Detective Pikachu Was a Small, But Potent Jolt for Pokémon

Detective Pikachu Was a Small, But Potent Jolt for Pokémon

Nintendo’s Pokémon series has had a powerful grip on pop culture for decades, and it’s doubtful to change anytime soon. The bulk of that power comes from the video and trading card games, along with the eternally ongoing anime and the movies and shows that’ve spun out of that. So how do you make one of the biggest video game properties even bigger? You take the big, bold jump to Hollywood.

First released in Japan on May 3, 2019 and then the following week in the US, Detective Pikachu was the first ever live-action Pokémon movie, and also Nintendo’s first video game movie since Super Mario Bros. If anyone ever thought Pokémon would get a big budget flick, they probably didn’t think it’d come courtesy of Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, let alone based off a 2016 spinoff game where brand mascot Pikachu is a private eye with the voice of Ryan Reynolds. Yeah, the monsters all looked impressively real and tangible in ways fans had always dreamed, but having Deadpool as the leading ‘mon could’ve undercut everything. Was this going to work?

Image: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures/The Pokémon Company

The answer turned out to be “yes”: Detective Pikachu netted fairly positive reviews and made $450.1 million worldwide. Back then, it’d been the highest-grossing video game movie of its time, at least until the Super Mario movie knocked it off its pedestal last year. If the world hadn’t been hit with the pandemic and Hollywood strikes in the 2020s so far, we’d likely have a sequel by now; Portlandia co-creator Jonathan Krisel was tapped to direct it last year working off a script by Chris Galetta, but it seems at least two years off, minimum. (Coming out as Avengers: Endgame was still in theaters probably wasn’t right move, either.) As is, it’s a well-regarded movie that made a decent impression in the video game movie space whose future got buried underneath some bad luck.

At the same time, it appears to have made a decent impact when it comes to Pokémon’s transmedia output. The anime was always going to persist whether it did well or not, but the film’s success has certainly helped open Nintendo’s mind to the possibilities of what this franchise could be. Without it, we likely wouldn’t have Pokémon Concierge or the original drama series Pocket ni Bōken wo Tsumekonde, which is about the reach and impact of Pokémon rather than being set in its world. And this is just what we know about—a Pokémon Direct or two from now, we may learn that Nintendo’s got plans of doing up a movie universe in the vein of what Paramount’s doing with Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Image: Warner Bros./Legendary Pictures/The Pokémon Company

Compared to other video game adaptations like Fallout and The Last of Us, or even Arcane, it wouldn’t be wrong to feel like Detective Pikachu has gotten overlooked. Its time in the sun will surely come whenever that sequel rolls around. In that way, it’s like the anime: whatever comes next will hopefully be an evolution that buils upon the winning formula of its predecessor. And if not, well, at least we’ve got a video of Pikachu dancing to brighten the day.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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