The All-Time Five Greatest In-Movie Video Games

Hollywood and video games have an interesting history. Long before it became standard procedure to turn every movie into a video game and every video game into a movie, the game’s place in film was more of an object of mystery, fear, and curiosity then a mere marketing tie-in. In film, the ability to control pixels tapped into our fears of a machine-dominated future and our dreams of being whisked away to a far off galaxy to save the universe.

So now, we come up with our list of the most-awesome in-movie video games. With one exception, we’ve shied away from real-life video games that found their way into movies. The reason: When screenwriters conjure up their own visions of gaming, the true sci-fi promise of an electronic future shines through most brightly, in our opinion. Click the jump to see the list.

5. SURF NINJAS (1993)

PREMISE: This crapfest told the tale of a couple of brothers who, rather than just being ethnic-looking Californians, are actually the lost princes and surf ninjas of a long-lost land. Tack on Rob Schneider (Rob Schneider is The Stapler) as the token white guy/comic relief, and you get the picture.

VIDEO GAME APPEARS AS: The younger brother (played by the Asian Corey Haim) possesses a magical Game Gear that allows him to see the future, in 8 bits and for 40 minutes before the battery dies. It’s amazing Sega could make a game that possesses clairvoyance, but they couldn’t make any that were, you know, fun.

WHY IT HIT US: We were desperately wanting Game Gear to not suck, have decent games, and a battery life that got us to Level 2. And a Power of Foresight peripheral would have beat the hell out of that TV tuner they hawked.

LEGACY: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.

HICKEY SEZ:It’s no “Three Ninjas”, but it does have ninjas. Who are teens. And say things like “Cowabunga!” and eat pizza. But it’s in no way an exploitative rip-off of another, far more popular kid’s Ninja franchise. No siree, these ninjas were humans when others were badass animatronic turtles, which cost a whole lot less to film, and you can see every missing penny on screen.

You’re wondering if there’s anything good about this film at all, and there is: Tone Loc’s cameo. Also, look for an appearance by Kelly Hu, who would later be Lady Deathstrike in X-Men 2. No, really, she more or less got her start in this turd.

4. WARGAMES (1983)

PREMISE: Before he was cutting class, Ferris Bueller was a high school student whose gaming addiction caused his grades to suffer, as addictions are wont to do. So, like any good gamer, he hacks into his school system to change his marks (has this ever been done successfully?) Somehow, changing his grades leads him to a super-secret government program that oversees nuke launches. Thinking it’s just RISK Online, and not furreals, Bueller nearly starts World War III.

VIDEO GAME APPEARS AS: A poorly-guarded (firewall, anybody?) DoD nuke gatekeeping program.

WHY IT HIT US: This may be the first game to seriously deal with the important and complex issue of game addiction in a way that parents and children could talk about together in a mutually respectful manner. And again, the idea that that the outcome of the game you are playing actually matters is catnip to fanboys.

LEGACY: The preview for next week’s episode of Lost shows Locke playing a high stakes game of online chess. Would this be if it weren’t for WarGames? Maybe. Maybe.

NICHOLAS SEZ: When I was like 12- or 13-years-old I used to get up damn early on Saturdays for some reason. Like 6 am early. I don’t know why. One day, WarGames was on TNT and I watched it. I think the fact that it combined both “war” and “games” initially caught my attention. In retrospect the computer’s voice is horribly annoying and the concept of a kid breaking into the military’s top-notch computers is stupid. In fact, the whole movie is stupid and everyone who likes it is stupid, too.

3. THE WIZARD (1989)

PREMISE: Fred Savage and the girl from Rilo Kiley escort mute gaming “wizard” Jimmy to the video game championships in Cal-i-forn-i-a in a hijinks-filled road trip adventure that sees our heroes come face to face with Power Glove-toting Lucas (and his gang of ne’er-do-wells), an immoral kiddie bounty hunter, and the most obscene product placement of all time. Of course, the real draw was a sneak peek at Super Mario Bros. 3 (Holy crap! Mario is flying!)

VIDEO GAME APPEARS AS: Gross product placement, a plot device, and in the it’s-not-a-game-it’s-a-hustle role played by the mechanical bull in Urban Cowboy, karaoke machines in Duets, and arm-wrestling coals in Over the Top.

WHY IT HIT US: We were too young and dumb to be turned off by product placement. And how could any kid resist the allure of running away from home and scrapping by as a truck stop video game hustler, living on Hostess cupcakes? And that Lucas and his Power Glove was SO BAD.

LEGACY: A future run for Congress by Fred Savage?

PETER HA SEZ: “I love the Power Glove…it’s so bad.” That’s the one thing I remember about The Wizard. It took me a long time score 50,000 points on Double Dragon and it pissed me off that the kid in the movie did it with such ease. The kid had some dumb traumatic experience so he stopped talking and everyone thought he needed to be hospitalized. My traumatic experience was watching the flick. The Power Glove was the worst controller ever made, but it was the only good thing about the movie.


PREMISE: A teenage trailer-parker spends his days pushing plastic on a Space Invaders-esque arcade machine. Little does our hero know, but the game is actually an intergalactic recruiting device used to find the best and brightest starfighters for nothing less than saving the universe.

VIDEO GAME APPEARS AS: An intergalactic recruiting tool for the purposes of battling the evil Kur and the Ko-Dan armada.

WHY IT HIT US: Perhaps no movie represented the dreams of early-80s fanboys like The Last Starfighter. It tapped into our fantasies that becoming awesome at video games actually had a purpose other than bragging rights.

LEGACY: These days, the military routinely uses video games to train soldiers. Eh? And this Onion story .

JOHN SEZ: I saw this one when I was staying at my grandma’s in Martins Ferry, Ohio. The idea that I could go down to the local pizza joint (Dicarlos FTW), grab a slice, play Missile Command, and unleash the Death Blossom on intergalactic vermin and get the girl were too compelling to pass up. None of that happened, however, except for the eating of lots of pizza part. No girls. No Death Blossoms. No vermin.

1. TRON (1982)

PREMISE: Jeff Bridges, as the world’s only non-obese computer engineer, gets sucked into a neon-colored game world where he and a security program (the aptly-named Tron) must race bikes, navigate through mazes, and throw discs at square beasts.

VIDEO GAME APPEARS AS: The setting for the lion’s share of the flick. You know they’re inside the video game when the style gets ridiculous.

WHY IT HIT US: In the 80s, parents were scared of their kids getting too sucked up into games. This one takes that fear to the literal extreme. And the death of in-game characters brings back memories of crying over the death of General Leo or any other video game character you developed an unnatural bond towards.

LEGACY: Tron’s video game spin-offs were some of the very first movie-to-game adaptations. So now you know who to blame for Enter the Matrix. And, of course, there’s this guy.

VV SEZ: I remember seeing Tron twice. The first time, I was young and didn’t really seem to get it aside from the kick-ass visual effects, which blew my mind. Later on in life, I watched the 20th Anniversary edition while eating some magic brownies. Sure enough, the movie was a lot better the second time around. There’s no highlights from this movie though, because the plot is about as cheesy as it gets. But that’s OK when your visual effects make up for it. If you’ve never seen the car race with the light walls, you’ve missed out on something very special.

Honorable Mention

Wait, that wasn’t in King’s short story…

LAWNMOWER MAN — it must suck to be Stephen King mostly because young directors, still flush from reading the dirty parts in IT come to you an propose movie adaptations of your grocery list. The result is something like Lawnmower Man a dystopic vision of whatever the heck this was about. Actually, it involved a dull-witted gardener, a high-falutin’ scientist, and some virtual reality. The result? A mish-mash a la The Fly that reminded us that too much computer time rots your brains.

Doot… doo.. doo… the first cutscene!

CLOAK AND DAGGER — A staff favorite, this movie reminds us that lonely, motherless children often talk to invisible spies. The coolest part? We put ourselves in young Davey’s place and hoped — nay, prayed — that one of our favorite video game characters would come to life and teach us how to spray acid at the elderly. It would, however, be cooler if it were someone like Solid Snake and not Dabney Coleman