With video games becoming madly popular in the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood found ways to integrate Pac-Man, Tron and the rest into movies. Some were rad, some were bogus. Here are our picks for the best and worst video game-themed movies from the 1980s. For more retro fun, be sure to watch IFC’s ’80s Weekend.
Many of the effects in this 1982 Disney film still look great today. Tron was a double winner: a good movie about a video game that spawned a good video game (and a worse sequel 28 years later). Even better: a video game Easter egg in the movie, where you can see and hear Pac-Man.
2. The Last Starfighter
What if being great at a video game could get you noticed by its inventor? And then put into space to fight aliens? And then make you a hero to an entire people? That’s the premise of this ’80s cult favorite, which promised a never released arcade game in the credits. We’re still waiting…
In our current era of high-profile computer hacks, Matthew Broderick almost causing nuclear war with a video seems prescient. In fact, the movie scared President Ronald Reagan so much, it led to some of the first cyber security legislation.
4. Cloak & Dagger
WarGames star Dabney Coleman continues his complicated relationship with 1980s technology, playing a dual role of dad and imaginary friend/spy in this family thriller. In an early example of video game/movie synergy, the filmmakers teamed up with Atari, who repurposed an in-development game called Agent X as a Cloak & Dagger arcade game.
One of the many T&A flicks that littered cable during the ’80s, Joysticks is not for the kiddos. The story revolves around employees trying to prevent the shutdown of their video arcade. But really, it’s just an excuse to show scantily clad coeds. As is required in most movies from the 1980s, Joe Don Baker plays the bad guy.
2. The Wizard
What could make you turn on Kevin Arnold himself, Fred Savage? How about a 100-minute infomercial for all things Nintendo, disguised as a runaway’s quest to win a video game tournament? Just squeaking in to the 1980s with its December 1989 release, The Wizard portends the product placement-heavy movies we’d be inundated with in the coming years. It also portends Tobey Maguire, who makes his film debut (with a sweet mullet) in a non-speaking role.
“The Bishop of Battle” segment of this horror anthology film finds a young Emilio Estevez as J.J., a punk rock-loving teen obsessed with a video game called… Bishop of Battle, a game so difficult that no one has gotten to its Level 13. 13? That sounds spooky! And sure enough, when our boy gets there, the game takes on mystical powers and J.J. must fight the video nasties in the real world. The graphics are surprisingly crisp, unlike most of the performances in the movie.
4. The Dungeonmaster
Featuring Z-grade special effects and Richard Moll (aka Bull from Night Court) as a bad guy, this low budget flick is ripped off from, er, heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and early computer RPG games. Plus, it features a cameo from the metal band W.A.S.P.!