In just a few weeks’ time, Chris Pratt will star as everyone’s favorite mustachioed Italian plumber in the animated movie The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023). He will be joined by other big names, including Anya Taylor-Joy who will give voice to Princess Peach, Charlie Day as Luigi, and Seth Rogen who plays Donkey Kong.
Nintendo hasn’t just got some big-name actors behind this project; the Japanese gaming giant has stacked the odds in its favour by partnering with Universal Pictures and Illumination to help with the production. Universal has 110 years of successful movie-making behind them, making them a safe bet. Meanwhile, Illumination has been behind some of the biggest animated hits of the last decade, most notably the Despicable Me franchise, The Secret Life of Pets (2019), and several adaptations of Dr Seuss’ books. In fact, just from the trailers that have been released, it’s very easy to see Illumination’s influence on the film as The Super Mario Bros. Movie shares styling from other Illumination creations.
When it hits cinemas in early April, moviegoers will get to see the many winks aimed at Mario video games, with some subtle and some less so. One of the most notable of these is a scene that involves Mario driving a kart on the legendary Rainbow Road race track. Of course, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is not anything radical for the gaming or movie industries as a whole – there are countless examples of these two worlds coming together. For example, Lara Croft has been featured in several movies, Grand Theft Auto titles usually contain several nods to famous films, and there are many video slot games that are based on successful movie franchises. However, the release marks a major change in strategy for Nintendo. Despite owning one of the biggest and most successful pieces of video game IP in the world, the company has shied away from putting Mario and his friends on the big screen for 30 years.
There are several reasons for Nintendo’s decision to stick to video games, but one of the biggest is the fact that its last attempt at a Mario film in the 1990s was a major flop. It has received a lot of criticism in the three decades since it was released, but with a new attempt for Mario to make it as a movie star, fresh attention is being paid to the 1993 release.
Released with the slogan “This Ain’t No Game.”, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie hit cinema screens in 1993. However, unlike the 2023 production, it was a live-action film, rather than an animation. It starred Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi, while Princess Daisy was played by Samantha Mathis. The production was undertaken by Roland Joffé who acquired the movie rights from Nintendo, including full creative control. The company’s rationale for delegating everything to Joffé was that it was believed the Mario brand was so strong that it could benefit from experimentation like this.
Despite Nintendo’s faith in their superstar plumber, the film was widely criticized by fans and those in the business. Among the complaints, the most-cited reasons for disliking Super Mario Bros.: The Movie were an inconsistent tone, a poor plot and the project being unfaithful to the game’s lore. Even today, 30 years on, the film gets slated online. On Rotten Tomatoes, it scores 29% from both critics and the audience, while it has 4.1/10 stars on IMDb and a Metascore of 35/100. The bulletproof Mario brand wasn’t enough to save it, either. Despite a budget of $48 million, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie made only $38.9 million at the box office.
A Cult Following
As is common with objectively bad movies, Super Mario Bros.: The Movie has since developed a cult following online. In fact, there are many people that sing its praises online as being a movie that’s “so bad, it’s good”. This community of fans even created a webcomic series as a sequel to the original movie, though this has remained a niche piece of fiction. Overall, with the bar set so low, it looks like a given that Nintendo will improve on the last Mario movie with its new release this spring.