In the wake of this week’s release of the much-heralded The Super Mario Bros. Movie, folks are taking a look at the live-action 1993 film that preceded it. Directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, Super Mario Bros. starred Bob Hoskins as Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi. The movie tanked at the box office—plumbers would have a more colorful phrase for it, like “flushed down the toilet.” It is still widely considered one of the worst films ever made.
Morton and Jankel, who are a married couple, were so embarrassed at the film’s reception that they avoided watching it, feeling it left a “black mark” on their reputations. But they seem to be having second thoughts, as reported in Variety this week.
On March 11, the couple attended a midnight screening of their much-reviled film in Queens, New York. They discovered that Super Mario Bros. had acquired a cult following over the years, as evidenced by the overflow crowds at the theater.
“It was vindicating,” said Jankel. “It took 30 years of a bad feeling to be wiped out in one evening.”
Credit must also go to Quentin Tarantino, who recently praised Morton and Jankel on The Video Archives Podcast, in which he is joined by Roger Avery in taking a look at vintage films and VHS releases. Tarantino also cited the couple’s first feature, D.O.A., which they made in 1988.
“I think Quentin Tarantino understands where we’re coming from, creatively,” Morton was quoted as saying. “It’s a certain quirkiness that didn’t fit in nicely with the Hollywood scene at the time.”
The 1993 film was designed as a prequel to the 1985 video game; it takes place in a parallel universe with humanoid dinosaurs living in Dinohattan. Mario and Luigi, two Brooklyn plumbers, are summoned to rescue the imperiled heroine when she is abducted by one of the dinosaur’s descendants.
The film’s shoot had its own tribulations, as recounted by Morton, who remembers clashes between the producers and the creative team and a drunken episode involving some of the actors.
“Two weeks before the first day of principal photography, the script was rewritten completely,” he says. “The producers forbade me to talk to the writer.”
In retrospect, Morton thinks his film was scapegoated because of the bad rap video games endured in the 1990s. “There was a huge outcry in America about how video games were being forced down the throats of our children and polluting our youth,” he was quoted as saying. “That they’re not doing their homework and video games are affecting their brains and their diets. These games were viewed as this kind of evil monster. … The Super Mario Bros. movie was in the front line and took all the flak.”
In contrast, Morton has described the new film as “the film that everybody wants.” It has been projected that the new release will gross 5 million at the box office this week alone.
It’s being produced by Nintendo, among others, and animated by the studio that is responsible for Despicable Me, produced by Chris Meledandri, which has become the most successful animated franchise ever. Shigeru Miyamoto, who created Super Mario Bros., is coproducing the film with Meledandri.