My Top-10 Actors from Video-Game films
(Note: This list is not about which actors looked the most like their characters. For that, check out the Top-10 Best Character Resemblances in Video-Game films.)
I’ve had a list like this in the planning for quite some time, but now I’ve finally decided to do it. Lots of video-game movies have come out up to this point and some have had positively thrilling, hilarious and otherwise compelling performances. In this list, I’m emphasising how memorable their performances were – although in some cases the actor’s sheer charisma may warrant an inclusion. I’m not judging actors so much on their resemblance to characters from the game (although I’m planning on making that list next).
At any rate, making this list was not easy in the very least and resultedly there is a long list of honourable mentions…
Firstly, the obvious ones. Ian Glen has some serious chops as a villain in Video-Game movies. He starred as the unscrupulous Manfred Powell in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and also played the villainous Dr. Isaacs in two of the Resident Evil series films. He had a brief appearance at the end of Apocalypse, the second film, and finally stepped up to play the lead villain and primary antagonist in the follow-up movie, Extinction. It’s fun seeing his suave mug horribly mutilated by the T-Virus in the epic finale of the third movie. I also wanted to give props to Radha Mitchell for her performance of Rose DaSilva in Silent Hill. Really, you can’t help but empathise with Rose on her hopeless quest to find her daughter from the cursed town of Silent Hill, while being harassed by horrific and grotesque monsters. Also a rare A-lister performer for a VG film, Ray Liotta‘s role as the evil wizard Gallian from the Dungeon Siege film In the Name of the King was a playful bad guy role which he nailed perfectly.
I also want to give props to John C. Reilly for his performance of Ralph in Wreck-it Ralph. Reilly just has an incredibly genuine tone to his voice and it lent a lot of heart into the outwardly brutish but extremely lonely and kind-hearted Ralph. However, Wreck-it Ralph is perhaps a bit of a cheat as a video-game film (the video-game trappings being more of a decoration to the story) which is why I didn’t feel quite comfortable enough to include him in the top-10.
And lastly, an honourable mention which by all rights should have made the Top-10…
Andrew Bryniarski’s memorably goofy portrayal of the red cyclone himself, Zangief from Street Fighter. Not only was Bryniarski one of the funniest characters in the film, his uncanny likeness to his video-game counterpart instantly made him one of my favourite characters. However, due to the already high amount of Street Fighter actors on the Top-10, Bryniarski was the one who I sadly had to sacrifice.
But let’s get on with the list…
10. Timothy Olyphant (Agent 47 from “Hitman”)
Underplayed performances seem to not get a lot of recognition. Any actor can ham it up and turn a role into a joke – but I personally think a restrained but still intentional performance is much more difficult to get right. And I think Olyphant did an amazing job in a role that was originally going to go to the bona fide movie bad-ass, Vin Diesel. And coming from as huge of a Diesel fan as myself, that’s high praise.
Agent 47 displays limited emotions, but eventually does let his anger and frustration show, when he’s set up by the person who hires him to pull off the assassination of Russia’s president. Although he’s a heartless killer on the outside, his relationship with Nika eventually opens up his character more to deadpan comedy and even some genuinely heart-warming moments. Quite an accomplishment for a man who looks like he would kill you on the drop of a hat.
Olyphant’s performance is very straight-forward, and that might be its biggest weakness. I loved the character he puts forth, but it undoubtedly requires the viewer to also appreciate the nuances of the character, which might lead most to simply look at him as the bland action-hero. And don’t get me wrong, Agent 47 is nothing if not an action-hero type. It’s mostly his stealth and cunning that set him apart from the more meat-headed heroes seen in films, but he can blast guns just as wildly as the best of them.
9. James Woods (General Hein from “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”)
James Woods is, of course, an established voice artist in his own right. Most people will recognise him as the voice of Hades from Disney’s Hercules or as the mysterious, quirky and borderline incoherent government agent Mike Toreno from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Woods’s voice has that special something. You can tell instantly that he’s a slimy wise-guy. But it has heart as well, which is why he ends up playing the type of characters you “love to hate”.
And that’s the meat-headed, whiney and generally bellicose General Hein down to a T. In the dystopic world of Spirits Within, the world is over-wrought by the mysterious phantoms, ghost like aliens that need only to touch living things to kill them. Hein only sees a military threat and wants to take a decidedly militant approach of blasting a spirit-energy nullifying orbital cannon at the phantoms to stifle them at their source. In his tunnel-vision world where he wants to be the world’s saviour, he’s completely ignorant that the cannon in question will also kill off the Earth itself.
Woods brings Hein to life as a scheming, delusional and self-serving figure. Woods’s voice fits the character perfectly and instantly makes him one of the stand-out characters of the film. Admittedly, it’s a very routine performance by Woods, but one I love so much that it warranted inclusion on the list.
8. Ming-Na Wen (Chun-Li & Aki Ross)
Alright, here we have our first multiple film appearance. Ming-Na Wen (commonly credited as just Ming-Na), just like Woods, is an accomplished voice-artist who has also had a fair number of live-action performances. Her most well-known role was as Mulan in the eponymous Disney feature, but she has appeared in a major role in two video-game films.
Firstly, there’s the 1994 Street Fighter film, where she played the “first lady of fighting games”, Chun Li. In the film, she’s a reporter trying to avenge her father’s death from years ago at the hands of the film’s antagonist, General M. Bison. Chun Li uses her news-industry connections to travel to Shadaloo, South-East Asia to get up-close to the action as the Allied Nations forces push back Bison’s army in an effort to stop him. Chun Li’s biggest contribution to the film is when she and her news crew try to blow Bison up half-way through the film. It’s sad that her role sort of diminishes from there on out, but she does actually get to give Bison a beating, albeit briefly.
Her second and considerably more versatile role was alongside James Woods in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. As Dr. Aki Ross, Wen is trying to find a peaceful solution to the phantom crisis while she herself suffers from the phantom contagion which will slowly kill her. Apart from her determination to save the Earth, she’s torn by her romantic past with Captain Gray Edwards. She’s a doer and gets to play a much broader role. These roles combined, in my view, made her worthy of inclusion here.
7. Jürgen Prochnow (Commander Gerald & Captain Kirk)
It’s always been a little sad to me that despite his boundless charisma as the Captain of the U-Boat 96 in Das Boot, Jürgen Prochnow’s Hollywood career never really took off. Prochnow has an intense stare and a decisive delivery which has easily made him one of my favourite actors. I find it such a shame that he’s essentially been forced into playing essentially bit-roles in bigger movies. I suppose a gap that wide in his teeth and burned cheeks (caused by a production accident in the movie Dune) just aren’t considered Hollywood-worthy.
Prochnow himself has graced two video-game movies with his presence. In both of these cases, Prochnow’s performance was far better than the movie honestly deserved. In the ill-fated 2000 film adaption of the PC space-combat game series Wing Commander, he played the unsympathetic and callous Commander Gerald. Apart from screaming to the soldiers to “Brace for impact” and to “Fire tubes 1 and 2”, he also antagonizes Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character, who’s a descendant of a line of space-trekking pilgrims that had a tiff with the military before their eventual war with the alien Kilrathis. Prochnow really carries the same military air he did in Das Boot but he also adds a decisively more mean side to the character which helps this role stand out (especially against the ship’s captain, played by David Suchet).
In Uwe Boll’s very first video-game movie shit-fest, The House of the Dead, he played the unfortunately named cargo-ship Captain, Kirk. House of the Dead is as tripe and asinine as your typical zombie-film gets, but in its horrendous cheesiness, it actually qualifies as being “so bad it’s good”. One of the main reasons to see the film is Prochnow himself. As the cool and collected Kirk, he’s not even the slightest bit fazed when the zombies start boarding his ship and instead takes out a good number of them through the film. He even goes out like a fucking badass, blowing himself and a number of zombies to kingdom come with dynamite, delivering one of his many kickass lines: “See you in hell, boys!”
6. Mike Epps (L.J. from “Resident Evil: Apocalypse” & “Extinction”)
Comic relief characters can go one of two ways: good or bad. Up till 2004, most comic reliefs in video-game movies had been mostly tolerable and fairly decent. However, with the possible exception of Andrew Bryniarski and Miguel Nunez Jr. in Street Fighter, none of them had really stood out to any great deal.
Enter Lloyd Jefferson Wade! L.J. was clearly a character conceived to add a bit of levity to the other-wise action over-dosed, dark and desolate Apocalypse, the second Resident Evil film. If performed by any lesser actor, L.J. could have come off as clichéd and tripe. And don’t get me wrong. He is, in the very least, terribly stereotypical – but also extremely hilarious. You empathise with him as he’s left on his own by the police, Jill Valentine and even the hulking monstrosity, Nemesis.
L.J. finally got a little bit more meat to his character in the third movie, Extinction, with his loving relationship to the Apocalypse Caravans nurse, Betty. Unfortunately, it was also the movie where his character meets his end, slowly succumbing to a zombie bite he receives early in the film. He still manages to crack one good joke before he goes, but it’s unfortunate Paul W.S. Anderson didn’t decide to keep him around. L.J.’s character may had also been a little one-sided, which is why he didn’t make the Top-5. But a really memorable character never the less.
5. Deborah Kara Unger (Dahlia from “Silent Hill” & “Revelation”)
While the grotesque creatures and the desolate land-scape may be the first thing to jump to mind about the Silent Hill movies, the people within the story were just as important as the horrors chasing after them. While the screen was primarily occupied by Sean Bean screaming “Rose!” through most of the film and Radha Mitchell just plain screaming, my favourite performance by far was probably the most subtle role of all.
Deborah Kara Unger plays the tormented woman, Dahlia, who is the mother of Alessa – a girl who the cult of Silent Hill tried to burn and whose vengeance curses the town to live in a nightmarish purgatory where horrifying creatures torment them. Unger’s performance of Dahlia is considerably different from the equivalent character from the game, but that didn’t really bother me. She’s a haunting sight, creepy and disturbing yet really sad and pathetic at the same time. She’s filled with contempt towards the fellow townsfolk stuck in Silent Hill and tormented by guilt for not protecting her daughter from the cult. Her ragged appearance and ghostly stare are just the cherry on top.
I also appreciated that she was brought back, if for one scene only, in the film’s schlocky sequel Revelation. Deborah Kara Unger is as awesome of an actress as her name is weird and spooky.
4. Robin Shou (Liu Kang, Pirate Captain & Gen)
Robin Shou is no doubt familiar to anyone who has seen 1995’s Mortal Kombat. He was a great fit for the role of the warrior Liu Kang. Not only did he perform excellently in the film’s many fight sequences, he was also able to show some emotional rage as he is plagued by guilt over the death of his younger brother and anger towards his adversary, Shang Tsung. Shou showed similar serious devotion to his character in the film’s horribly lackluster sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation. I feel bad that Shou had to suffer the indignity of that movie, since you can tell that he’s trying his hardest to shine in that horrid film.
Years later, Shou would pop up again in another fighting game feature, DOA: Dead Or Alive – but this time in a greatly reduced role. Shou performs the role of a Chinese pirate captain, who makes the ill-fated decision to try to steal Tina Armstrong’s (Jaime Pressly) yacht and both he and his goons get a beat down from the female pro wrestler. Though the role is small, Shou gets to show his comedic side which I found sort of endearing.
Shou also performed in another ill-fated fighting game feature, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. Shou’s performance, though, is definitely one of the highlights of the film – where he plays the role of a lesser-known yet still prominent Street Fighter figure, Gen. It’s funny to see Shou play a character who is supposed to be much older than he is, but he definitely lends some of his own brand of charisma to the role. And I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I got a warm fuzzy feeling from seeing him in the film.
3. Raul Julia (M. Bison in “Street Fighter”)
One of the reasons I love Street Fighter so much is its excellent cast. Even when their resemblance to their game counterparts was more than just a little tenuous (Roshan Seth as Dhalsim) they still managed to give great performances. Really, there were very few sub par performances over-all. The best one of all was also the final screen performance for the actor in question.
General M. Bison runs his own army in Shadaloo, South-East Asia and dreams of one day conquering the world. He’s an eloquent megalomaniac. He makes his henchmen wear his signature colours and logo, he dreams of building a gigantic shopping centre called Bisonopolis, ridding the world of all filth with an army of Blanka-like super soldiers and he even has his own currency. On top of that, he has an arrogant attitude where he views his victory over the Allied Nations as a mere matter of course.
Raul Julia lent a brilliant, pompous and confident air to Bison. I love for the villains in films to be over the top and in this regard Raul Julia delivers the crown jewels. It saddens me greatly that Julia passed away not long after production ended as he was ill from cancer. At least he went out with a bang. Vaya con Dios, Raul!
2. Milla Jovovich (Alice in the Resident Evil series)
Think of iconic female lead in a video-game movie series and you’ll either think of Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider or Milla Jovovich from RE. Although not a character from the titular games, Alice is definitely a colourful protagonist for the film franchise and the most frequently depicted, through the five instalments as well as the up-coming sixth film.
In my view, Milla Jovovich doesn’t get nearly enough credit for sticking with the character for five films straight. The first thing about Alice that comes to mind for many is a tough as nails action heroine. And while Alice does have those moments, Jovovich has shown considerably more range through the various instalments. Particularly in the first film, where Alice was plagued by amnesia – she comes off very delicate and frightened at first, until she begins to realise her own involvement in the zombie-laden chaos. Her weakest performance was unquestionably in the second film, Apocalypse, where for the most part she was just extremely callous to friend and foe alike.
Luckily, Alice’s role regained its humanity in the third film, Extinction, and I think Alice got to show off some sass and even a sense of humour in the two newest instalments which was nice, while not losing her tormented feel. Alice is just a great character who you love to root for. However, it would be nice if her storyline was finally concluded and I’m sure Jovovich herself is ready to move on to other roles at this point.
1. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shang Tsung in “Mortal Kombat”)
As mentioned before, I love my villains to be over the top. Nothing says over the top quite like Mr. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s iconic, pompous and occasionally pervy portrayal of the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat. What makes him such a great character is that whole “you love to hate him” feel. He has some perfectly honest dialogue scenes with the protagonists and really doesn’t lose his nerve and start shouting threats until the film’s final act. But even before then, he really leans in with his screaming of iconic Mortal Kombat lines like “Finish him!”
It’s hard to bring up Tagawa’s performance without talking about his rather poor resemblance to the character in question. Starting from the game Mortal Kombat 2, Shang Tsung has been depicted as a young man with a moustache and a goatee, when he’s youthened by Shao Kahn who takes the majority of his powers away. However, in the first game he was an ancient man, with white long hair and a long beard. Reportedly, Tagawa did his audition while standing on a chair and Paul W.S. Anderson was so impressed with his performance that he decided not to hide his brilliant and expressive face under tons of make-up. My opinion: Good call!
Tagawa also later appeared in the live action Tekken movie, but unfortunately I have yet to have seen it. At any rate, he still stands out in my mind as a great and hammy villain from one of my favourite video-game movies. He shows such great range as the pompous villains. He’s also so sinister and devious that you can’t wait to see Liu Kang kick his ass in the finale.