Video gaming history is riddled with an unfortunate number of bad movie tie-in games looking to make a quick buck from a popular Hollywood release. Often these games are developed rapidly and rushed out of the door to coincide with a studio’s release dates. Fledgling developers are often given movie licenses as an opportunity for them to make some guaranteed money whilst trying to build a name for themselves, and movie studios oversee and overrule the production of a product they sometimes don’t entirely understand. This leads to games like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial on the Atari, an infamous example of why the game/movie mash-up isn’t always a match made in heaven. Oh, and the less said about Superman 64 the better!
However, not all games based on Hollywood properties are bad. In fact, there have been some fantastic releases that have not only captured the essence of their source material but also added their own flair to create a truly memorable and worthwhile video game experience. This list looks at just a few of these shining examples of cross-over appeal.
Disney’s Aladdin/The Lion King
Anyone who grew up in the 90s will have fond memories of these games. Based on the 1992 Disney film Aladdin, the tie-in game released in 1993 on a variety of systems— Genesis/Mega Drive, Amiga, NES, and Windows PC, as well as a variety of handheld adaptations. Aladdin stays faithful to the film’s story and plays as a 2D side-scrolling platformer. It combines great controls and fun combat mechanics with beautiful hand-drawn environments and a thrilling soundtrack reminiscent of the movie— yes, including a wondrous Genie level complete with “Friend Like Me” in 8-bit bleeps and bloops.
A similar title was developed for the same systems for Disney’s The Lion King, also featuring excellent 2D side-scrolling against beautiful backdrops and soundtracks ripped straight from the animated feature. Fans will remember with mixed emotions those damn monkeys tossing you around in a level based on “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King.” Both games were remastered together as the Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King collection for current gen systems in 2019.
A game based on a movie based on a book, Westwood Studios’ Blade Runner released in 1997. Often overlooked these days, in the late 90s it was quietly innovating the already popular point-and-click adventure game genre. Blade Runner unshackles itself from the movie’s plot, instead telling a side story that runs parallel to the events of Ridley Scott’s cinematic classic. The game also experiments with 3D character rendering and real-time story progression, features that would go on to be adopted into genre contemporaries such as Monkey Island and Broken Age.
Blade Runner perfectly captures the neon-soaked dystopia from its influences and adds more story context and canon for hardcore fans. In 2019, Blade Runner returned to PC with a release on GOG.com, and in 2020 it was announced that Night Dive Studios are heading up a remastered Enhanced Edition for PC and consoles.
Die Hard Trilogy
In 1996, Probe Entertainment released their game adaptation of not just one but all three Die Hard movies. Die Hard Trilogy landed first on PlayStation 1 to critical acclaim and commercial success. What makes it stand out amongst the many other movie tie-ins released for Sony’s debut console is that each of its three games plays in a different genre. Die Hard is reimagined as a traditional third-person shooter. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is an on-rails shooter akin to Virtua Cop or Time Crisis. The third, Die Hard with a Vengeance, is a driving game following in the footsteps of Twisted Metal. The game would go on to join the PlayStation Greatest Hits and PlayStation Platinum collections, as well as releasing on PC and Sega Saturn one year later.
Visually, Die Hard Trilogy doesn’t hold up well today, but in 1996 it was a well-received movie tie-in that innovated with its three-games-in-one approach. We can only speculate what genre Live Free or Die Hard would have been reimagined as— perhaps a dating simulator?
Mention the Nintendo 64 to anyone, and it won’t be long before GoldenEye 007 finds its way into the conversation. There’s a reason for that. Releasing in 1997, GoldenEye broke the mould of what a competitive first-person shooter should be. The genre had previously been heralded as a PC mainstay, but with GoldenEye 007, its viability as a split-screen console game was realised. GoldenEye 007 borrows liberally from the James Bond movie that is its source material, and its chaotic competitive deathmatches leave players shaken…not stirred. (Sorry, not sorry.) The game also features an extensive single-player campaign putting players in the polished shoes of the suave British agent himself. Despite twenty-six Bond movies being released, no tie-in games since have reached the heights of GoldenEye 007.
There have been a number of attempts to revive the GoldenEye 007 franchise, including a 2010 reimagining on Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. None captured the lightning-in-a-bottle that was the Nintendo 64 version, which revolutionized a genre and, for many excited players, single-handedly sold an entire console. Oh, alright, Pokémon Snap was pretty cool too.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Before you get angry with me, I know there are a lot of Star Wars games that I could have included on this list. To avoid it becoming a rehash of our “Top 10 Star Wars Video Games”, I’ve cut it down to just one. Feel free to insert your favourite here, whether it’s the excellent X-Wing or TIE Fighter flight sims, the Dark Forces or Jedi Academy first-person shooters, or maybe the Empire at War real-time strategy game. It could be Battlefront 1 or 2 from either era! You could even swap this entry for its MMO successor, The Old Republic, or the now-defunct Star Wars Galaxies. Just don’t mention The Force Unleashed, alright?
I’ve chosen to include BioWare’s seminal RPG, Knights of the Old Republic, as a quintessential example of what video games can achieve with George Lucas’s blockbuster franchise. KotOR released in 2003 for PC and Xbox, taking everything BioWare had learnt on its Baldur’s Gate games and kicking off the studio’s success with third-person style role-playing games. It tells a unique tale in a part of the Star Wars timeline that had, to that point, never been explored. Coupling a compelling story with an all-time great plot twist, superb Jedi combat and lots of Star Wars sights and sounds, Knights of the Old Republic was a standout success. It has since been ported to multiple platforms, spawned a sequel in 2004, and the aforementioned MMO follow-up in 2008. Plot elements from the game are still being referenced in Star Wars properties as recently as The Rise of Skywalker movie dictionary, which confirmed antagonist Darth Revan as officially part of the movie canon.
There a lot of great Spider-Man games available out there, and I’m disqualifying almost all of them from this list. The reason is simple— the vast majority are based on the comic books or tell their own narrative tales with no link to the motion pictures.
That leaves us with just a handful of games that directly tied in with the various Spider-Man movies (the three Toby Maguire entries and two with Andrew Garfield.) Spider-Man 2 was part of the early trilogy, a direct movie tie-in to the 2004 film of the same name. Releasing on all relevant consoles at the time, it was critically acclaimed and well received by fans. Spider-Man 2 improved on every aspect of its predecessor, ushering in the fully sandbox environments that had just recently made the Grand Theft Auto games best-sellers. Spider-Man 2 fully captured the feeling of being the friendly neighbourhood hero— fast combat, wall-crawling and web-slinging through a huge open world New York City. It also expanded on the movie’s story whilst honouring its source material, culminating in a climactic battle with Doctor Octopus.
The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay
Also releasing in 2004 was this tie-in to the Hollywood blockbuster The Chronicles of Riddick. Developer Starbreeze Studios would go on to be known for The Darkness and Payday 2, but Butcher Bay was their first huge success. It seeks to explore the universe of the movie franchise without being beholden to its plot and instead is a prequel to Pitch Black, the first movie in the series. Actor Vin Diesel reprises his role as Riddick, and Escape from Butcher Bay adopts a unique first-person style that incorporates elements of hand-to-hand and melee combat. The game also puts a huge focus on stealth, borrowing from the Thief series and implementing stealth-based first-person takedowns long before Dishonored would use it to much success.
The game was so successful that it spawned a 2009 sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, which also included the original game as an add-on. This may be a controversial opinion, but I think the games told a better Riddick story than The Chronicles of Riddick movie did!
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
If you’re looking for a Lord of the Rings game that is more loyal to its source material, The Return of the King game is a solid movie adaptation, and The Battle for Middle-earth real-time strategy games allow you to relive many great moments from the franchise, including the battles of Helms Deep and Minas Tirith. 2014’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was more willing to take great risks with The Lord of the Rings franchise, telling a side story that runs in parallel to the main story from the cinematic franchise and attempts to add new lore to an already massive universe.
Shadow of Mordor sets out to bring an Assassin’s Creed level of stealth, immersion and, yes, even parkour, to Middle-earth. Players control Talion, a Ranger bonded to the Wraith of an Elf Lord, wielding magical powers unseen in the franchise before. The game’s lauded Nemesis System creates a hierarchy of Orcs for Talion to pursue, toppling each in turn like a game of Uruk-hai Jenga. It took liberties with the canon, there’s no denying that, but what it did do was provide a unique and exciting new experience that let players roam around Middle-earth with a number of cameos from Peter Jackson’s movie characters. The game also spawned a sequel, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, three years later.
Ridley Scott’s Alien series is one of the most beloved horror franchises in Hollywood history. It’s no surprise, then, that it has spawned a number of video game tie-ins, bursting from development studios like baby Xenomorphs from a human rib cage. However, very few of these games managed to achieve the success of 2014’s Alien: Isolation.
Where its predecessors couldn’t resist the urge to turn their Alien games into shooting galleries, Creative Assembly instead focuses the gameplay of Isolation on the tense atmosphere and creeping horror of the original Alien film. Players, taking on the role of Ellen Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, are tasked with surviving the derelict ship Sevastopol as a murderous Xenomorph hunts her down. Keeping weapons to a minimum and giving the titular alien a dynamic, advanced AI means that the horror stalking you in space is unscripted, unstoppable, and unrelenting. Rather than modernising the look of the settings’ systems and environments, the Sevastopol instead could easily have been ripped directly from the movies. Alien: Isolation avoided aping the plots of its source material or succumbing to the urge to empower the player into a Xeno-killing machine. It is the game most loyal to what makes the Alien movies so timeless. In your living room, only some people may hear you scream.
The Mad Max movie trilogy had a game tie-in released on the NES in 1990. The less said about that, the better. However, following the success of Hollywood sequel Mad Max: Fury Road, Avalanche Studios set out to give Max a game worthy of his post-apocalyptic hijinks. Releasing in 2015 on PS4, Xbox One and PC, Mad Max adopts a huge open world for the Australian anti-hero to ride an assortment of vehicles in. The game tells an original story rather than reproducing any of the movies, instead using them as inspiration for its world-building, locations and action sequences.
Avalanche took inspiration from its own Just Cause series in building the breadth and scale (and explosions!) of Mad Max, and it paid off. The game was a commercial success for the studio, who would go on to develop Rage 2, the second game in a series of games inspired by the movie shenanigans of the Road Warrior.
Jurassic World: Evolution
What’s the best way to represent the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World franchise? Perhaps a survival horror game where you’re a small child trapped on a holiday resort island with murderous dinosaurs that want to eat you alive? Yeah, I thought so too. Until that arrives though, the very best tie-in to this iconic movie franchise is Jurassic World: Evolution. The game casts you less as Tim Murphy and more as John Hammond.
Jurassic World: Evolution is a park management sim, following on the legacy of the original Jurassic Park builder, Operation Genesis. Developed by Planet Coaster studio Frontier Developments, Evolution tasks you with building, funding, and maintaining an operational amusement park filled with genetically modified living dinosaurs. Think Theme Park with carnivorous predators. The game released in 2018 as a follow-on to the 2015 film Jurassic World and features a number of voiced cameos from the cast of that film and the original trilogy. Never does Evolution feel more like a game in that movie franchise than when a thunderstorm takes out your power, unexpectedly unleashing your carefully restrained Tyrannosaurus Rex into a crowd of unsuspecting visitors. What? Don’t judge me, you know you’d enjoy it too!