Skip to main content

Is the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. movie really that bad?

In the long history of adapting video games to the big screen, there’s been plenty of failures. Most video games don’t work on the big screen for all the reasons you usually hear about: They’re too expansive, too play-driven, or too focused on lore. In that long history, though, there’s one movie that stands apart from the rest because of the sheer volume of stink on its reputation.

1993’s Super Mario Bros. is perhaps the nadir of bad video game adaptations, and the movie every other adaptation seeks to avoid becoming. Now, as the world prepares for yet another big-screen Mario adaptation with The Super Mario Bros. Movie, it’s worth looking back on this 1993 film and figuring out whether that reputation is actually merited.

Super Mario Bros. is, unfortunately, as bad as you remember

Super Mario Bros. (1993) ORIGINAL TRAILER

It would be much better for this article, and for the discourse more generally, for there to be some reasons to defend Super Mario Bros., and there are a few. Bob Hoskins, in spite of giving interview after interview in which he made it perfectly clear he had no idea what was happening in the movie he was starring in, is still genuinely captivating in the lead role. Coming off of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he’s an inspired bit of casting, and perhaps the only element of this movie that compels in the slightest.

Past that, though, Super Mario Bros. makes so many genuinely bizarre choices that it’s no wonder it alienated both those who were familiar with the games and those who weren’t. It seems designed to be unappealing to as many people as possible striking a middle ground between commitment to the fantastical world of the games and establishing a more grounded, gritty reality for its characters to live in.

Two men and a woman celebrate in Super Mario Bros.

The film follows Mario and his brother Luigi as they are transported to a parallel dimension after a woman named Daisy (for some reason not Peach) is kidnapped. Instead of attempting to recreate the world of the game, though, the movie takes elements from the game and transplants them into its own version of Manhattan, for some reason named Dinohattan. It’s really quite strange!

This approach was clearly meant to make the movie seem more appealing to those unfamiliar with the Mario games, which in 1993 was likely a much larger slice of the population than it is today. That’s a fine reason, but the results really do speak for themselves. The movie, in spite of its quite sizable budget, was both a critical and commercial flop, and its reputation has not improved in the years since.

The best thing about Super Mario Bros.

Bowser aims a gun in Super Mario Bros.

In spite of its failure on a basic, storytelling level, the movie’s visual effects do deserve some genuine praise. Especially in an era when most creatures are rendered with the help of CG, the goombas and other creatures that inhabit Dinohattan do feel like they have genuine heft and weight to them. They’re practical, and that’s part of what makes them feel so distinct when compared to many more modern video game adaptations.

Ultimately, though, Super Mario Bros. fails to capture the spirit of joy and whimsy that the game so often could. Instead, it arrived in 1993 limp and uninspired, and there’s no reason to defend it now. There are some movies that we got dreadfully wrong when they were first released in theaters. Unfortunately for anyone hoping otherwise, Super Mario Bros. is not one of them.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie: everything we know so far
Mario, Peach, and Toad in "The Super Mario Bros. Movie."

We might be living during a golden age for great video game adaptations. Following the surprise success of Sonic the Hedgehog and its sequel, and with the critically acclaimed The Last of Us about to wrap its first season and a second one on the way, this seems to be the perfect time to adapt a beloved video game property. Fortunately, Illumination Entertainment has us covered with the upcoming The Super Mario Bros. Movie, an adaptation of, arguably, the most popular and recognizable video game IP.

Details about the movie remain surprisingly scarce. However, the wait is almost over, as The Super Mario Bros. Movie premieres in a month, meaning audiences will finally get to see their favorite Italian plumber in all his high-jumping, pipe-entering, fire-ball-shooting glory. In the meantime, here's everything that's been revealed and a few things you can expect from the highly-anticipated movie.
When does The Super Mario Bros. Movie come out?

Read more
Forget the haters, The Super Mario Bros. Movie actually looks awesome

The latest trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie has reignited hype for the animated blockbuster and then some. Featuring a plethora of Easter eggs, new characters, and memorable moments, this trailer has convinced audiences that this controversial video game movie will become Hollywood's next big thing.

Though many people slammed this movie before it even premiered, everything the studio has shared so far seems to have sent all that hate and doubt down the drain pipe. Here are reasons why The Super Mario Bros. Movie will have moviegoers cheering when it premieres in 2023.
The humor

Read more
Bowser attacks in The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s first trailer
super mario bros movie first trailer bowser

Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment finally gave us our first glimpse at the animated Mario movie, which is officially titled The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The trailer reveal came during New York Comic Con and got a special Nintendo Direct of its own. 
The Super Mario Bros. Movie Nintendo Direct kicks off with an introduction from Shigeru Miyamoto, Chris Meledandri, Chris Pratt, and Jack Black, who confirmed that the animation will be complete next week, although there are still other things to do, and hyped up the trailer. The trailer itself begins with Bowser attacking a city of Penguins before cutting to Mario finding himself in the Mushroom Kingdom and going on an adventure with Toad. We even see a little bit of Luigi at the end.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie | Official Teaser Trailer
Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment -- the Universal Pictures animation studio known for creating Despicable Me, Sing, and The Secret Life of Pets -- first announced a movie based on the iconic Super Mario Bros. video game series in 2018. While series creator Shigeru Miyamoto was a producer on the film from the start and Nintendo acquired a film studio during this movie's production, the announcement that really turned heads was the September 2021 Nintendo Direct, where its shocking all-star cast was revealed. 
During its segment in that Direct, we learned that Chris Pratt is Mario, Anya Taylor-Joy is Princess Peach, Charlie Day is Luigi, Keegan-Michael Key is Toad, Seth Rogan is Donkey Kong, Fred Armisen is Cranky Kong, Kevin Michael Richardson is Kamek, Sebastian Maniscalco is Foreman Spike, and Jack Black is Bowser. They all felt like odd choices at the time of the announcement, and from this trailer, we learned what Kamek, Bowser, Mario, Toad, and Luigi will all sound like. 
While The Super Mario Bros. Movie was originally going to come out this year, you can now expect the animated feature to hit theaters on April 7, 2023 in the United States and April 28, 2023 in Japan. 

Read more