Video games were still a novelty in the 80s. Remember? But the game developers had spotted a market hungry for virtual entertainment and were eager to get out as many new games per year as possible. At the same time, blockbusters were getting bigger every summer. So naturally, gaming companies were interested in releasing licensed adaptations of popular movies. This trend continues nowadays. We see many online games taking inspiration from the successful Mummy franchise. Or Nintendo’s Goldeneye, based on the James Bond movie of the same name. But already in the 80s, it worked the other way around. As video games gained popularity, several 80s hit movies based their plots around computer gaming. Let’s take a closer look at the best five of those gaming-related cinematic stories. Ready?
80s Films About Gaming: Our Top 5
This comedy from 1983 takes us into the world of arcade gaming. Jefferson Bailey has an amusement arcade that everybody in the town loves. Except for Joseph Rutter, a local businessman. Rutter tries to run Bailey out of business with the help of his two clumsy nephews. Hilarity ensues. We’ll also get to see a full video game duel, which is a fun glimpse back to the humble beginnings of eSports. You can even see the legendary Pac-Man game in the film. This arcade maze game used to be the top video game out there. And in many people’s opinions, it still is.
2. The Dungeon Master
The Dungeon Master is a Horror-fantasy anthology film with seven segments. Each with a separate director, but with the same characters and the same story. Paul, a talented computer programmer, gets transported to virtual reality, a hellish realm. He has to battle the demonic Dungeon master Mestema to get him and his girlfriend out of there. With the help of the human-like personal computer X-CaliBR8, Paul starts defeating various opponents Mestema sends against him.
This film is basically about gaming in a digitally enhanced reality. The real video games in the 80s were far from offering a satisfying augmented reality experience. But this film can be seen as part of the longing for a more immersive video game adventure in the 80s.
WarGames combines many prominent themes of the era. Cold War, a new generation of young hackers, and video games are all mixed for a thrilling and fun adventure. Released in 1983, you can see the young Matthew Broderick in the lead role as David Lightman, a bright hacker who accesses a supercomputer controlling nuclear missiles. What makes this movie remarkable is that the main character is modeled after real 80s hackers, and the writers have integrated several hacking aspects of the era into the script. The story is, therefore, a pretty accurate portrayal of the hacking subculture of the time. Of course, back in those days, it was much easier to bypass security systems.
4. Tron: One of the First CGI Films
Tron from 1982 is one of the first films to use computer-generated imagery throughout the entire movie. You could say that there wouldn’t be CGI films the way we know them today without Tron. The writer and director of the film, Steven Lisberger, wanted to employ CGI in a movie ever since seeing two-dimensional graphics of Pong (a video game from 1972). The idea was further enhanced when Alan Kay, a famous computer scientist, joined the Tron team as an advisor. The storyline itself is kept super simple. It’s about Kevin, a software engineer, who gets downloaded into his creation: a video game. To get back to reality, he has to defeat the security system of the cyberreality.
5. Rain Man
Have you seen the film about a woman who marries a rich gaming family? The movie’s called Ready or Not. It’s an intense 2019 thriller film that shows that gambling is still a popular theme among 21st-century movie lovers. But they made some pretty good gambling-related movies already in the 80s. One of the best known is perhaps the Rain Man. It features Tom Cruise with Dustin Hoffmann in a comedy-drama about Charlie Babbit and his autistic savant-like brother Raymond. Charlie exploits Raymond’s calculating abilities to count cards at blackjack and win money. It’s an 80s classic that you’ve probably seen on the TV at some point, but the stellar acting works and a gripping story make it well worth rewatching.
If you’re a gaming fan and haven’t seen any of the films from this list, we encourage you to watch them. As augmented and virtual reality technologies have advanced, it’s fascinating to compare these fantastic movies to modern reality. So the next time you’re having a movie night, pick gaming in the 80s for the theme. Trust us: it’ll be fun.
Which film about video gaming from the 80s is your favorite? Let us know your best-loved flicks in the comments.