We’re Dying for a Live-Action Zelda Movie, So Why Hasn’t It Happened?
In February of 1986, Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda and changed the gaming industry forever. Regularly listed as one of the greatest game franchises of all time, this adventure story — about a little kingdom threatened by darkness, a beautiful and brilliant princess, and the brave young man who saves them both — launched a number of successful spin-offs. A one-season, 13-episode animated series aired in 1989. Official gamebooks and novels, as well as several manga adaptations, have been released. And yet, with all the critical acclaim and undeniable success of the Zelda series, there’s one noticeable absence: a feature length, live-action Zelda film.
Now, we’re not saying a live-action Zelda film is the logical next step for the franchise. In fact, we can all pretty much agree that the only thing worse than never seeing Link on the big screen is seeing Link played by Chris Pratt on the big screen. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? Especially with the relative success of films like Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, it feels bizarre that one of Nintendo’s most beloved products isn’t getting the silver screen treatment.
As early as 2002, video game designer, director, producer and Zelda project manager Eiji Aonuma in a roundtable discussion about The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker said:
One other thing that we’ve tried to do is that since people have played Zelda over the years, they have their ideas of how Link might sound. If we were to put a voice in there that might not match up with someone else’s image, then there would be a backlash to that. So we’ve tried to avoid that.
It’s possible that this mentality still holds true today. Casting a character as iconic and beloved as Link in a live-action Zelda film is sure to disappoint a large portion of the fanbase, no matter how talented the actor chosen is.
Then there’s the timeline issue.
Ocarina of Time, arguably one of the most popular installments in the game franchise, split what had previously been a linear storyline into three coexisting timelines. The resulting branches make for a non-linear narrative that may be too complicated to express on film, and choosing just one narrative is certain to disappoint some fans. Additionally, the immensely well-liked Breath of the Wild game for Nintendo Switch doesn’t seem to fit into any of these timelines.
Breath of the Wild’s nebulous position in the Zelda canon could make for an interesting, contained story — perfect for film. But its undeniable success has earned the game a sequel, the details of which have been kept under wraps. (This is not a formal plea to the Nintendo gods and Hidemaro Fujibayashi to give us BotW sequel crumbs, but we are also not above begging.)
But, seriously, just look at this fan-made trailer for a live-action Zelda film:
Actually, Nintendo was considering making a live-action Zelda Netflix series back in 2015 but pulled the plug because of a leak.
While comedian, writer, voice actor and TV host Adam Conover was working on a claymation Star Fox adaptation during this time, Nintendo halted production on both Star Fox and Zelda. “I heard from my boss we weren’t doing our Star Fox anymore. I was like ‘What happened?’ He was like, ‘Someone at Netflix leaked the Legend of Zelda thing. They weren’t supposed to talk about it, Nintendo freaked out … and they pulled the plug on everything, the entire program to adapt these things.”
It’s unclear why the leak of its existence was enough to stop a live-action Zelda series from happening, but Nintendo is notoriously (and rightfully) protective of its IP. It’s possible Nintendo could have felt disrespected by the streaming service, making for a bad business relationship.
Nevertheless, we’d love to see Link and Prince Sidon and Hestu and Princess Zelda on the big screen. Maybe someday a live-action Zelda film or TV series will come to fruition.