8 of the Best Game-Themed Movies and TV Shows

Ryan Reynolds Free Guy

Published: May 7, 2024
Written by Global Poker

There’s a game-themed movie for almost everyone — but which is the best of the best? Scroll our countdown to find out...

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Games have long been used as inspiration for films and TV series’. Filmmakers often adapt a game's plot onto the silver screen, or sometimes they take a game and make it a central plot device to use as references or hidden easter eggs. Some of these movies and TV series are good, others are bad and some are downright terrible. A select handful are truly something special though; the perfect blend of film and game combined into an epic adventure. Without further ado and in no particular order, here’s our round-up of the top eight game-themed movies and TV shows of all time.

1. Free Guy 


Runtime: 115 minutes

Director: Shawn Levy

Main Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Joe Keery and Taika Waititi

Release Date: August 2021 

Genre: Action/Comedy 

Game Featured: Free City, a fictional massive multiplayer online role-playing video game (MMORPG) 

Plot Synopsis: Guy is a bank employee with a perfect life. However, he doesn't realize that he is a non-player character (NPC) in an open world game. After finding a pair of glasses that opens his eyes to the truth, he embarks on a journey to become the hero of his own story and save the virtual world from the villain. 

Why it's One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: Arguably the best film featuring a game of all time, Free Guy is predominantly set within a virtual world inspired by open-world gaming landscapes. It intricately weaves an original narrative while cleverly referencing video game settings and tropes. The main character, Guy, lives in a Free City, a fictional realm within a video game. His mundane existence takes a dramatic turn when he encounters Millie, played by British actress Jodie Comer, who prompts him to question the confines of his digital reality. As the story unfolds, he soon realizes he’s merely a background figure in a hugely popular video game, surrounded by avatars controlled by real-life players.

Throughout the film, Guy’s journey of self-discovery leads him to uncover his exceptional ability for self-awareness, setting him on a quest to confront the creator of Free City. Antwan. With the help of Millie’s avatar, Molotov Girl, Guy embarks on a thrilling adventure that transcends the limitations of his virtual existence.
Free Guy seamlessly blends action, comedy and science fiction, captivating audiences while also exploring the themes of free will and the nature of artificial intelligence.

2. Jumanji


Runtime: 104 minutes

Director: Joe Johnston

Main Cast: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Jonathan Hyde and David Alan Grier

Release Date: December 1995

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

Game Featured: Jumanji board game, originally published by Milton Bradley Company in 1995

Plot Synopsis: Starting in the 19th century, two young men bury a board game that has caused no small amount of calamity in their lives. Many years later, in 1969, Alan Parrish discovers the game, Jumanji, and attempts to play it with his friend Sarah Whittle. Two rolls of the dice later, Alan is sucked into the game, disappearing, and Sarah is chased down the street by bats. 

Over two decades after Alan went missing, orphaned siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd find the Jumanji game, begin playing and unwittingly release the now-adult Alan from his board game prison. After tracking down Sarah, the group decides to finish the game in the hopes everything will go back to normal.

Why it’s One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: Very loosely based on Chris Van Allsburg's picture book of the same name, Jumanji is the benchmark for films that feature games. Based on the titular board game, which also serves as a central driving force behind the plot in the film's universe, Jumanji has some excellent set pieces; every roll of the dice spewing forth a nightmarish consequence. From hungry lions to house-crushing vines and stampeding herbivores, the film takes what is in reality a boring board game and creates an experience bursting with thrills and perils that leave you afraid of what's coming next.

3. Squid Game

TV Series 

Episode: Entire Series, 9 Episodes 

Release Date: September 2021 

Runtime: 485 minutes for entire first season 

Director: Hwang Dong-hyuk

Main Cast: Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Wi Ha-joon, HoYeon Jung, O Yeong-su, Heo Sung-tae and Anupam Tripathi

Game Featured: Korean children's games 

Plot Synopsis: Seong Gi-hun is a divorced father with a serious gambling addiction that has left him living with his elderly mother and on the cusp of losing his daughter. When a stranger invites him to play a series of children's games for the chance to win 46 billion South Korean Won, Gi-hun thinks it's the answer to all his problems and accepts. Taken to an unknown location with a few hundred other equally desperate players, Gi-hun quickly discovers that the stranger neglected to mention a key detail; failure in any of the games results in instant death.

Why it's One of the Best TV Shows Featuring a Game: Squid Game is not for the faint of heart. The show is built around deadly versions of children's games such as Red Light, Green Light and the character's attempts to survive playing them by any means necessary. In addition, everyone wears school like tracksuits and sleeps in bunk beds in a gymnasium, making it seem like a macabre sporting carnival or PE excursion. Overall, the TV series has a lot of underlying messages, but arguably the best parts are the sequences that focus on the games. 

4. Ready Player One


Runtime: 140 minutes

Director: Steven Spielberg

Main Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg and Mark Rylance

Release Date: March 2018

Genre: Science Fiction 

Game Featured: OASIS, a fictional virtual reality simulation game 

Plot Synopsis: Set in a dystopian 2045, most of the human race is obsessed with OASIS, a virtual reality simulation that helps them escape reality. After one of the creators, James Halliday, dies, a pre-recorded message announces that whoever finds the golden Easter egg in the game will gain ownership of OASIS. Protagonist and orphan Wade Watts discovers clues to the contest and sets out to complete it before an evil corporation gains control of the game. To save the day, protagonist Wade Watts has to gather allies to find a golden Easter egg which is locked behind a gate requiring three keys that players can win by completing three challenges.

Why it’s One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: Ready Player One is like a giant video game, but as a movie. No other film has gone to these lengths to provide such an immersive experience that perfectly replicates a video game world. It also pays ultimate homage to popular culture from the 1970s to around 2015, with hundreds of references to films, TV shows, toys, music, video games, comics and more. Ready Player One is easily one of the best films featuring a game ever created.

5. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over


Runtime: 84 minutes

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Main Cast: Daryl Sabara, Alexa Vega, Ricardo Montalbán, Sylvester Stallone, Bobby Edner, Courtney Jines, Ryan Pinkston and Robert Vito

Release Date: July 2003 

Genre: Action/Comedy/Adventure 

Game Featured: Game Over - a fictional, open world virtual reality game known as a ‘massive multiplayer online role-playing video game’ (MMORPG). 

Plot Synopsis: Three years after the events of Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Juni Cortez has retired from the OSS and works as a private detective. After another completed job, Juni receives a call informing him that his sister, Carmen Cortez, is missing. Presumed captured by the Toymaker, a villain who has been imprisoned in cyberspace for many years, and has created a video game in order to escape his prison. Juni must play the Toymaker’s video game, Game Over, in order to save his sister and defeat the villain.

Why it’s One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: To be blunt,as a film, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over was never going to win any awards. However, as a gaming film, it's excellent. Nearly the entire story takes place inside a virtual world that is so perfectly designed, you would be forgiven for thinking it's a real game. From the quests, items and level designs to the 3D glasses and cast of wacky support characters, the whole gaming section of the film is so authentic it’s arguably the best part. 

6. The Game 


Runtime: 128 minutes

Director: David Fincher

Main Cast: Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, Deborah Kara Unger, James Rebhorn, Peter Donat and Carroll Baker

Release Date: September 1997 

Genre: Thriller 

Game Featured: Alternate reality game

Plot Synopsis: Wealthy banker Nicholas Van Orton receives a strange birthday gift from his estranged younger brother Conrad: a voucher for a game. After initially hesitating, he decides to give the game a try and suddenly finds the lines between reality and the game have become blurry, until he isn't sure what's real anymore. 

Why it's One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: Unlike traditional films featuring a game, it's not immediately apparent whether the main character is actually in a game or just, to be frank, losing his mind. Overall, it's a solid thriller movie more than a gaming film, but is still one of the better ones with a game as a plot device. The twist ending is also so unpredictable, that even the film’s stars and creators still list it as one of their finest cinema career highlights. This is pretty high praise if you think about it, considering some of the acclaimed projects the actors have been involved in during their careers. 

7. Community

TV Series 

Episode: Digital Estate Planning, Season 3 Episode 20 

Release Date: May 2012

Runtime: 30 minutes 

Director: Adam Davidson

Main Cast: Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Alison Brie, Donald Glover and Chevy Chase

Game Featured: A fictional retro-style video game based on classic video games 

Plot Synopsis: Most of the episode takes place inside a retro video game. Pierce Hawthorne invites the rest of the study group to a warehouse. When they all arrive, the executor of Hawthorne's father's estate informs them that in order to inherit his father’s estate, Hawthorne must play a video game with seven friends. The group enters a classic video game world where they are informed that the first player to reach the end of the game will win the inheritance.

Why it's One of the Best TV Shows Featuring a Game: Over its six season run, Community became known for many clever episode designs that were outside the standard sitcom formula. Digital Estate Planning continued the trend. The fictional video game world featured retro video game graphics and a synthesizer-driven soundtrack reminiscent of consoles like the Sega Master System. The 30-minute episode was filled with brilliant references to multiple classic games and tropes that gamers would be very familiar with. The whole episode was a perfect homage to old school video games and a unique way to tell a story that no other show has been able to replicate since.

8. Game Night 


Runtime: 100 minutes

Director: John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein

Main Cast: Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Billy Magnussen, Sharon Horgan, Lamorne Morris, Kylie Bunbury and Jesse Plemons

Release Date: February 2018 

Genre: Action/Comedy 

Games Featured: Board games, interactive role-playing mystery game similar to Clue 

Plot Synopsis: Husband and wife Max and Annie are avid gamers who host regular game nights with their friends. However, when Max's successful brother Brooks usurps hosting duties, the group of friends find themselves living out a real-life mystery game after one of them is kidnapped by burglars.

Why it's One of the Best Films Featuring a Game: Everything in the Game Night’s plot is driven forward by games. The real-life game concept has been done before, but Game Night still manages to add its own spin on an already established idea. Similar to 1997 film The Game, for most of the movie, the viewer is left unsure if the action taking place is part of the game or whether it's all real, creating genuine moments of mystery and intrigue. Game Night might not be the best film featuring a game, but it’s better than average.