Is The Last of Us the best video game adaptation ever?

Theo Burman
The Last of Us video game adaptation

With the final episode of HBO’s The Last of Us finally airing last week, fans are finally able to rank it among other video game adaptations.

The genre has been eating very well recently, particularly on the animated series front. Shows like Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and Castlevania have carved out a respectable niche on Netflix, and The Last of Us joins the Witcher on the live-action scene for adaptations.

However, many fans have pointed out that shows like the Pokemon anime have been adapting video game content for decades, to the point where many forget it’s an adaptation.

Pokemon has also helped restore a bit of prestige to video game movies, which have historically performed poorly. Films like Detective Pikachu laid the groundwork for the Sonic films, and this year’s Mario movie, which keeps dropping new trailers.

What is the best video game adaptation?

The Last of Us obviously leads the discussion here, clocking in at around 15 million views an episode, which coincidentally is the same number as the estimated budget per episode. HBO threw more money at this season than the first five seasons of Game of Thrones combined, and it’s certainly paid off, with two more seasons on the way.

But this is the issue with comparing video game adaptations. Smaller shows like Cyberpunk: Edgerunners had a smaller budget than a single episode of The Last of Us, so how can we compare them properly if the resources they had to work with were so different?

Additionally, The Last of Us had one of the clearest and most episodic video game narratives to adapt, while shows like Arcane and Castlevania had far less source material to base their stories on.

Arcane video game adaptation
Arcane was one of 2021’s biggest shows, even beating out Squid Game in views

Arcane was the big success story after ten years of League of Legends, taking home the 2022 Game Award for Best Adaptation, and even winning an Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. It also toppled Squid Game as the most-viewed Netflix show. Like The Last of Us, Arcane benefited from a huge budget, with Riot Games throwing millions of dollars behind each episode.

However, Arcane had much more work to do on the narrative front, and had to go through multiple rewrites just to get approval. The patchwork of League of Legends lore that had to be sifted through to make such a well-recieved story was arguably more difficult than the minor changes that The Last of Us needed.

Cyberpunk Edgerunners video game adaptation
Cyberpunk: Edgerunners had the unenviable task of fixing the 2077 brand

Though Cyberpunk: Edgerunners lost out to Arcane at the Game Awards, it received widespread acclaim for restoring some faith in the franchise after the poor release of Cyberpunk 2077. It also managed all of this with a fraction of the budget than other shows, and made in a fraction of the time.

While the last couple of years have seen a huge uptick in quality video game adaptations, Castlevania was pushing the boundaries way back in 2017. 

With four solid seasons under its belt and brilliant reviews across the board, Castlevania proved to Netflix that it was worth investing in animated video game shows, which could have contributed to them taking on Edgerunners and Arcane a few years later. 

Like Arcane, Castlevania had very little narrative to work with, and relied heavily on solid writing and character work in a new story.     

What are the upcoming video game movies and shows?

Uncoming adaptations to keep an eye on include the Mario Bros Movie, which premieres in April, and Dungeons and Dragons: Honour among Theives, which we recently reviewed.

A God of War TV show is also in the works, to be release on Amazon Prime Video, as well as a new Netflix series and film based on the Gears of War franchise.