Concept art shows that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the original choice for Bowser in the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie.
It’s not a Koopa! If you read that first sentence as Arnold Schwarzenegger from Kindergarten Cop, then you might get an idea of what video game fans were deprived of in 1993. Newly leaked concept art reveals that Arnold was the first choice to play Bowser in the failed Universal Pictures live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, and boy is it a doozy!
The pictures show a much more reptilian Bowser than the one in the final film. The concept on top would have had Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing a heavy green prosthesis over the top part of his face culminating in two giant horns. Top Bowser is clad in spikey armor, including shoulder pieces made out of Koopa shells, and brandishing a staff presumably for whomping the Super Mario Bros. over the head.
The bottom version of the Super Mario Bros. foe is slightly less menacing looking, with two small horns poking through a flowing red mullet and a lighter prosthesis on the face. It’s the bottom Bowser that really looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, while the top picture is almost unrecognizable under all the scales and spikes.
Both designs are a far cry from the one used for Dennis Hopper’s portrayal of Bowser. Known only as King Koopa throughout the entirety of Super Mario Bros., Hopper’s version of the evil turtle looked completely human, albeit with one of the stupidest haircuts ever put on film. The only time Hopper’s Koopa approaches anything even remotely close to the Arnold Schwarzenegger designs is for a brief sequence at the end.
In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene at the end of the movie, King Koopa is de-evolved into a toothy T-Rex-looking monster. It’s a shame that the puppet was used so sparingly because it’s actually a really cool design. Even if it doesn’t look a single thing like the Bowser from the Super Mario Bros. games.
Perhaps if Arnold Schwarzenegger hadn’t turned down the role of Bowser (and according to Wikipedia, he’s not the only one), the costumes and sets would have resembled the actual Super Mario Bros. more. Instead, viewers were punished with “Dinohattan,” a dystopian version of Manhattan, where dinosaurs evolved instead of mammals. If that doesn’t sound like the Nintendo games, you remember you’re not alone.
One of the biggest complaints fans have with the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie is how much it deviates from the source material. How somebody looked at the 8-bit Mushroom Kingdom and said, “Yes, this reminds me of if Mad Max and Blade Runner had a fungus-covered baby,” is one of the biggest mysteries in cinema. Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger dodged a bullet by not playing Bowser.
On the other hand, if the name Arnold Schwarzenegger was attached to the marquee, perhaps the movie would have done better at the box office and not be remembered today as the single worst video game adaptation ever to hit theaters. The downside, of course, is that we would have gotten lots of Super Mario Bros. sequels starring a redheaded Bowser wearing a spiked S&M collar and a sawblade necklace with a giant K on it. Or would that have been an upside?
There’s a good chance that a Super Mario Bros. starring a scenery-chewing Arnold Schwarzenegger as Bowser would have become a so-bad-it’s-good classic. If Arnold’s turn as Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin is any indication, we lost out on a legendarily campy performance. Just imagine the Governator all dolled up in green latex and a red wig shouting at his minions to “Get to the plumbers!”
Hasta la vista Yoshi!