The Super Mario Bros. movie (the first one, from the 80s), is infamously terrible. Multiple ‘Worst Films of All Time’ lists terrible. When considering just how safe the recent animated mega-hit Mario movie played things, how could the creators of the biggest game series of all time ever have allowed this to happen to their flagship character? Well, most of the problems seem to have stemmed from the untested field of videogame adaptation, in a time when studios assumed they’d have to totally overhaul a game’s everything to win over mainstream audiences. Starting basically from the ground up, only incorporating the game’s features superficially; that leaves a lot of room for trouble.

There had been an animated cartoon in Japan prior to Super Mario Bros., but to Americans, Mario’s feature film debut was The Wizard. Nintendo was criticised for including game footage from Super Mario Bros. 3 into an otherwise uninteresting movie. The clear advertisement left Nintendo wanting to be sure the character’s true Hollywood debut had some artistic cache to sway naysayers.

Mario Brothers

As such, the property was handed to minor production company Lightmotive, who pitched a prequel with an ‘edge’. One indicator of how dark they were planning to go with the film: Tom Hanks was vetoed from the lead role since his image at the time was too sunny (he’d starred in Big, Splash, and Turner and Hootch recently). A first draft was written by Oscar award-winning writer Barry Morrow, before he left the project due to creative differences, offended at the notion that his Mario script (written after playing the game for an afternoon) was too similar to Rain Man.

Morrow was replaced by a pair of newcomers, whose vision resembled the games a good deal more than Rain Man. At this point, the directing duo of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were hired, one movie into their careers, though they had plenty of experience with music videos, and their involvement with Max Headroom in particular encouraged the producers, who once again were looking for a darker take on the Mario world. These directors were abhorred by the script they were presented with, and set about hiring another pairing of writers to implement a sci-fi bent more along the lines of their interests.

Still unsatisfied, Morton and Jankel felt the latest draft wasn’t interesting enough and felt sure that it would bore audiences. This period of development is the origin of Dino-hattan, and the parallel universe of evolved Dinosaurs which has confused audiences for decades now. Again, the writers were let go, and a set of new ones injected much more action to meet the pair’s demands. During these revisions, the Mario character was adapted for actor Bob Hoskins once he’d been hired.

Another draft came after producers requested that the screenplay be doctored without the directors’ involvement, resulting in a final draft which the directors weren’t satisfied with, but they went ahead with the project regardless. Their dissatisfaction came through in their direction, as the duo constantly attempted to right the tone of the movie as production went on. The actors too weren’t keen on working with a script different from what they’d signed on for, and the producers responded by having it rewritten once again till everyone was ‘satisfied’. And on went the production from hell. The script would change every day, so much so that lead actor Bob Hoskins gave up on reading it and would work scene by scene instead, freely admitting so to press before the film’s release. Essentially everyone behind the scenes would get cold feet about the direction of the project one way or another, and start poking and prodding to ease their fears of an incoming bomb and major career setback.

By day’s end, only Parker Bennett, Terry Runté and Ed Solomon were credited as writers, though they might as well have been surgeons since no overhaul was ever going to save this hatchet job, as most everyone involved would admit. What went wrong with the original Super Mario Bros? What didn’t?

What Went Wrong with the Original Super Mario Bros. Movie?
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