Movie Review

Super Mario Bros. (1993)



This ain’t no game.
-the voice of chronic disappointment



When will we learn from our mistakes?

Frying water does not work. Sticking an NES cart into a PS4 does not work. Writing down 99 dependents on your tax return does not work. Taking a laxative and a sleeping pill at the same time equals disaster. Making a video game movie and expecting it to be good ends with heart-crushing despair!

Really, though, that kind of solid reliability is a thing of beauty, if you think about it: few things in life are as dependable as a live-action video game movie being rubbish.

Somehow that trend started just as inexorably with Super Mario Bros. the movie as the game upon which it was based spurred a new trend in its time for video game quality from which we still benefit. Appropriately, Google has the movie categorized as a “Doomsday film”. Not making that up.


Super Mario Bros. is best appreciated as the equivalent of a digital pilloried criminal, one at which any amount of fecal matter and degradation can be tossed at, over-hand, without fear of hurting its feelings. Getting a few friends together to watch it, especially if they’ve never seen it before, is an occasional treat I’ve enjoyed. It’s fun to have fun with it in that sense, because the movie itself tosses fun out the window, at least in regards to the typical, familiar, nostalgic fun that the Super Mario series has almost perfectly presented through the years.

Some have asked what Super Mario is about, what makes Mario unique as a character? Because we’re so familiar with him and the trope of the princess-saving hero, it’s easy to think of Mario as completely generic. However, if I think about him and his series at large, I think of things like his being relentlessly cheerful, virtues like perseverance, determination, joyfulness, fearlessness, which certainly aren’t common to all characters or all of us real people, and momentum (an idea I suggested in my review of the original Super Mario Bros.). Mario even stands apart from all the desaturated hyper-cool action heroes in video games post-2000.

One of these things is not like the other:

In this first film adaptation, we get nearly zero actual Mario (pronounced Mah-ree-oh, not whatever an Italian would say). Hoskins’ Mario isn’t all that cheery or joyful. The character’s familiar exclamations and exuberant “yahoos!” are out of sight for a grumpier, gruffier, all-too realistic Brooklyn plumber. It’s the same problem filmmakers and writers get when they over-humanize Superman. Supes and Super Mario are ideals, not real people. They immediately become far less interesting when dragged down to our level.

As such, Bob Hoskins’ portrayal of Mario, which he later lamented as the worst of his career, is barely even the star of his own movie. Cue the interview:

What is the worst job you’ve done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.

The Guardian, Jun 2011 interview

Looking back on his career like:


The (dis)honor of leading man in this film goes instead to John Leguizamo. True, Leguizamo didn’t get top billing but the film puts his Luigi at the center of the story’s heart: he is the one chasing the princess whereas his periodically dour brother plays the skeptic who would rather stay in Brooklyn than be transported to another dimension. As such, Luigi is the character to whom the story means the most, i.e. the protagonist, whereas Mario is the “main character” only in a vaguely technical sense that becomes more and more uninteresting the longer I dwell on it.

Both brothers do what they can with the material given to them, a script silly and meandering enough to be… well… a video game movie script, in a production that was evidently nightmarish in quality: frequent rewrites during filming and Hoskins himself getting injured, to name a few examples. Through it all, Hoskins remains likable as a frowny but harmless bear and Leguizamo remains magnetically naive and wide-eyed, and only nebulously more appealing than when he played a fat clown-demon.

download (1)

*stereotypical Italian noises*

Together, they’re thrown into an parallel dimension/timeline in which dinosaurs and not humans evolved to become the dominant species on the planet (as explained in the movie’s 10-second opening monologue). In the metropolitan mistake that is Dinotopia, or whatever it’s called, the bros. pursue Princess Daisy to rescue her from the clutches of President Koopa. Some stuff happens… look I didn’t want to look it up myself and get it wedged into my browser history.

Daisy is played by a real peach, Samantha Mathis. She’s a doe-eyed damsel in distress who somehow seems the most earnest about her part in this film. As a kid, I definitely bought her concern over her plight. As an adult, well, I know she got paid to act and she’s convincing, maybe the most convincing in this whole movie, but that’s the same as saying you’re the smartest person at the unemployment office.



Then there’s the biggest disappointment of all: Dennis Hopper as President Koopa. Now I like Dennis Hopper and it’s not like the actor himself came up with the trappings for this bizarre interpretation of the character, but this is one of the all-time greatest worst ridiculous blockbuster movie villains. How do you go from a gigantic turtle-dragon waiting in a castle to a suit-and-tie businessman-president bent on taking over Earth? Artistic license doesn’t even begin to explain it.

Oh wait what? I just found out that the King who is a fungus for almost the entire movie was actual played by Lance Henriksen! Maybe the biggest waste of talent in any movie ever.

But hey, at least it features the animatronic from Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Jurassic Park as Yoshi!

giphy (1).gif


The 8-bit Review
Visuals icon Visuals: 
So I have this movie on DVD but you know what? VHS is probably the best form for viewing this film. A VHS is going to do a better job than a DVD (or God forbid a Blu-Ray) at hiding as many of this movie’s ugly effects as possible. Seriously, that CGI is so poorly aged that it has all the blue veins of a nasty blob of Gorgonzola, or your aunt’s thigh.


Perhaps the worst part about this movie’s visuals is how infrequently it actually tries to adhere to its source material. Of course, it’s live action so that’s a big departure from the cartoony and colorful Mushroom Kingdom we’ve come to know but you can name the video game-accurate things in the film on one hand: the de-evolution machine, the urban nightmare, the dimensional portal of solid rock, the airships that don’t ever appear in the movie, Big Bertha… ok well, none of those things, I guess.

Definitely not the Goombas. Super Mario Bros. proved that not everything needs to be over-rationalized and compartmentalized into “scientific” ideas.


Why don’t they say “kuribo”, you idiots?!

Audio icon Audio: 1/10
You know that tuba-heavy bumbling ring-a-ling music they played in all the family comedies back then? That’s the sound of Super Mario Bros. Channeling Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure probably wasn’t the most inspired composition choice to make. I don’t even need to link to a sample, you can already hear it. But in case you need to self-flagellate:

Including Kondo’s original melody is a mere insult.

narrative Narrative: 3/10

A long, long time ago,
the earth was ruled by dinosaurs.
They were big, so not a lot of people
went around hassling ’em.
Actually, no people went around hassling ’em
because there weren’t any people yet.
Just the first tiny mammals.
Basically life was good.
– You know, it just don’t get no better’n this.
– Yeah.
Then somethin’happened.
A giant meteorite struck the earth.
Good- bye, dinosaurs.
But what if the dinosaurs
weren’t all destroyed?
What if the impact of that meteorite
created a parallel dimension…
where the dinosaurs continue to thrive
and evolve into intelligent…
vicious, aggressive beings, just like us?


Oh what could have been.


familyfriendliness Family Friendliness: 4/10
To be honest, I don’t know who this movie would appeal to, especially now. Even then, I had older friends who skipped out on it. I was eight, so maybe that was the right age? I still had nightmares about crocodiles with tiny heads. Too young, and you might as well be showing Robocop to your kids. Too old, and they won’t care anyway.


cast.png Cast: 3/10
It’s somewhat cliché to portray actors and actresses as martyrs in bad films, that they tried so hard to work against the grain and swim upstream against the irresistible powers-that-be. Yet in all seriousness, the wasted talent in Super Mario Bros. is probably it’s biggest flaw. Remember when Dennis Hopper tried to blow up a bus? Remember when Bob Hoskins got teary eyed for his brother that had a piano dropped on his head? Remember when John Leguizamo talked out of the side of his mouth? Yeah, good movie moments.

I don’t know how much the cast had to do with the overall tone of this film, but I do know that there are some really deadpan, phoned-in lines. Maybe they could’ve gotten more out of the main cast with a better script and/or director(s), excluding for all eternity the sideline characters like Bebop and Rocksteady.


How insane is 2018 when that haircut (right) is making a comeback?

Replayability icon Replayability: 5/10
Of course, one doesn’t play a movie but if you got suckered into watching this one then I guess that means you got played.

We’ll treat Replayability here as Rewatchability. How rewatchable is Super Mario Bros. the movie? Well that’s sort of hard to answer. Without sidequests, optional content, post-game boss fights, or even a high score mechanism, it’s somewhat difficult to track. But I am sure that most people don’t just sit around watching this movie again and again every month. Its greatest replay value is in showing it to friends, just be sure to be kind and rewind.


“Toys R Us is dead and you killed it!”

Uniqueness icon Uniqueness: 8/10
I was disappointed by video game movies before it was cool.

Besides that… you can’t find premises this ridiculous anywhere else and the movie stands out even in the Super Mario franchise itself! It’s a testament to uniqueness, really. Few films are this bad that get made and few films ever endure what Super Mario Bros. endured and survive.

Let us cry all the tears for the sequel that will never be…


my personal grade My Personal Grade: 5/10
Is Super Mario Bros. the movie really so bad? Well, it’s a 5/10 because it’s the perfect average for a video game movie. Sure there are better ones, and there are also worse ones. THIS is the perfect video game movie, though: a miraculously terrible film, an unfunny montage of references to material it doesn’t care about, an average colossal waste of time.

Why did I write this review? Because we cannot forget history, or we will be doomed to repeat it infinitely. Also, it says something about myself: I have a love/hate relationship with this movie. I hate it… but I love torturing people who have never seen it before by showing it to them for the first time. That, and I love making fun of it. It’s the perfect punching bag! There may be many subjective things in the entertainment world but this cannot be called a masterpiece, no matter how much any masochist may enjoy it.

I’ve been told that my outlook on entertainment, its future, and its new releases is a sad one: I don’t get all that excited over what’s on the horizon and I anticipate the next big thing with as much skepticism as could be expected from a hardcore X-Files fan. This past E3, I didn’t buy into the hype for so many games and came off as a hapless old geezer. But really, it comes down to Super Mario Bros. the movie, and Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within, and Mortal Kombat Annihilation and Street Fighter… and you know what I really am going to blame my lack of irrational hype regarding video games solely on video game movies themselves (at least for the confirmation biasing purposes of this self-medicating article).

So if you ask me whether I’m looking forward to the Sonic the Hedgehog movie starring Jeff Bridges or the supposed Super Mario Bros. film in the works featuring the voice work of Nic Cage, or if I saw the Assassin’s Creed movie or the Warcraft movie, all I have to say to you is “We’ve tried this already.”

Hey, someone told me the Tomb Raider movie wasn’t bad… but with that kind of sterling recommendation, I’ll just keep the original Tron as my favorite video game movie.

Question: Is this the worst Nintendo product ever?

Even the trailer is a mess.

Aggregated Score: 4.0


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32 replies »

  1. It’s a shame you rate the film’s Visuals so poorly as they were at the time considered groundbreaking. The VFX was one of the few elements of the final product that most reviewers agreed was excellent, to the point the film was very nearly nominated for an Oscar!

    There’s actually an R2 Blu-Ray release with incredible picture quality. Everything looks so much crisper and colorful! I also hear there’s work on a 4K restoration, so there could be another release with even more detail!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps I find its aged qualities irresistibly demeaning in our modern era, but even then, set within the context of contemporaneous films, I didn’t particularly think too highly of it. Visuals also includes more than just the special effects, to my mind. It also includes set design, conceptual design, characterizations, and so on. I don’t regularly review films here so this one is much more tongue-in-cheek than film buffs may appreciate, but I do think that the interpretations of the Mario universe were incredibly disappointing, even as a kid. Tiny headed Goombas, Big Bertha, Snifit cameos, the Koopalings and Koopa himself… Maybe this film could’ve benefitted from being a standalone sci-fi movie rather than a video game tie-in to a pre-extant cheery universe.


  2. The sad thing is video game movies don’t HAVE to be bad, the same as fanfiction. But unlike fanfic, which has quite a lot of well written narratives (despite what haters of it might think), most video game films fall flat because movie makers don’t seem to take the time to make them good. Why would you make Mario dour and grim when that’s not his character at all? Granted he does present as a sort of every man, but the one thing he consistently shows is positive energy. I get they probably wanted to do something different than just your run of the mill “save the princess” story, but at least be true to the source material. It sounds like the “gritty reboot,” which CAN be okay, but it’s not appropriate for every situation.

    What I find interesting is how many narratives have similar motifs to video games as if filmmakers know that there’s something to be garnered there or of course it could just be creators pull from the same pool of paradigms. That being said though, I have seen videos pointing out how movies not based on them “ripped off” video game plot points. I don’t like the term all that much because every story’s been told and every trope has been used. It’s just something to theorize about and discuss.

    I DID like the Max Payne movies, but I’ve never played the games. Also not like it needs to be said, but I obviously liked Advent Children and Last Order, though those could be considered more anime. The best game adaptation was Castlevania on Netflix. THAT stands as the paragon of it, and I think it worked because it was episodic instead of trying to cram everything into a 2-3 hour endeavor.

    Would love to see you do a series reviewing video game to movie adaptations! Is that going to be a thing? It should be a thing 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow… I can’t believe you subjected yourself to this movie again. It has to have been at least since 94 or 95, whenever the movie premiered on TV, that I last watched this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh I love watching crappy films and playing bad video games now and then! I get a special kick out of tearing them to pieces in writing afterward. This is a film I’ve seen many times now and I even own it, and actually a friend and I were planning on doing a series where we watch all the live-action video game movies and then I get to review them after. Hahaha it’s weird but I like it. The movie sucks.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Give the World of Warcraft Movie a chance. It’s pretty epic. But take my advice with a grain of salt, because it’s coming from someone who enjoyed the Mario Bothers movie (Of course I enjoy it, While realistically knowing it’s a Bad Film, So bad that the main actors drank their way through it’s production just to survive it).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never been int Warcraft and when the movie rolled out I just thought it looked a little boring to me. I’m making plans to watch a bunch of video game movies with a friend so that’s on my list, somewhere!


  5. A bad movie.

    Matched only by:

    King of Fighters.

    I think I would rather watch SMB than KoF. I watched KoF one time, while on a trip for work. Never again. Never. Ever. Again.

    Give me Super Mario Bros. Please.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ah, I haven’t seen this for years. It’s funny, but I didn’t hate it when I saw it. It felt ‘off’ given that it was so far removed from the source material, but I think that, even as a kid, I kinda just chose to view it as its own thing. It’s still not great, even then, but hey ho. There are certainly worse films out there.
    I have seen both the World of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed films. Warcraft I didn’t mind, but I never played the game, so had no real connection to it. Assassin’s Creed was pretty much what I expected, so I avoided disappointment there.
    The upcoming Sonic and Mario films though … I read that the Mario one will be CG, which is what I’d hoped the Sonic one would be (i’m a big fan of the cut scenes in the more modern Sonic games). I think that will serve Mario better than this did. Meanwhile, I reserve judgement on Sonic until Isee how the mix of CG and live action looks. I’m not oppossed to the change in setting with it, but it’s the script that will either make it or break it I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it’s the kind of film that simmers in hate, if you allow it to. My first time viewing it as a kid didn’t take me to max disappointment, and I’m sure 8 year old me thought the effects were cool and such, but it wasn’t really until I got the DVD later in life that I started to think it was a hilarious and resentfully poor movie.

      Whew, imagine a live-action Sonic movie…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Aye, unless something is truly date for it’s time, a young child likely won’t know SFX issues so much. I doubt I did either.
        That appears to be what we’re getting, so who knows how it’ll look. It’s either going to be surprising or a potential disaster.

        Liked by 1 person

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