The 5 best movies based on Nintendo games, from a blockbuster starring Ryan Reynolds to a delightful Animal Crossing adaptation.
Nintendo as a company are famously protective of their IPs. Rarely do we ever see any kind of adaptation of one of their franchises, which makes Illumination’s upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) even more of a major event. But what other Nintendo movies actually exist? Well, I went digging, and here are the best gems I managed to uncover. These are the 5 best movies based on Nintendo games, and I guarantee you haven’t heard of all 5 of them.
1. DETECTIVE PIKACHU
Director: Rob Letterman
Both the most recent and the most well-known of the films on this list, Pokémon’s first foray into the world of live-action proved to be a successful one, with the film being a critical and commercial success. An adaptation of the 2016 spin-off title of the same name, the mystery film was perhaps an unexpected choice for the first live-action Nintendo film since the critically panned Super Mario Bros. (1993), but it’s absurdity combined with some genuinely good performances helped the film establish itself as one of the first good live-action video game adaptations. The narrative sees a former Pokémon trainer (Justice Smith) team up with an amnesia-stricken talking Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds) to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance.
Whilst it’s not quite the live-action Pokémon adventure that millions of kids probably envisioned as a child, Detective Pikachu was a solid first step into adapting Nintendo games for the big screen. There’s definitely some kinks to iron out in the visual effects and character design departments, because whilst some of the Pokémon look brilliant, others look like abominations pulled straight out of a David Cronenberg film and are probably more likely to give kids nightmares than inspire them to want to go on an adventure of their own. Most importantly though, the film gives me hope that one day we will finally get that big live-action Pokémon project we all dream of, complete with gym battles, Pokedex filling and becoming the very best like no-one ever was.
2. KIRBY: FRIGHT TO THE FINISH
Director: Sōji Yoshikawa
This is a weird one. You might not be aware of it, but back in the early 2000s there was a Kirby anime series being aired, titled Kirby: Right Back At Ya! (2001-2003) which ran for exactly 100 episodes. In 2005, the last five episodes of the show were edited together into a movie, which was then released on DVD and VHS to coincide with the release of Kirby: Canvas Curse in North America. The resulting film, titled Kirby: Fright to the Finish, is an odd one to watch for any casual fans of the pink blob not already familiar with the show, but there’s just enough charm in it and fun to be had that I’d recommend it regardless for any gamers with an affinity towards the character.
As the film contains the final set of episodes of the show, it drops the viewer right into the middle of the final battle between the titular pink vacuum (Makiko Ohmoto) and his long-standing nemesis, King Dedede (Kenichi Ogata). Easily the most confusing thing to casual fans will be the inclusion of Tiff (Sayuri Yoshida) and Tuff (Rika Komatsu), two children who essentially serve as the mouthpieces for Kirby, who talks exclusively in gibberish. I found that the easiest way to enjoy the film for me was to ignore the overarching plot and instead just focus on the naturally entertaining characters and the battles that unfolded. Seeing Kirby’s sucking powers in use never gets old and the fight scenes are constantly engaging, resulting in an odd but fun film that every Kirby fan will be able to get something out of.
3. ANIMAL CROSSING: THE MOVIE
Director: Jōji Shimura
It’s a shame this adorable animated film never got a western release, because especially with the popularity of 2020’s massive hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I could see this movie becoming a lot of people’s comfort film. It’s exactly what you would expect an Animal Crossing adaptation to be, a cute, quaint slice-of-life film filled with gorgeous music and delightful characters. The plot is as simple as it gets, with a human girl named Ai (Yui Horie) moving into Animal Village, where she gets to know the local villagers and settle into her new home. If you’re looking for an exciting, thrill-a-minute blockbuster, this is definitely not it, with the film being devoid of any real conflict, but for those in search of a peaceful, cheerful way to spend an hour and a half, this absolutely fulfils that criteria.
4. SUPER MARIO BROS.: THE GREAT MISSION TO RESCUE PRINCESS PEACH!
Directors: Masami Hata
With The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) right around the corner, it only felt right to try and find a movie starring the titular plumber to include on this list. Unfortunately, the most well-known film featuring Nintendo’s most iconic character is widely regarded as a disaster, so instead my search took me to an incredibly obscure animated film released the year after Super Mario Bros. first debuted on the NES. With the film only having one game to adapt from, it attempts to use every single enemy, location and mechanic featured in that original game in order to reach that 61 minute length. What they ended up with as a result of that is a surprisingly very charming affair, that sees the brothers transported from the real world into the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach (Mami Yamase).
It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it has got some very funny moments, with the characters of Mario (Tōru Furuya) and Luigi (Yū Mizushima) being the most likeable and hilarious versions of them I’ve ever seen. Fun fact, as a side-effect of only having the first game’s art to pull from, Luigi sports a blue and red outfit, instead of the iconic green and blue costume we associate with him today. Whilst the film obviously struggles to pad itself out with enough content to justify being a feature film, its brief runtime does mean it’s never boring, and the enemies the brothers encounter are always entertaining. If the upcoming Illumination film is anywhere near this fun and likeable, then we are definitely in for a treat.
5. POKÉMON: THE FIRST MOVIE
Director: Kunihiko Yuyama
Yes, I know I already included a Pokémon movie on this list, but as much as I wanted to find room for the so-bad-it’s-good Donkey Kong Country: The Legend of the Crystal Coconut (1999), I couldn’t not talk about my all-time favourite Nintendo movie. Like many kids who grew up wishing to go on a Pokémon adventure of their own, this movie was, for a while, my holy grail. The first feature-length movie based on the iconic anime series, the film sees Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum (Rika Matsumoto) and his loyal companion Pikachu (Ikue Ōtani) travel to New Island, where he meets and fights the terrifying clone Pokémon, Mewtwo (Masachika Ichimura).
Every single little thing about this film worked for me as a kid, and a lot of it still does to this day. The opening battle, the music, the fights, the comedy, the emotional climax, a lot of my love for this film may be entirely rooted in nostalgia but I can’t overstate the effect this film had on my child mind. There have since been 23 different films based on the anime, but the impact of the very first should never be ignored. I will never not tear up at the heartbreaking scene of all the Pokémon fighting their clones, and I’m proud of that fact. This is the film that pulls me right back into feeling like a 10-year-old, and for that alone, it wins every award under the sun, including a spot on this list.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie will be released globally in theaters on April 5, 2023.