What Could A Nintendo Cinematic Universe Look Like?
With the success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a Nintendo Cinematic Universe feels inevitable, so here’s our pitch for what Phase One should look like.
There’s been a lot of talk since the release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie about the possibility of sequels and spin-offs, and one topic that’s inevitably come up is the possibility of a “Nintendo Cinematic Universe”, one that could see all kinds of Nintendo properties receive cinematic adaptations and eventually cross paths in a future crossover movie. In a May 2021 interview, Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa did confirm that the company were interested in producing more animated films based on Nintendo games if the Mario movie proved successful, and several of the movie’s stars have spoken about their wishes for spin-offs, including a Luigi’s Mansion film or a Donkey Kong Country adaptation.
With the successful releases of both the Mario film and similar recent video game adaptations, it seems like these may just be the new cultural phenomenon. The feared “superhero fatigue” seems to have finally set in, with major comic book films like Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Shazam! Fury of the Gods both underperforming at the box office. Even the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, a film that many would have thought would be a surefire home run for Marvel, is reportedly looking at a worse opening weekend than its predecessor. Perhaps it’s a bit early to say this for sure, but maybe the movie-going public wants a change, and maybe it will be video game movies that rise from the ashes and emerge as the new entertainment powerhouse?
All of this talk raises the question, though: just what would a “Nintendo Cinematic Universe” look like? In this article, I’m going to outline my pitch for a potential “phase one”: the first 7 films that will establish our key players, bring some major Nintendo properties to the big screen and conclude with a major crossover that I’m sure would make billions of dollars at the box office. I’m going to try and think like a movie executive who wants bums in seats, whilst also throwing in the odd original, fun idea. This isn’t exactly my prediction, but more so a potential idea for the kind of thing they could do. Just a quick warning as well that this article will feature spoilers for The Super Mario Bros. Movie as we’ll be talking about ideas for sequels and spin-offs, so proceed with caution.
1. THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE
Obviously our cinematic universe begins here. Released earlier this month, The Super Mario Bros. Movie lays a lot of the foundation for what the rest of our cinematic universe will build upon. It not only establishes several of the key players in our overarching narrative, like Mario (Chris Pratt), Luigi (Charlie Day), Peach (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Donkey Kong (Seth Rogen), but it also hints towards how we are going to link all of these films together. The pipe system introduced in the film is how Mario is able to travel from his hometown of Brooklyn to the Mushroom Kingdom, and it seems like from the limited amount of information we’re given that these pipes are interdimensional portals of some sort. So, hear me out, what if some of these pipes lead to other Nintendo universes?
This would immediately allow us to avoid one of the biggest hurdles Nintendo’s going to face trying to tie these films together, as unlike the MCU, the stories of, say, Mario, Link and Pikachu can’t easily take place in the same world. Using these pipes though, we now have an easy enough way for these characters to eventually meet, and it also allows us to experiment with different styles of animation, as we can say that each universe has its own signature look. This immediately gives us a very strong initial framework for us to build our universe on and makes the eventual crossover film a lot easier to figure out.
2. THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
The first movie in this cinematic universe that hasn’t already been released, The Legend of Zelda feels like a no-brainer for Nintendo’s next move. Not only do the many games and their many unique stories provide us with plenty of material for a possible trilogy of films, but the actual IP itself is one of Nintendo’s most famous and you can imagine they’d want to establish the character of Link as early as possible, given that he’d naturally end up being one of the major players in the overarching narrative. Even thinking about it purely from a greedy movie executive’s perspective, you can imagine that there’ll be some kind of Zelda game releasing on the new Nintendo console that’s expected to release in the coming years, so a film that can tie-in into that game seems like an obvious idea.
How would the film actually work though? The Legend of Zelda generally follows the adventures of Link, a young boy in a green outfit, as he tries to rescue Princess Zelda from the clutches of an evil villain. As a movie, I could see it being a big fantasy adventure, mainly taking inspiration from the N64 classic, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998). Why that particular game? Not only is it arguably the most famous, but its multi-year spanning story would provide Link with a great character arc, as we could watch him mature and quite literally grow into the role of the Hero of Time. It would also be perfect for squeezing in all of the references Nintendo seem to want to pack their films full of, as Ocarina of Time has almost all of the franchise’s most iconic symbols at the forefront.
The real question though, is would Link talk? Typically in the games, Link is a silent protagonist, limited to a few grunts whenever he swings in his sword, or maybe the odd gasp whenever he opens a treasure chest. Here, I imagine they would have to give him a voice, but I would love to see a version of Link that’s somewhat akin to John Wick, where his lines are incredibly limited and the focus is more on his actions. That would hopefully give the best of both worlds, as Link could both hold a conversation whilst also not betraying his silent roots too much, and the film could still have him as an action hero rather than morphing him into a quip-machine. He would also be a very different kind of hero to Chris Pratt’s Mario, which would be a fun contrast in the inevitable crossover.
3. THE SUPER MARIO BROS. MOVIE 2
Following the MCU’s model, the third film in our universe would return to the Mushroom Kingdom and continue the adventures of Mario and Luigi. The post-credit scene of the first film featured what we assume is the universe’s main Yoshi hatching out of their egg, and I imagine the sequel will feature Yoshi as a major character. Now, this definitely isn’t what I expected a sequel to look like, but I think it could work, as long as Yoshi isn’t treated as the film’s major selling point. Instead, I think this film should be primarily about the conflict between Mario and Wario.
Jack Black, the voice of Bowser, recently said in an interview that he would also like to see a sequel where Wario is introduced. His dream casting for the role is Pedro Pascal, which I do think is an interesting choice, though my personal pick will always be Danny Devito, as I think the role of Wario is one his voice was made for. I can imagine the film starting with Mario in his new role as the Mushroom Kingdom’s primary protector, and a jealous Wario decides to try and rob the kingdom of its treasures, bitterly wearing a similar outfit that mocks the plumber. Perhaps he even frees Bowser as he does it, and eventually Mario and Wario have to team up to take down the King Koopa when he rises to full power.
As well as Wario, I think the film could potentially introduce a few other major characters from the Mario universe. Luigi’s evil doppelganger Waluigi is the obvious one, but I’d also love to see the princess Daisy make an appearance, or maybe Bowser Jr is the one who tries to free his father. Perhaps in a third film that would be in an eventual second phase, we could even see Rosalina make an appearance in a film inspired by the brilliant Super Mario Galaxy.
The next film in the universe will be set on Planet Popstar, and star the iconic pink blob Kirby. For this film, I’ve taken some cues from Kirby’s classic TV show adaptation, Kirby: Right Back At Ya! (2001-2003). In the show, Kirby is a young member of the Star Warriors, a legendary race that fights the evils in the universe. He crash-lands on Planet Popstar 200 years earlier than expected and, as a result, is essentially a baby. He can’t speak a single word and is completely and utterly clueless about everything that’s going on around him, whilst still also being incredibly powerful. My movie would feature a similar premise for the titular character, with him crash-landing into a village of Waddle Dees, a species native to Popstar, and eventually having to save them from the evil King Dedede.
Kirby, as a character, feels tailor-made to star in an Illumination film, as his simple, adorable design would fit right into a kids animated film. His lack of speech and his quirky ability to swallow anything and everything would also help make this film a hilarious watch for all ages, and the film, if successful, could easily push Kirby as the mascot for this entire universe. The Super Smash Bros. games, which serve as Nintendo’s main crossovers, seem to always feature Kirby at the forefront of their story modes, mostly in part to the creator of Smash Bros also being the creator of Kirby, so it would make sense for the films to follow suit and place Kirby in a major role in our cinematic universe.
5. POKÉMON SNAP
There was always going to be a Pokémon film in here somewhere, and I’ve decided to follow in the footsteps of Detective Pikachu (2019) and have this universe’s Pokémon adaptation also be based on a spin-off game. My choice of a spin-off game may seem like an unusual one, but I think that the N64 classic provides us with a strong foundation for a story whilst also giving us plenty of creative freedom to explore this world of mythical creatures. Pokémon Snap, the game, sees you play as Todd Snap, a Pokémon photographer, who is instructured by Professor Oak to travel to Pokémon Island and take photos of all of the island’s inhabitants.
It’s an incredibly simple premise, but one that I think has a lot of promise for a cinematic adaptation. The game features some truly memorable set pieces that could be brilliant on the big screen, including an encounter with a Charizard in a volcano, or a Gyarados in a waterfall, or even Mew in the weird, rainbow realm. Whilst the movie wouldn’t have a typical mainstream movie plot, I think a story like this would really help bring the series to life in a completely unique way to anything else we’ve seen, and it would very much help differentiate it from any other Pokémon adaptations we get down the line.
As for how the film would link to the larger cinematic universe, I think the main player we’d have to establish for an inevitable crossover movie would be the series mascot, Pikachu. The way I would choose to do this is have Pikachu be the partner Pokémon for Professor Oak, who Todd would frequently converse with during the film. Then, in the film’s post-credits scene, this Pikachu could wander into the wild and stumble across a random pipe. The lovable rodent could then lean over and look into the pipe, before being sucked in and transported to a mysterious location…
6. LUIGI’S MANSION
The penultimate film of this first phase would be another fun adventure set in the Mushroom Kingdom, this time based on the Gamecube game, Luigi’s Mansion (2001). The film would see Luigi travel to a mysterious mansion that he has recently won in a lottery, in search for his brother who visited the previous week and hasn’t been seen since. The mansion would obviously turn out to be haunted, and the film would see the scaredy-cat Luigi attempt to take on the many ghosts who reside inside. It wouldn’t be a film with much significance to the overarching narrative, but instead serve as an entertaining solo adventure for a fan favourite character, and would give us a slightly different kind of film to the previous entries, with this one having a slightly darker tone and being more horror-influenced.
This film would introduce the character of Professor E. Gadd, a researcher of ghosts and the scientist responsible for making the Poltergust 3000, the vacuum that he gives to Luigi to use against the many spirits haunting the mansion. My number one wish for the movie would be to cast Christopher Lloyd in the role, as his manic energy and iconic voice would be a perfect suit for the character and bring the exchanges between Lloyd’s E. Gadd and Day’s Luigi would easily be the comedic highlight of the film.
As for a post-credits scene, it would need to set up the final film in the first phase in some form, so I imagine that something as simple as Pikachu roaming around Brooklyn would be fun. Not only would it set the scene for the inevitable crossover, but it would be a fun scene by itself, with the human citizens of Brooklyn reacting to the sudden appearance of an electric mouse.
7. SUPER SMASH BROS.
Finally, we’ve reached The Avengers (2012) of our Nintendo Cinematic Universe. Super Smash Bros. (1999) as a video game may be the hardest thing in the world to adapt into a film. It is literally the video game equivalent of Disneyland, a museum of Nintendo properties with no real story of its own. It instead pulls characters from other series, bringing them together to show them off and allow for fights that previously could have only existed in your wildest imagination. It’s a great concept for a video game, but turning it into a movie is an incredibly difficult task.
Now, this is obviously a very rough idea of how these properties could cross over in a cinematic sense, but this is my pitch. So, we begin where the Luigi’s Mansion post-credit scene left off, with Pikachu exploring Brooklyn. Eventually, Pikachu ends up back in the sewers with all of the pipes, and ends up wandering down a different pipe, crash-landing into the Mushroom Kingdom. There, the electric mouse meets Mario, Luigi and Peach, who decide to investigate where he’s come from and end up discovering the many universes on the other sides of the pipes. As this is happening, Bowser catches wind of all of this, and he embarks on a similar adventure, but whilst Mario is returning Pikachu to the Pokemon world, Bowser is in Hyrule, sweet-talking Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda and forming an alliance of villains.
From here, the story somewhat writes itself, with Bowser forming a multi-versal crew of villains and Mario, Pikachu and gang travelling through different video game universes trying to stop them from ruling all of the lands, gathering different party members along the way, such as Link and Kirby. It would be a dream come true for every Nintendo fan, seeing all of their favourite characters fighting it out on the big screen. Perhaps the Sonic featured in the recent Sonic the Hedgehog films would even appear at the end, as the cherry on top of it all. Eventually, the film would end, everyone would return to their original universes, and we would be left with one last tease. A first glimpse of the iconic Smash Bros. villain, Master Hand, setting up a potential second phase for the cinematic universe.
All of these ideas have obviously been very premise-focused, as I’ve tried to mainly look at it from the perspective of a Nintendo executive, desperate to create the next major crossover event in mainstream cinema, but I do think there are some potentially creative ideas they could mess around with here. I love the idea of a Pokémon Snap movie that prioritises gorgeously animated set-pieces over a conventional narrative, and a John Wick-inspired Link would be a lot of fun to watch try and save Hyrule. A “Nintendo Cinematic Universe” feels inevitable at this point, so hopefully when they do it, they do it right, and who knows, maybe I will have even somehow predicted everything spot on.