TETRIS*CUT TO THE CHASE*
1988 – Video game promoter Henk Rogers (Taron Egerton) of Bullet-Proof Software is at a convention promoting the game GO, described as “Chess but harder.” Nobody appears to have an interest in it, and the young lady he hired to help promote it has her attention diverted to a different game. Henk approaches the booth for Tetris, and despite his reservations, he immediately becomes hooked on the game.
Henk later goes to a bank manager named Eddie (Rick Yune). He tells Eddie how obsessed he has become with Tetris and that he is now the licensee for PC, game console, and arcade rights to Tetris. Henk then tells Eddie about the history of Tetris, beginning with its creator, Alexey Pajitnov (Nikita Efremov). Four years earlier, Alexey worked as a programmer for the Russian government but developed games on the side. With help from some coworkers, Alexey was able to turn Tetris from something simple (using falling parentheses instead of the popular colored blocks) to something more colorful, spreading its popularity. Two years after that, Robert Stein (Toby Jones) of Andromeda Software discovered Tetris since he would go around Europe buying game properties for cheap and turning a profit by selling them stateside. Stein would pester Alexey’s bosses until they took the licensing request to ELORG. Stein would later travel to London to meet billionaire media tycoon Robert Maxwell (Roger Allam) of Mirrorsoft and his snooty son Kevin (Anthony Boyle) for an international licensing deal in exchange for Stein receiving royalties.
Henk continues his story by telling Eddie that the previous day, he went to Nintendo HQ in Japan to meet with CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi (Togo Igawa). Henk shows Tetris to Yamauchi, who is impressed with it. Despite receiving an initial $500,000 offer for a buyout, Henk turns it down in order to form a partnership with Yamauchi by convincing him that them working together is comparable to Mario and Luigi or Zelda and Link. Henk then asks Eddie for a $3 million loan for Nintendo cartridges and arcade consoles. Eddie agrees once Henk agrees to increased interest rates and putting his house down as collateral.
At his apartment in Tokyo, Henk talks to his wife Akemi (Ayane Nagabuchi). She expresses concerns over his deal until Henk points out that their kids are so into Tetris that the house is quiet. His eldest daughter Maya (Kanon Narumi) is especially absorbed by it.
Henk speaks on the phone to Kevin, who tells him that he and his father already sold arcade rights to Sega in Japan. Henk becomes angry and returns to Nintendo to speak to Yamauchi and ask for residuals in advance. Yamauchi invites Henk to meet with his colleagues in Seattle.
Henk travels to Seattle to meet with Nintendo’s president Minoru Arakawa (Ken Yamamura) and VP Howard Lincoln (Ben Miles). They reveal to him the Game Boy, the hot new handheld console that is set to be released with “Super Mario Land”, but Henk convinces them it should be packaged with Tetris instead, and he tells them he will acquire handheld licensing rights.
Henk then flies to London to meet with the Maxwells, who are already in a heated meeting with Stein after he confronts them about not receiving his payment. Henk requests to buy the handheld rights, but does not get a clear response from the Maxwells. After Henk and Stein leave, Kevin asks his father about money missing from employees’ retirement funds, but Maxwell dismisses the questions and focuses on acquiring Tetris. On their way out, Henk and Stein seemingly make a deal for the handheld rights.
Arakawa and Lincoln call Henk to let him know that Stein is selling handheld rights to Atari for $100,000 as payback to the Maxwells for not paying him. Henk resolves to travel to Moscow himself to go to ELORG and get the rights himself, despite Arakawa and Lincoln telling him the dangers of going to communist Russia.
Upon arriving in Moscow, Henk meets a young woman named Sasha (Sofia Lebedeva), who becomes his translator. She guides him to ELORG, despite her warnings that he could get in trouble for walking in without an invitation. They meet ELORG president Nikolai Belikov (Oleg Shtefanko), and Henk begins to explain his business to Belikov. From Sasha’s translations, Henk learns that ELORG only licensed PC rights and not console or handheld. Henk presents Belikov with a personal copy of Japanese Tetris, but Belikov believes it is an illegal copy. Despite Belikov’s orders to leave, Henk convinces him to meet again to discuss the conditions of the deal. On their way out of ELORG, Henk is approached by shady KGB men and told to leave the country.
Kevin arrives in Moscow and meets with Valentin Trifonov (Igor Grabuzov), a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and head of Department of Foreign Trade. Due to the Maxwells’ connections to Mikhail Gorbachev, they believe they have an easier way in to acquiring Tetris.
The next day, Henk and Sasha return to ELORG, where they meet Alexey for the first time, along with Trifonov and his men. Trifonov accuses Henk of illegal practices, such as showing up with a tourist visa when it’s false, while Alexey also does not immediately trust Henk’s intentions. Belikov tells them that the arcade rights to Tetris were never sold to anyone. Stein and Kevin also separately arrive to try and meet with Belikov while Henk looks over the contract that was signed, determining that Stein stole arcade rights. Belikov gives Stein a new contract over the handheld rights. Alexey then gives Henk and Sasha a ride home.
Kevin meets with Trifonov again, as he finds out they were spying on his meeting with Belikov. Trifonov acknowledges to Kevin that communism in Russia will soon come to an end, and he wants to make good on their deal as well. Behind Kevin’s back, Trifonov is being bribed by Maxwell into helping secure Tetris.
That night, Henk visits Alexey’s home and has dinner with him and his wife, Nina (Ieva Andrejevaite). While Nina initially thinks Henk really did steal Tetris, he proves to them that he is honest with his intentions. Alexey then shows him the original version of Tetris and lets Henk play. They then hear a knock on the door, fearing it is KGB looking for Henk, so Alexey and Nina hide him. After seeing it’s just a neighbor asking for salt, Alexey tries to get Henk to leave, but Henk gets him to go out with him so they can continue to talk.
Alexey takes Henk to a club with others who wish for independence from the Soviet Union. They all party and dance to “The Final Countdown,” and Henk starts to bond with Alexey. Unfortunately, the KGB has been spying on Henk and taking photos, leading them to find his family and threaten Akem and the kids at her workplace for Henk to return home. Other KGB goons find Henk and assault him and steal his pants (because they’re Levis). He returns to his hotel room and finds it ransacked before Sasha arrives. She tells him why the KGB is after him and tries to urge him to walk away, even unexpectedly kissing him before Henk reminds her he is married.
Trifonov later encounters Alexey with his sons Dmitri (Timur Kassimkulov) and Peter (Mark Khismatullin), implicitly threatening Alexey with the same fate as his father. Meanwhile, Henk calls Akemi and tells her to contact his lawyers.
Henk and Stein both return to ELORG separately. Stein complains to Belikov about the new contract but relents and signs. Henk confronts Belikov over everything that has been going on and tries to make a new deal for $25,000 in royalties upfront, and 25 cents for every copy of the game sold since Henk is broke and desperate. He estimates that Tetris could sell as much as 20 million copies, which would net Belikov $5 million. Belikov then meets Trifonov outside, who says that Tetris will go to Mirrorsoft. The two then meet with Kevin, with Belikov saying that Mirrorsoft can have Tetris if they are wired $1 million within a week. Belikov then privately talks to Henk about making his own offer within the week and giving him a letter of intent to sign.
Henk is met by Alexey, who rides with him via taxi so they are not followed. Alexey tells Henk what happened to his father – he was a university professor who signed a letter of protest for his colleague that was jailed for selling his book abroad, and it ruined Alexey’s father’s career. He then shows Henk that Sasha is a KGB agent who has been specifically going after him for his perceived threat, and they see her talking to Trifonov. Alexey then brings Henk to an airport.
Henk misses Maya’s school concert even after he promised he would be there. Meanwhile, Maxwell meets with Arakawa and Lincoln to ensure Mirrorsoft gets Tetris, and Trifonov has one of his men assault Belikov per Maxwell’s orders. Back at his apartment, Henk receives a fax saying he’s being dropped from the Tetris deal, as well as a threatening photo of Sasha kissing him that could be shown to his family. Akemi and Maya arrive, with Akemi chastising Henk for missing Maya’s concert, but he shows more concern for losing the deal and everything they have, causing Maya to run to her room and cry.
Belikov visits Alexey at his apartment. He tells Alexey that Tetris will go to Mirrorsoft, and Belikov will be removed from head of ELORG unless Alexey can make things right. He gives Alexey a letter of intent to fax to Henk, which he does at his job. At the same time, Kevin finds his father shredding documents, and when he asks for the $1 million needed to give to ELORG, Kevin says that they don’t have that money.
After Henk receives the letter, he returns to Nintendo to confront Arakawa and Lincoln to show them the letter. Henk then finds out that Atari stole Nintendo’s patent and is selling Tetris cartridges. Henk says Stein and the Maxwells lied and that the letter expired the day before, meaning Atari has zero rights to Tetris. Henk convinces Arakawa and Lincoln to return to Moscow with him to make their deal official before the Maxwells do anything more.
Alexey discovers he has been fired from his job, and finds people repossessing his items. He also finds Trifonov talking to Dmitri and Peter, making more implied threats to throw them over a ledge.
Trifonov contacts Maxwell to continue their dealings, with Sasha finding Trifonov trying to work things out in his own favor against the interests of the country. Afterward, Stein confronts the Maxwells by punching Kevin in the face for going to Moscow and trying to make the ELORG deal behind his back, screwing him out of his payment. Maxwell reads the documents and makes plans to head to Moscow with Kevin to personally speak to Gorbachev (Matthew Marsh) to work against Henk.
Upon his return, Henk goes to find Alexey, who does not want to see him due to everything he has lost by working with Henk. Not far from them, Trifonov and his goons catch wind of Henk’s return and rush to ELORG.
The Maxwells show up to ELORG first for their deal until Henk, Arakawa, and Lincoln show up. Maxwell orders Belikov to sign until Henk figures that the Maxwells have no money to pay ELORG with. Belikov sees through the lies and refuses to sign. Maxwell tries to attack him, but Belikov delivers a well-deserved headbutt to his face. Belikov signs with Nintendo and orders the trio to leave Moscow immediately. Trifonov confronts Maxwell, revealing his dealings in front of Kevin and Sasha after realizing they lost the contract.
Trifonov goes after Henk, Arakawa, and Lincoln, but Alexey shows up to pick them up and drive them to the airport. This leads to a high speed chase with the KGB goons going after the four men. They arrive at the airport and hop on the first flight out of there. Trifonov thinks they are headed to Tokyo and boards that plane, only to find they are on a different plane. Sasha shows up to arrest Trifonov for treason.
Henk returns to his apartment in Tokyo and creates a makeshift stage for Maya to make up for missing her concert. He apologizes to her in Japanese, and she puts on the show for him while he watches with Akemi. He also shows her the check for $5 million to Bullet-Proof Software.
Later on, the Game Boy is released with Tetris, which sells out twice in Japan before it arrives in the United States. Gorbachev resigns, and borders are being opened up around Europe. Henk sends Alexey his own copy of the Game Boy. Sometime after that, Alexey and his family move to the United States, where they are met by the Rogers family. Henk and Alexey greet each other with a hug.
The ending text states that Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov worked together to form The Tetris Company. Robert Stein continued to license games but never got over his loss of Tetris. Robert Maxwell stole over $900 million from pension funds and racked up over $5 billion in debt, leading to the collapse of his media empire before his death under mysterious circumstances. Kevin would later be arrested in connection with the thievery, and he declared bankruptcy and was later acquitted of fraud. In 2014, Henk appointed Maya as the new CEO of Tetris. With over a billion units sold, Tetris remains one of the most popular games of all time.
The film is based on the true story about the struggle to acquire worldwide licensing rights to the popular game Tetris.
Henk Rogers, a game developer, falls in love with Tetris and makes plans to license the game for PC, game consoles, and arcades. He faces obstacles with Robert Stein and media tycoon Robert Maxwell and his son Kevin, who try to license the game to Atari and Sega while Henk is working with Nintendo. Henk personally travels to Moscow to meet with ELORG, the company that owns the rights to Tetris, along with Alexey Pajitnov, the man who invented the game. Despite increased threats by the KGB, Henk bonds with Alexey as they work to secure the licensing rights.
Maxwell works with Valentin Trifonov, a top leader in the Communist Party, through a shady deal to ensure nobody but the Maxwells get their hands on Tetris. After Henk discovers that Stein and the Maxwells lied to ELORG CEO Nikolai Belikov, Henk convinces Belikov to an honest deal when it turns out the Maxwells have no money. Henk, plus the president and VP of Nintendo, return to Moscow to secure the deal before Trifonov chases them to an airport. They make it out safely while Trifonov is arrested after his dealings are made known.
The Maxwells' business goes under due to Robert's thievery of employees' pension funds, while Henk and Alexey reunite in the United States to work together to start the Tetris Company. It remains one of the most popular games of all time.