Super Mario Bros. Is As Bad As You Remember
Super Mario Bros was the first video game movie, and in how it abandoned the entire setting of the games, it's also one of the worst movies of all time.
Thirty years after Super Mario Bros. was released in theaters, there’s been an attempt on social media to re-evaluate the film, and plenty of think pieces incorrectly claim the film isn’t bad and might be considered good. We here at Giant Freakin’ Robot do not have that opinion and are here to tell you that the live-action movie is as bad as you remember. Fans are excited over the upcoming animated movie with Chris Pratt, Jack Black, and Anya Taylor-Joy, among other huge names, but we can never forget just how horrible the Dennis Hopper live-action movie was and how it destroyed video game movies for a generation.
Super Mario Bros. was the very first video game movie, and almost the last. Nintendo retained creative control over the film, which makes the choice to cast the directing duo behind The Max Headroom Show all the more puzzling. Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel had never directed a feature film before and were primarily known for avant-garde music videos. The fateful choice to go with unproven directors that wanted to make the Mushroom Kingdom grim and gritty, which was all the rage in the early 90s, set the tone for the following disaster.
Gone was the Mushroom Kingdom, and instead, Mario and Luigi find themselves whisked away to Dinohatten, a city where dinosaurs evolved into a strange cyberpunk society that looked like Blade Runner and Mad Max were shoved into the same place, without the coherent art direction of either film. Audiences may have thought the tall goombas, now lizards with very small heads, were the product of a strange fever dream, but no, that’s how they look in the Super Mario Bros. movie.
Some fans today claim that the stylized look of the gritty film is “cool” and “amazing” when it’s as far away from the source material as possible. Iggy and Spike, the kids of King Koopa (Bowser) introduced in Super Mario Bros 3, went from their amazing 8-bit designs to generic thugs. Princess Daisy, not Peach, never wears the classic pink dress, tiara, or even the yellow gown Daisy sports in later games.
The film’s highlight is the casting of Bob Hoskins as Mario Mario, John Leguizamo as Luigi Mario, and Dennis Hopper as King Koopa. Upset and frustrated with the behind-the-scenes drama from multiple script rewrites, the actors didn’t even bother learning their lines until they were on the set. To cope, Hoskins and Leguizamo admitted to drinking on the set, while Hopper took out his frustration on the inexperienced directors; one day, his tirade lasted three hours.
Each actor compensates for the nonsensical plot, but chewing every bit of scenery they can come across. Casting Mojo Nixon, a famous alternative musician, as Toad was an inspired choice that leans into the sensibilities of the directing duo, but yet again, why is Toad, famously a toadstool, depicted as a descendant of dinosaurs?
The current discourse is that the re-contextualization of the games was innovative, creative, and years ahead of its time, with some even saying they prefer the big swings taken in Super Mario Bros to more modern, straightforward game adaptations. Just look at Resident Evil starring Milia Jovovich as a good way of building off-the-source material; Nintendo’s mascot getting shoved into a sci-fi dystopia is not a Mario movie.
According to JustWatch, the film isn’t even streaming anywhere, while the Rotten Tomatoes scores are 29 percent rotten from the critics and 29 percent approval from the audience. Do you know how rare it is to find media on the review aggregator site that has critics and the audience in perfect lockstep with one another? It’s incredibly rare, and it speaks to the horrible quality of a movie that had to have multiple last-minute, major rewrites and even a pair of writers brought in to punch up the script without the directors being informed.
Good movies do not have those sorts of problems. Decent films don’t have actors who claim that “the movie” was the worst part of the experience, as Bob Hoskins did, and he broke his hand while filming. Michael Caine famously bought a house with his money from starring in a horrible film, Jaws 4: The Revenge, but Hoskins, Leguizamo, and Hopper merely survived their experience.
It’s okay for something to be bad and not “underappreciated” or “overlooked.” Super Mario Bros. is bad on many levels, from a nonsensical plot to the behind-the-scenes disasters, and worst of all, had it succeeded, how bizarre would the Mario games have become? Instead of Super Mario 64, gamers would have had something closer to Jak 3, and no one would be happy.
The first good Super Mario Bros. movie will be out on April 5th.