Due to the surprising amount blockbuster hits that came from franchise development in the 1980s, by the early 1990s, Hollywood was doubling down with increased budgets, bigger sets, and better effects in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle (again and again, it seemed, as studios sought to ignite their next hot film franchise). There was a mindset that no concept was too outlandish to translate, in turn, nurturing technology developments in practical effects and CGI, a budding concept at the time. With technology providing a means to adapt stories that might have been too fantastical to efficiently produce before, it comes as no surprise that Hollywood began turning their attention to the booming home console video game market for inspiration, making a license like Super Mario Bros. quite a viable candidate to become the next big Hollywood hit and the first film ever to be based on a video game.
As the infamous film that set the stage for a slew of video game-to-film adaptations over the years now celebrates its 25th anniversary, let’s take a look back at the tone and absurdly brilliant artistry that made Super Mario Bros. the maligned, yet increas- ingly beloved, cult classic it is today.
A WRONG TURN THROUGH THE MUSHROOM KINGDOM
The popularity of the Super Mario games did initially attract some A-list actors to the project such as Danny DeVito, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who were approached to play Mario, Luigi, and Koopa, respectively. But as pre-production on the film dragged along, with the scripts’ continuously shifting tone, those actors were taken out of consideration and the creative team decided that Bob Hoskins was the right man for the leading role of Mario, having just had successes with family films Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Hook. Soon after, Dennis Hopper signed on as Koopa and comedian John Leguizamo brought a youthful charisma to the role of Luigi.
Super Mario Bros. went through a whopping 8 different script concepts before the creative team finally settled on the dystopian storyline that was translated into the final film. Originally, the film was envisioned as a Wizard of Oz-inspired tale that aimed to more accurately bring the fantastical world of the games to life. However, when original director Greg Beeman’s sci-fi fantasy Mom and Dad Save the World flopped at the box office in 1992, a new set of writers were brought in along with the creators of Max Headroom, husband and wife directing team Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.
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