Tetris Is One Of The Greatest Video Game Movies Ever Made – In A Roundabout Way

Video games have been a huge part of popular culture for decades now, particularly following the home console boom in the '80s. In all that time, few games have endured quite like "Tetris" has. It's become an absolute staple of this era, with people playing the simple yet addicting game for hours on end on the original Game Boy, the NES, or at their nearest arcade. So, perhaps it's only fitting that, in an era when video game movies are finally starting to click in a real way, this beloved title would finally get the big screen treatment. No, it's not an adaptation. Rather, it's more of a biopic in the form of director Jon S. Baird's "Tetris," which arrives on Apple TV+ this week. In a roundabout way, it instantly earns its place as one of the greatest video game movies to date.

"Tetris" is an incredibly simple game in which players organize falling blocks of various shapes in an attempt to make straight lines that will then disappear, with the goal being to prevent any of the blocks from reaching the top of the screen. Clear more lines, score more points. It's not exactly a premise that lends itself to compelling cinema, although there were bizarre plans to make a blockbuster "Tetris" movie trilogy in 2016, which never came to fruition. Instead, we got something far more satisfying and roundly entertaining.

Baird's film focuses not just on the creation of the game, but how it became a global phenomenon, with surprisingly intense and complex behind the scenes drama lighting the way. It focuses on Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton), a man who discovers the game in 1988 and risks everything by traveling to the Soviet Union to try and obtain the rights. Unfortunately, Cold War tensions and competing interests complicate matters.

A movie about a game (and so much more)

Alexey Pajitnov, played by Nikita Efremov in the film, invented "Tetris" in the USSR in 1984. Because of this, Pajitnov didn't exactly benefit once his game was licensed and distributed throughout the world ... not at first, anyway. Without giving a beat-for-beat recap of the film's depiction of these events, let's just say Rogers is not the only one who sees the value in this deceptively simple game. At the same time, the Soviets aren't particularly interested in playing things straight with the foreigners who want to profit from something created on their turf. As a result, we end up with — surprisingly enough — a Cold War era thriller crossed with an underdog story and a touch of "Moneyball" (read our official review here).

It may not sound like "Tetris," but it's the story of how the game made its way to the masses. What the film gets right is, despite all the swindling and trickery involving its real-life characters, the heart of the titular game is never lost. Jon S. Baird and writer Noah Pink remember to infuse the story with what makes the "Tetris" game special, and there are plenty of moments that remind us why it absolutely rules, even to this day. In that sense, it's incredibly true to the spirit of its source material in a way so many video game movies historically haven't been.

It's easy to understand why, in the era of franchise-dominated Hollywood, a studio would want to capitalize on a globally recognized name like "Tetris." But why try to make a story out of a puzzle game that has no plot or cinematic elements when the very real story of this game is so compelling, lending itself to the medium of cinema? Apple wisely saw the value in that story.

Hollywood's tricky history with video game movies

Anything that becomes popular will inevitably find itself being targeted for a Hollywood adaptation. Naturally, video games made their way to the big screen beginning, in earnest, with "Super Mario Bros." in 1993. Sure, there may be some nostalgia for the film now, but the general consensus is that it's a bad movie that performed poorly upon release. That largely set the tone for the following decades, as so many bad video game movies would come and go, with rare exceptions like "Resident Evil" managing to find legitimate mainstream success (even if critics weren't kind along the way). "House of the Dead," "Bloodrayne," "Street Fighter," "Hitman," "Doom" — the list of misfires is substantial.

It's really only in recent years that the tide has truly started to turn, with movies like "Detective Pikachu," "Sonic the Hedgehog," and (to a certain degree) "Rampage" becoming commercials hits while also earning favorable reviews. On the small screen, things are even better, with HBO's "The Last of Us" ranking as a critical darling with a huge audience. In short, things are looking up.

Again, while "Tetris" is not exactly an adaptation, it very much feels more in the spirit of recent successes by staying true to the thing that inspired it, rather than running away from it like video game movies in the '90s and early 2000s did. It also doesn't hurt that the cast is damn good, with Taron Egerton giving one of the best performances of his career. It is, without question, one of the better movies ever released that was inspired by a video game, and it's an encouraging sign that not only is the tide truly turning, but it can turn in unexpectedly satisfying ways.

"Tetris" is now streaming on Apple TV+.