Confession time, folks. I like the live-action Resident Evil movies. Or, more correctly, I like most of them. Now, I don’t think they’re great or anything special, or even faithful adaptations of the games (they’re not). They’re campy, they only have tangential connections to the games on which they’re based, and for the most part I have a good time watching them. If you like silly B-movies, whether genuinely, ironically, or to laugh at with friends, I think there’s a lot to like about most of them.
And, if you don’t like them, but like the games, here is a list of movies to try instead.
Here’s my ranking of the live-action Resident Evil movies.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter
The live-action Resident Evil franchise ended on a disappointing low note with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. It was tasked with somehow making this whole thing come to an end, and it couldn’t do a very good job of it. The story’s always been a mess – things from previous movies often don’t matter, or have been changed – but this one muddled those waters even more. And from a pure filmmaking perspective, it’s the worst of the series. Despite Paul W. S. Anderson directing it – he directed most of them – it’s more poorly shot and more choppily edited. Some of its events are still fun and I don’t hate it, but it’s easily the worst of them.
The first Resident Evil movie is as close as the film franchise comes to the games. It’s also the only one of these movies that’s more or less a pure horror movie. It introduces us to our protagonist, Alice (played by Milla Jovovich), and sees her wake up in a mansion that’s on top of The Hive, which is where the evil Umbrella Corporation did experiments that eventually cause the not-technically-zombie-but-zombie outbreak that would feature for the rest of the series. It’s a campy movie with lots of cheesy lines, poor acting, and isn’t very scary, anyway. It’s kind of fun, but it turns out that the franchise got better once it deviated from the games.
Resident Evil: Extinction
One of the things that I appreciate about the franchise is the way that it changed things up in each film – at least, for most of the middle ones. For example: Resident Evil: Extinction is a post-apocalyptic wasteland movie not dissimilar to the Mad Max franchise. Meanwhile, we’ve also got a prison break movie later on, as well as a city escape one. The willingness to try a bunch of different things is admirable.
Extinction does the wasteland thing and sees Alice and a team of rag-tag scavengers try to survive out there. It’s really the only movie that explores Alice’s psychic powers in any depth, it ends on a heck of a twist – with a lot of potential – and the action is pretty decent. It’s also the brightest Resident Evil movie, which is an interesting decision. Most of the big scenes take place in a desert during the daytime.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Resident Evil: Apocalypse is the “city escape” movie I mentioned from earlier. Modeled after the John Carpenter Escape From… movies, it takes place in Raccoon City after the not-technically-zombie-but-zombie infection escapes the hive and begins its quest for world domination. The city is quarantined, our characters want out, and we follow them as they try to do that. Jill Valentine makes an appearance here, and she instantly became my favorite side character in the movie franchise. The fight with Nemesis at the end is also … well, it’s something.
Resident Evil: Retribution
Resident Evil: Retribution, realistically, should have been the end of the franchise. It takes place in an Umbrella Corporation base where Alice and co. go through various simulation programs run by the company. These simulations play out like highlight reels from the rest of the movies. If you’re going to do a victory lap movie, make it the last one. “Hey, look at what we did. You had fun, we had fun, let’s remember the fun and let that be the lasting memory.”
Being a highlight reel film, it makes us remember the best moments and relive them with slight differences. It also does some neat things with clones and awakens Alice’s maternal instincts, which is more character development than she usually is given. It’s very fun.
Resident Evil: Afterlife
Resident Evil: Afterlife is the best film in the franchise. Each of the other installments feels like it is missing something, or lacking in some aspect. The first film has lacking characters, the second’s story is pretty poor, and the third’s pacing isn’t very good. The fifth is a highlight reel, which is fun but doesn’t feel like it’s its own movie. And the sixth is a mess.
Afterlife is the prison break movie I mentioned earlier. It has decent characters – even the other people holed up in the prison get some depth – the story is fine, and it’s paced really well. It’s technically sound, has more scares than we’ve had in a couple of chapters, and was the first 3D movie in the franchise. It was filmed with actual 3D cameras, too, which always looks better than post-conversion jobs. In terms of this franchise, it doesn’t get better than Afterlife.