How Will The Legend of Zelda Movie Fit Into the Franchise Timeline?

We're finally getting a Legend of Zelda movie, but which part of the timeline should the film follow?

The Legend of Zelda Movie Timeline
Photo: Nintendo

Nintendo recently confirmed that a live-action Legend of Zelda movie is in development in the most Nintendo way possible: a random and vague tweet released with little fanfare. While a Legend of Zelda movie felt inevitable following the success of the Super Mario Bros. movie, recent years have taught Zelda fans to take nothing for granted. After all, we’ve gone this long without a proper Zelda adaptation. There were no guarantees that Nintendo would come to their senses now.

However, the decision to develop a Legend of Zelda movie now after all these years does raise a number of potentially complicated questions. The most notably among them would have to be, “Where in the Zelda timeline will that movie take place?”

While talking about the Zelda timeline for too long is a guaranteed way to drive yourself insane, the fact of the matter is that the Legend of Zelda covers a lot of chronological ground that includes quite a few different settings, plot points, characters, and iconography. So, unless Nintendo is going to treat the upcoming Zelda film as its own thing and remove it from the timeline entirely (a very real possibility), they’re going to have to set it in at least a rough position on this chart.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more likely points on the Zelda timeline the movie may be set in and discuss the advantages (and disadvantages) of those options.

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Skyward Sword

The Skyward Sword Time Period (The Beginning)

On the surface, setting The Legend of Zelda movie during the Skyward Sword time period seems to be the most logical move. After all, Skyward Sword is, chronologically speaking, the earliest Zelda game. It not only touches upon some of Hyrule’s earliest days (including several characters, locations, and plot points that would later become franchise staples), but it includes the closest thing we’ve gotten to a proper Link and Zelda love story. Historically, studios have not been able to resist shoehorning a love story into their blockbusters.

Then again, “logic” and the Zelda timeline aren’t always on speaking terms. Skyward Sword may be the first game in the Zelda timeline, but in many ways, it’s still built upon the events of the numerous games released before it. Skyward Sword offers one of the best (and most cinematic) stories in the Zelda franchise, but it’s not necessarily the ideal starting point that it may seem to be from the outset. Furthermore, while Skyward Sword‘s reputation has improved in recent years, it’s not exactly the most beloved Zelda title or the game that people popularly think of when they hear “The Legend of Zelda.” As such, a Skyward Sword-set gme may generate more confusion than an adaptation set at the beginning of a franchise timeline should generate.

I wouldn’t completely rule out the possibility of the Zelda movie going back to the series’ earliest known days, but this feels like a long shot.

The Legend of Zelda NES

The Legend of Zelda Time Period (The Video Game Starting Point)

It’s been 37 years since the release of the original Legend of Zelda, but memories of that game remain strong. It’s not just the title that started it all; it’s a game that the franchise has returned to time and time again in one way or another. The original Legend of Zelda is not only filled with some of the series’ most iconic imagery, characters, and moments, but it offers a fundamentally simple medieval fantasy narrative that is easy to build upon and around. There’s a hero, a villain, a princess, a quest…it’s pretty much foolproof.

On the other hand, it’s been 37 years since the original Legend of Zelda was released. It’s starting to feel like a stretch to say that the original Legend of Zelda is the most fondly remembered Zelda game, even among those who grew up with the title. To put it another way, it would have been kind of odd if the Super Mario Bros. movie only included imagery and characters from the original Super Mario Bros. game. The Legend of Zelda movie is likely aiming for a different tone, but that would still seem like a slight step back. Besides, the original Legend of Zelda is actually set at a strange point in the Zelda timeline that would be awkward to build upon if Nintendo were interested in doing so for a possible movie sequel.

Again, I couldn’t completely rule out the possibility that the Zelda movie will stick closer to the events of the original game, but it feels like the film could jump ahead a bit while still utilizing many of the foundational elements that once defined that title.

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The Legend of Zelda: The Master Sword

Widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever made since it was released in 1998, Ocarina of Time is arguably the most iconic entry in the entire Zelda franchise. Ganondorf, the Temple of Time, Hyrule Field, Epona, the Deku Tree…there are numerous aspects of The Legend of Zelda that were either introduced in Ocarina of Time or refined by that game in such a way that they were essentially reimagined into their commonly recognized modern forms.

Crucially, Ocarina of Time is also the game in the Zelda franchise that split the series’ timeline into the chronologically confusing nightmare it eventually became. It’s probably foolish to assume that Nintendo is going to implement that many timeline elements into the upcoming movie, but Ocarina of Time does exist at the ideal center of those chronological crossroads. It’s iconically Zelda, but it stands tall enough on its own as a fascinating medieval fantasy world/narrative to still be effective for those who are less familiar with the finer points of the series.

Truth be told, I think this is the ideal starting point for The Legend of Zelda film. Numerous direct elements of Ocarina of Time would play very well on the big screen, yet there are various other aspects of this title that are broad enough to work for more casual viewers while still pleasing hardcore fans.

The Legend of Zelda Tears of the Kingdom

The Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom Timeline (The “Modern” Era)

Truth be told, setting the Zelda movie during the Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom era (which actually covers about five to six years of time) would require the filmmakers to navigate a number of logistical hurdles. Not only is Breath of the Wild‘s exact place on the Zelda timeline still up for some debate (we just know it’s set somewhere close to the end), but the games are somewhat barren by design. Tears of the Kingdom definitely added more life to this version of Hyrule, but a Zelda movie set during what sometimes feels like the apocalypse probably isn’t what people have been dreaming of all these years.

However, Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom‘s popularity can’t be ignored. They’re not just the most recent Zelda titles, but they’re the best-selling Zelda titles by a shocking distance. Between their success and the recent suggestions that future Zelda games will follow the Breath of the Wild/Tears of the Kingdom model, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to suggest that these are the games Nintendo wants people to think of when they think of when they hear “The Legend of Zelda.” It makes sense that a Zelda movie released in the Breath of the WIld era would follow the timeline design elements of those games.

Though I would prefer a Zelda movie that feels closer to Ocarina of Time, a movie that sticks closer to Breath of the Wild does make quite a bit of sense. If nothing else, the Breath of the Wild landscape may be pleasantly barren enough to allow for quite a bit of creative freedom while still feeling uniquely Zelda.

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