With movie theatres being closed for over a month, the highest grossing film of this year so far is the video game adaptation of Sonic the Hedgehog. Video game-based movies were not always a guaranteed success. To toast the success of Sonic ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ is looking back at another video game inspired movie, Super Mario Bros. from Hollywood Pictures.

The Movie

When the dinosaurs were killed off by a meteor, we learn that the impact of the meteor created a parallel universe where some of the dinosaurs survived. Mario and Luigi played by Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo are two brothers that struggle to get jobs for their failing plumbing business. Luigi meets Daisy, played by Samantha Mathis, and falls in love with her instantly. The attraction is mutual, and Daisy takes Luigi to a dig site she is supervising where they have uncovered dinosaur bones beneath the streets of the Big Apple.

Iggy and Spike, played by Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson, henchmen of King Koopa, played by Dennis Hopper, the ruler of Dinohattan, kidnap Daisy and drag her through a dimensional portal to a world ruled by evolved dinosaurs. Mario and Luigi attempt to rescue Daisy, only to be captured by Koopa’s police force.

Mario and Luigi also learn that Daisy is the princess from this realm, and that the crystal she wears around her neck is a piece of the meteor that will merge the two worlds. Koopa plans to merge the dimensions and conquer the human world. After a series of small battles, Mario and Luigi defeat Koopa, saving the world and helping restore order to Dinohattan.

The Best

Bob Hoskins is perfect for the role of Mario. He has the height, mustache, and the gruff personality of the popular plumber that millions of people had played on their Nintendo. Hoskins is single handedly leading the film with his humor and sarcasm that make the viewer identify with his portrayal of Mario.

John Leguizamo is equally perfect in the role of Luigi. In the video games we don’t see much of a difference between Mario and Luigi. Leguizamo fleshes out the character and shows us that Luigi is not a clone of Mario. He is the younger, less mature brother that constantly needs Mario’s guidance.

The Worst

There is so much wrong with this film.

Super Mario Bros. is a movie that is constantly changing its tone throughout the film. The story is based on a beloved children’s video game that tens of millions of kids had played around the world. There are moments of this childhood wonder in the film, but then cut to the next shot and the film looks like an adult oriented story. One example of this is the club scene in Dinohattan. It genuinely looks like a strip club. How does that fit into the overall story? Why did the filmmakers do that? The scene where Koopa sticks out his tongue as he tries to seduce Daisy is awful and should have been cut from the film.

The script is ridiculous, the idea that somehow the dinosaurs evolved to be human beings in Dinohattan is crazy at best, and just downright stupid. Dennis Hopper is perfect for the role of Koopa. He brings the menacing violence and humor of a great villain. In Super Mario Bros. the script fails Hopper. There are moments when he monologues like a good villain, but they are then undercut with scenes where Koopa is ordering a pizza.

Fiona Shaw is wasted as Lena. Part muse to Koopa but with ambitions herself, Shaw isn’t allowed to develop her character in any meaningful way. Lena is treated with such little regard that at the end of the film when she departs the picture, you feel happy for her.

The film would have benefitted from sticking closer to the source material.  The movie has twenty minutes left before Mario and Luigi finally adorn their trademark red and green uniforms. Toad, a popular character from the video game has a couple of minutes of dialogue and is then transformed into a brainless reptile. Yoshi the dinosaur looks great but doesn’t do much in the film. Samantha Mathis does her best with a script that doesn’t let Daisy shine to the inspiration of the games Princess Peach.

I can accept the plot line that the meteor that killed the dinosaurs created a parallel universe. The crux of the plot is that Daisy has a piece of the meteor that can open a portal and merge the two worlds together. The problem I have is that at the beginning of the film girls have been disappearing from New York constantly, being kidnapped by Koopa’s goons and brought through the portal between the two worlds. Later in the film, Mario and Luigi are only able to travel back through the portal because Daisy opens it with the meteor piece. So, I am left wondering if Daisy is the only one who could open the portal, how could Koopa’s goons travel through the portal to kidnap all the girls? Script consistency is non-existent in this film.

 Film Facts

  • John Leguizamo turned down a role in Philadelphia to play Luigi.
  • When interviewed in 2011, Bob Hoskins openly talked about how much he hated working on Super Mario Bros. Hoskins listed the film as his worst job, biggest disappointment, and something he wished he had never done.
  • Dennis Hopper said in an interview with Conan O’Brien, that he took the role of King Koopa for the money. Hopper disagreed with the directors of the film on set and would often voice his displeasure at them.
  • Hoskins broke his finger on the set and Leguizamo apparently broke his leg on set.
  • Fisher Stevens would go on to win an Oscar for Best Documentary for his 2010 work The Cove.
  • Sci-Fi stalwart Lance Henriksen has a brief scene as the king at the end of the film.
  • There is reportedly a half hour of filmed scenes cut from the movie to make the film length more audience acceptable.
  • The de-evolution guns used at the end of the film are repainted Super Nintendo ‘Super Scope’ accessory guns.
  • One of the many problems during the production was the constant revision of the script. Reportedly, the actors stopped paying attention to the constant rewrites they were handed daily.
  • Most of the film was shot in a repurposed cement factory in North Carolina.
  • Leguizamo originally distanced himself from the film and openly proclaimed his dislike for the movie. Now after the twenty fifth anniversary, Leguizamo has come to embrace the cult status of the movie.  

See It/Skip It?

Skip It! There is nothing to be gained from watching Super Mario Bros. The idea of watching the film for the sake of seeing how bad it really is, is a waste of your time. Give any movie enough time and it can collect a cult following, but Super Mario Bros. just isn’t worth the effort to watch. Had the film kept a consistent theme throughout and not veered between kid friendly to adult throughout the movie, then maybe I would recommend you watch this movie. However, the shockingly bad script, special effects, story line, and disregard for the source material makes me wonder what kind of film the directors and studio were hoping to produce. Super Mario Bros. is not a good film, and not worth your time even during the COVID-19 quarantine pandemic.

Next week, ‘To Touchstone and Beyond’ offers you a vacation from home with movies that are set in some of the world’s greatest tourist spots. Our first film in the series will be Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Director: Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton

Production Company: Hollywood Pictures

Principal Cast:

  • Bob Hoskins as Mario
  • John Leguizamo as Luigi
  • Samantha Mathis as Daisy
  • Dennis Hopper as King Koopa
  • Fisher Stevens as Iggy
  • Richard Edson as Spike
  • Fiona Shaw as Lena      

Release Date: May 28, 1993

Budget: $48 million

Box Office Gross Domestic = $20,915, 465