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In Defense Of The Original Super Mario Bros. Movie

Bob Hoskins with John Leguizamo in the Mario movie
(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

When I did my article ranking all of the Despicable Me movies, it got me thinking about how much I appreciate the Illumination films. Like, for example, I love the Sing series, much like our very own Mike Reyes who called the sequel “effortlessly energetic and engaging” in his Sing 2 review. And now, in the not too distant future, we’re actually going to get a Super Mario Bros. movie out of Illumination.    

We know quite a bit about the Nintendo-Illumination animated film, but I don’t want to talk about that Super Mario Bros. movie. I want to talk about the OG, 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. movie. Because you know what? I love that film. In fact, in my 10 best video game movies article, I put it at number six. Now, this didn’t just happen overnight, and in fact, I’ve had to go almost my entire life learning to love this film, but I do love it now, and I have five reasons why.      

John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins sharing a high five

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

It Was The Very First Live-Action Video Game Movie  

Storytime! I had my first (and last) seizure at the age of nine. When I went to the hospital, the doctor didn’t know if I would have frequent seizures, or if this would just be a one time thing. Of course, this scared me at the time, and while I sat in my hospital bed, I had a lot going on in my head. 

Then, a commercial for the upcoming Super Mario. Bros. movie came on, and I didn’t worry quite so much anymore about my future, as I was just too excited for the first live-action video game movie to care about anything else. 

And, well, you know what happened next. It was a massive bomb that killed a potential franchise before it could even get started. I get all that. But, just think. This was the very first live-action video game movie, and its source material was Super Mario Bros. How in the hell do you make a LIVE-ACTION version of two plumbers going to a mushroom kingdom and fighting a lizard who kidnaps a princess? 

You don’t. Of course, we didn’t know that back then; we were just kids! We didn’t know what we wanted. What we got, though, was one of the most creative adaptations ever put to film, and now that we’re older, I’m incredibly grateful and impressed by it.  

Dennis Hopper in the Super Mario Bros. movie

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

It Tells An Actual Story  

The story of the first Super Mario Bros. game is slight and unimportant. Two plumbers tried to save Princess Peach (Then Princess Toadstool) from Bowser (Then King Koopa). All of the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom were also turned into things like clouds, bricks, and plants, and yeah...It’s probably even sillier than you thought. 

But, the movie takes an entirely different approach. In the film, dinosaurs actually didn’t die out, but instead, evolved in a sort of parallel dimension. Mario and Luigi travel there to rescue Princess Daisy (Daisy and not Peach?! Plot twist!), and prevent King Koopa (the excellent Dennis Hopper, who was always phenomenal: see the awesome movie, Waterworld) from taking over our planet. There are also storylines involving slime, goomba guards, and even a dance number with a woman named BIG BERTHA.   

Sure, argue all you want if you don’t like the story, but I’m thoroughly impressed that they were able to make something even more bizarre than the already bizarre source material. That takes talent!  

Dinohattan in the Super Mario Bros movie

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

The Setting Is Phenomenal 

Do you like the world of Blade Runner? Then you’ll love the world of the Super Mario Bros. movie since it is just like it. As a kid, I HATED this. It couldn’t be any further from the Mushroom Kingdom of the video games. But, do you know what? In hindsight, it would have been really difficult to decide which Mario game to pull from at the time. Super Mario World came out in 1990, so would the movie pull from that game’s world (I mean, the movie DOES have Yoshi in it. Sort of).

Would it pull from Super Mario Bros. 3? The very weird Super Mario Bros. 2 with Shy Guys, Birdo, and Wart? The original game? In the end, I think they made the right decision to give the film its own unique setting, and I actually find it even more creative than the worlds of the games at the time. I mean, again, it’s Mario Bros. meet Blade Runner. What else could you possibly want?  

Bob Hoskins on the right

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

Bob Hoskins Actually Makes For A Great Mario 

It’s been well-documented that Bob Hoskins thought the Super Mario Bros. movie was the worst film he’d ever done, calling it a “nightmare.” Okay, I get it. The dude nearly died twice while on set. John Leguizamo, who played Luigi, didn’t detest it as much as Bob Hoskins, but I also don’t think he was that great of a Luigi (a hell of a Clown from Spawn, though). He was just too cool.   

But, Hoskins was an amazing Mario, even if he hated doing it. He was grouchy, ballsy, and funny, and honestly, I think he’s my all-time favorite version of the plumber. Sure, I love Charles Martinet as the official voice of Mario (and Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi) in the games, and yeah, I loved “Captain” Lou Albano in The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, which is one of the all-time great Nintendo cartoons, but when it comes to the complete package, Bob Hoskins is my Mario. Let’s just see if Chris Pratt can surpass it. Doubtful, but I’ll keep an open mind.   

A goomba in the Mario movie

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures)

It Took Real Risks 

Lastly, can we just all appreciate what a strange movie this is? I mentioned earlier that it has Princess Daisy instead of Princess Peach, meaning it’s Luigi’s love interest, and not Mario’s, but it doesn’t stop there. For one thing, we learn that the Mario Bros. full names are actually Mario Mario and Luigi Mario (I mean, it makes sense. They are the MARIO Bros., after all), but we also get Dennis Hopper being as Dennis Hopper-y as possible, some amazing special effects for the time, and again, that fantastic setting.  

Yes, I understand that the movie is cheesy. And yes, I understand that it’s practically nothing like the games, but still. How could you not appreciate a movie that went this far away from the source material, and still tried to stay as close as possible? This movie took freaking risks, man, and I love it for that reason. That’s why I’ll defend it all day, every day, and I don’t care what anybody else says.

Do you also love the original, live-action Super Mario Bros. movie? For more news on all things Mario, be sure to swing by here often! 

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.