The video game world has seen its fair share of franchise rivalries throughout the years. From the likes of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat to Pokémon and Digimon, there have always been these rivalries that fight over the hearts and dedication of fans worldwide. However, there has never been a rivalry more intense and more lasting than that of the industry’s two biggest mascots: Nintendo’s Super Mario and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog.
It’s no secret that Mario and Sonic are some of the most recognizable faces in pop culture. Over thousands of games and spin-offs, gamers of all ages have come to love these two iconic figures, with hardcore fans colliding to support their side. While these debates have dialed down in recent years, with another culture war taking place between Xbox, PlayStation, and PC players, it seems like Nintendo and Sega might be taking their competition to a new playing field: inside the theaters.
The Lasting History
The rivalry between the red-capped Italian plumber and the blue-spiked hedgehog can be traced back as far as the late 80’s-early 90’s. While, back then, this rivalry had only existed to promote competition between Sega and Nintendo’s new consoles, it began to expand as each company pushed their respective mascot to the forefront. From there, Mario and Sonic slowly but surely took the world by storm with hundreds of games and a handful of shows (shoutouts to Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and Sonic X).
By the time the first console war ended, Nintendo opened itself up to a new market through movies with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately, the movie’s development never truly saw Nintendo’s involvement, which caused its untimely demise. With the cold reception from critics and audiences, Nintendo retreated behind the gates to its castle, continuing to forge ahead with its games instead. Sega, on the other hand, would help produce 1996’s Sonic the Hedgehog: The Movie, an animated, direct-to-video two-parter that saw warmer praises for its mostly faithful take. However, Nintendo nor Sega would return to the big screen in the years to come with their priorities set on expanding their reach on gaming.
This seemed to be the case, until Sega reignited the spark with its collaboration with Paramount Pictures for 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, the first modern adaptation that shocked many considering the substantial amount of fan backlash in 2019. With this movie being a success, it helped solidified a new precedent for video game adaptations with other films like Pokémon Detective Pikachu and The Angry Birds Movie laying the foundations.
The New Boom
Though what seemed like a dark age for video games on the big screen with the Resident Evils, Silent Hills, and Hitmans drowning out the potential, it looks like those days are finally over. Now, the industry has fully entered a new boom period with more faithful adaptations and expansions of beloved gaming franchises. With projects like The Last of Us, Arcane, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, the film industry is slowly re-opening itself to the possibilities of bringing video games to motion picture and it continues to leave a lasting impact today.
The recent release of The Super Mario Bros. Movie sent shockwaves throughout the box office, beating Warcraft as the highest-grossing video game film adaptation with an (as of writing) 800 million dollar worldwide box office. Though critics may have hated it, fans and families loved it and it still continues to hold strong domestically in the midst of other movies like John Wick: Chapter 4, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, and Air. Thanks to a substantial box office win, it finally looks like Nintendo may finally be coming out of its hardened shell.
Two weeks following the movie’s release, acclaimed creator Shigeru Miyamoto has confirmed to news site Nihon Keizai Shimbun that he’s willing to make more films based on other Nintendo franchises. With Mario setting a new bar for Nintendo’s approach to movies, not only has it opened up potential for fan-favorite franchises to head to theaters, but it also might have thrown a little more gas in the rivalry’s fire.
The Rivalry Reignited
Now, with Nintendo and Sega laying the groundwork of their future cinematic worlds, it definitely feels nostalgic to see these two icons hashing it out on a new stage. Sure, this feud ended when Mario and Sonic shook hands in 2009, beginning the partnership that eventually led to the Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games spin-offs. However, with both respective franchises beginning to expand their hold on the film business, you could say the rivalry is back on the table.
Sega is currently working with Paramount to expand their Sonic cinematic universe with the third installment in development and a Knuckles series be worked for Paramount+. So far, both the original and sequel have earned over $724 million at the global box office with both films receiving warm praises. Meanwhile, Nintendo still holds dominance over April’s box office with Mario, fulfilling their belief that movies are the next step to growing their reach. With these present circumstances, there’s only one question to ask: who will come out on top in the end?
Sega did have the early lead in the races with two Sonic movies already in the bag and more projects focused around this universe in development. However, with its primary focus set on the world of Sonic, it seems like Sega is keeping other projects under wraps like the Yakuza live-action adaptation and the Persona cinematic universe for now, if they still are being developed. By keeping their full attention on their main attraction, Sega may be going the “slow and steady” route when it comes to adapting different intellectual properties for theaters. Luckily for Sega, this means that the studio will be able to have a fully fleshed cinematic universe with a rich history first.
On the other hand, with the overwhelming success of Mario, Nintendo seems to be finally ready to make its full break into the modern world of film and TV. However, Nintendo has sought outside help, like Illumination’s Chris Meledandri, to help the company navigate the waters of today’s film industry and aid in their transition. In doing so, it appears that Nintendo may have to collaborate with other studios before it can fully rely on its own subsidiary, that being Nintendo Pictures, to adapt their other properties. Luckily for Nintendo, Mario‘s box office win means that Nintendo Pictures can explore their properties before Sega can adapt theirs (in the case their projects have been placed on the backburner.)
So with all this in mind, is there any clear winner as to who will win the rivalry in the end? Simple answer: no. However, the odds may be looking in Nintendo’s favor in the long run.
Not to discount the popularity Sonic has grown over the years, but Mario has sold more throughout the years and has more recognizable spin-off series including Donkey Kong and WarioWare. Meanwhile, most Sonic fans may only recognize 2005’s Shadow the Hedgehog for its edgier, deep-end twist on the franchise as the most recognizable spin-off not in Sonic’s name.
Plus, hardcore fans are already excited for the potential for other properties like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, and so much more, which have become more acquainted with younger audiences thanks to the popularity of Super Smash Bros. However, Sega is looking forward to cashing-in on older demographics with Persona and Yakuza and may even incorporate similar properties like Bayonetta and Phantasy Star, honing in on that side of the market.
In addition, external factors can impact the development and production of these projects and anything can happen on the get-go. That being said, however, Nintendo and Sega must be able to master the balance between quality and quantity as with this given market, a studio’s worth is measured by these two elements. Sega may have a head start on things, but given Nintendo’s newfound confidence, the two studios may see themselves go head-to-head on the big screen.
Everyone Wins In The End
Nonetheless, it is clear that these two iconic franchises have a special place in everyone’s heart. Without the support of fans and audiences throughout the world who love these games, it’s possible that we wouldn’t have seen these two ever-growing cinematic worlds existing in the first place. In the end, the fans of these franchises get to win because it has been shown that studios can remain faithful to the source material while creating stories that resonate with different audiences. Whether you love the Goomba-stomping, perseverant Mario or the fast-running, charismatic Sonic, these two franchises will forever remain as cornerstones of gaming and pop culture for the years to come.