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5 game adaptations that could build a Super Mario Bros. Cinematic Universe

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is in theaters now and it’s getting a mixed reception. While some aren’t impressed by its thin story and Minions-like humor, Mario fans generally seem happy with what’s at least a visually faithful take on the iconic gaming series. There’s a good chance it’ll be a financial success even with middling reviews, so you can bet that Nintendo and Illumination are already cooking up sequel plans.

The next installment might just come in the form of Super Mario Bros. 2, but there’s real potential here for a new MCU: the Mario Cinematic Universe. With decades’ worth of mainline games, spinoffs, and characters, there’s no shortage of material that could be used to build out Mario’s silver screen world. If Nintendo is looking to expand its cinematic ambitions, these five games could serve as inspiration for what Illumination’s next adaptation looks like.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

Promo art for Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story shows its heroes.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Nintendo has a few challenges to solve when creating its next Mario movie. That initial thrill of seeing the game on the big screen isn’t a feeling that’ll be easy to repeat. A sequel will need to stand on its own rather than relying on Easter eggs and visual references to elicit some warm, fuzzy nostalgia. That’ll mean fixing the first movie’s biggest problem: its lack of a story.

To rectify that, Nintendo and Illumination should look more toward Mario’s story-rich RPGs than his 2D platformers. What’s the best candidate for a big-screen adaptation at the moment? Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. The Nintendo DS classic is one of Mario’s best adventures and it already feels like the right time to tackle it. It’s a delightful slapstick comedy that sees Mario and Luigi getting sucked into Bowser’s body — an idea that has potential for a Magic School Bus-esque kids movie. More importantly, it’s one of the first Mario games that truly gives Bowser a starring role as he fights the villainous Fawful. Using Bowser’s Inside Story as a basis, Illumination could create a sequel that gives Jack Black more room to steal the show while shaking up the sequel with a new villain. Plus, what kid doesn’t love a good bodily humor joke?

Luigi’s Mansion

Luigi shines a flashlight in Luigi's Mansion 3.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

While Mario is the titular star of the franchise, you can have “Mario Bros.” without Luigi. Charlie Day does a wonderful job bringing Luigi to life in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, giving him the nervous energy he deserves. A Luigi-focused film could make for a fun side-movie and fortunately, there’s a very easy way to pull that off with Luigi’s Mansion.

The Luigi-focused series is a delightful departure from the rest of the Mario franchise. It’s a kid-friendly “horror” game where the plumber turns into a certified Ghostbuster. It’s easy to imagine what a film adaptation would look like, with Luigi starring in his own haunted house movie that combines slapstick comedy and spooky-cute visuals. It’s the perfect Halloween children’s movie waiting to be made, one that could help build the Mario film universe outside of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Donkey Kong Country


Speaking of world-building, why not take viewers to the country? Donkey Kong Country, that is. The ape (voiced by Seth Rogan) plays a major role in Mario’s big adventure, acting as one of his primary sidekicks. Why stop there with one of gaming’s oldest mascots, especially when his own games are just as visually inviting as Mario’s.

The Donkey Kong Country series seems like an obvious choice for an animated spinoff series. It would let Illumination bring more of the Kong family to the big screen, introduce a Bowser-sized villain in King K. Rool, and include a soundtrack that remixes some of gaming’s best jams. I can already picture an adventurous jungle-themed romp that plays like a modern riff on Tarzan.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Considering that Illumination is the studio behind the ever-so-popular Minions, it was no surprise that it would want to create its own version of the little guys in the Mario universe. That’s clearly the role that Toads fill in the film, acting as an easily franchisable form of comedic relief. The idea of a standalone movie that’s just generally about the Toads sounds a little grating, but there’s a much better way to develop the mushroom-headed weirdos going forwards if that’s in the cards.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is one of the Mario franchise’s best hidden gems and it’s perfect fodder for a Toad-centric movie. The Wii U spinoff is a charming puzzle game that sees Captain Toad exploring diorama-like environments and collecting treasure. The gameplay doesn’t lend itself to a movie, but it’s easy to picture it being blown out into an animated version of Indiana Jones starring a very unlikely hero. It would allow Illumination to give the Toads their own spotlight while still focusing on a central character that represents the species as a whole.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Bowser and Mario in Super Mario RPG.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

You can’t invoke the Marvel Cinematic Universe without picturing its Avengers moment. What would a “phase one” of Mario movies build to? There’s no real game to base that idea on unless Nintendo decides to go all-out with a Super Smash Bros. adaptation. Instead, it’s more a matter of finding a Mario story that works as a cartoon epic. By that metric, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars might be the perfect game for the job.

To this day, the beloved Super Nintendo RPG still feels like Mario’s grandest adventure. It unites Mario, Peach, and Bowser on a mission to defeat the nefarious Smithy Gang and introduces fan-favorite heroes like Geno. I can easily see a world in which that story becomes a long-term crossover film that sees Mario’s principal cast teaming up to save the Mushroom Kingdom. Picture a teaser poster with a massive sword plunged into Bowser’s keep and it might give you goosebumps.

Granted, these are all bigger ideas than what I’d imagine is actually in store. I get the sense the series will play out more like a straight kids movie with original stories solely focused on Mario. We’ll probably see some references to games, but no straight adaptations. Still, I hope Illumination is willing to tap into the Mario series’ sprawling universe in a more substantial way next time. There’s a lot of great material that would be a blast on the big screen.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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