Video game-based movies have been around for so long at this point that it’s hard to even remember a time before they existed. Unfortunately, they couldn’t have started on a worse foot that the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. film adaptation.
It’s not at all surprising that Mario was the first video game character anyone ever thought to make a Hollywood movie out of, as he was one of the most popular characters in the world in the early ’90s– video game or otherwise– and it seemed like a license to print money. All it had to be was somewhat faithful to the games and be a halfway decent movie – two seemingly simple goals that the it didn’t come anywhere close to reaching.
Super Mario Bros. was a complete creative and commercial flop that not only set in motion decades of awful video game films, but made Nintendo retreat from the movie business for nearly 25 years– the company has only recently given Hollywood another chance to do right by its creations. The only reason that anyone even bothers to talk about the movie now is because the story of just how spectacularly wrong everything went is utterly fascinating.
Here are 17 Things You Didn’t Know About The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
17. Bob Hoskins suffered multiple injuries during filming
It’s pretty obvious that any semblance of quality control waved bye-bye to the production of Super Mario Bros. fairly early into its development. As it tends to go with chaotic shoots that are fraught with problems, all kinds of safety issues arose during SMB‘s tumultuous production.
Bob Hoskins, who starred in the movie as the iconic plumber, would later confirm that he was the victim of several serious injuries. Beyond just the damage that the movie did to his reputation, Hoskins also had to endure being stabbed multiple times, having his finger broken, being electrocuted, and nearly drowning.
It’s bad enough when an actor has to endure bumps, bruises, and broken bones during the making of a good movie, but knowing that he was going through all that hardship for a film that was already very obviously going to be a complete failure is something that an accomplished thespian like Hoskins should’ve never had to deal with.
16. Hoskins and John Leguizamo were drunk most of the time
Once you sign a contract to do a movie, it can be almost impossible to get out of it. So what does an actor do when it not only becomes apparent that they are making a terrible movie, but that the terrible movie they are making is also a complete nightmare to film?
Well, in the case of Hoskins and co-star John Leguizamo– who played Luigi– they turned to drinking to get through the troubled shoot with their sanity intact. Leguizamo has said that Hoskins’ scotch, which the pair partook in on a regular basis, was one of the only good things about the entire experience of making SMB.
However, all of that drinking wasn’t without consequence. During a scene where Leguizamo had to drive a van for a stunt involving himself and Hoskins, the inebriated actor accelerated too hard and had to slam on the brakes, causing the van’s door to smash Hoskins’ hand (hence the aforementioned broken finger). Hoskins can be seen wearing a pink cast in a fair amount of the movie as a result.
15. The director poured hot coffee on an extra
By most accounts, directors Morton and Jankel were a nightmare to work with. The pair was allegedly combative, egotistical, and worst of all, didn’t seem to have any idea what they were doing. The cast and crew even took to mockingly referring to the directors as “Rocky and Annabel, the Flying Squirrel Show.” Hoskins later said of the duo that “[their] arrogance was mistaken for talent” and called them “f—ing idiots.”
In what particularly shocking incident, Morton saw an extra that he felt didn’t look dirty enough to be a denizen of Dinohattan and reportedly rectified things by pouring a cup of hot coffee over the extra’s head. Morton doesn’t completely deny that accusation, but claims that the coffee wasn’t actually hot. That’s kind of better, right?
Eventually, the studio heads had enough of Morton and Jankel’s attitude and kicked them off the set, forbid them from participating in any of the film’s editing, and brought in someone else to direct the re-shoots.
14. Tom Hanks, Danny Devito, and Arnold Schwarzenegger almost starred
While the cast that was pulled together for SMB is pretty impressive, it wasn’t quite what the producers wanted.
Before landing on Dennis Hopper, the producers had approached Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Keaton to play King Koopa, but they both passed. Dustin Hoffman had actually campaigned pretty hard to play Mario as his kids were gamers, but they passed on him for unknown reasons. Danny Devito also expressed interest in playing Mario, but wouldn’t sign a contract without seeing a finished script (which didn’t exist until about a week before filming began). And Harold Ramis took a meeting to direct, as he was a Nintendo fan, but ultimately didn’t take the job.
Most astounding is Tom Hanks, who for a time had actually signed on to play the title character. Interestingly enough, he was deemed a risk as he had just come off a string of flops, and he was actually let go in favor Hoskins who, at that point, was considered more profitable as he was fresh off of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
13. A more faithful Mario movie was deemed too expensive
The Super Mario Bros. movie wasn’t always going to be a bizarre, post-apocalyptic cyberpunk action flick. In its earliest stages, the movie had a lot more in common with its source material and was going to have a more fantasy-tinged, Wizard of Oz-meets-Alice in Wonderland vibe. In fact, it was that initial pitch that got most of the actors to sign on, andconvinced the higher-ups at Nintendo to let the studio make the movie in the first place.
The problem? The producers decided that making that movie was going to cost them way too much money. As it stands, SMB cost less than $50 million to make, and even then it went way over the original budget. There was no way that all of the set designs and special effects needed to bring the Mushroom Kingdom and its inhabitants into proper live-action would’ve been doable on that budget.
Instead of ponying up the necessary cash to make the movie that might’ve actually turned a profit, the studio went with a cheaper alternative that barely earned half its budget back at the box office.
12. Hoskins hadn’t even heard of Mario
Bob Hoskins was hoping that SMB was going to be a quick shoot and an easy paycheck. After some stabbings, a broken finger, an electrocution, and a near-drowning, he was probably wishing he just picked up a summer job as a lifeguard or something to earn the extra dough.
What is perhaps most interesting about Hoskins taking on the role of Mario is that, unlike most of the cast, he wasn’t even doing it out of affection for the video games. In fact, Hoskins later claimed that when he first signed on to do the movie, he had no idea he would be making a video game adaptation and had never even heard of Super Mario Bros.
It might seem hard to believe that someone hadn’t heard of Mario by the early-90s. But keep in mind that Hoskins had spent a few years of Nintendo’s rise to prominence filming Roger Rabbit, not to mention working with an animated female co-star that was, shall we say, a little distracting.
11. The script was rewritten on a daily basis
The drastic change from comedic fantasy romp to dark dystopian nightmare didn’t mark the only revision that the script for SMB went through. In fact, as many as four major drafts of the screenplay were said to have been written by a combined nine writers.
Still, even script #4 wasn’t technically the “final” draft of the screenplay. Throughout filming, the script was tinkered with daily– in part because of the constant creative push/pull between the directors and the studio, and in part because the production was just that much of a mess. Things got to the point where the actors didn’t bother to learn or rehearse anything beyond what they were going to be filming that day.
Some actors just took to ad-libbing rather than trying to keep up with script changes, which apparently wasn’t frowned upon. Actors Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson in particular were praised by the directors for how much they were willing to come up with for their characters, including a rap number they convinced the studio to let them write and film (though it didn’t make the theatrical cut).
10. The game references are there– they just don’t make any sense
During your initial viewing of Super Mario Bros.— assuming you even had the fortitude to see it through to the end– you probably saw very little connection to the source material beyond the names and basic look of the main characters, the latter of which is even nebulous when it comes to Yoshi, King Koopa, and the Goombas.
But there are actually a fair amount of references to the Mario games; they’re just either incredibly easy to miss, or they make so little sense that they don’t even seem like actual references.
From a busking, seemingly human dude named Toad to a full-figured woman decked out in rubber pink spikes named Big Bertha, the names are accounted for, but they don’t actually match up to anything else about the original characters. One of King Koopa’s main henchmen, Spike, isn’t named after a Koopaling like his partner Iggy, but he is a real Mario enemy– just a completely arbitrary and unimportant one.
9. The bizarre Goombas were originally called Koopas
Very little about Super Mario Bros. makes sense, but even then, there is no question what aspect of the movie is the most head-scratchingly bizarre: the nightmare fuel that they pass off as the iconic army of Mario baddies known as Goombas.
Standing about ten feet tall with enormous bodies, extra-broad shoulders, and insanely tiny heads, the only thing more frustrating than how the Goombas look is that we’ll never know for sure what anyone involved in creating them was thinking. Up close, the Goombas are borderline terrifying, like something out of a direct-to-video horror movie.
In the games, the Goombas are mushrooms that have been cursed and came to life as bad guys, so how that translates to disproportionate lizard men is anyone’s guess. But what makes just a tiny bit more sense is that they were originally intended to be the live-action version of Mario’s Koopa Troopa enemies, who are turtles and would at least account for the reptilian appearance (though not much else).
8. Hoskins and Dennis Hopper both called it their biggest regret
It’s not exactly a mind-blowing revelation that basically everyone involved in the SMB movie has a negative opinion of the experience and doesn’t consider the film a career highlight. But the two biggest actors in the movie have gone beyond simply writing it off as a forgettable thing they did years ago.
In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, the late Bob Hoskins had some harsh words for the movie. Beyond the aforementioned thrashing of the movie’s directing team, Hoskins answered, simply, “Super Mario Brothers” to the question of what was the worst job he’s ever done and the question of what his biggest disappointment is. When asked, “If you could edit your past, what would you change?”, he replied, “I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.”
In one of the final interviews before his death in 2010, Dennis Hopper called SMB “utter tripe crap” and admitted to Conan O’Brien that he only did the movie to impress his then-six-year-old son. He says that when he told his son he did the movie so he could buy him new shoes, his son hilariously replied, “Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.”
7. It’s responsible for the myth that the brothers’ last name is “Mario”
So, if they’re the “Mario Brothers,” wouldn’t that make their last name “Mario?” Seems like a stupid question, and most people never bother to try and make sense of out of the title of the game or wonder what Mario and Luigi’s last name is.
As has been well-established, the people behind the SMB movie aren’t like most people. So, they went ahead and included a scene in the movie where Mario and Luigi confirm that their full names are, in fact, Mario Mario and Luigi Mario. Despite nothing else from the movie subsequently entering the Mario canon, the film’s introducing of the idea that the brothers’ last name is Mario became a myth that persisted for many years.
The myth was finally debunked by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto at a 2015 event celebrating Mario’s 30th anniversary. He acknowledged that he was aware of the movie introducing the idea of Mario’s last name being Mario, and although he admitted being amused by it, he ultimately concluded, “Just like Mickey Mouse doesn’t really have a last name, Mario is really just Mario and Luigi is really just Luigi.”
6. There’s actually legitimate talent behind it
The directors of Super Mario Bros. also made Max Headroom, and the guy who wrote the first draft of the script also wrote the Flintstones movie. So that’s something, right? As it turns out, you actually don’t have to stretch all that hard to find a fair amount of real, proven talent who worked on the doomed movie.
In fact, the person to usher in the entire project is a surprisingly respected name: Roland Joffé, Oscar-nominated director of The Killing Fields and The Mission was the person who brought the idea to Nintendo and whose production company first took the project on. Beyond that, one of the writers of the script that ended up being the closest thing to the movie’s final draft had also written both Bill & Ted movies (and is writing the upcoming third installment) and went on to write both Now You See Me movies, Men in Black, and also did an uncredited re-write of 2000’s X-Men.
5. It was inspired by Blade Runner, Mad Max, and Die Hard
After the initial plan to make a more faithful Mario movie didn’t pan out– more on that later– husband and wife directing team Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel decided to take the film into a completely different creative direction. Hired because they had created the popular 1980s television show character and pop culture fixture Max Headroom, Morton and Jankel decided to look to some unlikely sources of inspiration for the Mario movie.
Among the movies that the duo used to shape Super Mario Bros. were Blade Runner, Mad Max, and Die Hard— all R-rated, adult action movies — not exactly the most obvious inspirations for a movie based on a family-friendly video game franchise. While much of the vehicle-based action of Mad Max was eventually lost during one of the movie’s many rewrites, the movie’s dire post-apocalyptic tone and spike-studded outfits retained some elements of the Australian classic. And in line with the Die Hard aspirations, a John McClane-esque Bruce Willis cameo was even being considered.
4. The voice of Homer Simpson was involved
Because the movie’s plot and most of the characters were so different than anything seen in the games, a little setting-up of the story was required in order to get audiences up to speed with the version of Super Mario Bros. they were about to watch. The best that the producers could come up with was the very obviously last-minute addition of a crudely animated opening sequence that helped set up the basic premise of the film.
Despite the hastily thrown-together nature of the intro, the studio still went ahead and got a top-notch voice to narrate the sequence: Dan Castellaneta, best known for voicing Homer Simpson, Krusty the Klown, and dozens of other characters on The Simpsons.
To be fair, Castellaneta has always been willing to show up and do teeny tiny roles in movies and on TV shows even as his Simpsons paychecks have rolled in– so it’s probably not so shocking that he’d do a quick, disposable part in SMB. It just seems odd that, for a movie that was already way over budget, that they bothered to pay a real, outside voice actor to do the part rather than just have one of the existing actors do it for nothing.
3. It was meant to de-stigmatize video games
Almost everything about both the movie itself and its production process seems to suggest that the filmmakers were trying to do everything in their power to actively distance themselves from the source material. The directors even famously refused to dress Mario and Luigi in their trademark colored overalls, and only after many weeks of fighting with the studio did they finally relent and include the costumes– but only for the climax of the movie.
What is surprising about all this is that director Rocky Morton has since claimed that he intended the movie to be pro-video game. Despite a tone that seemed like it was too cool for the source material, Morton claimed that the reason they pushed so hard for an edgier, more mature movie is to try and reduce the stigma at the time that video games were only for kids. He said that he wanted adults to see the movie and then want to try playing more video games with their kids.
2. The directors were going for an R Rating
It’s already a little strange that one of the reason’s for SMB‘s PG rating is that it includes “sensuality.” What’s really strange is that, if the directors had their way, that sensuality would’ve been full-blown sexuality and resulted in an R-rating. This was at a time when even a Mortal Kombat movie couldn’t be made for anything rougher than PG-13.
In his autobiography Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends, John Leguizamo claimed that scenes were actually shot for the movie that contained strippers and other “sexually explicit” material that would’ve most certainly pushed the movie into PG-13 and possibly even R territory. Of course, none of this material made into it the movie’s final cut, even though the remnants of a much more sexually-charged move remain.
Look no further than the many S&M/bondage-inspired outfits and the rather suggestive dance between Mario and the very voluptuous Big Bertha for traces of the naughtier movie that almost was, including a moment where he plants his face directly into her ample cleavage.
1. Nintendo signed away the rights to Mario for only $2 million
In fact, the first– and still one of the only– times that Nintendo has ever completely signed away the rights to Mario to another entity to do with as they see fit, Roland Joffé and his then-production company Lightmotive purchased the rights to make a Mario movie for the rather modest sum of $2 million.
Joffé convinced Nintendo that letting a smaller company buy the film rights rather than a major studio was the way to go so that Nintendo could be more involved in the making of the film– an option which, for whatever reason, they never bothered to follow through with beyond a few early meetings.
In order to sweeten the deal, Nintendo was promised full royalties from any SMB movie-related merchandise, a bonus that didn’t end up amounting to much as nobody was really interested in toys based on the movie versions of Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi. Shortly after, Nintendo let tech company Phillips make its own Mario and Zelda games for the CD-i console, games which quickly entered the pantheon of the worst games ever made and remain a major source of embarrassment.
Nintendo has been extremely reluctant let anyone else “have” Mario since then.
Do you have any more trivia to share from Super Mario Bros.? Leave it in the comments!
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