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‘The Super Mario Bros. Movie’ VS ‘Super Mario Bros.’ (93)


Despite his impeccable gaming career, the road to Hollywood stardom has been a difficult one for everyone’s favorite portly plumber, Mario. The 1993 adaptation was a critical and financial failure so massive that it seemingly cursed all future video game movies and scared Nintendo away from trying again for multiple decades. But that arduous journey has finally reached its conclusion. 2023’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie has hit theaters and become a big hit with audiences almost immediately. So, what changed in the thirty years between adaptations? In my opinion, it all comes down to how the filmmakers viewed and approached the source material.

When Super Mario Bros. (1993) originally hit theaters, it was literally the first time any film had been adapted from a video game. Video games as a medium had only existed for just over thirty years and had only been popular with consumers for around twenty. As such, it was and still is an extremely young artistic medium and Hollywood found itself scrambling to figure out what to do with it. In the most generous reading, Hollywood initially treated video games as a blank canvas rather than a storytelling source in its own right like books.


Also Read: Is Super Mario Bros. (1993) Better Than You Remember?

This is seen very prominently seen in the live-action Super Mario Bros. using the character names and some of the basic backstory as a launching point for an almost entirely different sci-fi story involving alternate dimensions and human/dinosaur hybrids. And part of why that film is the way it is  comes down to it being so early in regard to approaching the medium. Everyone knew video games were popular, everyone knew they had beloved characters, everyone knew they could make something out of them; however, no one knew how to make it. Which is why films like Super Mario Bros. (1993), the original Street Fighter and Double Dragon movies, 1995’s Mortal Kombat and so on kept being made despite continuous failure. If at first you don’t succeed, try again until something sticks.

By contrast, The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) is coming out in a very different era. Video games have been around for much longer. Many filmmakers working today grew up with them, and through rigorous trial and error it seems as though Hollywood has landed on an ideal way of adapting them. Rather than try to do a straight narrative adaptation like books or use the property as a launchpad for something else entirely, the most successful adaptations take the framework, characters, spirit, and at least some of the plot (if applicable) and translate them into an appropriate cinematic language. Detective Pikachu translated the exploratory nature of Pokémon into a compelling detective story as both involve navigating a complex world. Arcane used pre-established League of Legends lore to create a compelling character drama in its own right, and now we have The Super Mario Bros. Movie takes the existing worlds, characters, and powers from various Mario games and translates them into a fantasy adventure story.

Still from The Super Mario Bros. Movie
Still from The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Also Read: The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review – Nintendo Fun for the Whole Family

Though The Super Mario Bros. Movie does open oddly similarly to its 1993 predecessor with Mario and Luigi as struggling Brooklyn plumbers who stumble across a portal to another dimension, the film quickly diverges from there. The worlds seen in the 2023 film are vibrant, colorful, fantastical and varied, as apposed to the grimy cityscape seen in the 1993 film. Almost every character from the 1993 film looks unrecognizable to their game counterpart, whereas the 2023 characters often look like they came straight from the games. The 1993 film only had Mario, Luigi, Toad, Goombas, King Koopa, Daisy and Yoshi. And while the 2023 film doesn’t have a main Yoshi and swaps out Daisy for Peach, it also features Cranky Kong, Donkey Kong, Kamek, and a whole lot of various Mario enemies. Why? Because the filmmakers behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie were invested in the source material.

On top of its game-accurate designs and its plethora of references and Easter eggs to the larger Mario franchise, it’s clear that directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic love Mario and put genuine thought into how best to bring that world to the screen. This, to me, is the secret weapon that has allowed more recent video game adaptations to succeed after so many others have failed. Properly adapting a world rather than one specific game’s plot. Most video games either have too much or too little story to work as traditional narrative films or even TV shows, so the best possible solution is to bring the feeling of playing the game to the screen. And that is only possible because people working in Hollywood want it to happen.

John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins
John Leguizamo and Bob Hoskins in Super Mario Bros. (93)

The mentality that cursed us with the deluge of terrible video game movies in the 90s and early 2000s was one that attempted to use the increasing popularity of the medium as either a springboard for unrelated concepts like with the live-action Mario movie or the first Resident Evil; or attempt to fit a square peg into a round hole by adapting video games the same way you would adapt books like with Mortal Kombat. And that’s because Hollywood didn’t understand video games at the time and arguably didn’t want to. They were just another popular trend to be exploited for profit. But now, we have filmmakers who see the value in video games. Who look at the worlds they create and the ideas they inspire and see how they could make great films.

It took a long time for the industry to get here, but leave it to the lovable goof of a plumber that is Mario to both get us into this mess and get us out of it.

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Written by Callie Hanna

Callie Hanna is an up-and-coming writer, aspiring actor, and full-time nerd. She grew up in a small town in Delaware and was instilled with a love for superheroes, science fiction, and all things geeky from an early age. When she's not catching up with her comically large backlog of movies, games, shows, and comics, Callie can be found working, writing, chatting with friends, hanging out with her girlfriend, or browsing the dying husk of under @MegaNerd98.