The Super Mario Bros. Movie's Record-Breaking Box Office Paves The Way For A Nintendo Cinematic Universe

It felt right when it was announced that Nintendo was making an animated "Mario" movie. Live-action always seemed like an odd fit for the legendary gaming company's most recognizable mascot. And while one can feel however they want to feel about what Universal and Illumination cooked up in partnership with Nintendo, there's no denying that "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" is a monster hit. It will be the highest-grossing video game movie ever by far following its record-shattering opening weekend at the box office. The question now becomes, what's next?

If you've been online in recent days, it's possible you've seen that image floating around pitching a full-blown Nintendo cinematic universe, with proposed "The Legend of Zelda" and "Kirby" movies, amongst others. While that may make some people roll their eyes, rest assured, this is probably more than just a meme or wishful thinking by some fans. Well beyond a direct "Super Mario Bros." sequel, if conversations aren't already happening between Universal, Illumination, and Nintendo for much, much more, I expect they will be soon. And, quite frankly, it makes a great deal of sense for all involved.

Granted, thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, every studio in Hollywood has been chasing that dragon for years now, with very mixed success along the way. "The Conjuring" universe has done quite well for itself, the DC Universe has been a mixed bag, and the Dark Universe failed after just one movie. In this case, though, the situation seems tailor-made for the cinematic universe treatment.

It actually makes sense for Nintendo

First and foremost, given the commercial success of "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," there is zero chance this partnership is a one-and-done. Setting aside the somewhat mixed critical response to the film (read our review here), the box office speaks for itself and general audiences are eating it up. So, at the very least, we're getting a sequel or two. But given Nintendo's vast library of characters that would also lend themselves to animation, one has to imagine that bigger ideas are swirling in and amongst those at the top of the food chain at these three companies.

And why not? If a "Mario" movie can work, why not do a "Kirby" movie next? Maybe even do a "Luigi's Mansion" spin-off. Similarly, why couldn't a "Star Fox" movie work just as well? I'll be the first to admit that a "Metroid" movie produced by Illumination, the same studio behind the "Minions" movies, is a tough sell. But "The Legend of Zelda"? I could see that. And a "Donkey Kong" spin-off would be incredibly easy to sell given his presence in the "Mario" movie. All of the pieces are either on the board or could be moved onto the board easily enough.

As for what it could all lead up to? What would be "The Avengers" of this Nintendo cinematic universe, so to speak? A "Super Smash Bros." movie is sitting right there, bringing all of the disparate characters under the same roof to duke it out tournament style. The issue wouldn't even have to be forced, as one of Nintendo's most popular video game series would serve as a natural conclusion to all of this. The point is, for Nintendo, this wouldn't be trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Their stable of titles is made for the cinematic universe treatment.

Both sides have the financial motivation to do it

It's not as though Nintendo necessarily needs Hollywood to survive. Video games are hotter than they've ever been and, in terms of raw dollars generated annually, the industry absolutely towers over the movie business. It's not even close. Be that as it may, having movies aimed at kids in theaters with regularity would be a solid move for Nintendo. Not just because it would generate money for them in the short term, but it could do a lot in raising yet another generation of gamers who love Nintendo's characters. It's easy to see why a venture such as this would be appealing for them as an expansion of the business.

For Universal and Illumination, the motivation is incredibly obvious. In less than a week, "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" pulled in $377 million worldwide, obliterating industry expectations. We could very well be looking at the highest-grossing movie of 2023 overall. It is nearly impossible to find IP strong enough to generate that kind of interest from the moviegoing masses with regularity. Illumination has already been dominating theatrical animation in the post-pandemic landscape, with "Minions: The Rise of Gru" and "Sing 2" serving as big hits for the studio as well.

The point is, even when splitting the take with Nintendo, the riches that could follow if a deal for a cinematic universe is reached would be massive. Yes, one certainly would hope that if this does happen, passionate filmmakers who make creatively satisfying decisions with these characters and individual films end up steering the ship. But from a pure dollars and cents point of view? It's tough to argue against things heading in this direction.