Though Nintendo was founded over a hundred years ago in 1889, the company came into international prominence in the 1980s with the release of the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet. The game permanently altered the course of the company, giving Nintendo plenty of investment capital while also introducing an early version of Mario, the company’s soon-to-be mascot. The subsequent release of their first home video game console, the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America, solidified the company’s standing one of the most prominent video game companies in the world.
Though Nintendo has since created some of the most memorable and iconic video game characters in the medium’s history, the company has often struggled with licensing their products. After the disastrous Super Mario Bros. film released in 1993, the company decided to protect their properties by keeping them out of Hollywood’s hands. Though they have loosened their restrictions in recent years, allowing their characters to make appearances in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Adam Sandler’s Pixels, the heads of Nintendo have continued to balk at outright film adaptations.
It now seems as though the mood at the House of Mario is shifting, with the company now ready to entertain Hollywood’s ideas of big screen adaptations. Any potential relationships with film studios will be overseen by Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development Division, the division headed by the legendary game creator/designer Shigeru Miyamoto.
Speaking with Fortune, Miyamoto acknowledged his reservations about blurring the lines between games and the passive mediums of film and television.
“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.”
However, the creator admits that Nintendo is continuing to evolve and movies could fit with the company’s strategy as it adapts to a changing marketplace.
“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.”
Further proof of Nintendo’s willingness to expand was buried in the company’s June earnings report:
“For Nintendo IP, a more active approach will be taken in areas outside the video game business, including visual content production and character merchandising.”
This news comes after the rumors of a Legend of Zelda Netflix series were denied by Nintendo. However, with a more open-minded approach to licensing, the idea isn’t far from the realm of possibility. Miyamoto specifically references film in his quotes, but the Legend of Zelda property is overflowing with rich lore that could easily support a longer form of storytelling.
Nintendo’s library of original properties could provide Hollywood with new source material for a dozen films in the coming years. The enduring popularity of brands such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Pokémon over the last few decades proves that there’s something worth exploring in these properties. The biggest hurdle will be capturing Nintendo’s trademark whimsical charm on film in a way that appeals to older and younger audiences alike.
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