The era of movie tie-in games is long past us. There was a time when just about every blockbuster movie coming out each summer had to have a game adaptation and scores of other merchandise, including toys and t-shirts. Unfortunately, a lot of these video games were pretty rough (don’t ever play the game adaption of Batman & Robin for the PS1).
However, some of these movie tie-in games were actually good, and some of them were really good.
While the industry has shifted from movie tie-ins from small-time, scrappy studios in favor of big-budget licensed games from huge developers like Insomniac, it is worth appreciating what gamers had a decade or two ago. Some of these games would lay the groundwork for the biggest games today, including Marvel’s Spider-Man and even Call of Duty. So let’s look at the best games that adapted silver screen pictures to home console pixels.
While the quality of Star Wars films will always be a contentious topic among the Star Wars fan base, one thing that’s certain is that there is no shortage of great game adaptations for the franchise. The controversial prequel trilogy is no exception. Star Wars Episode 3 saw a full console release on PS2 and GameCube but had a particularly good Game Boy Advance version that some gamers would even consider better than the full console version.
The GBA version of Revenge of the Sith is a fantastic slash-em-up game where players can swap between Obi-Wan or Anakin whenever they like, and it features some really tight gameplay mechanics. Players can traverse twelve levels that look about as good as any recreation of the movie that a 32-bit handheld could hope for at the time and partake in some clever platforming sections while mowing down hordes of droids. While it didn’t shake the world of handheld game adaptations, it’s still quite novel in its faithful recreation of the movie.
As part of the golden era of Disney games from the 90s, Aladdin joins The Lion King and The Jungle Book as some of the best Disney movie tie-in games ever released. However, one of the biggest debates among fans is choosing whether the Sega Genesis version or the SNES version of Aladdin is the better one. While fans may never settle that debate, the Sega Genesis does have a few advantages that make it better than the SNES and put it on this list.
The Genesis version had the advantage of getting actual footage from the movie to aid its development and, as a result, had movie-accurate animations for all of Aladdin’s movements. Not to mention that the Genesis version of Aladdin was the first entirely hand-drawn video game. Additionally, Aladdin gets to wield a sword in this version of the game. A feature that Shinji Mikami (known for his work on Resident Evil and also got his start on the SNES version of Aladdin) says is what makes the Genesis version the superior one.
While Hogwarts Legacy is only a matter of months away and promises to fulfill the open-world school of witchcraft and wizardry fantasy that gamers have always wanted, it was Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the PS2 that accomplished this feat years ago. This was the first open-world game set in this universe, and it did a good job of making the experience fun all the way back in 2002.
Harry could ride his broom all around the school grounds, participate in Quidditch, attend class and earn house points. The class sections of the game were particularly fun, as the dungeon-like structure of each class felt very inspired by the Legend of Zelda games. Also of note is the incredible and very whimsical soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule, who you might know for his work on The Elder Scrolls series and Icewind Dale.
A game adaption of Peter Jackson’s King Kong doesn’t sound all too appealing at first glance, but this game actually has some great elements. Players can take the role of the movie’s main character, Jack Driscoll, in a simple yet fun first-person shooter experience. The sense of scale throughout Skull Island is fantastic as Jack takes down huge monsters and giant T-Rexes with nothing but some firearms and a spear. Also, the shooting mechanics are surprisingly good for a game like this.
Of course, there are the non-human sections of the game where you can control King Kong, which is fun. Watching Kong grapple with a T-Rex is always good entertainment, but it's more of a compliment to the delightful first-person shooter sections. Peter Jackson is a known gamer, and it makes sense that a movie tie-in game for one of his works would make this list. And it won’t be the last.
Anyone who has watched The Godfather might wonder how such an iconic movie can even be adapted to the video game medium. Surprisingly, The Godfather: The Game is a good movie tie-in, playing out like a GTA clone set in the 1940s. It stands out in a few ways, notably with its mafia-shakedown style of brawling mechanics where players can beat wise guys to a pulp.
The player takes the role of a gang member under the Corleone family, and the whole story unfolds like a side plot not told in the main Godfather movie. However, multiple key scenes are faithfully recreated and look quite good for the time. Mob game fans should definitely try to go back and revisit this one.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was panned at the cinema in 2009, but its saving grace was that it gave us a video game adaption that same year. After many years of X-Men games featuring Wolverine as part of an ensemble cast, Logan would finally take center stage in his own game. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the ultimate hack-and-slash brawler for the ruthless mutant, and it’s as bloody and destructive as one could hope for in a video game based around an angry guy with blades coming out of his knuckles.
The set-piece moments were fantastic and used many of the movie’s settings to the game’s advantage. It’s also a surprisingly good way to experience the rather poor X-Men Origins: Wolverine plot. It would probably be better to forget the movie existed and just remember this game instead. From its bloody combat to its rewarding progression system, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is still one of the best games about the mutant and was more than expected for a movie tie-in game in 2009. Insomniac’s upcoming adaption of the hero has some big shoes to fill.
The Lord of the Rings is one of the most legendary film trilogies of all time, ushering in a new era of fantasy and sci-fi movies and television that we are still in the middle of today. It's only fitting that its movie tie-in games live up to the pedigree of the films. Admittedly, the game adaptations of The Two Towers and The Return of the King didn’t break any new ground regarding fighting mechanics, but they didn’t have to. They were fun and faithful to the movies.
The Return of the King, in particular, is where EA really hit its stride with these games by introducing co-op and making one of the best multiplayer slash-em-ups of the PS2/GameCube era. Actual movie cutscenes were spliced into the game and transitioned seamlessly from cutscene to gameplay, making the whole game feel as epic as the movies. As an added bonus, The Return of the King let you play as any character in the Fellowship once the main story was finished, and you could have wacky scenarios like Frodo taking on waves of orcs at the front of the Black Gate.
Vin Diesel is always looking for the next game he can pop up in. The guy is a massive geek who loves gaming, Dungeons & Dragons, and religiously hitting the weight room. While The Chronicles of Riddick film he starred in didn’t seem to get much traction, it left behind a solid movie tie-in. One that is considered a cult classic in today’s gaming cultural zeitgeist.
Released for the Xbox in 2004, Escape from Butcher Bay is a first-person stealth action game developed by Starbreeze Studios, now known for making Payday 2. It’s sort of like a mixture of GoldenEye 007 and Splinter Cell inside the awfully cool sci-fi universe of The Chronicles of Riddick. Vin Diesel even directly assisted the game’s development with help crafting the plot and character designs. These days, gamers look back fondly on Escape from Butcher Bay and even consider it one of the greatest cult classics of the sixth console generation.
Spider-Man 2 on the PS2 and GameCube set the standard for superhero movie tie-in games at the time and is still cherished as one of the best superhero games of all time. Almost every Spider-Man game released since Spider-Man 2 has had to contend with this game, and rarely do they live up to its standard. Part of what makes Spider-Man 2 so good is its realistic physics-based web-swinging that actually relies on sticking to buildings and using momentum to move forward.
It wouldn’t be until Insomniac’s Spider-Man game released in 2018 for the PS4 that the king would be dethroned; however, some purists still love the original movie tie-in game over everything else. Toss in a fun cast of villains, including Rhino, Mysterio, Shocker, Black Cat, and Doc Ock, and an excellent rendition of NYC that felt huge at the time, and there is a lot to love here for fans of the web-head. Spider-Man 2 is one of the best superhero games ever, beyond its licensed game origins.
Possibly the most cherished game of all time, GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is one of the best movie tie-in games ever, if not the best one. Starting with its awesome single-player story and unmatched soundtrack to its incredible competitive multiplayer offering, GoldenEye is the complete package. Interestingly enough, the game's multiplayer component wasn’t even created until the last minute and ended up being the game’s most famous feature.
GoldenEye 007 laid the groundwork for future FPS games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty with its new approach to stick-based movement and shooting mechanics. The game remains so popular over twenty years later that it is even getting a re-release on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox consoles sometime next year. It makes sense that GoldenEye is so beloved, seeing as it was made by Rare in 1997, right before it would make the legendary Banjo and Kazooie games. Beyond its license and movie tie-in origins, GoldenEye 007 remains one of the best games of all time, period.
The gaming industry has grown beyond its days of seeing video games as extensions of toys and merchandise, and as a result, movie tie-in games are a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t important. Before streaming services made it so you could watch movies whenever you wanted, playing the game adaptations of movies in the theater was how we could relive the best moments of these films in our homes before they came out on DVD. And as it just so happens, some of these movie tie-in games were actually good and even influenced some of the biggest gaming franchises right now. So while movie tie-in games are a thing of the past, their legacy is felt in today's great games.