After acting coy around the release of Tears of the Kingdom, Nintendo has finally announced the unthinkable yet still inevitable: a live-action movie based on the Legend of Zelda series. Produced by Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto and Avi Arad (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Morbius), the film, which Miyamoto has said he has been at work on for “many years now,” now goes into formal development at Sony — of all studios! Director Wes Ball, who broke out with the Maze Runner trilogy and will return to screens in 2024 with Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, is currently on board to direct.
The announcement came with few details, but fans got right to work screaming about whether or not Timothée Chalamet is the right elf-like actor to play Link. (Meanwhile, here at Polygon, we’re more wondering if Jack Black playing Bowser in The Super Mario Bros. Movie disqualifies him as a candidate for Ganondorf, because it shouldn’t.) Eagle-eyed folks still on X (formerly Twitter) also noticed Ball has been dreaming of this opportunity for his entire career; in a tweet from 2010, the filmmaker proclaimed, “Since I could never even hope to have the chance to direct it... the next big mo-cap Avatar-like movie should be... THE LEGEND OF ZELDA.” Though he was way wrong about the first part, considering how Nintendo went to great lengths to preserve its iconography in the Mario movie and that Ball now has tons of experience in the motion-capture world after Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes, it wouldn’t be surprising if the “live-action” Zelda movie looked more like The Adventures of Tintin than The Lord of the Rings in the end.
But beyond the look of a Zelda movie, there are bigger questions about Nintendo’s approach. Mainly, how do you even do Zelda as a movie? Known more for vibes than story, familiar designs and gameplay than sensical timeline and lore, the franchise has rarely depended on narrative to hold the attention of players. But there are plenty of bits for Miyamoto, Arad, Ball, and whichever writers score the golden opportunity to “adapt” it for the big screen. Prompting us to wonder: Which Zelda game would actually make the best source material for a movie? Below, our die-hard Zelda buffs make the case for why a faithful take on Link’s adventures could actually work.
A Zelda movie based on Breath of the Wild?
There’s basically no way that Breath of the Wild won’t be a major inspiration for any Zelda movie — the game’s success and superlative visual design guarantee it. It’s simply too popular and too well known to not use as a template. That said, the player experience might not seem like the most cinematic thing at first blush. There’s no particular urgency to defeating Ganon, and no unexpected twists. It’s a story told through flashbacks that winds up to a quick (some might argue anticlimactic) ending.
But with a little livening up, Breath of the Wild could be a natural fit in narrative, not just visual vibes. An amnesiac hero explores the different cultures of Hyrule in order to gather a team of fantasy friends to harness forgotten technology to free a princess and defeat an ancient evil. That’s an easy map to the kind of three-act structure that makes a crowd-pleasing blockbuster. Plus rock climbing. —Susana Polo
A Zelda movie based on Ocarina of Time?
Ocarina of Time brought Zelda into the 3D era, and it has the legacy to bring it into the live-action era. Unlike almost every other Zelda title, which have relied on twists to the formula, Ocarina of Time plays like an origin story. We meet Link in Kokiri Forest as a young lad, see him heed the hero’s call to adventure, meet Zelda and Ganondorf in a frightening first-act set-piece, then embark on the actual quest that episodically introduces the Zora, the Goron, and the Gerudo. The Nintendo-fied Lord of the Rings trilogy is all there if Miyamoto wants to speedrun through it in a single film, with the added benefit of having a built-in musical palette. Much like Peter Jackson’s LOTR movies, a Zelda movie is going to live or die on just how big the themes can go and how intimate the soundtrack can get in pivotal moments. The least gimmicky way to adapt the gameplay might be to port over Link’s magical ocarina playing. The Legend of Zelda movie could be Once for blockbuster fantasy films.
As far as outcomes, I imagine we’ll get a little of column A and a little of column B as far as an adaptation is concerned. By the time Wes Ball’s movie hits theaters, the N64 generation will be bringing the Switch generation. If Nintendo dresses up Ocarina of Time in Breath of the Wild’s clothing, it might just have a Super Mario-level hit. —Matt Patches
A Zelda movie based on Majora’s Mask?
Yes, it would be simple enough for a filmmaker to go the route of the more traditional hero’s journeys laid out in Breath of the Wild, Ocarina of Time, or even Twilight Princess. But here’s my thing: Get weird. Why not make a movie that truly captures the underlying creepiness that we rarely talk about when we talk about The Legend of Zelda? Majora’s Mask is a Lynchian journey through a bizarre dream world full of people coming to grips with the impending end of the world. It’s about grief, loneliness, regret, and transformation — you could even view its approaching apocalypse (the moon is literally plummeting toward the world of Termina) as a metaphor for climate change. Its Groundhog Day time-loop structure is also fertile ground for narrative flourishes worthy of the silver screen. All of which is to say that, in a time when video game adaptations are either too safe or flat-out unnecessary, a retelling of Majora’s Mask might actually turn some heads. —Mike Mahardy
A Zelda movie based on The Wind Waker?
While the cel-shaded art style of this game would lend itself better to an animated adaptation, I still think there’s a solid argument to support a movie inspired by The Wind Waker. Among Zelda games, I think Wind Waker has one of the most emotionally compelling premises for a story; instead of starting with a quest to save Zelda, Link sets sail with a band of pirates after he helplessly witnesses the abduction of his little sister. The cutscene where Link waves goodbye to his grandma from a ship sailing away is still among the most emotional and cinematic moments in a Zelda game to date.
And while the game has a cartoony look, there’s still a lot visually to play with that would make for good set-pieces in a movie. I can already imagine a cool, maybe corny CGI version of the King of Red Lions. Outside of effects, if this movie gets the Mario treatment and perhaps reimagines the role of Zelda as a damsel, it’s possible Tetra’s story could get a rewrite to embrace the exuberance she possessed before transforming into Zelda. If Nintendo is looking for a family-friendly flick with enough enough meat on its bones to have the makings for a movie adaptation, The Wind Waker might actually be it. —Ana Diaz
A Zelda movie based on Spirit Tracks?
As much as I love Spirit Tracks, I’m not going pretend this DS entry isn’t a minor Zelda. But there’s one thing that makes it particularly well suited to adaptation: This is the only game in the series in which Link and Zelda hang out and interact all the way through.
Admittedly, she’s a ghost, but it’s still an adorable, innocent kids’ love affair — Ponyo style — that would make for a delightfully sweet Zelda film. Plus, it has choo-choo trains, and who doesn’t love a bit of train action at the movies? —Oli Welsh
A Zelda movie based on absolutely nothing?
Like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the live-action Legend of Zelda film will likely have as many references to as many games as possible so that every fan’s desires are represented.
But in terms of story, I want the film to be what reboots the Legend of Zelda gaming franchise as a whole. Following Tears of the Kingdom’s rather definitive ending (and exhaustive, multi-tiered exploration of Hyrule), it’s time to introduce something that fans have never seen before — whether it means altering the canon of previous games or introducing a new mega baddie on the level of Ganondorf that’s all new to the series, I’m game for a huge shake-up rather than merely a 90-minute fan service play. Also, Link should talk. —Cameron Faulkner
A Zelda movie based on the Legend of Zelda TV show?
The obvious answer is that Nintendo should remake the Legend of Zelda cartoon that first aired in 1989 — a simple story about how Link just wanted a little kiss.
It’ll be easy to adapt, because there’s no real running throughline, beyond kissing and fighting Ganon for the talking Triforces. There’s a lot of room there for Miyamoto and Arad to play around with storylines, just so long as they keep the Moonlighting-esque rapport between Link and Zelda. The Legend of Zelda never had any live-action bits itself, but The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! had some segments to pull vibes from. Worst case scenario, Nintendo’s got a “so bad it’s good” cult classic on its hands with the live-action movie. —Nicole Carpenter
Which game should Nintendo adapt for its first ever Zelda movie? Go on... make the case for Skyward Sword...