Tetris follows a businessman, Henk Rogers, who risks it all and travels to the Soviet Union to secure the rights to one of the most popular video games in the world. The film is now streaming on Apple TV+.
Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers
Henk Rogers is the founder of Bullet-Proof Software, a video game developer and publisher. Henk lives in Tokyo with his wife, Akemi, who is also the CFO of his company, and their children. Unfortunately, his game, known as the “Go”, does not do as well as expected.
Then, in 1988, he comes across a game called Tetris and knows instantly that it is going to be a hit. Tetris was developed by Alexey Leonidovich Pajitnov, who works as a programmer for the government in the Soviet Union, and became extremely popular there.
A man named Robert Stein got the worldwide PC rights to Tetris from Alexey’s bosses at ELORG. Stein then made a deal with Robert Maxwell and his son, Kevin, the CEO of Mirrorsoft, and licensed all rights on all platforms to Mirrorsoft.
Henk uses the money that he owes the bank for his failed video game to buy the PC, games console, and arcade rights for Tetris in Japan from Mirrorsoft.
He also meets with the CEO of Nintendo and makes a deal — Henk, as a partner, will publish Tetris and cover all up-front costs for Nintendo. He takes an additional $3 million from the bank by keeping his house as collateral and agreeing to higher interest rates.
However, Kevin soon contacts Henk to tell him that he has sold the arcade rights to another company, SEGA, and Henk has no choice but to accept it. After this major loss, Henk is sent to meet the President of Nintendo of America and the senior VP of legal counsel in Seattle.
They show him the Game Boy, a new handheld device that Nintendo has created and will release soon. Henk suggests that they should package it with Tetris. For this, Henk needs the handheld rights for Tetris.
He meets with the Maxwells and Stein for the same. He offers Stein $25,000 to get him the worldwide handheld rights, but Stein sells the rights to another company, Atari, for a greater sum, cutting out Mirrorsoft as well because they have not been paying him royalties on sales of Tetris.
Henk decides to take the risk and go to the Soviet Union himself to secure the rights, even though he does not have a business visa. The moment he enters the country, he comes on KBG’s radar.
Despite several warnings from his translator, Sasha, he goes to ELORG, which is a government company, and meets Mr. Belikov, who tells him that they never licensed Tetris’ video game rights to anyone.
Henk is warned by the KGB to return home. Additionally, Kevin also comes to Moscow to secure the rights. Since Robert is an influential man who even knows Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, Kevin is received by Valentin Trifonov, a very powerful member of the Communist Party.
The next day, Mr. Belikov meets Kevin, Henk, and Stein simultaneously without their knowledge. Henk also meets Alexey, who tells him that he does not receive any money from the game he created.
Henk comes to know that the only version of Tetris that Mr. Belikov licensed was for personal computers. After reading the contract, he tells Mr. Belikov that ELORG unintentionally sold video game rights to Stein, but Stein stole arcade rights from ELORG.
Mr. Belikov then makes Stein sign a new contract and makes him pay $150,000 for arcade rights. Meanwhile, Valentin wants Kevin to bribe him in exchange for getting him the rights. While Kevin refuses, Robert, without Kevin’s knowledge, promises to bribe him in exchange for the rights.
Henk visits Alexey at his home, even though it is not legal. The two men bond over Tetris and even modify it. Alexey also takes Henk to a nightclub. However, when Henk returns to the hotel, he is attacked by the KGB.
His wife, Akemi, is also threatened by Russian officials back home in Tokyo. Even Alexey receives a warning from Valentin. Additionally, Sasha comes to Henk’s hotel room and kisses him, but he pushes her away.
Henk still does not give up and offers to pay $25,000 for handheld rights to Mr. Belikov as well as the royalties on every unit sold. Mr. Belikov likes the offer, but Valentin forces him to sell the rights to Kevin for a deal that is nowhere near as good as Henk’s.
Mr. Belikov secretly makes Henk sign a letter of intent and asks him to make an offer within a week. He also tells him that he can even obtain worldwide handheld and video game rights, as Mr. Belikov redefined the word computer in Stein’s contract, which means he no longer has video game rights.
Henk receives further help from Alexey, who gets him out of the Soviet Union after showing him that Sasha is a KGB agent. Henk’s world turns upside down when he reaches home and finds out that Valentin forced Mr. Belikov to give the rights to Mirrorsoft.
Nintendo is now making a deal with Mirrorsoft instead of Henk’s company. Furthermore, the KGB sends Henk a picture of him kissing Sasha to threaten him.
In his anger and sadness, he ends up disappointing his family. A distressed Henk realizes that he might lose his business, his house, and even his family.
Tetris ending explained in detail:
Why does Henk return to the Soviet Union?
Unlike Valentin, Mr. Belikov wants the best for his country. He has already been punished by Valentin for helping Henk and will soon be removed from his position at ELORG. He still wants to help more, so he pays a visit to Alexey and asks him to send a message to Henk.
Alexey risks everything to get the message to Henk, which informs him that Mirrorsoft did not sign a contract for the rights with ELORG; it was just a letter of intent like the one that Mr. Belikov secretly made Henk sign.
At this point, no one has video game or handheld rights to Tetris. A hopeful Henk convinces his contacts at Nintendo to accompany him to Moscow with their checkbooks as soon as possible.
Why do the Maxwells come to the Soviet Union?
Henk, along with the Nintendo team, meets Mr. Belikov and makes a great offer, which even includes royalties. He and Mirrorsoft both had the right to make an offer after signing the letter of intent, but Mirrorsoft has not done it yet.
Mr. Belikov wants to sign immediately, but Sasha stops him, claiming that they will need a day to think about it. In the meantime, Valentin contacts Robert and tells him about the offer, but Robert refuses to offer $5 million like Nintendo.
Robert does not even have the $1 million that Kevin promised ELORG. Valentin tells him that he has 24 hours to pay that money to ELORG.
The Maxwells also discover that Nintendo might get both the video game and handheld right because of Stein’s new contract, which results in Robert and Kevin also coming to Moscow.
Who gets the rights to Tetris?
Robert and Kevin meet Gorbachev directly, who does not help them much, as they are not offering any money for the rights but are offering publishing rights to Cllier’s Encyclopedias in exchange. However, Gorbachev gets suspicious of Valentin.
Kevin and Robert as well as Henk and his companions go to Mr. Belikov with both their offers. It is clear to everyone present that Henk’s offer is much better and that the Maxwells are bankrupt.
Mr. Belikov signs Henk’s contract, and he finally gets the videogame and handheld rights to Tetris. As Valentin’s men are on their way to stop them from leaving the country with the signed contract, they have to find a way to get to the airport directly.
Does Valentin catch Henk?
Alexey loses his job and home for sending the message to Henk. Valentin even threatens his children, and Alexey decides not to be in contact with Henk in any way from now on.
However, when Alexey finds out that Valentin’s men are after Henk, he comes to his rescue. He once again risks his life to save Henk and get him to the airport.
Meanwhile, in the confrontation between Valentin and Robert, Mr. Belikov and Sasha find out that he was being bribed. Valentin no longer wants the money; he wants 50% ownership of Tetris, and Robert agrees to his terms.
As Valentin’s men chase Henk to the airport, Sasha reports to Gorbachev about his crimes. At the airport, Valentin and his men search the flight to Tokyo, only to realize that Henk took the flight to Zurich.
Henk and his companion make it out alive with the rights, while Valentin gets arrested by Sasha for abuse of authority and corruption.
What happens after Henk gets the rights?
Henk makes amends with his family and shows Akemi the cheque for $5 million from Nintendo. The Game Boy is packed with Tetris and turns out to be extremely successful in the market; the demand for it just keeps increasing.
On the other hand, the Soviet Union disintegrates, and Gorbachev resigns due to widespread protests. Alexey receives a Game Boy in the post from Henk, along with tickets to San Francisco for his whole family.
Alexey and his family move to San Francisco, and Alexey goes on to form the Tetris Company with Henk. Tetris continues to be one of the most popular games of all times
It is revealed that Robert lost his business empire because he stole from his companies’ pension funds and was in debt. After his death, Kevin declared bankruptcy. He had to go to trial for fraud but was later acquitted.