Legend of Zelda Movie: Universal Reportedly Nearing Deal for Next Nintendo Project

Universal Pictures is going from the Mushroom Kingdom to the Kingdom of Hyrule. The studio, which partnered with Nintendo for Illumination's animated $1.3 billion blockbuster The Super Mario Bros. Movie, is reportedly close to closing a "big deal" with the video game company for The Legend of Zelda movie. According to industry insider Jeff Sneider on The Hot Mic podcast, Universal's Illumination will develop the animated Zelda movie as the "next big Illumination-Nintendo franchise" after Mario scored as the highest-grossing film of 2023 so far and the highest-grossing video game movie ever.

In April, Mario and Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto told the Japanese outlet Nihon Keizai Shimbun that there is "no doubt" Nintendo would make future films after the blockbuster success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which Miyamoto produced alongside Illumination's Chris Meledandri. But that box office high score could cost Universal: the Comcast-owned studio is expected to pay Nintendo "a pretty penny" for Zelda, according to Sneider.

The Legend of Zelda franchise centers on Link, the courageous Master Sword-wielding hero of Hyrule, kingdom of the wise Princess Zelda. On his adventures, Link typically clashes with the dark lord Ganondorf, who seeks the power of the Triforce: a sacred relic that bestows a wish to one who has power, wisdom, and courage.

"I have to say, I am interested," Nintendo's Eiji Aonuma, who produced every Zelda game since 1998's Ocarina of Time, previously told Polygon about a potential movie adaptation. "For sure. But it's not just me being interested in something that makes things happen, unfortunately."

Illumination's Zelda would mark the second collaboration for Miyamoto and Meledandri, who has served on Nintendo's board as an independent and non-executive outside director since 2021.

"I've been working with Chris for over five years now on the Super Mario movie. Through that relationship I think he really came to understand the Nintendo point of view. I don't think it's easy for those overseas involved in media creation to understand Nintendo's way of thinking, but Chris truly comprehends why Nintendo creates characters and visual content," Miyamoto said during a 2021 Nintendo shareholders meeting, adding: "We think that asking for Chris' input, as an expert with many years of experience in Hollywood, will be of great help to us in the future."

Miyamoto was "very, very hands-on with the production" of the Super Mario Bros. Movie, Nintendo's global president, Shuntaro Furukawa, told Fast Company that year. Meledandri, behind the Illumination franchises Despicable Me/Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, deferred to Miyamoto in bringing the iconic mustached plumber to the big screen 30 years after the critically panned live-action movie. 

Illumination kept Miyamoto "front and center in the creation" of the Super Mario Bros. Movie, Meledandri explained to Variety in 2018. "I've rarely seen that happen with any adaptation where the original creative voice is being embraced like we're embracing Miyamoto. There's a history in Hollywood of people believing that they know better than the people responsible for a property. I've made that mistake before."

While the animated adaptation sits at 59% approval from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the Super Mario Bros. Movie fared better with fans, who praised the Nintendo and Illumination co-production for its faithfulness to the long-running video game franchise.