Adapting video games for the big screen has always been a painful experience
What works as part of an interactive gaming experience can prove troublesome to translate into an enjoyable movie. No adaptation demonstrates this better than Super Mario Bros., which is an absolute toadstool of a film.
Directed by the untested English duo of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, who made their names helming the 80s TV series Max Headroom, the film is a disaster from start to finish.
Set in a bizarre steam-punk alternate reality full of strange fungus and big dinosaurs with tiny heads and Nazi-looking long coats, tonally it’s all over the place.
Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, meanwhile, are perfectly acceptable as Mario and Luigi, but struggle with a lacklustre script. Mario’s surname is revealed as Mario Mario for Christ’s sake!
Not even the presence of Dennis Hopper as King Koopa could save it at the box office, with Super Mario Bros. limping to a paltry $20.9 million total, off the back of a budget of $48 million.
So where did things go wrong and why was it so bad? Here are 9 Fascinating Things You Never Knew About The Failed Super Mario Bros. Movie.
Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger almost starred
Producer Roland Joffé first floated the idea of making a Super Mario movie during a meeting with Nintendo. He originally approached Harold Ramis to direct the film. At this point, Danny DeVito was also being lined up to star as Mario with Arnold Schwarzenegger approached to play Koopa.
The trio had previously enjoyed success with the comedy Twins and it was hoped they could replicate the success. However, both Ramis and Schwarzenegger rejected the offer, with DeVito eventually dropping out of the project too.
The directors and studio had different ideas for the movie
Morton and Jenkel clashed with the studio throughout production. According to Morton, they had signed on to the project after reading a script originally written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais. This version focused on the complicated family bond between Mario and Luigi and their adventures in the film’s dark, steampunk dinosaur-populated alternate dimension.
Unfortunately, these plans fell apart when they arrived on set to find the script had been almost completely rewritten to inject a more family-friendly tone into proceedings. This also meant that the majority of the sets they had built were now completely inappropriate.
The changes continued througout production, with the pair managing the process badly.
There were plans for a Die Hard cameo
At one point, there had been plans for a Bruce Willis cameo in the movie.
One version of the Super Mario Bros. script featured a brief appearance from Die Hard’s John McClane. The plan was for Mario and Luigi to meet McClane while crawling through the air ducts in King Koopa’s castle.
Alas, a combination of Willis’ availability and script rewrites saw the plans canned.
Super Mario Bros. was Bob Hoskins’ biggest regret
Once asked to recall the biggest regret of his career, Hoskins made no bones about his disdain for Super Mario Bros. having only signed on to impress his son, who was a fan of the games:
“The worst thing I ever did? Super Mario Brothers. It was a fuckin’ nightmare. The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! Fuckin’ nightmare. Fuckin’ idiots.”
The Yoshi Puppet was incredibly complicated
The Yoshi puppet used in the film was incredibly complex and unwieldy to manage on set. Designed to be capable of making 64 separate moments, the model was crammed full of 200 feet of cable.
Measuring three-feet tall, it also required no less than nine puppeteers to operate it during takes, which was tricky, to say the least.
John Leguizamo got drunk on set with Hoskins
Leguizamo dedicated an entire chapter of his autobiography Pimps, Hos, Playas, And the Rest of my Hollywood Friends, to the making of Super Mario Bros.
In one extra, he recalled the ongoing clash between the studio and the director:
“It’s eight-year-olds who play the game and that’s where the movie needed to be aimed. But [the directors] kept trying to insert new material. They shot scenes with strippers and with other sexually-explicit content, which all got edited out anyway.”
…before going on to explain the one thing that helped him through it all:
“The shoot seemed to take forever. But at least there was Samantha [referring to Samantha Mathis, the actress who plays the romantic interest in the film whom John Leguizamo was dating off the set]. And Bob [Bob Hoskins, who played Mario]. And Bob’s scotch.”
“Oh man, that movie sucks. And I suck in it.”
Hoskins was stabbed, electrocuted, almost drowned and broke a finger
The chaotic nature of the shoot had a knock-on effect on the film’s stars and most notably Hoskins, who was injured in a series of bizarre accidents. Speaking to Entertainment Tonight in 1993, Hoskins happily detailed his various injuries.
“If you’re going to survive this film, you’re going to have to be very, very careful […] I got stabbed four times. Electrocuted. Broke a finger. Nearly got drowned. And that’s just what happened to me…” It was Leguizamo who reportedly broke Hoskins’ finger during a driving sequence gone wrong that required the actor to wear a flesh-coloured plaster cast.
The film’s soundtrack was a mess too
The Roxette song “Almost Unreal” was picked as the lead single for the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. Per Gessie had originally been recruited by Walt Disney Pictures to write a theme song for the Bette Midler movie Hocus Pocus.
However, by the time recording was complete, Gessie discovered that Disney had enlisted En Vogue to record the theme song. It was decided that “Almost Unreal” would be used on the Super Mario movie. Although hesitant at first, the presence of Hoskins and Hopper in the film’s cast convinced them to say yes.
Despite changing many of the lyrics, the line “”I love when you do that hocus pocus to me” still features in the chorus.
A Metroid film had been planned until Super Marios Bros. bombed
The Super Mario Bros. experience put Nintendo off making any more live-action movies in the 25 years since. Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto reflected on the failure of the film thusly:
“The movie may have tried to get a little too close to what the Mario Bros. video games were. And in that sense, it became a movie that was about a video game, rather than being an entertaining movie in and of itself.”
The problem and a desire to balance the on-screen drama with a plot and feel that engaged with the fanbase has seen several projects stall since, most notable a Metroid movie, which has been in development hell for almost 15 years.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.