Comparisons between games and movies are more common than ever. Today’s biggest titles look and sound truly cinematic, with the writing chops and high production quality to match. Trailers for games like Halo and Call of Duty play upon cinema screens with all the polish and scale of a Hollywood blockbuster. But what happens when games and movies make references to each other?
Films have been adapted into games since the days of the Atari 2600 with often terrible results. The same goes for movies based on games, where the number of successful attempts can probably be counted on one hand. Cringe-worthy flicks like Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Street Fighter and Super Mario Bros. might be considered ‘so bad they’re good’, but most videogame movies are just plain bad.
But what about games that reference movies? It’s easy to see that Grand Theft Auto: Vice City lifts heavily from Scarface, whilst Dead Space evokes the visceral horror of Event Horizon. However, some titles contain clever little nods to the world of cinema. Let’s take a look at some of the coolest film references in video games and comment with your own suggestions below!
10. Splatterhouse – Freddy Krueger’s Outfit From The Nightmare on Elm Street Series
Splatterhouse is a 3D reboot of a sidescrolling beat ‘em up. You are Rick, a man turned into a hulking brute by a powerful mask who must rescue his girlfriend from monstrous kidnappers. Though Rick is clearly based on Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th, another Eighties horror icon is referenced in the game.
Freddy Krueger, the demented killer from A Nightmare on Elm Street, is easily recognisable by his striped sweater, dirty fedora and razor glove. In Phase 6: A Beast with a Human Heart, the player can open a door to a secret room which contains a boiler and a furnace. Draped across the furnace door is the iconic red and green sweater, whilst the hat and glove rest upon a wheelbarrow of body parts.
It’s a charming reference that lovingly pays tribute to one of the greatest screen villains of all time, whilst proving what an incredible legacy Krueger has carved out for himself.
9. Duke Nukem Forever – The Demonic ATM from American Psycho (2000)
The Duke Nukem series is known for its many easter eggs and interactive environments, but this reference to American Psycho is particularly cool. The film, based on the Brett Easton Ellis novel of the same name, follows Wall Street businessman Patrick Bateman as he descends into a world of murder and madness.
One scene sees Patrick try and access an ATM machine which refuses to play ball before displaying the disturbing message ‘FEED ME A STRAY CAT’. It sets off a chain of events that escalate beyond the realm of possibility, as Patrick’s “mask of sanity” continues to slip.
In the woefully named ‘Duke Nukem’s Titty City’ level from Duke Nukem Forever game, an ATM machine appears to be out of order. Interacting with the machine however makes the warped command from American Psycho pop up on the screen. Simple but effective and very, very cool.
8. Blood – The ‘Sloth’ Room from Se7en (1995)
David Fincher’s landmark horror-thriller Se7en, like Fight Club, just gets better with age. In fact, it feels just as fresh today as it did over twenty years ago. It’s strange then to see it referenced in an old school first-person shooter.
Se7en follows two detectives as they hunt down a serial killer who bases his crimes on the seven deadly sins. One of the most disturbing sequences in the film sees a body bound to a bed, horrifically decomposed with ‘SLOTH’ scrawled above it. The room is full of pine tree air freshers to mask the smell of rotten flesh.
Blood, the 1997 PC shooter by Monolith Productions contains a hotel room with a bed pushed up against the wall. It seems innocent enough, until you interact with the bed and discover a ventilation shaft. Crawl through the shaft and you’ll spot the pine trees hanging in the room up ahead. The bed is covered in blood, with the SLOTH tag in the same place as the movie. The pine trees are even animated, spinning around menacingly.
7. Fallout: New Vegas – The Fridge from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Indiana Jones is one of the coolest film characters of all time and the film trilogy is held up as some of Steven Spielberg’s finest work. However, the fourth entry in the series, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, drew the ire of many upon its release. From CGI gophers to Shia LaBeouf swinging Tarzan-style alongside monkeys in the jungle, it was clear that Spielberg dropped the ball.
One of the more ridiculous scenes in the film saw Indy stumble upon a suburban home occupied by creepy plastic mannequins. He soon realises that the not-so-friendly neighborhood is actually a nuclear bomb testing site and once the air raid siren rings out, he has seconds to find safety. How could a man in the middle of nowhere possibly survive the fallout? Simple; he clambers into a fridge. It’s a mind-numbingly dumb idea that, even with the suspension of disbelief, took viewers right out of the movie.
Wandering the post-nuclear wastes of Nevada in Fallout: New Vegas, the player stumbles across many weird and wonderful sights – something that can be amplified with the ‘Wild Wasteland’ trait. Once active, the player can find a fridge in the Goodsprings area, inside which lies a human skeleton and a fedora. The cheeky dig at the film not only shows the fate Indy would have met in reality, but fits perfectly in the bleak retro-future world of Fallout. This scene has also been referenced by Call of Duty and, perhaps coincidentally, by Heavy Rain.
6. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Chainsaw scene from Scarface (1983)
Scarface, a loose remake of a 1932 film of the same name, follows the rise of a gangster from a street hood to the head of a drug empire. Al Pacino plays Tony Montana in a career-defining performance punctuated by f-bombs and violent outbursts. After a drug deal in a hotel room goes horribly wrong, Tony is forced to watch his friend be tied to a shower rail and carved up with a chainsaw. It’s an incredibly disturbing sequence and serves as one of Tony’s earliest exposures to the sheer terror of the criminal underworld.
Just as Tony is bound to the rail in place of his dead friend, his partners burst in and save the day. It’s just one of many powerful scenes in this crime classic, so it’s fitting that GTA: Vice City references it directly.
As we mentioned before, Vice City uses many elements from Scarface; the mansion, the nightclub, the sharp suits and Hawaiian shirts are all drawn directly from the film. But here, the game goes one step further. There aren’t too many interior locations in Vice City due to the technical restraints of the game, so you wouldn’t expect to find a random hotel room that you can explore. From the street, something looks fishy already, with a black space where the door should be. Once inside, you’ll find that the room has a very similar layout as the one in Scarface, with a briefcase of cash (which unfortunately can’t be pocketed) on the side.
The bathroom itself directly recalls the scene in question, with bloodstains splattered across the tiles beside a chainsaw that can be picked up and used as a weapon. It’s a loving tribute to the game’s biggest influence and one of the best easter eggs in the series.
5. Kane & Lynch: Dead Men – The Club Shootout from Collateral (2004)
Kane & Lynch is the black sheep of third person shooters. Developed by IO Interactive, best known for creating Hitman, the two-part series has suffered mostly mixed to negative reviews. Referencing a variety of crime film classics, Kane & Lynch draws particularly upon Cheritto and Waingro from Michael Mann’s Heat for the design of the titular duo.
When the pair find themselves caught in a Tokyo nightclub shootout it feels like another Mann film, Collateral. In the film, a contract killer named Vincent forces cab driver Max into driving him around the city to pick off his targets. Vincent ends up trading shots in a nightclub in a stunning action sequence.
The nightclub scene in Kane & Lynch replicates the cinematography of Collateral, using the a combination of flashing lights and blue hues to evoke the same style. Kane even looks like Vincent, wearing the same grey suit as the hitman. It’s a very cool moment in a game that has mostly been forgotten.
4. Dead Island – ‘Jason’ from the Friday the 13th series
Even if you’ve never seen a Friday the 13th movie, you know Jason. He’s the reason that the hockey mask has become an iconic cultural image and one of the most popular Halloween costumes around. Mr. Voorhees has stalked, stomped and slashed his way through countless victims ever since 1981 in Friday the 13th Part 2 (he wasn’t the killer in the original!) and with a new film coming in 2017, he shows no sign of slowing down yet.As well as a terrible NES game based very loosely on the movies, Jason has appeared most recently as a downloadable fighter in Mortal Kombat X. Whilst games like Splatterhouse and Grand Theft Auto reference his trademark mask however, Dead Island takes things one step further with a very elaborate nod to the notorious movie monster.
Deep in the jungle lies a shack surrounded by dead bodies, hung up like warning signs to unlucky trespassers. Get too close to the shack and a bloodthirsty bandit charges the player, wearing a hockey mask and swinging a machete. And of course, his name is Jason. However, the assailant is much more vocal than the mute murderer, screaming “Braaaaaiiiiiins!” like a comical zombie.
Upon entering the shack, the player can find a chainsaw – the only one in the game. Whilst the chainsaw is often tied to Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw movies, Jason has encountered the weapon a couple of times on-screen. The saw rests upon a makeshift shrine adorned with severed heads – replicating the shrine to Mrs. Voorhees seen in Part 2.
3. Grand Theft Auto V – The Ending From Thelma & Louise (1991)
Thelma & Louise follows two women as they embark on a road trip in a 1966 Thunderbird. After an attempted sexual assault upon Thelma results in murder, they head out on the run and travel across the country.
Grand Theft Auto V draws upon many crime films, particularly Thief, Heat and Drive, but this reference is, like the bathroom in Vice City, very deliberate. The film ends with Thelma and Louise racing away from the police and flying into the Grand Canyon. GTA V doesn’t have the Grand Canyon, but it does have a lot of mountains.
If the player heads up to the Chiliad Mountain State Wilderness between 7pm and 8pm, they will find two police cruisers and a civilian car parked upon a cliff edge. A police officer will walk towards the car, which will speed towards the edge of the mountain and plummet towards the rocky ground below. It’s rare to see an easter egg of any kind play out as a fully animated scene, let alone a film reference, so hats off to Rockstar for paying tribute to one of the finest endings in film history. Shame there’s no Harvey Keitel, though.
2. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 & Black – “The shower room shootout from The Rock” (1996)
The Rock is an action flick that takes place on the prison island of Alcatraz, where rogue marine General Francis Hummel threatens to launch missiles at San Francisco unless he is given $100 million as compensation for the families of his fallen comrades. Nicolas Cage plays the ridiculously named Stanley Goodspeed, a biochemical expert who is taken to the island with Alcatraz-escapee John Mason by Navy SEALS to take down the general and prevent disaster.
The film’s most iconic sequence sees Hummel’s men trap the SEALS in a shower room, aiming weapons at them from above. After a shouting match between Hummel and Commander Anderson, the shootout begins and all hell breaks loose. It’s an intense scene that nearly won an Academy Award for Best Sound Mixing and it is recreated in not one, but two videogames.
In Black, the destructive first-person shooter by Burnout developer Criterion, the player makes his way through the abandoned Tivliz Asylum in search of a high-ranking criminal. As the protagonist blasts through the structure, they eventually come to a shower room that is a near-perfect replication of the one from The Rock. Enemies rain bullets down from above and tear the scenery apart, showcasing the impressive destruction features.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 games sees Task Force 141 break into a gulag to rescue Captain Price from captivity, blowing through the prison at breakneck speed. After blowing through a wall with a breaching charge, the team find themselves in the familiar shower room, again reconstructed in incredible detail. The friendly teammates are clad in black with striped face paint, just like the SEALS in the movie.
1. The Matrix: Path of Neo – Several movies other than The Matrix
The Matrix series has offered up some of the most incredible action sequences in cinema history. The Matrix: Path of Neo is a rare example of a good movie-licensed game, putting the player into the shoes of ‘The One’ as he kung-fu kicks his way through the events of the trilogy in a revised timeline.
The game shows Neo hone his skills through training programs, including the dojo fight with Morpheus from the first movie. However, the game throws several other scenarios at the player, all of which draw directly from other movies.
The Martial Arts simulation guides Neo through a cave patrolled by guards, clearly inspired by Han’s base from the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon. Like Lee’s character, Neo has to sneak into a control room in order to progress. The mission ends with Neo fighting for his life in a kung-fu tournament, as if the homage wasn’t clear enough already.
The Sword Training simulation sees Neo and Trinity battle a bad guy in a bamboo forest that visually recalls Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon but more directly references a scene from Ninja Scroll where Jubei battles a blind samurai. The Gun Training level completely replicates the opening tea house shootout from John Woo’s Hard Boiled, whilst a two-floor brawl recreates the epic axe-gang fight from Jackie Chan’s The Legend of Drunken Master.
The Matrix: Path of Neo not only manages to do the film series justice, but riffs on some excellent scenes from other movies and is probably one of the most criminally underrated games in the Xbox and PlayStation 2 library.