Hollywood Movies
Image: Time Extension

Video gaming is now the world's biggest entertainment medium, eclipsing both the worlds of movies and music. For that reason, it's not uncommon to see famous Hollywood actors appear in AAA games; the announcement that Jodie Comer and David Harbour are set to star in the 2023 reboot of Alone in the Dark is proof of that fact, but we've seen the likes of Kit Harington (Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare), Keanu Reeves (Cyberpunk 2077), Norman Reedus (Death Stranding) and Josh Duhamel (The Callisto Protocol) all lend their likenesses and voices to digitised heroes recently.

However, once upon a time, the world of video gaming wasn't a place where Hollywood big-timers could make a little extra cash and find new fans – it was where struggling actors and fallen stars went when the work in 'actual movies' dried up. That might sound a little unkind, but if you look back to the FMV games of the early '90s, they arguably weren't starring the biggest and most successful stars of the period.

They also weren't going as far as to turn these people into convincing 3D models, either – the FMV era is infamous for its limited interactivity and often comically bad 'blue screen' filming techniques, with actors forced to deliver their lines to empty rooms, which would then be filled-in with terrible CGI backgrounds. This, of course, is now the way many movies and TV shows are created – but back then, it was more of a culture shock for stars who were used to working on some of the most famous productions of the period.

Below, we've singled out some highlights from this often-overlooked period in video game history.

Christopher Walken - Ripper

Budgeted to a cost of $4 million – of which a quarter was spent on hiring its actors – Take-Two's 6-disc adventure Ripper was part of the company's trilogy of FMV epics, with Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller and Black Dahlia being the other two. Walken (The Deer Hunter, Pulp Fiction) leads the cast as Detective Vince Magnotta, but the game also includes Paul Giamatti (Man on the Moon), Karen Allen (Indiana Jones), David Patrick Kelly (The Warriors), John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones) and Burgess Meredith in his final performance before he died in 1997. Walken has a reputation for playing somewhat larger-than-life characters, but his performance as Magnotta really needs to be seen to be believed.

Dennis Hopper - Black Dahlia

As mentioned above, this was one of Take-Two's three FMV adventure games. Hopper – famous Hollywood hellraiser and star of Easy Rider (which he also directed), Super Mario Bros. and Waterworld – is the biggest name in the game, and Teri Garr (Tootsie) also features.

Mark Hamill - Wing Commander III

Mark Hamill's stock is pretty high at the moment, thanks to his amazing social media presence and his recent return to the Star Wars franchise, but we're sad to report that, once upon a time, he was somewhat less successful at getting himself into successful movie productions.

Following his stint as Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy, Hamill appeared in flops like 1989's Slipstream and direct-to-video titles like Time Runner and The Guyver. His career as a successful voice actor was just starting to take off, but when it came to live-action appearances in the 1990s, he's perhaps most famous for playing Colonel Christopher Blair in Wing Commander III and Wing Commander IV, opposite fellow Hollywood stars Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), John Rhys-Davies (him again) and Tom Wilson (Back to the Future), as well as former adult movie star Ginger Lynn Allen. Ahem.

Hamill has since gone on to work with Wing Commander creator Chris Robots on Star Citizen, where his likeness has been recreated in 3D.

Hulk Hogan - Thunder in Paradise

Wrestlers seem to make pretty good movie stars, with the likes of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and David Bautista successfully moving from the world of sports entertainment to big-budget films.

They weren't the first to make this jump, of course – "Rowdy" Roddy Piper starred in John Carpenter's They Live in 1988, and a year earlier, Jesse 'The Body' Ventura starred alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator and The Running Man.

Hulk Hogan is another wrestler who tried his hand at films, and starred in No Holds Barred, Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny, as well as the TV shows Hogan Knows Best and Thunder In Paradise. The latter would be adapted into a Philips CD-i FMV title, which is basically an interactive version of the two-part episode The M.A.J.O.R. and the Minor. It's as flimsy as it sounds.

Sylvester Stallone - Demolition Man

Rather like Hulk Hogan in the Thunder in Paradise CD-i game, Sylvester Stallone was drafted in to star in the video game adaption of Demolition Man while production on the 1993 movie was still ongoing.

"We had Snipes and Stallone into the Virgin offices somewhat under duress, it seemed," explains Julian "Jaz" Rignall, who was working at Virgin at the time. "[Stallone] was contractually bound to do this. Actually getting him into the studio was a nightmare. He wasn't remotely interested in doing it. He made an effort when he did finally turn up, but jeez. The arm-twisting to make it happen."

Tia Carrere - The Daedalus Encounter

Perhaps most famous for being the love interest in Wayne's World, Tia Carrere signed up for this 1995 interactive movie because, in her own words, "Blade Runner is one of my all-time favourite films and I just like stuff like Aliens and T2... I guess I'm just a gizmo-phile!"

A puzzle game at heart, The Daedalus Encounter is low on interactivity, but it still managed to garner some mildly positive reviews at the time of release, as well as a release on the ill-fated 3DO console.

Christopher Lloyd - Toonstruck

Christopher Lloyd will forever be associated with Doc Brown in the Back to the Future movies, but in 1996, he was tempted to star in this graphic adventure published by Virgin Interactive.

Lloyds assumes the role of cartoonist Drew Blanc, who ends up being transported into the world he has created along with the animated character Flux Wildly, voiced by Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta. Tim Curry (more on him shortly), Frank Welker (Transformers), Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh) and Dom DeLuise (The Cannonball Run) also provide voice work.

While Toonstruck is one of the better combinations of live acting and video games from the 1990s, it was a commercial flop.

Sam J. Jones - Return to Zork

The Zork adventure games had been massive during the '80s, and this combination of CGI and FMV was seen by Activision president Bobby Kotick – who had just taken over at the struggling publisher – as a means of resurrecting the company's fortunes. Its idiosyncratic setting and often obtuse puzzles are deliberate callbacks to previous games, and while it hasn't aged well, it was a commercial success at the time.

Robyn Lively (Twin Peaks) and Jason Hervey (The Wonder Years) are on board, but it's the presence of Sam J. Jones – Flash Gordon himself – which is particularly upsetting. Once tipped to be one of Hollywood's hottest new stars, he's reduced to playing a blind bowman who attempts to hit a fairy with his arrows.

Clive Owen - Privateer 2: The Darkening

Part of the Wing Commander series, Privateer 2: The Darkening, like its brethren, mixes real-time 3D space combat with lavish (for the time) FMV sequences populated by a cast of big-ish names.

Clive Owen – whose stock would rise considerably within Hollywood after this game was released in 1996 and has starred in Sin City, Children of Men and King Arthur, and was once in the running to play James Bond – is joined by the likes of John Hurt (Alien), Christopher Walken, David Warner (Tron), Jürgen Prochnow (Das Boot), Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon) and former '90s megastar Dani Behr, who lends her vocal talents to a computer called (wait for it) Dani.

Donald Sutherland - Conspiracy

As CD-ROM gaming took hold in the early '90s, it was common to see older, non-CD games get 'upgraded' to the format, with stuff like improved audio and FMV added almost as an afterthought.

One title which got this treatment was Cryo's KGB, which launched on the Amiga and PC in 1992. In 1994, the game was re-released as Conspiracy, with Donald Sutherland drafted in as the main character's father for several video sequences. His face was also on the game's cover.

Tim Curry - Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Perhaps the most famous case of a Hollywood actor 'turning things up to eleven' in the world of video games is Tim Curry in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3.

Curry, who rose to fame off the back of wonderful performances in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Clue, is joined by Jonathan Pryce (Brazil), J. K. Simmons (Spider-Man), David Hasselhoff (Knight Rider), Gina Carano (The Mandalorian), former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy and George Takei (Star Trek) in the game's often unhinged FMV cutscenes.

Speaking to Vice, assistant cinematics editor Joshua Basche explains how Curry approached the dialogue:

It’d be these long takes of them just sitting there reading a teleprompter as lines came up. It was towards the end of the day, and you could kind of tell Curry was tired, he wanted to get out of there. But then that line comes up. And you saw the smile pop onto his face when he read it through first. The first take was that take. It’s so bombastic. It’s so fantastic. I think he did exactly what he wanted to do.

This wasn't Curry's first rodeo in the world of FMV, either – he also starred in Frankenstein: Through the Eyes of the Monster.