A blast from the past
Rampage may have started out as a classic arcade cabinet, but thanks to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, it's now one of the few video games to be adapted into a financially successful feature film. And in a few years, it might not be alone. Arcade games are among the few properties Hollywood hasn't licensed en masse, and there are countless movies that such games could inspire. If you enjoyed Rampage this year, imagine visiting theaters in 2020 to see a theatrical version of one of these retro favorites.Credit: Warner Bros.
Gauntlet (1985, Atari Games)
How has there not been a movie of Gauntlet yet? This classic hack-and-slash arcade game features a Warrior, a Wizard, an Elf and a Valkyrie who loot — and escape — various deadly dungeons. Along the way, they are pursued by a literal, physical manifestation of Death, who is immensely difficult to defeat. I’m not sure you even need screenwriters to generate a plot at this point. Just take the Mad Max: Fury Road approach and have these four heroes raid tombs and fight monsters for 2 hours straight. The End.Credit: Atari
Battlezone (1980, Atari Inc.)
Battlezone didn't have a story to speak of, and its gameplay was basic compared to the arcade games that followed. But it was highly popular in its day, rivaled only by Pac-Man, and Hollywood has greenlit successful films on less. Thankfully, the gameplay itself might tease at an interesting story. The player is a lone tank operator in a hostile, possibly alien environment, who must survive against both enemy tanks and the occasional UFO. If Battlezone were the story of a soldier — or a full tank crew — trying to escape enemy territory on an alien planet? That could make for a thrilling movie.
Pac-Man (1980, Namco)
Pac-Man was one of the most popular arcade cabinets of all time, and marked a significant turning point in the history of video games. Yet for some reason, the closest Pac-Man has come to his own feature film was an appearance in the tragically disappointing Pixels. That cannot stand. Unfortunately, coming up with a full-length film story requires some creative license. But if the Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures cartoon can generate three full seasons of Pac-Man fighting threats from the Netherworld, it's possible for a Pac-Man movie to pull off something similar. Can we put Pixar on this one?
Shinobi (1987, Sega)
Shinobi was an instant smash hit of the arcade era, quickly making the leap to home consoles and spawning an entire franchise. Better still: It’s all about ninjas who fight terrorists, and the occasional supernatural threat. How is it not a movie already? The arcade version follows Joe Musashi: a modern-day ninja on a quest to rescue the students of his clan. Borrow a few elements from later sequels, like an estranged son and a faithful ninja dog, and you'll have more than enough material to fill theater seats.
War Gods (1996, Midway Games)
OK, War Gods wasn't an especially good game. But this forgotten arcade game from the studio behind Mortal Kombat did have potential. In War Gods' distant past, asteroids carrying a magical substance dubbed Ore fell to Earth. Over the course of human history, rare individuals would discover an Ore deposit and be transformed into god-like beings. By modern times, these gods have learned of each other's existence, and enter a great conflict to secure the remaining Ore for themselves. Supernatural battles between gifted individuals from across history has a nice ring to it, wouldn't you say?
Space Invaders (1978, Taito)
Space Invaders remains a historic achievement as one of the first prominent arcade games, not to mention one of the first shooters ever developed. It has been referenced and parodied across countless films, TV shows and other games, so why not give Space Invaders a motion picture of its own? The game follows one or two players who defend their location from descending alien forces using laser cannons. It's simple, effective and compelling enough that Star Trek producer Akiva Goldsman announced he would produce a film version back in 2014. After 40 years, let's hope it lives up to the hype!
Centipede (1980, Atari Inc.)
Unlike most games on this list, a Centipede movie actually is in the works, thanks to a deal between Atari and Emmett/Furla/Oasis Films. What exactly that film will look like is anyone's guess, since the game has no plot to speak of. The original arcade title bears some resemblance to Space Invaders, but instead of fighting alien ships, you must destroy centipedes that crawl down the screen toward your player. So … sci-fi horror perhaps? Whatever genre we end up with, the result should be fascinating to watch.
Missile Command (1980, Atari Inc.)
Missile Command is part of the same Emmett/Furla/Oasis deal that will produce a Centipede movie. But this game at least has a distinct theme: apocalyptic Cold War outcomes. Released as tensions were flaring between Russia and America, this game depicted six cities under fire from ballistic missiles. Only the player can defend the cities with well-aimed counter-missiles. While Missile Command was a popular game, it wasn't exactly an optimistic one. There's no way to win, and programmer Dave Theurer suffered nightmares of nuclear holocaust after working on the game. Still, given the current political climate, maybe it's the right time to give this anti-war story a chance.
Primal Rage (1994, Atari Games)
If moviegoers thought Rampage's giant monster battles were wonderful, imagine what they might think of Primal Rage. This fighting game takes place on post-apocalyptic "Urth," where the asteroid that ravaged humanity also awakened seven enormous creatures. Now worshipped as gods, these monsters — which range from giant apes, to dinosaurs, to whatever the hell Vertigo is — have formed alliances to decide the ultimate fate of the planet. If Hollywood can't string together some impressive-looking action sequences from that premise alone, I really have no words.
Baraduke (1985, Namco)
Namco's take on the "badass female space hero" genre was Baraduke: a game that launched a year before Metroid stole the spotlight. Why can't Baraduke also beat Metroid to the silver screen? The game follows Toby "Kissy" Masuyo, a space warrior ordered to wipe out an infestation of hostile Octy aliens in a remote sector of space. Unlike Metroid's Samus, Toby doesn't work alone. Her partner, Takky, joins her. In a film, this could allow for more character interactions than simply glowering at aliens. What's more, Baraduke is part of Namco's shared universe, as we can see in the adventures of Toby's ex-husband.
Dig Dug (1982, Namco)
Dig Dug didn't exactly have a straightforward plot. You were just some guy, digging and destroying monsters in underground tunnels, for no particular reason. But it turns out that Dig Dug's protagonist — Taizo Hori — is the ex-husband of Baraduke's Toby Masuyo. The two heroes clearly work for the same monster-hunting agency, and carry built-in character drama that could easily fuel a feature film. (And if you need a kid-friendly Namco spin-off, Taizo and Toby's child happens to be the protagonist of the Mr. Digger games. Someone at Namco loves crossovers.)
Joust (1982, Williams Electronics)
I'm not sure what a movie about knights riding ostriches into battle might look like, but I absolutely need to see it happen. Joust took a step back from the traditional outer-space focus of arcade games to explore a tale of fantastical knights. The two players faced hordes of evil, buzzard-riding knights, all while jumping between floating platforms and avoiding red-hot lava. Joust was also one the first co-op games to achieve mainstream popularity, and remains in our public consciousness thanks to books like Ready Player One. Perhaps now it can get the stand-alone film it deserves.
Dragon's Lair (1983, Cinematronics)
Dragon's Lair is the kind of arcade game that looks like it already belongs on film — mainly because it's already almost an animated movie. This quick-time-event arcade game follows Dirk the Daring as he searches an evil wizard's castle for a kidnapped princess. The game was already filled with personality and strong character designs, thanks to the work of former Disney animator Don Bluth. All it would need to be extended into a 2-hour movie is a little extra story development. The film should also ensure that Dirk's clumsiness only injures him, instead of causing him to die in increasingly gruesome ways.
Punch Out!! (1983, Nintendo)
While Punch Out!! was best remembered for its Mike Tyson iteration on the NES, the franchise existed before that as an arcade cabinet focused entirely on Little Mac's boxing career. It certainly wouldn’t be difficult to reimagine the game as a Rocky-inspired cartoon. Little Mac would train, fight several unique opponents and work his way toward the World Heavyweight Title Match. Nintendo could even allow characters from the Mario and Donkey Kong games to cheer matches on from the stands, just to maintain the tone of this classic title.
Spy Hunter (1983, Bally Midway)
Coincidentally, a Spy Hunter movie almost had a chance of being where Rampage is right now. The 1983 original was a top-down driving game where players destroyed cars belonging to enemy spies, while protecting civilian vehicles. The movie rights were sold to Universal Pictures, which tried to produce a film starring Dwayne Johnson. Universal considered John Woo and Paul S. Anderson as directors. The project eventually fell through, but until audiences get bored of action movies with spies driving fast cars (in other words, never), it could make a comeback at any time.
Credit: Bally Midway
Mappy (1983, Namco)
Mappy is a mouse who is also a police officer, and there's absolutely no reason why that concept couldn't inspire an exciting movie. Mappy's in-game enemies are literal cat burglars, who have stolen precious valuables and stored them in a seemingly abandoned mansion. If you give Mappy and the cats real-life proportions, you could easily have a film where Mappy "raids" the house in a brave attempt to retrieve the stolen goods. All you need are solid voice actors for Mappy, and the cat leader Goro. (My vote is Jeremy Irons, to reference his classic role as Scar.) Then, we might have a kid-friendly hit on our hands.
Sinistar (1983, Williams Electronics)
Sinistar had a few unique twists on the early space shooter formula, most of which would work well in a movie. The game follows a lone space pilot who must assemble "Sinibombs" to destroy the evil living spaceship, Sinistar. What's different is that Sinistar isn't yet assembled when the game begins. The game is a race against time to create weapons before Sinistar wakes up and challenges the player. Radio personality John Doremus voiced Sinistar in the original game, but if we could find another threatening voice actor of James Earl Jones' caliber, Sinistar could make a riveting film.
Credit: Williams Electronics
Rastan Saga (1987, Taito)
Rastan (or Rastan Saga in its native Japan) is simple, as video-game plots go. Rastan is a barbarian warrior who has accepted a quest to kill a dragon. But sometimes, the simplest stories are the best ones, especially when hordes of mythological creatures stand in the hero's path. Rastan also had gorgeous sprites and varied environments, which would translate well to the big screen, along with supernatural beasts like dragon knights and a fearsome hydra. If we're not going to get a new Conan movie anytime soon, Rastan could absolutely pick up the slack in the meantime.
Metal Slug (1986, Nazca Corporation)
On the surface, Metal Slug sounds a little like a parody of 1987's Metal Gear. An evil General is conquering nation-states with the assistance of a highly advanced all-terrain tank. But Metal Slug's gameplay was an absolute blast, and helped the action-packed series stand out from its competition. If a movie could capture the same feeling — a hero who barely ever takes his finger off the trigger — without being overwhelming, this would be a great popcorn flick.
Killer Instinct (1994, Rare)
Killer Instinct was Rare's entry into the fighting genre, and while it never gained the same popularity as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, the game had a lot going for it. The story follows a fighting tournament organized by the futuristic Ultratech corporation. The company's research into biotech and dimensional portals allows them to enlist horrific monsters to fight alongside ordinary, human combatants. This is a game where ninjas can fight killer cyborgs, demonic skeletons and freaking velociraptors. Even a bad Killer Instinct movie would be one hell of a spectacle.
Defender (1981, Williams Electronics)
Defender was the next evolution of space-inspired arcade games after Asteroids and Space Invaders. Although it never achieved the longevity of those other games, it achieved popularity all the same. Players flew a spaceship over the surface of an alien planet, destroying alien invaders that entered the screen. These aliens would try to abduct friendly astronauts, and if you failed to defend these humans, they would return as hostile mutants. All a screenwriter needs to do is imbue the Defender and the astronauts with personalities and character arcs, and the rest takes care of itself.
Golden Axe (1989, Sega)
As you may have noticed, there was no shortage of Conan and D&D-inspired fantasy games in the 1980s, and yet Golden Axe is the one that players tend to remember most. In the kingdom of Yuria, the malevolent Death Adder has taken over the King's castle, and stolen the mythical Golden Axe. To save Yuria, three warriors — a barbarian, a dwarf and an amazon — band together to assault the castle and defeat Death Adder once and for all. The cooperative combat made Golden Axe one of the most enduring beat-em-ups of its day, but focusing on character interactions, too, could easily make it a theatrical smash hit.Credit: Sega
R-Type (1987, Irem)
R-Type was a relentlessly difficult arcade shooter, but that didn't stop it from becoming one of the most memorable games of its day. The game follows an R-9 space fighter that must protect humanity from the Bydo alien race. While gameplay was fairly straightforward, the alien sprite designs were impressively detailed, and likely helped inspire some of the Metroid sequels a few years later. For any director looking to make an action-packed sci-fi movie with outrageous aliens, R-Type is a great place to start.Credit: Irem