If life has taught us anything, it’s that it’s easy to be cynical about movie video game tie-ins. There’s many a game developer that’ll fight for a movie’s video game rights, often doing the bare minimum and slapping the film’s branding on it in a blatant cash grab. Today, there’s even less appeal to create a stellar video game based on a movie IP, given how streaming doesn’t quite have the same impact as a big screen blockbuster.
Case in point, the cautionary tale of 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. This basic adventure, featuring a hilariously rendered E.T. on a quest for pieces of an intergalactic telephone, was so bad that unsold copies had to be buried in a landfill in the U.S.
However, there are a few (very few) times when developers decide to do a movie’s video game right, actually taking the time to understand the mindset of its fan base and capturing the themes of the movie correctly. And with with a lot of skill, a little bit of luck and all manner of aligned planets, a celluloid-based computer game that does the film justice is born.
With that in mind, here are ten of the best video game tie-ins of movies.
Goldeneye is the perfect single-word riposte to those who tell you video game tie-ins are trash. Armed with your Walther PPK and licence to kill, you don the sharp tux of James Bond as you stealth your way through Goldeneye’s story, a whole platoon of Russian rebels and a former 00 agent turned rogue. Goldeneye was famed for its varied level design, colossal arsenal of weapons, and mission objectives that varied depending on your difficulty.
As you might expect from England’s most suave and sophisticated spy, Goldeneye featured deep stealth gameplay, with cameras that needed shooting out, alarms to neutralize and enemies to snipe from afar. All these are the bread and butter of many FPS games today, but they were nothing short of revolutionary at the time. And that 007 pause music that had no right being so good.
One of the finest first-person shooters of its generation, it’s played a central role in many a local multiplayer dust-up. Never forget the immortal codewords that’ll give fully-grown adult goosebumps: Aztec, Slappers only, no Oddjob…
Mad Max (2015)
With its largely practical effects and octane action, Mad Max: Fury Road redefined the action movie genre in recent years. And while its tie-in game didn’t take the world by (desert) storm, it’s still a hugely satisfying foray into an apocalyptic world of savages fighting for dwindling resources.
You’ll get behind the wheel of the Magnum Opus and fight, scrounge and murder your way for parts, weapons and ammo to take down oppressive clans and deliver justice in a lawless land. Launch harpoons to take down structures, ram enemy vehicles off the road, barbecue your foes with your mounted flamethrower and upgrade your ride thanks to your onboard buddy Chumbucket.
If you feel like delivering a more personal bout of road rage, Max can step out and engage in bone-crunching melee combat and blast away at savages with his signature sawn-off shotgun. It’s a great tie-in that borrows some of the best sandbox open worlds and reconfigures them to work in the furious world of Mad Max.
Scarface: The World is Yours (2006)
Not a direct tie-in per se, Scarface: TWIY pulls the biggest retcon in all of gangster moviedom — having Tony Montana survive the mansion shootout during the film’s climax and set out to rebuild his drug empire. Naysayers might dismiss it as little more than just a carbon copy of the GTA games, but this is more of a sandbox game with drug empire management.
In reclaiming his powder-full kingdom, Tony needs to partake in cocaine deals, take down rival gangs and smuggle in the white stuff while avoiding the fuzz. Players will reclaim various areas of Miami territory while completing missions to build Montana’s reputation and associates. Combat is brutal, with Tony painting the city red with shotguns, rocket launchers, chainsaws and his good friend, the M16. It’s also chockful of F-bombs that’ll make Tarantino blush.
Scarface’s presentation also tugs at nostalgia for the original 80s film. Some characters reprise their roles, while the game’s lead cleverly captures Montana’s nihilistic swagger, blending it with Al Pacino’s looks, if not perhaps his voice.
You wanna play rough? Say hello to this little game.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man (2015) and its spiritual successor Miles Morales may rep the pinnacle of games featuring these webheads, but 2004’s Spider-Man 2 walked so these games could fly.
Yup, until 2004, Spider-Man games were always janky affairs, with awkward camera controls and unnatural swinging. Spider-Man 2 nailed the feeling of cruising through an accurately depicted Manhattan with its many skyscrapers and highrises.
Notably, all the major characters get to voice their respective characters, including Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and J. K. Simmons. Sam Raimi favourite alumnus Bruce Campbell also makes a familiar entrance as the game’s narrator. The game follows the events of the film, with extra guest appearances, including Rhino and an excellent Mysterio battle.
It’s looking a little dated now, but with tonnes of crimes and activities to intervene in and a rogues gallery of characters and boss fights to overcome, Spider-Man 2 was as good as superhero film tie-ins got.
Die Hard Trilogy (1996)
Die Hard Trilogy developers Probe could have easily phoned in a perfunctory game to tie in DH threequel With a Vengeance. However, gamers got to play as everyone’s vest-wearing copper John McClane in not one, not two, but three different games.
The first game involves a third-person shooter where you take out an armada of Euro baddies across the many floors of the Nakatomi Plaza. There’s hostages to rescue, hotdogs to munch on and a whole load of machine guns to try as you clear out each floor.
Its sequel has you blasting away perps at a Washington airport in an on-rails shooter, which you could play with a compatible lightgun. Finally, With a Vengeance arcade driving game puts you in a car, where you need to beat a series of checkpoints to intercept and disarm a ton of bombs before they go off.
While these games are a little repetitive and long in the tooth these days, they were fun diversions that encapsulated the spirit of the three movies, and that’s thanks to the addition of the reworked lines of dialogue that made the films so special. Yippie-ki-yay indeed.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
Rounding out the opus of Peter Jackson’s seminal trilogy, Return of the King improved on the hack and slash em up of The Two Towers tie-in in almost every way, with more enemies, larger levels and more satisfying combat.
The surviving Fellowship are playable here too, with Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli and those hobbits only too eager to head into the fray. Developer EA even shoehorned in a two-player coop mode, so you can tally up your kills just like Legolas and Gimli.
Combat is more than it seems too, with a points and grading system rewarding skilled sword and bow-play. Parry well and avoid taking damage, and you’ll build up your meter, and if you can fill it, you can go Super Saiyan on Sauron’s forces. Earn enough XP to unlock special characters, and you can unleash Fellowship combos on unsuspecting foes.
What’s still surprising is the authenticity of a game now two decades old. Character animations look fluid and lifelike, while environments are recaptured in impressive detail — try not to get decapitated while you’re marveling at the gritty details of Helm’s Deep, Minas Tirith, or the Black Gate. Additionally, key scenes from the live-action movies transition effortlessly into the game environments and vice versa, making you feel as if you’re part of this struggle against evil.
It’s a hard pass on Shelob’s lair though…
Disney’s Aladdin (1993)
In the hellish console wars of the 90s, a very specific skirmish played out among fans — which console version of Aladdin was king. Yep, there were two tie-ins of this House of Mouse classic — one from Capcom for the SNES and the other by Virgin Games for the Sega Mega Drive.
It was a close battle, but we’ll give this one to Sega’s console version. For starters, you get a scimitar for close-range encounters with Agrabah’s guards. Whichever version you play, you’ll be transported to the endless land of endless sands in this joyful 2D platformer. Just like the film (sadly not the remake), the game is bursting with personality, with the Mega Drive pushed hard to use its full-colour palette. As a result, levels pop and are replete with parallax scrolling effects to demonstrate its depth of field.
Even for non-Aladdin aficionados, there’s plenty of challenge for platforming fiends, with plenty of verticality in its levels. Plus, there’s loads of collectibles to get your mitts on, such as gems and apples, the latter of which you can yeet at foes. The Mega Drive version also features more music faithfully derived from the movie, including a toe-tapping synth-rendition of Prince Ali.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005)
Thought Tomb Raider’s T-rex section was terrifying? Prepare to develop about a dozen other phobias in this tie-in game starring super simian King Kong.
Playing as screenwriter Jack Driscoll, you embark upon a voyage to Skull Island (first red flag) with a film crew to capture footage for a new movie. However, you quickly find yourselves set upon by killer crustaceans, deadly dinos and carnivorous crawlies.
This FPS was famed for its atmosphere, action sequences and varied enemy types. It was also one of the few shooters to have no HUD — instead, your character would call out your ammo reserve when needed. You were restricted to carrying one weapon at a time, and you could only take a few hits before you succumbed to those prehistoric beasties, leaning into Driscoll’s everyman character.
And of course, you got to play as Kong, taking out giant predators and traversing Skull Island to protect your love interest, Ann, in perhaps the only game where you can end up ripping open a T-rex’s jaws. Hail to the king, baby.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)
While the Wolverine origin movie wasn’t super well-received — terrible CGI claws, the Merc without a mouth — its tie-in game at least manages to surpass it in every aspect.
Thankfully, this title was clearly made by fans of our hirsute antihero. Not only does it feature the voice talents of Hugh Jackman as Wolvie as well as Liev Schreiber as big bad Sabretooth, but it’s also very, very bloody.
The Uncaged Edition, available for current-gen consoles at the time of release, lets players ravage enemies in this hack and slashathon. Wolverine could slash, stab and lunge at foes, while fatal finishers and executions can relinquish combatants of heads, limbs and litres of the red stuff. Seeing Weapon X’s body heal from seemingly fatal and gruesome injuries never gets old either.
The game mostly follows the film’s story but in flashback episodes from the far future, likely in the Days of Future Past era. Wolverine, a deserting member of mutant special forces Team X, is left for dead following an act of revenge by his former teammate Sabretooth.
While this Wolverine game is far from perfect, there’s at least six very sharp reasons for fans to get the Weapon X experience they were yearning for from the big-screen version. It’s almost enough to make you forget all about that 12A-rated origins film. Almost.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game (2010)
Scott Pilgrim is your classic boy meets girl story: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy must then defeat 7 evil exes to be with girl. And in the game, it feels like you need to get past all of Toronto to be with your beau in this old school beat-em up.
Scott Pilgrim’s anime-esque comic book style blends perfectly into a retro 8-bit fighter. It’s full of colour, personality and cutesy sprites, though those cutesy sprites are busy knocking the coins out of each other. Deeper RPG elements are also in play, with new moves that can be unlocked and purchased items that can boost stats.
While levels are a little grindy, the look of Scott Pilgrim is absolutely timeless and holds up even a decade later. What’s more, the 8-bit, rock-infused soundtrack specifically crafted for the game by Anamanaguchi is totally worth adding to your Spotify playlist.
Sadly, licensing issues meant the game was delisted back in 2014, but thankfully, a Complete Edition was made available in 2021, adding DLC packs and the ability to play as fan favourites Wallace and Knives. While fun enough as a solo experience, this game is yearning to be played on coop with three other players.