With the hype surrounding the Mario movie coming out starring Chris Pratt, Jack Black, and other big-name celebrities, many people are curious about what other movies Nintendo has put out over the years.
Some of the movies are golden. They do a great job of capturing the imaginative worlds created in Nintendo’s games and bringing life to their iconic cast of characters.
Other movies aren’t nearly as good in the traditional sense, but cross the line into the so-bad-they’re-good territory. They’ll have you either laughing or questioning how such a movie could even get released.
Most of them are animated and some didn’t even make it to theaters. This is because one of the two live-action films buried Nintendo’s desire to make movie adaptations for several years.
Now it’s time to look at the list of the best Nintendo movies of all time. In the immortal words of Italian plumber/philosopher Mario, “let’s-a go.”
#5 Kirby: Fright to the Finish
Unless you count the Pokémon anime films, Nintendo hasn’t released that many movies. In terms of live-action films with theatrical releases, they’ve only released two: the 90s Super Mario Bros. and Detective Pikachu. They’ve released a few animated Pokémon films, too, and the upcoming Super Mario Bros. Movie coming out next year. Some of their movies, though, have been straight-to-home-video movies like Kirby: Fright to the Finish.
From 2001-2003 in Japan and 2002-2004 in the US, Kirby had his own show called Kirby: Right Back at Ya. It was cute and funny, and it added a little bit more life to the characters from the game’s universe while changing some elements like the setting being mainly in one village instead of on different planets.
The series finale was called Kirby: Fright to the Finish. In Japan, the series aired its finale normally, but in the US 4Kids adaptation, the final five episodes were released as a DVD around the time Kirby: Canvas Curse came out for Nintendo DS as a form of promotion.
While not a groundbreaking piece of cinema by any means and mostly just a cynical form of milking money from the pockets of parents, Kirby earns this spot for being cute.
Speaking of cute things…
#4 Animal Crossing: the Movie
In 2006, a film version of the cutesy Animal Crossing series was released revolving around an 11-year-old girl moving to one of the villages populated by talking anthropomorphic animal villagers. Like in the game series, mainstays Tom Nook and K.K. Slider make appearances.
At the time of its release, only the original Animal Crossing and its first sequel, Animal Crossing: Wild World, were out. Both games, especially the sequel, were received well outside of Japan, but within Japan, it was a much more popular series. Perhaps this is why the film was only released in Japan with no other dubs, DVD releases, etc. in other countries.
When the movie debuted, it did well on its opening weekend in 3rd place. It finished 17th for the highest-grossing film in Japan in 2006.
Viewers who lined up to see the film in theaters were given vouchers for golden tools in-game. Those who bought the DVD when it first came out received carrying pouches decorated Animal Crossing style.
Speaking of animated movies that gave you free promotional items upon release…
#3 Pokémon the First Movie: Mewtwo Strikes Back
It’s weird to think about a time when Pokémon wasn’t a part of the cultural landscape, but if you’re an old fart like me who was the perfect age for the series when it first came to the US in 1998, you remember when it originally became a craze.
Up until the movie came out, it had previously been something that most older family members could avoid. Sure, they might have listened to you tell them why water-types are the best for 20 minutes every time you shared a meal together, but Game Boy games, trading cards, and a weekly cartoon were something they could mostly tune out.
When the movie finally released, they had to come face-to-face with the nonsense you’d been talking about for the last year – and they wept! There was not a single dry eye in the theaters during the emotional climax of the plot.
For kids and adults alike who were obsessed with Pokémon, the film was mind-blowing. There were new Pokémon in the movie from the upcoming sequel games, legendary Pokémon up close with their origin stories, and if you went to the right theaters at the right time, you got a free promo trading card.
Critics hated the movie as evidenced by its 16% score on Rotten Tomatoes, but audience members, especially those who saw it when they were the appropriate age, rated it more favorably with a total of 64%. If you’re a big Pokémon anime nerd who hasn’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth watching. For the sake of nostalgia, it’s #3 on our list.
Speaking of nostalgia…
#2 Super Mario Bros.
In some alternate universe, instead of the MCU starting in the late 2000s, we get the Nintendo Cinematic Universe starting in 1993 with the release of a true-to-source Super Mario Bros. starring Danny DeVito as Mario and Tom Hanks as Luigi.
In our universe, we got a movie about two out-of-luck New York plumbers taking down a tyrant tyrannosaurus and helping return a princess to her rightful place in a dino-dominated parallel dimension. It is one of the most classic it’s-so-bad-it’s-good movies of all time and the #2 on this list for that reason.
The casting had Bob Hoskins as Mario Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi Mario, Anthony Hopkins as King Koopa, Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy (yes, they weirdly went with the Game Boy princess), and punk and psychobilly legend Mojo Nixon as Toad.
The movie was being developed around the time that Super Mario World had come out, so it was very dinosaur-heavy. One of the perplexing aspects of the film was its special effects. They were great, especially for the time, but they look so ugly and, at times, nightmarish for a film based on a beloved children’s video game series. Yoshi looks like he fits more in Jurassic Park than with Mario. The Goombas weren’t cute, angry mushroom people, but instead looked like NFL defensive linemen in their best suits with reptile heads.
The movie was absolutely panned by critics and audience members alike, and it currently holds a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was so bad, it made Nintendo swear off making any further live-action Nintendo films until…
#1 Detective Pikachu
In 2019, Nintendo finally released a live-action film again. This time, it was set in the Pokémon universe and based on the preexisting Detective Pikachu video game.
It seemed like Nintendo was taking a bit of a gamble at first when they announced Ryan Reynolds would be the voice of Pikachu. A lot of people were skeptical that he’d do an adequate job voicing the little yellow electric mouse since he was previously known for making mostly raunchy comedies including the Deadpool films. However, most audience members were charmed and pleasantly surprised by his performance alongside the film’s co-stars Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Suki Waterhouse, Ken Watanabe, and others.
The film is the second highest-grossing video game film after the Warcraft movie to this date. Until the release of Angry Birds 2, it was the highest-rated movie based on a game on Rotten Tomatoes at 68%. Moviegoers were even more pleased with it, giving the film an average of an A- on CinemaScore.
In other words: Nintendo succeeded in making a solid film based on one of their franchises that actually had mass appeal. It’s clearly the reason, or at least one of them, why they’re making the new animated Super Mario Bros. Movie. Similar to Detective Pikachu, some fans are skeptical of Chris Pratt voicing Mario and Jack Black voicing Bowser, but we’ll have to wait and see for the movie’s release to find out where it places on this list.
That wraps up the 5 best Nintendo movies of all time. For more movie goodness, check out… If you’re curious about the Chris Pratt Mario movie, check out the Super Mario Bros trailer below.