Nintendo is serious about making movies

Ready for my close-up.
Ready for my close-up.
Image: Reuters/Kevork Djansezan
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Nintendo’s fortunes are fading fast. In order to survive, it’s heading to the multiplex.

In an interview with Japan’s Asahi Shimbun (link in Japanese) published today (May 16), Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima revealed that the company will enter the movie business.

The 66-year-old executive did not give a specific time frame for the release of the company’s first film, saying it ”won’t be ready this year but also won’t take five years.”

He added that Nintendo will likely produce “anime-type content” rather than live-action films, and that it will attempt to make as much of the film as possible in-house. A company spokesperson confirmed the company’s ambitions to AP.

Nintendo’s previous forays into film and TV have come through licensing to third parties. Its animated Pokemon series for TV was produced by the Pokemon Company, jointly owned by Nintendo and two other gaming firms. The live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, a notorious flop in 1993, was produced by little-known studio Lightmotive, which obtained full creative control in exchange for granting Nintendo merchandising rights.

Making a movie in-house and enjoying the subsequent profits would mark a break from Nintendo’s previous strategies. The company currently makes almost all of its revenues by selling consoles that plug into your TV (or sit in your hands), and the games that plug into those consoles.

While that business model worked for decades, it’s wildly out of touch with the needs of modern casual gamers, who would rather play free (or cheap) smartphone games than pay hundreds of dollars for a living room machine. The company’s revenues have sunk as a result.

Meanwhile, other gaming studios are already turning to filmmaking as a way to earn more money in the unstable, hits-based mobile games industry.

Rovio, for example, has struggled to keep video gamers interested in its Angry Birds smartphone games. But the first Angry Birds movie, which it financed by itself and came out May 12, already looks like a success. The Angry Birds Movie pulled in $43 million at the box office during the first week of its international release, which places it on a par with Pixar’s successful Big Hero 6 (it will reach US theaters this week).

Nintendo’s business model is obsolete, but its intellectual property is timeless. Few characters in pop culture are as beloved as Pikachu, Mario, and Zelda. Making movies are but one way the company can live on with them.