Review: Tetris Pieces Together the Complicated Origin Story of the Classic Video Game

Born in the Netherlands, schooled in the United States, and living in Japan in the late 1980s, video game licenser Hank Rogers (Taron Egerton) doesn’t exactly seem like the most likely candidate to be the center of a feature film, but when you find out he was largely responsible for introducing Tetris to the world at large, well, he still doesn’t seem like the protagonist in a movie. But that didn’t stop the makers of Tetris (the movie) from doing just that. 

Admittedly, it’s a hell of a story, although I’m not sure all of the choices made in telling it were the right ones. Without getting lost in the very complicated machinations of warring video game companies, the Russian government (turns out the game was invented by Soviet computer engineer and inventor Alexey Pajitnov, played by Nikita Efremov), and independent third-parties like Rogers who do nothing but buy up gaming rights for various parts of the world, the film does a fairly solid job walking us the through the maze of legal hassles that it took to get Tetris out into the larger world, including through Nintendo’s wildly popular portable system, Game Boy.

Director Jon S. Baird (Stan & Ollie, Filth), working from a script by Noah Pink, moves us through multiple story threads, including Rogers putting everything he’s worth on this highly addictive game. Unlike his competitors (such as Toby Jones’ Robert Stein), Rogers is an actual video game enthusiast and has a clear sense of what will be popular among gamers. There are countless definitions provided of what constitutes video game rights—for home computers, for arcades, and other outlets that had barely been thought of yet—and all of them are important in forwarding a deal with a communist government that is on the verge of collapse but still wants its cut. There is corruption, backstabbing, spying, and bad-faith business decisions, most of which is embodied by the dealing of media giant Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) and his son Kevin (Anthony Boyle), who were in the process of losing a fortune at the time and saw Tetris as the magic bullet to save his dying company.

The details of every deal (real and imagined) are often too complicated to fully understand, but the filmmakers do an admirable keeping things lined up, and as long as you don’t blink, you should be able to follow. I was particularly moved by the scenes in which Rogers and Pajitnov become friends on one of Rogers many illegal trips into the Soviet Union. Egerton has a real gift for delivering large amounts of technical dialogue with rapid-fire precision, but the scenes with Efremov are touching because the Russian’s story is a tragic one, and Rogers clearly is endeared to this man and attempts to help him make sure he gets his recognition and compensation.

Taking a whole lot of storytelling cues from The Social Network, with a sprinkling of Argo in some of the race-to-the-finish moments of the story, Tetris didn’t have any trouble convincing me why I should care about these characters, but it did struggle at times to actually make me do so. The faded look of the movie (presumably an attempt to make the film look of the period somehow) made me squint more than anything; it certainly didn’t sell the period like it was trying to. The silver lining of watching Tetris, for me, was that it made me remember how much I loved that game. Nostalgia wins again.

The film is now streaming Apple TV+.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.