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Nintendo should pull a Marvel and make its own movies, producers say

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In 2004, Marvel changed Hollywood when it put the rights to ten of its famous comic book characters down as collateral for a half-billion-dollar loan to make its own movies.

The end result led to the revitalization of comic book movies and a surge of cash for Hollywood.

Now, two producers tell Polygon that Nintendo should do the same thing.

"The Nintendo brand transcends the platform," said Adrian Askarieh, CEO of Prime Universe Films, who is currently working on film adaptations of Deus Ex, Kane & Lynch and Jonny Quest. "You can say Nintendo and for a lot of people it still represents video games. Everyone knows Nintendo, kids, adults; it's multi-generational. They have these wonderful properties that most of us have grown attached to. For them to not take advantage of that would be a bad idea."

Askarieh believes Nintendo should follow in Marvel Studio's footsteps, putting up their characters as collateral for a massive loan that would pay for films they have total control over.

"That was a huge risk for Marvel, but they did it and look at them now," he said. "Nintendo should do the same thing.

"The more iconic the characters are, they better the movies they will make."

The idea isn't as outlandish as it may sound to some.

In 2013, Nintendo's senior managing director and prolific game designer Shigeru Miyamoto pulled me aside after an interview to get my take on some Pikmin cartoons he was helping to make.

"We were working on several Pikmin CG animated videos and wanted more people to be able to see them," Miyamoto said at the time. "I had gone to a movie theater and saw the videos telling people to turn off their cell phones and thought we could create a Pikmin version of that, but instead decided to do the 3D glasses video."

Nintendo then worked with Japanese movie theater chain Toho Cinemas to get the video placed in about 60 theaters on 150 screens around Japan.

"I didn't want to license our characters out to someone else to create films," he said then. "Instead, since I used to draw four-panel comics when I was younger, I thought it would be fun to bring a four-panel comic approach to creating video content, so we started work on these Pikmin videos."

Now, years later, with Nintendo looking for ways to reinvigorate its finances, perhaps movies could be the company's next play. Just last year, Nintendo announced plans to expand to theme parks in partnership with Universal Parks and Resorts.

Roy Lee, co-founder of Vertigo Entertainment and producer of The Lego Movie, points out that Nintendo wouldn't be the first video game company to make its own movie.

"That's what Rovio is doing with the Angry Birds movie," he said. "That's a full in-house production that Sony is just distributing for a fee. I think if that works out for Rovio, then you'll see other  gaming companies do the same thing.

Ubisoft, he added, is trying its own take on the idea, partnering up with studios to make movies based on games.

Both Lee and Askarieh believe that Hollywood is looking at video games for the next gold mine after comic books. And both believe Nintendo has a slew of strong properties worth turning into movies.

"Nintendo is one I would love to do," Lee said. "It's one of these properties that growing up I played every incarnation of their games from early Game Boy to GameCube to now the Wii U. You saw the progression of those characters from simple pixel versions, to now the amazing visuals they have for Mario. I feel like the world of Nintendo could translate well to the screen.

"I don't know what the movie is, but I feel like there is something there that could be done."

And neither of the producers are put off by the disaster that was the 1993 Super Mario Bros. film.

"That was the totally wrong-headed approach of movie making," Lee said. "It was someone taking the IP just for the name value and not including the creators in the process and doing their own thing. It's like anything, it depends on the creative team around the movie.

"For Nintendo or any IP holder, it's important to get the right team around it, so they can trust them. So track records are very important as are just the proper funding. That movie had the wrong creatives and not enough money to make it properly."

Askarieh also believes that the movie was the victim of the creative team behind it, an issue which he says is very similar to what eventually inspired Marvel to take control of its own movies.

"Marvel wasn't happy with the movies that were made without their involvement," Askarieh  said, "so they started making their own and they changed Hollywood."

You can listen to this story — and much more — in the episode of Polygon's daily news podcast, Minimap, below.