Movies Inspired by Our Favourite Childhood Toys and Games

We're celebrating 'Transformers: Rise of the Beasts' with some of our favourite game-inspired films

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 6, 2023

Movies and toys have always been a match made in heaven, regardless of which came first. Creating and selling toys based on a movie isn't new (remember the Batman Returns and McDonald's Happy Meal fiasco?), and in fact, the majority of big studio films released today have an eye on merchandising part and parcel to the movie's release.

There is also a rich history of movies being made using the intellectual property of well-known and beloved toys and games. From LEGO to G.I. Joe, movies have brought to life some of our most treasured toys, breathing personality into the plastic figures we'd thrown around for so long.

Transformers are of course one of the most beloved examples; since 2007's Transformers, the ultra-successful series has spawned a total of seven films, most recently the 2018 prequel Bumblebee. The direct followup to Bumblebee is Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, and with that film arriving in theatres on June 9 via Paramount Pictures, here are some toys and games from our childhood that have been adapted into movies with varying degrees of success.

And, for the record — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn't count, because they were a comic book first (and that's a whole other list). But you'd better believe we spent our childhood playing with those heroes in a half shell, and we're extremely excited about the upcoming Seth Rogen-produced film Mutant Mayhem, with its score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Transformers (2007)

Created in 1984 in Japan, Transformers introduced a wildly imaginative and original toy to the market with a relatively simple mechanic: a vehicle or animal that could be shifted and shaped into a robot, and back again. Transformers became an instant hit around the world and quickly spawned a comic book series, an animated movie and an incredibly popular television show, The Transformers

For nearly 40 years, Optimus Prime has led the Autobots into war against Megatron and the Decepticons, with a multitude of characters and storylines introduced over the years, primarily in animated form. In 2007, Michael Bay launched the first live-action movie adaptation of the robots in disguise with Transformers. Since then, four more Bay-directed films have been added to the series, as well as the Travis Knight-directed Bumblebee.

The latest movie in the franchise is Rise of the Beasts, directed by Steven Caple Jr. and starring Anthony Ramos, Peter Cullen, Pete Davidson, Ron Perlman and Michelle Yeoh. Heavily influenced by the Beast Wars story, Rise of the Beasts is sure to be a roaring good time – roll out!

Battleship (2012)

A game of strategy and luck, most kids and adults today remember playing Battleship with friends and siblings, guessing where their opponent's warships lay on the plastic grid — "E6!" But what many may not know is that the game's origins come from a simple pencil and paper game dating back to World War I. American board game manufacturer Milton Bradley released their version of opposing plastic boards with red and white pegs in 1967, which continues to endure today (alongside the more modern video game and mobile app versions).

Given the popularity of the game and the inherent narrative that can be found, it's odd how long it took for a Battleship movie to be released. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna, 2012's Battleship followed an alien invasion during the biennially held Rim of the Pacific Exercise, the largest international maritime warfare exercise. The movie opened to mixed reviews and didn't make a splash at the box office, but at least we got to see some battleships being sunk.

Clue (1985)

A British murder mystery board game, Clue (or Cluedo for our friends across the pond) is ripe for cinematic treatment. The game relies on deduction skills and strategy for its participants to determine who committed the murder, in what room of the mansion, and using which weapon. Influenced in part by Agatha Christie's stories of detective novels, Clue remains a classic of the board game world and of the murder-mystery genre. 

A variety of spin-off games, TV shows, video games, books and even musicals have been developed under the Clue umbrella, but to date, only one film has been produced. Directed by Jonathan Lynn and co-written by John Landis, 1985's Clue followed the murder of one Mr. Boddy. The movie was released to lukewarm reviews and didn't make up its budget at the box office, but it's since received a cult following for its campy nature and use of alternate endings. Since 2011, there have been talks about making another film with various directors and stars signed on at various points, none of which have come to fruition. 

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

To say that Dungeons & Dragons (or D&D for those in the know) has a passionate following is an understatement. The fantasy role-playing game is one of the most well-known and best-selling games in the world, with a vast narrative and intricate gameplay that transports players into another world for hours (or even days) at a time. While D&D has been mocked by many jocks and bullies, its defenders are staunch. Regardless, if you've only played one campaign or are the resident Dungeon Master, it's hard to argue with the communities formed in the name of D&D and the creativity it has encouraged around the world.

D&D has appeared in many films over the years, including E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Onward, and a movie starring Jeremy Irons was released in 2000 with little fanfare and two straight-to-video sequels. Thankfully, though, earlier this year the franchise was finally given its cinematic due with the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. Starring Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez, Honor Among Thieves finally captured the fun, fantastical nature and heart of what has made D&D so timeless. 

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009)

Arguably an exercise in glamorizing the military and indoctrinating American youth to eventually join the army, G.I. Joe has nevertheless prevailed as one of the most iconic action figures and American symbols since his debut in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1964. The initial release was in the form of four soldiers representing the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, all created with movable extremities, allowing for flexible fighting and play. G.I. Joe would take on many different forms over the decades: as anti-war sentiments grew in the US, the soldier became an Adventurer in 1969, a title still used today with slight variations. 

Many animated shows and movies have been created using the G.I. Joe character, most popular among them G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, a half-hour cartoon that was only on air for two seasons between 1985 and 1986, producing 95 episodes. In 2009, an attempt at a live-action series with Channing Tatum in the lead was released, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. A 2013 sequel added Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Bruce Willis, while Henry Golding took the lead role for 2021's Snake Eyes.

The LEGO Movie (2014)

From creating simple shapes and houses to building the Death Star, plastic interlocking construction blocks have brought joy to young and old since 1949. One of Denmark's greatest exports, LEGO has inspired creativity with its vibrant colours, diverse shapes and unlimited possibilities. It's no wonder, then, that LEGO have inspired countless games, design sets, amusement parks and movies.

Due to the nature of the blocks, "brickfilms" (stop-motion animation using LEGO) were popularized in the 1970s and continue to live on in YouTube land. In 2014, the first major studio brickfilm using the LEGO property was released, simply titled The LEGO Movie. Directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the movie was a massive critical and commercial success and marked the beginning of a new franchise that has since included The LEGO Batman Movie, The LEGO Ninjago Movie and The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.

Ouija (2014)

The Ouija board itself is an American invention that was borne out of the spiritualist movement in the country towards the end of the 19th century; however, the act of communicating with the spirit world and beyond has been documented as far back as the Song dynasty in 1100 AD China. Ouija participants range from those serious about spiritualism and a group of friends congregating on a Friday night to kill some time. In any case, the phenomena associated with the Ouija board is notorious and continues to persist.

Given its reputation, it's no surprise that numerous films have used the game as a plot device, including the micro-budget Canadian film Ouija Shark from 2020. Perhaps the most famous of these films though, is 2014's simply titled Ouija and its 2016 prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil. Both Michael Bay-backed Blumhouse films,  neither can be considered an objectively good movie, but given the incredible box office receipts both films received, there's clearly an audience looking for supernatural films of this ilk. 

Toy Story (1995)

Of course we couldn't make a list about childhood toys and their movie adaptations without a nod to Toy Story — one of the most beloved movie franchises and a watershed moment for computer-animated cinema. The story of Andy and his treasured toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear has warmed the hearts and captured the imaginations of endless children. What began as an inventive story questioning what happens to our toys when we fall asleep or leave the house eventually became a reflective piece of cinema about growing up and out of our childhood. 

Across four films, classic toys like Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head, slinkies, green plastic army men, Etch A Sketch, the Magic 8 Ball and that kinda creepy telephone with eyes were brought to life. The films also introduced a new set of action figures and dolls now considered to be iconic toys, such as Woody, Buzz and the Little Green Men — a testament to the success of the franchise, particularly the original trilogy. Last year's Lightyear didn't quite recapture the magic as Disney had hoped, but they will continue to try, as a fifth installment of the franchise was announced earlier this year.

Trolls (2016)

There's just something about those wrinkle-faced, neon haired, bejewelled belly buttoned dolls that really draws you in. Based on old Scandinavian folklore, troll dolls were first created in 1959 by Danish fisherman and woodcutter Thomas Dam, who carved a doll for his daughter's Christmas present. When other children in town saw the doll, requests and orders came rolling in and soon, Dam's trolls were being sold all over Europe and the United States. 

In 2013, Dreamworks acquired the rights to the dolls from Dam's estate and company, resulting in two musical comedy animated films, Trolls and Trolls World Tour. Both films star Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake alongside a large supporting ensemble, including Zooey Deschanel, James Corden, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, Ron Funches, Sam Rockwell and Mary J. Blige. The success of both movies has prompted a third installment, Trolls Band Together, coming later this year, with Kendrick and Timberlake returning and newcomers Eric André, Kid Cudi, Amy Schumer and others joining the hair-raising cast.

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