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Nintendo rethinking approach to movie adaptations

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Everybody has different tastes, especially when it comes to movies. One man’s film treasure is another’s trashy cinema. And that’s OK, really. But that being said, I think we can all agree pretty unanimously, without doubt or equivocations, that 1993’s Super Mario Bros is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad movie that should never have existed. It was the absolute epitome of creatively misguided Hollywood film making.

More importantly though in the greater scheme of things, is that  it reached such nigh-mythological levels of infamy that Nintendo, the creators of the Mario Bros video games, completely closed itself and its famous pantheon of characters off from Hollywood for the next two decades or so as a result. It would take a movie of the incredibly quality of Wreck-It Ralph to nurse the Japanese video game giant back to Tinseltown, and even then it was just to use one character – “Mario Bros'” Bowser – in a cameo.


That opened the door for Columbia Pictures to negotiate (for “months and months”) the use of Mario, the “Duck Hunt” dog and “Donkey Kong” in Adam Sandler’s Pixels, and, well… we’ve unfortunately seen how that turned out. Luckily though, the Nintendo of today is not the Nintendo of 1993, and having their characters appear in one of the worst reviewed films of 2015 is not having as negative an impact as you may have thought.

In fact, Fortune is reporting a big change of heart over in Nintendo Land, as buried in the company’s June earnings report, lies this potential little nugget of hope:

“For Nintendo IP, a more active approach will be taken in areas outside the video game business, including visual content production and character merchandising.”

In case you’re not down with company speak, “visual content production” probably means movie development. Well, that’s one option as nothing is set in stone yet, but the company is now at least open to pitches and has tapped their Software Planning & Development (SPD) Division – headed by legendary video game designer and the company’s main muse Shigeru Miyamoto – facilitate this new potential relationship with the film industry.

Miyamoto though, is quick to point out that he is fully aware of the pitfalls of video game adaptations:

“We’ve had, over the years, a number of people who have come to us and said ‘Why don’t we make a movie together—or we make a movie and you make a game and we’ll release them at the same time?’. Because games and movies seem like similar mediums, people’s natural expectation is we want to take our games and turn them into movies… I’ve always felt video games, being an interactive medium, and movies, being a passive medium, mean the two are quite different.”

Miyamoto has hit the proverbial nail perfectly on the head. Movie adaptations of video games have generally been terrible, and of the main reasons for this is film makers trying to force a video game concept into a movie narrative. Square peg, round hole. But times they are a-changing over in Nintendo, and Miyamoto is open to ideas that could blend the two mediums better.

“As we look more broadly at what is Nintendo’s role as an entertainment company, we’re starting to think more and more about how movies can fit in with that—and we’ll potentially be looking at things like movies in the future.”

So what does this mean for the near future? Probably nothing. We’ve already had the company shoot down rumblings earlier in the year of a live-action Netflix series based on “Legend of Zelda”, so I would hazard that it’s going to be a while before something comes of this. But that actually leads to the biggest hurdle surrounding movies based on Nintendo IP’s: The reason why so many people wanted that “Zelda” story to be true is because “Zelda” actually has the mythology to work brilliantly as a movie/series, but the same can definitely not be said for the bulk of Nintendo’s properties.


The key component of Nintendo’s decades long success as a video game publisher stems from their ability to create games that are just plain all-ages fun wrapped around inventive gameplay. Compelling dramatic narrative – a core component for a good movie – usually plays second fiddle in their creations (nobody wants to see a movie that ends with a diminutive mushroom person declaring “the princess is in another castle”, roll credits). That’s not an impossible burden to overcome though, as proven by properties such as the Pokemon cartoon and animated movies, which took their very basic characters and gameplay and turned them into exciting stories.

In fact, I think that would be the key to all of this: animated movies. For some reason the moment Hollywood takes a property live-action, it bends over backwards in the most ridiculous ways possible to make a story more “real”. “Real” in this case more than likely equating to dark and gritty, things that Nintendo have never been. Keep it animated and light though, and you can still retain that youthful optimism and just general sense of fun, without having to ground the concepts narratively – I mean, I would pay good money for a thrilling Star Fox animated space adventure.

That all being said though, you would definitely find me first in line for a live-action sci-fi action epic based on “Metroid”.

Last Updated: August 26, 2015


  1. Kromas,powered by windows 10.

    August 26, 2015 at 15:25

    I thought Mario was super awesome! 😛


    • Kervyn Cloete

      August 26, 2015 at 16:53

      Thanks for that. I now know to just avoid your opinion for ever and always. 😀


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