Nintendo's Zelda Movie Is Setting Itself Up to Fail

Link doesn’t belong in live action.

key art from the legend of zelda

Following its success with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, Nintendo has announced an upcoming film adaptation for its other massive franchise. Sadly, it’s not Metroid. The company announced in a press release that it’s developing the long-rumored movie based on The Legend of Zelda, to be produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and Avi Arad.

The Legend of Zelda movie is set to be live-action, unlike Nintendo’s CG Super Mario Bros. Movie. It will be directed by Wes Ball, director of the Maze Runner series and the canceled Mouse Guard movie. According to Miyamoto, development has just started on the film, so it will be some time before its release.

So, that’s what we know about the Legend of Zelda movie. What I’m left wondering is: why on Earth is it happening?

The Legend of Zelda movie could be a tougher sell than it seems.


The obvious answer, of course, is that it will make an absolute boatload of money. But profit motive aside, a Legend of Zelda movie is sort of a baffling choice. Mario is an iconic character, easily recognizable even to people who’ve never touched a game controller. The Legend of Zelda is a massively popular series, but it’s not clear that Link or Zelda have the same impact on non-gamers. That could be even more of a problem with the movie’s live-action adaptation, which could rob it of some of the eye-catching appeal of The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s dazzling CGI.

More important is the question of what The Legend of Zelda movie will even be about. The Super Mario Bros. games have the advantage of not really being about anything, so the Mario movie just kind of winged it and it worked, serving as a platform to stuff in as many Nintendo in-jokes as possible.

With The Legend of Zelda, Nintendo could be in more of a bind. The overarching story of the series isn’t particularly inspired: A twink in a green tunic finds a cool sword and uses it to rescue a princess. Big deal. It’s the kind of stripped-down hero’s journey we’ve all seen a million times before — fun to play, but not captivating to watch.

What makes The Legend of Zelda a special game could make it a dull movie.


But each individual game also has its own story, disconnected except for its principal characters and a deranged branching timeline uniting the events of each entry. If Nintendo decides to make a more or less direct adaptation of one game, it’s guaranteed to get under the skin of some fans. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask have some of the strongest narratives in the series, but they’re also deeply beloved. Picking one of those will undoubtedly provoke legions of fans who insist Nintendo didn’t do it right, and plenty more will say they picked the wrong game altogether.

Or Nintendo could choose to just bank on the Legend of Zelda vibe and write an original story. Here, though, it runs into the earlier problem that there’s nothing too unique about Hyrule or the adventures of its pluckiest elf boy. That doesn’t matter as much when you’re playing an incredibly well-crafted game — as the Zelda series tends to be — but it’s hard to see such a by-the-numbers premise succeeding cinematically.

Maybe the most baffling decision is making The Legend of Zelda live-action in the first place. It’s hard to imagine any human portraying Link without looking absolutely laughable. From his iconic green garb, to the way he hi-yahs his way through fights, most of what defines Link would be ludicrous if it were one percent more realistic. Plus, it takes Wind Waker out of the running as a storyline because no one wants to deal with all that water.

A live-action Legend of Zelda just seems like it would exacerbate the problem of the series’ less-than-stellar plot. A fully animated movie could rely more on beautiful artwork, and the already cartoony elements of the Hyrule setting would feel right at home. Where a clash of swords between Link and Ganon could easily look too silly in live-action, a stylized, animated version could be thrilling.

Animator Matt Vince’s “Zelda x Ghibli Film Trailer” may be the best Legend of Zelda movie we get.

Whether they’re intentional nods or not, the most recent Legend of Zelda games feel clearly inspired by the work of Studio Ghibli. And to be honest, what I’m really asking is for the movie to lean into that. In my mind, the perfect Legend of Zelda movie would be a feature-length version of the fan-made Zelda x Ghibli Film trailer video created by animator Matt Vince in 2016. The short, immaculately drawn piece is all about aesthetic and tone — exactly the version of Hyrule I’d love to see in a movie. But, then again, I wouldn’t have thought spending $100 million on a Mario movie was a good idea either, so maybe it’s for the best that this just stays a fantasy.

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