Nintendo doesn’t have the best track record with turning its games into movies.
This isn’t news.
It’s why you haven’t seen any of Nintendo’s beyond successful properties crowding your multiplexes in a time where anything that hits is milked to its limit.
Between utterly insulting cinematic oddities like the misguided Super Mario Bros., the heartless Double Dragon, or the utterly unnecessary Wing Commander, it’s not hard to imagine pitch meetings being filled with Koopa Kids masquerading as executives in lieu of some of these poor choices. It’s also fair to say that Pixels has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth for at least a few more years…To be fair on Nintendo, the transition from video games to film has been largely unflattering for most examples, not just those out of Nintendo, but as a result of Nintendo’s bad luck with the medium, they essentially shied away from the idea in general. That is until very recently, when the company issued a statement that they’re once again going to throw their hat into the talking pictures game, with ultra popular series like The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Metroid looking like very appealing choices.
This development is still in the very early stages, but with wheels officially in motion and discussions starting to be had, it seemed appropriate to not only address what some of the best properties for Nintendo to adapt would be, but also who would be the ideal director for these films.
F-Zero – Directed by George Miller or the Wachowskis
F-Zero is Nintendo’s high-octane, nitrous-drenched alternative to Mario Kart, a neon-soaked racer that’s one of the fastest experiences out there. This isn’t one of the more complicated premises to translate to the big screen—it’s essentially just a balls-out race—with the look of the film being a much more crucial factor. After George Miller reminded everyone this year that he’s a crazy force to beckoned with with Mad Max: Fury Road, his unflinching, stylistic take on the material feels like it’d be pretty perfect. While Miller’s surely brutal take on the game would be something special, it’s hard to not talk about a fast racer that looks like this without mentioning the Wachowskis. Their adaptation of Speed Racer is scary for how perfect it is at times. It’s impossible to look at the one film and not think they’d be capable of pulling off the other. Plus, they’ve got a wealth of experience with space creatures and aliens from their work on Jupiter Ascending.
Earthbound – Directed by Brad Bird or JJ Abrams
Earthbound is certainly a cult favorite amongst the many Nintendo properties out there, and it might not be the first title that jumps to mind for demanding a movie adaptation. When you start breaking Earthbound down though, it almost sounds like it was made to be turned into a film. The game chronicles the adventures of Ness and his friends, a group of children who have stumbled upon a meteor landing that of course opens up a whole can of extraterrestrial worms. There’s an incredibly Spielbergian element to all of this, with this children vs. the universe theme that’s carried through it all. JJ Abrams’ Super 8 bears more than a few connections to the game, and it’s even similar to what Brad Bird was going for in Tomorrowland (another film that has a very Earthbound vibe to it). Either of these people could turn out a satisfying Earthbound film that still distinctly feels like them, too.
Metroid – Directed by Michelle MacLaren or Duncan Jones
There’s no doubt that Samus Aran’s bounty hunting adventures through Zebes and beyond will no doubt attempt to be movieified. Metroid has a staunch fanbase and a beautiful, layered world to pull from, so there’s more than enough content to turn into a film. Part of what really separated Metroid from the other science fiction games of a similar ilk was the feeling of loneliness and isolation that the title would instill in you. You could truly feel lost or like things were hopeless, and it’s for elements like that that Duncan Jones would be a good choice for the job (and with his Warcraft movie coming out soon, he’s clearly not opposed to video game adaptations). He has plenty of science fiction experience, and his wonderful film Moon is a lonely, internal example that feels very parallel to Metroid’s atmosphere. On the other hand, a fundamental aspect of Metroid is that our hero is a heroine. In this sense, someone like Michelle MacLaren would likely be a fascinating choice. Her work through Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones has proven that she’s obviously capable of gripping suspense and action, and I’ve no doubt she could rise to the challenge of taking on something in space. Wonder Woman was taken away from her, but perhaps Samus Aran could be her new Diana Price.
It’s also worth noting that if the Metroid films really took off and became a success, Neill Blomkamp would be a much more appropriate choice for when Metroid Prime was inevitably being made, due to the body horror and transformation aspect to them.
Kirby – Directed by Michel Gondry
Kirby might not feel like a fundamental title to take to the theaters, especially when you try to wrap your head around the logistics of how you want to present this anthropomorphic pink puffball with a litany of powers at his disposal as he shifts and changes to his every whim. It’s a fluffy series—just like it’s titular character—that lacks some of the bigger moments from other Nintendo franchises, where it makes sense as a game, but probably not a film. That being said, there are some combinations that are just so amazing that you let them happen to see what they’re capable of. I feel like this would be the case if Michel Gondry were to make a Kirby film. The man is an imagination extraordinaire, and look no further than The Science of Sleep to see that Gondry could really knock this one out of the park. Kirby could end up being a surprise hit and one of Nintendo’s best films ever if they just let him experiment with the universe and see what he comes up with.
Mario Kart – Directed by James Wan or the Wachowskis
Mario Kart is just too much of a bonding experience and a communal memory for so many gamers, that in spite of how silly a Mario Kart film might seem, you absolutely know it would be pushed forward to capitalize on its reputation. Much like the case of F-Zero, the job here isn’t that difficult, it’s just a matter of finding the right visionary to get behind it. For the same reasons as before, the Wachowskis would be perfect for this world, and Speed Racer’s aesthetic compliments Mario Kart even more than it does F-Zero. With what James Wan has proven from the latest Fast and the Furious film, he also feels like he could be a really inspired choice. No question, he knows how to depict stylized racing on camera, but with his rich horror background adding to that, he’s got the varied resume that could inject a Mario Kart film with exactly what it needs.
Or, you know, have either of these choices direct a Wave Race movie instead, because picture how insane and what a colossal surprise that would be in the end.
Star Fox – Directed by Neill Blomkamp or Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Acting as another mega-staple of Big N, Star Fox is a classic that depicts the interstellar exploits of Fox McCloud and his ragtag team (of animals) that make up Team Star Fox. The series has become famous for its tight, polished shooting and flight mechanics, with innovative bosses and a whole mix of elements that make it feel like a unique space shooter. On top of that, there’s still tons of story regarding Andross’ rule of the universe, Fox’s dead father, and the perilous, rivaling Team Star Wolf that is often at their throats. There’s no shortage of movie material here. While my first instincts might have been to go to someone sci-fi based, like Neill Blomkamp, the more I think about it, the more it feels like Phil Lord and Chris Miller could be runaway winners. The two have always risen to the occasion and have a reputation of turning out hits from properties that have questionable expectations. Their brilliant writing and banter would fit in perfectly amongst the Star Fox Team, digging into the characters respectfully. With the duo now getting ready for Star Wars, they feel like an even more appropriate choice, and people that would just have a lot of fun with the material. It would no doubt be a film as fun as the game itself.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Directed by Richard Linklater
What could likely be the first property that we actually see turned into a movie, The Legend of Zelda, has a rich, complicated history, but can still be boiled down to the simple story of good needing to vanquish evil and rescue the damsel in distress. The world has collectively gotten more on board with the fantasy genre, and if Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones are any indication, it’s hardly the niche genre that it used to be. Zelda hits all the sensibilities that these other popular fantasy topics have, while also having its own unique flavor. Zelda is such a mix of things, and watching someone move from dungeon to dungeon on screen would have a surprising degree of satisfaction to it. Ocarina of Time is arguably Zelda’s most popular story and would be a fine choice to pick for a film. Richard Linklater is an incredible director—and while this suggestion largely stemmed from a Boyhood joke—his eclectic filmography and more creative forays like A Scanner Darkly hint at a filmmaker that could do some very interesting things with this world if given the opportunity. Basically though, Ocarina of Time has two segments, one with Link as a boy, and the other with him as an adult. Linklater’s the right choice here because he would take twenty years to make the film, waiting for the Link actor to actually age into adult Link, rather than doing any of that cinema trickery. Authenticity is what you want in a Zelda film, right?
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – Directed by Terry Gilliam or Tarsem Singh
On the other side of the coin, Majora’s Mask is definitely the most disturbing, off kilter Zelda title. Following Ocarina of Time, the title posited a doomed world where the moon was going to crash down in three days unless something could be done. Enter Link, who must not only stop this creepy moon from killing us all, but also donning a number of masks which all seem to cause at least a little damage to the poor fighter’s psyche. Due to the particularly creepy look of such an already fantastical world, either Terry Gilliam or Tarsem Singh would be no-brainers here. Both have proven to be nihilistic visionaries capable of creating astounding set pieces, many of which could feel at home in the Zelda universe. I might lean a little more toward Singh here though, just because he feels a bit darker, and with him set to direct all of NBC’s Wizard of Oz series, Emerald City, he’ll already be building his own little Hyrule of sorts.
Luigi’s Mansion – Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Forget about a Mario movie. We don’t need that. It’s too cumbersome and it will never connect or work in the same way the games do (although a Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario Sunshine film have enough extra elements going on that they could perhaps be interesting experiments…). Instead, what you need—and you don’t even realize you need this yet—is a Luigi’s Mansion movie directed by none other than Guillermo Del Toro. Luigi’s Mansion would be such an underground, unconventional “Mario” film, that for that reason alone, it’s a tempting premise. Del Toro has been trying to get a haunted house film made for forever, and this could be a serendipitous answer. Not only would he get what he wants, but he’d also get to play around with all the other elements that make the Mario world what it is. Del Toro has implicitly earned our trust at this point, and while it may feel a little bit beneath him, I think he could really come alive with the bumbling ghost-hunting concept.
Animal Crossing – Directed by Wes Anderson
This is a pure example of a film needing to get made just because the director and property are too perfect to not indulge. Look, we do not need an Animal Crossing movie. Nobody wants that. I’d wager even fans of the series don’t want that. It’d be like making a movie of the Sims or Harvest Moon. Games like this are all about your individual experience with it as you slowly build a life and alter your world, getting lost in the depth of it all. There’s no conventional story. No big climaxes. No real ending, even. In spite of all of that though, Wes Anderson just exudes the design of Animal Crossing so deeply that this still needs to happen. It could just be pretty shots for 90 minutes, saying nothing at all, and it would still be one of the most gorgeous, faithful video game adaptations out there.
Captain Rainbow – Directed by Edgar Wright
Captain Rainbow is one of Nintendo’s lesser known properties. The game received no Western release, and so if you’ve completed this hidden gem, you either understand Japanese or were just blindly making your way through the bewildering adventure. Captain Rainbow has one of the more creative premises out there, making it an even bigger shame that the game’s largely unknown. You, as Captain Rainbow, are essentially on the Island of Misfit Nintendo Characters, and you go around trying to help forgotten characters like Birdo or Little Mac with tasks (I dare you to Google what Birdo’s mission requires of you). It’s a real deep-cut of an idea that services up a ton of Nintendo fan service, while still being a bonkers, fun RPG in its own right. The game has such a bright look and energized feeling to it, that Edgar Wright not only feels like the right choice, but is also someone who would be into the game’s premise and this unconventional superhero story. Wright is a visual mastermind, and by just watching a few of the game’s cut scenes, you can see how clearly their styles mesh together. This is certainly one of the more unlikely movies to get made, but it’d really be a delight if it happened.
Splatoon – Directed by Justin Lin
Nintendo’s latest blockbuster could just as easily be one of the first to make it to the theaters. Splatoon kind of surprised everyone by being a knockout hit, and one of the best shooters—if not the best—for the Wii U. A game that’s deepest ambitions lie in colorful warfare and squid creatures might not necessitate a movie in the way that some of these other titles do, but there’s no denying that a Splatoon feature would be one of the prettiest things to hit the screen in a long time. While director Justin Lin has proven himself to be an action auteur through films like Fast & Furious (and likely in the upcoming Star Trek Beyond), all you really need to watch to see he’s the squid—I mean, man—for this job is to watch the Community episode, “Modern Warfare.” It’s a love letter to action films that takes place during a paintball match. This basically is a Splatoon short film, and if you squint hard enough, Chevy Chase sort of looks like a squid.
Pikmin – Directed by Spike Jonze or David Yates
Pikmin could really be an awe-inducing film in the right hands. Clearly Nintendo has some sort of itch with this property that they’re looking to scratch, as evidenced by the live-action Pikmin short films that were quasi-released if you knew where to look. The adorable (or soul crushing, depending on how good you were at it) strategy game saw you as the stranded Captain Olimar, who in his crash landing encounters the eponymous Pikmin! Nintendo seemed to forget about this series for a long time until its recent rekindled love affair with the series, so why not keep that love going? There are a number of angles that could be followed here, whether it’s CG or some staggering stop-motion work. Spike Jonze feels like a natural fit for much of his creative resume, but particularly Where the Wild Things Are, which conveys the perfect sort of cinema verite feeling to a fantasy world like this. On the other hand, someone who’s gone a little more through the system, such as David Yates—who not only turned out some of the most impressive Harry Potter films, but will be helming the “spin-off”, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—who has also gotten pretty close to the Pikmin aesthetic in the work he’s already done.
Elite Beat Agents – Directed by Edgar Wright or James Bobin
Another title that might not be the most recognizable—the rhythm genre itself is usually a pretty obscure one that leans heavily on the Japanese market in the first place (although who wouldn’t love a Parappa the Rapper movie by like Baz Luhrmann—DiCaprio as Parappa and Danes as Umjammer Lammy would kind of be perfect, wouldn’t it?). Elite Beat Agents is an Adderall-sniffing experience of a rhythm game where you control these agents who more or less fix peoples’ days with the power of music. Each stage plays out like an electrified music video that you can’t help but grin at. Edgar Wright’s name came up on here earlier, but he’s seriously the right choice here. This is basically Scott Pilgrim, and Wright has more than proven he knows how to combine music and visual insanity in the best way possible. I’m honestly a little surprised no one has cut together an Elite Beat Agents and Scott Pilgrim mash-up at this point. As sublime as Wright would be, The Muppets’ and Flight of the Conchords’ James Bobin would take a considerably different approach to this world, but an equally dazzling one. Let these guys loose and see what they’re capable of.
Sin and Punishment – Directed by Michael Bay or Nicolas Winding Refn
Sin and Punishment (and largely its sequel) are some of my favorite rail-shooters that Nintendo has put out. It’s a relentless barrage of bullets that combines the best aspects of space craziness with the adrenaline of a grueling shooter. Arguably, Sin and Punishment operates a lot better as a video game than a feature film. As an experience that puts you in charge, it’s a ton of fun, but as a passive film it largely could blend in with the rest of the Explosions in Space genre we’ve become ever more obsessed with. For this reason alone, it’d be interesting to throw someone like Michael Bay at this franchise, where gratuitous explosions are actually part of the game’s aesthetic. Bay could actually be the mainstream conduit to open people up to this property and even rejuvenate the series. A different, but likely just as worthwhile take on the subject matter could have come from Drive director, Nicolas Winding Refn. Refn would surely focus on the game’s color palette and sterile atmosphere, pumping up the soundtrack and tension carried through it all, as opposed to the destruction aspect.
Bayonetta – Directed by Zack Snyder or Takashi Miike
Speaking of wanton destruction, Bayonetta is kind of the poster child for it. Maybe this is a bit of a cheat considering the title is made by Sega, but its releases on Nintendo consoles must account for something. Most of what I was thinking through Bayonetta 2 when I wasn’t picking my jaw up from the floor was that this is like a better version of Snyder’s Sucker Punch. The games are just non-stop rampaging with everything turned up to 11 in the best way possible, which often feels like the case with Snyder’s filmmaking, too. It’s easy to picture the opening city destruction of Bayonetta 2 running parallel to what Superman does to Metropolis in Man of Steel. Snyder feels like the right match here, but it’s also worth throwing Takashi Miike into the fray too, considering the number of American productions that he’s taken on (not to mention that he’s responsible for the very satisfying Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney film). Miike’s work is all over the place, but just taking snippets from As the Gods Will, Suriyaki Django Western, and the Zebraman films should illustrate that Miike could keep up with Bayonetta’s insane tempo blow-for-blow. The world needs to experience this madness on screen!
Super Smash Bros. – Directed by Quentin Tarantino
As silly as all of this sounds, treating Super Smash Bros. as the new Nintendo Film Universe’s Avengers is kind of a no-brainer. Having all of these exciting properties coming together in one huge extravaganza, dropping Easter eggs along the way, is exactly the sort of thing that audiences lose their mind over these days. Admittedly, Tarantino might not be the perfect choice here, but he’s certainly someone that really knows how to execute hyperbolized action, and prides himself on new challenges. Any of the previous directors outlined here could honestly turn out a pretty entertaining, creative take on Super Smash Bros., but I think Tarantino would really throw himself into the form and turn out something special. Master Hand might end up wearing brass knuckles in the end…
It’ll still be months—perhaps even years before we really get moving on this exciting development with Nintendo, but if any of these properties are taken seriously, and some legitimate creative teams are put together, we could be in store for some really amazing films. At the least, we’ll hopefully get more than an average Zelda flick and another disappointing attempt at Mario.