Can a live-action Zelda movie exceed our expectations?

This past week Miyamoto took over the Nintendo Twitter account to announce a live-action Legend of Zelda movie is in the works. This is following on from the huge success of the Super Mario Bros movie, however, two words strike fear into the Zelda community… and those words are ‘live action’. Today I want to take a closer look at the announcment of the Zelda movie, and how Nintendo can pull of this huge task of making a live action Zelda movie exceeed our expectations.

Before we get stuck into the topic today, let me know what you think about the Legend of Zelda movie. Do you think it’s going to be good, and who do you want to see playing the main characters, plus which story do you think they’re going tell in the movie?

The news came out of thin air last week with a classic ‘This is Miyamoto’ tweet. Let’s have a look at it.

“This is Miyamoto. I have been working on the live-action film of The Legend of Zelda for many years now with Avi Arad-san, who has produced many mega hit films.”

“I have asked Avi-san to produce this film with me, and we have now officially started the development of the film with Nintendo itself heavily involved in the production. It will take time until its completion, but I hope you look forward to seeing it.”

Following this announcement and Nintendo’s latest earnings call, Miyamoto expanded on the topic.

“Regarding the live-action film of The Legend of Zelda, I know we face an extremely high hurdle in producing a film that will not disappoint the global fan base. With this challenge in mind, I have been discussing this project with Avi Arad, Chairman of Arad Productions Inc., for about 10 years.”

“Movies are just like games, in that you need to spend a lot of time working on them until you get to something you’re satisfied with. Movies therefore need sponsors who can lend their full support until completion. For the production of our movies, Nintendo itself acts as a sponsor. To produce the movie, we were able to assemble a group of people who are willing to commit time to the production until we come up with something we feel confident about.”

“We hope to release something good that will meet everyone’s expectations, so please look forward to it”.

The announcement of the movie itself isn’t surprising, given the Super Mario Bros movie did so well. It’s already made $1.36b and became the highest grossing video game movie after just one week. We’ve also seen other successful video game adapations this year including The Last of Us TV show, Sonic, Detective Pikachu and to a lesser extent Uncharted. A Legend of Zelda movies makes sense, but live action…? I’m not so sure about that.

First of all, let’s have a look at the team that’s been assembled. Avi Arad is a producer with credits on Spider-man (2002, Toby Macguire), Venom (2018), Spider-man Into the Spiderverse (2018), Morbuis (2022), Unchartered (2022) and the Borderlands movie coming in 2024. You could argue there’s a mixed bag in there. I love the Spider-verse movies, and some of the live-action Spiderman movies… but I’m not sure about Venom, Morbious and Unchartered.

Wes Ball has been selected as the Director for the project and he’s given us The Maze Runner movies and the upcoming Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes. Interestingly he has been quoted as saying he wanted to us similar technology to the Avatar movies to bring The Legend of Zelda series to life.

A live action movie feels like a big risk, when the world could be realised through animation. Many fans have been calling out for a Legend of Zelda and Studio Ghibli crossover. Live action means we’re going to have actors playing our favourite characters like Link, Zelda, Ganondorf and many more. A live action Tingle sends shivers down my spine. Even creating characters like Ganondorf, or Gorons, or Zora, this is all going to be very difficult to achieve without it coming off liek bad cosplay, or not living up to fans expectations.

A Legend of Zelda movie is going to be hard enough, but live-action feels like a very high hurdle, even for the best movie-makers in the business. The team assembled does have good experience with special effects, and I really want them to make a success of it, but it’s going to be interesting to see how it turns out. Nintendo are going to be closely involved again as sponsor and Miyamoto is likely to be a producer, so you would imagine they are going to want to release something that lives up to fans expectations.

One benefit of animation, is you only need voice actors. In a live action movie you’ll need real actors, and this throws up the prospect of famous actors playing characters we know and love like Link, Zelda and Ganondorf. Personally, I would prefer the team to select unknown actors and let them grow into the role, rather than having already existing famous actors take on the role. When the voice actors for the Super Mario Movie was announced there was an outcry at Chris Pratt playing Mario. We also had Jack Black as Bowser, Charlie Day as Luigi and more. I think this is fine in an animated movie, but live action, this is going to be a delicate casting.

Names are already being thrown around like Tom Holland or Timothée Chalamet as Link, Hunter Schafer or Zendaya as Princess Zelda, and Jake Gyllenhaal or Charles Dance as Ganondorf. While the prospect of Charles Dance chewing up the scenery as Ganondorf does sound delightful, I just don’t want to see already famous actors playing the Legend of Zelda cast. I would much rather like to see a cast of unknown characters play the role, and let them grow throughout the movie and maybe sequels if this movie somehow outperforms our expectations and does well.

Much of the outcry (myself included) has been a live-action Legend of Zelda movie cannot work. But we should pause and take a look at other live action movies that have worked and gone on to be box office smash successes. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to mind, which has a similar aesthetic. Game of Thrones too… Kings, queens, swordplay, magic and dragons. Harry Potter was successfully adapated from the source material. So it is possible for this to go well, but so many elements have to come together; the medium, the cast, the presentation and the story.

Which brings me onto my final point, and that’s which story will the movie try and tell. Will they lift a story from an existing game, or will they tell a unique story for the movie? Personally, I’d like to see them adapt Ocarina of Time, this has many elements of a Zelda story we love including Time Travel, Link saving Princess Zelda, The Triforce and Ganondorf. Twilight Princess or Breath of the Wild could be another epic movie story… but I actually think the movie team are going to write a unique story for themselves. I would imagine it’s going to take elements from the best games and try to create a unique story that stays true to the essence of the Legend of Zelda.

The announcement of the Legend of Zelda movie filled me with both excitement and fear. A Zelda movie sounds great, and is likely to raise the profile of the brand name, and the series we all love so much. Live action seems like a huge risk, but in these types of situations you have to assume everyone is going to do their best, and with Miyamoto at the helm he’s not going to want to mess up the Zelda franchise with a terrible movie, so while I think it’s a risk, I am hopeful we’re going to get a good movie at the end of the process.

As always, let me know what you think.

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