A Wall Street Journal rumor claims that Nintendo is working with Netflix on a live-action adaptation of The Legend of Zelda. If that report pans out, it is something that fits into the strategy that Nintendo and president Satoru Iwata have laid out for the company over the last year.
A Zelda show on Netflix would represent the first time that Nintendo has made a deal to adapt one of its games for a prime time-style audience. The company has previously worked with Hollywood on a disastrous Super Mario Bros. film in 1992. It also developed several cartoons and a show that starred a professional wrestler as Mario. But that was for Saturday mornings — Netflix is quite different. At the same time, a Zelda show is not something that the House of Mario would have even discussed a few years ago. But today’s Nintendo is actively planning to use its characters in new ways to generate profit.
“It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Nintendo is actively reviewing licensing opportunities that would complement core franchises like Zelda,” IDC research manager Lewis Ward told GamesBeat. “In the right hands, it’s possible that a live action show based on the game could be a commercial and critical success.”
“Actively reviewing licensing” opportunities is something Nintendo has explicitly said it is doing.
In January 2014, Iwata told a gathering of Nintendo investors about plans the company had to “actively utilize character intellectual property” in an effort to increase revenues. The company has lost a lot of money in recent years thanks to a struggling Wii U home console and drop in handheld sales from the phenomenally popular DS to the merely popular 3DS, and Iwata’s plan to partner with new industries was just one way he was hoping to boost his company’s profitability.
Nintendo owns some of the most recognizable characters in the world. Mario is neck-and-neck with Mickey Mouse in terms of worldwide popularity. After Nintendo announced its intention to license its characters, the company said that it started getting into talks about what that might mean.
“Since [that January 2014 meeting], more people than ever before with license and other associated business proposals using Nintendo character IP have contacted us,” Iwata told Nintendo investors in May 2014. “We are not at a stage where we can share the specifics with you today, but we are seeing possibilities in licensing character IP in areas Nintendo has never worked before. I expect to be able to discuss some of the details before the end of this calendar year.”
Now, Nintendo never confirmed if Iwata was talking about a Netflix deal or something else. But it sounds possible.
“It makes sense,” Macquarie Securities analyst David Gibson told GamesBeat. “[The Netflix deal could be] part of the company’s effort to license its IP more. It will help to introduce the Zelda world and characters to a younger generation who only know Skylanders and Angry Birds.”
Gibson said that he only wonders if Nintendo and Netflix would want to make the show for adults or kids.
“If it’s for adults, then [this] show’s for its existing Nintendo fans,” he said. “If it’s for kids, then its about expanding Nintendo brands again. Either way, it might help to boost the next Zelda game’s sales.”
The WSJ report claims that Netflix wants to make the show like HBO’s hyper-violent and sexual Game of Thrones but without the brutality and sex. Essentially, a Game of Thrones the whole family can enjoy. While many people will quickly point out that will make a Zelda show nothing like Game of Thrones, it does make it sound like something else: Disney.
The Walt Disney Company has made a fortune recently by taking established properties from its comic-book publisher Marvel and turning them into family action films. It’s about to do the same thing again with Star Wars. Nintendo, with renown properties like Zelda, is the first game company that is positioned to replicate that same kind of success. And Netflix’s track record, with Emmy-nominated shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, is such that Nintendo probably feels the Zelda franchise is in good hands.
That doesn’t mean the show isn’t a risk.
“A lot of these cross-over properties bomb,” said Ward. “If the Zelda rumor is true, it’s really going to boil down to whether or not Netflix has an interesting angle or twist on the Zelda universe that’s likely to bring in a new generation of gamers as well as viewers — and thus benefit Nintendo’s bottom line by extension.”
Of course, Nintendo and Netflix have both declined to confirm the existence of discussions about the show, let alone the show itself, so this rumor may fall apart before anything real ever manifests. Regardless, a Zelda show on Netflix makes sense.