaning if there was less time available it may have been a strictly solo affair, one that fans of Jimmy Bond may have enjoyed playing through then swiftly forgotten about.
Although most other systems got one take on Alien 3 – a fast-paced but frustrating action game where the sole aim was to find and rescue impregnated prisoners before their chests burst open – the SNES got a completely different, much better effort.
Made up of six large sections of the prison ship from the film, players are able to freely roam around the various rooms and air ducts while using computer terminals to get new missions.
While prisoner-rescuing does still feature here, you get to do a load of other things too from sealing doors to contain Alien infestations, to entering egg colonies and torching them with your flamethrower.
It may not stick too closely to the events of the film (which had no weapons in it whatsoever), but given how that film was ultimately received, it’s probably for the best.
Although the Spider-Man 2 game suffered the sort of difficulties GoldenEye was able to avoid – in order to get it ready in time for the movie’s release Treyarch was forced to cut out a lot of content – what remained was still considered both a fantastic superhero game and a brilliant movie tie-in.
This was mainly down to the new swinging mechanic which let players freely fling themselves around the game’s four large areas (Manhattan, Roosevelt Island, Liberty Island and Ellis Island) with all the grace of a chimpanzee.
The open-world city genre was still more or less in its infancy at this point (GTA III had only launched a few years earlier), so the fact that Spider-Man 2 remains great fun to play to this day is a testament to how well Treyarch nailed it.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay
One of the interesting advantages of games based on movies is that they can fill in some of the lore that didn’t take place on the screen, often by acting as sequels or prequels.
A good example of the former is the video game version of The Thing, which was set after the events of the 1982 movie and has a Special Forces team arriving at the outpist to try and find out what happened.
Escape From Butcher Bay, though, is a perfect example of the latter: set before the events of The Chronicles Of Riddick movie and its predecessor Pitch Black, it follows anti-hero Riddick (played again by Vin Diesel) as he attempts to break out of the Butcher Bay prison.
Of course, that would all be meaningless if the game itself was a pile of old pump, but it’s a fantastic part-stealth, part-action adventure that stands up well today. Its sequel, Assault On Dark Athena (which came with an HD remake of Butcher Bay), is similarly entertaining.
On rare occasions a movie tie-in won’t be a retelling, prequel or sequel: instead, it serves as a ‘sidequel’: a new storyline that runs alongside the events of the film, occasionally crossing over with it.
This is the case in EA’s video game version of The Godfather, and is also the foundation for Westwood Studios’ fantastic 1997 adventure based on Blade Runner.
You play as Ray McCoy, a rookie Blade Runner who embarks on a separate series of investigations to those Deckard follows in the movie. Along the way you get to visit many of the same locations and characters seen in the film, but the plot here is completely different.
It’s an impressively complex game, with plenty of branching possibilities and a genuine living world (other Blade Runners are solving cases and constantly updating your computer database with new info as you play). With an adventure sprawling over 4 discs and featuring 13 possible endings, it’s a massive achievement.
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure
Blade Runner is only one example of the point-and-click genre being a great fit for movie adaptations, especially when it comes to films heavy on plot.
Another fine example – and still the best in many gamers’ eyes – is LucasArts’ point-and-click take on the third Indiana Jones movie, The Last Crusade.
There were actually two different Indy 3 games released: The Action Game and The Graphic Adventure. The former was a standard platformer with jumping and whip-cracking aplenty, but was considered far too frustrating to be fun.
The Graphic Adventure, though, was classic LucasArts, delivering a hilariously written point-and-click up there with the best of the studio’s work like The Secret of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle.
Star Wars Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron 2
There have officially been more Star Wars games than there are grains of rough, coarse sand stuck in Anakin Skywalker’s various crevices, but you could probably count the genuinely fantastic ones on one hand.
If you did, you would definitely have to assign one finger to the superb Rogue Leader, a GameCube launch title that still looks brilliant 17 years later.
Playing as either Luke Skywalker or Wedge Antilles, you get to take part in a bunch of classic moments from the original trilogy, from taking down AT-ATs in Hoth to the Battle of Endor.
It’s the game’s first level, though – a stunning recreation of the Death Star attack from the original movie – that sticks in most gamers’ minds.
Because of this, there were two completely different Aladdin platformers released, both of which were brilliant in their own way.
Capcom’s SNES effort focused primarily on jumping on enemies’ heads to attack them, along with an interesting gliding mechanic (via the use of a bedsheet, for some reason).
It’s Virgin Interactive’s Mega Drive game, though, that most players remember. It focused more on swordplay, but is most memorable for its incredible animation, thanks to a collaboration between Virgin and Disney’s own animators.
The result was a game that looked unlike anything else at the time, and a reputation that continued with subsequent 16-bit Disney games like The Lion King and The Jungle Book.
Ask someone to start listing Rockstar titles and they’ll usually round off the usual suspects: Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, Bully…
Grab them by their collar, though, and sternly remind them that Rockstar was also responsible for a video game adaptation of one of the greatest cult movies ever, The Warriors.
Playing as some of the members of the titular gang from the 1979 film, you have to fight your way through New York, beating up other gang members as you cross through their turf.
Fans of the movie also loved the unlockable ‘flashback’ missions, which showed how some of the most notable Warriors members joined the gang in the first place.
In recent years, Batman fans have been well catered for by the likes of the Arkham games and Telltale’s adventure series. None of these were based on films, though.
For the best movie tie-in featuring the Caped Crusader, you have to go all the way back to Tim Burton’s first 1989 film (the one with Michael Keaton as Batman), and Sunsoft’s interpretation on the humble Game Boy.
Despite having one of the smallest hero sprites in the history of gaming, the Game Boy version of Batman is a fantastic action platformer where you run through locations from the film, filling various ne’er-do-wells with bullets.
It even has the bit where you knock Jack Nicholson’s character into the giant chemical vat, turning him into The Joker in the first place. That’s attention to detail.
The Lego series
Let’s face it, we could have just filled this list with Lego games and it would have been difficult to argue. Unless you’re the sort who just loves arguing. Look at you, we already can see you getting ready to scroll to the comments and argue.
The point is, for nearly a decade and a half Traveller’s Tales has mastered the art of taking iconic movies and their most well-loved scenes, and turning them into slapstick Lego-fied versions.
Although it started off with the Star Wars prequels (with the other films following later), over the years we’ve been treated to Lego versions of the likes of Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jurassic Park, The Incredibles, Harry Potter, The Lord Of The Rings.
And that’s before you take into account the mind-numbing crossover genius that was Lego Dimensions, which merged no fewer than 30 different IPs, from Back To The Future and Ghostbusters to Gremlins and Beetlejuice.
Die Hard Trilogy
The first three Die Hard movies each had a fairly different tone, so Fox Interactive and developer Probe came up with the clever idea of making three completely different games and bundling them onto a single disc.
Die Hard is a third-person action adventure in which you roam the various floors of the Nakatomi Plaza, killing terrorists as you try to make your way to the top.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder is an on-rails light gun shooter where you make your way through Dulles Airport, filling even more terrorists with lead.
Finally, Die Hard With a Vengeance – maybe the best of the bunch – is a sort of Crazy Taxi type game before Crazy Taxi existed, where you drive around in a taxi trying to hit a series of targets (in this case planted bombs) before a timer runs out.
All three games were brilliant in their own way, and the package was so well-loved that it inspired a sequel – Die Hard Trilogy 2: Viva Las Vegas – which was hot trash.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong
The Xbox 360 launch had its fair share of impressive games – Project Gotham Racing 3, Condemned: Criminal Origins, Call Of Duty 2 – but its sole launch movie tie-in ended up being surprisingly great.
King Kong (which also released on a bunch of other previous-gen systems but looked best on 360) was split into two game types: FPS sections where you played as Adrien Brody’s character, and third-person sections where you played as Kong himself.
While wrestling with dinosaurs as a giant gorilla was certainly fun, it was actually the FPS sections that were the most entertaining: the various giant creatures roaming around Skull Island are genuinely terrifying and clever tricks (like setting the grass on fire to kill them) really felt like you were using the environment to your advantage.
As a nice little touch, it also had a final bonus section at the end where you could play as Kong at the top of the Empire State Building and actually win, returning to Skull Island for a bit of peace and quiet.
The Mummy Demastered
California-based developed WayForward Technologies is one of the finest studios around when it comes to 2D action platformers.
The Mummy Demastered is a brilliant example of this, offering a fantastic Metroidvania adventure in which you play as a soldier working for Dr Jekyll.
It’s up to you to track down and kill Princess Ahmanet and a bunch of other nasty sods along the way, in a game that’s probably more ‘vania than Metroid.
As a clever touch, if you die your character will turn into a zombie armed with all the items you had, so when you respawn as a new soldier you’ll want to find them, kill them and get all your stuff back.
Its 16-bit style looks fantastic (and authentic, unlike most other retro-based games), and given that the film was a load of old guff it’s one of those rare situations where a movie tie-in is actually better than the movie it’s based on.