Directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were “abandoned by Hollywood” after their 1993 film Super Mario Bros. bombed at the box office and landed on various “Worst Movies of All Time” lists.
The married couple revealed that their careers suffered a “black mark” after the live-action movie starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo was reviled. But a midnight screening at Quentin Tarantino’s New Beverly Cinema on March 11 helped to vindicate the directors, washing away the stain.
The screening came after Tarantino shouted out Morton and Jankel on his podcast, “The Video Archives Podcast,” in which he and Roger Avary revisit classic films and VHS gems.
A Night of Vindication
The directors revealed that they had not watched the movie in 30 years but were amazed to see dozens of fans approach them for autographs and selfies.
Morton said that the audience was “laughing and clapping at all the right places. They weren’t doing it ironically; it was genuine.” Jankel added that it was like being at a film festival, and it was vindicating. It took 30 years of a bad feelings to be wiped out in one evening.
The timing of Jankel and Morton’s day in the sun is not lost on them. On April 5, Universal released The Super Mario Bros. Movie, an animated blockbuster featuring Chris Pratt as the mustachioed plumber. The movie is expected to debut for more than $125 million this week.
Released 30 years apart, the two films could not be more different. The 1993 film, which is meant to be a prequel to the 1985 Super Mario Bros. game, features a parallel universe populated with humanoid dinosaurs who live in the city of Dinohattan.
While the ‘93 film, the first big-screen adaptation of a video game, was criticized for being too dark, the 2023 movie is, as Morton puts it, “the film that everybody wants.”
The Involvement of Nintendo
Perhaps the biggest advantage the new movie has is Nintendo, which had zero involvement in the ‘93 film. Not only is the gaming giant a producer on the 2023 movie, but Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Bros., co-produced the film with Chris Meledandri-led studio behind “Despicable Me,” the highest-grossing animated franchise in history.
Miyamoto was involved every step of the way, from casting to animation to developing the story. Nintendo’s distance from the original film is something that, in hindsight, Morton regrets.
A Regretful Choice
Produced by a Disney subsidiary, “Super Mario Bros.” was viewed as a licensing experiment by Nintendo, which yielded creative control to the film’s backers. Morton recalls having a “polite” meeting with Miyamoto ahead of production — where he explained the story to the Nintendo executive — but they never spoke again.
“He actually liked our film,” Morton claims. But the reception to the movie spooked Miyamoto and kept Mario off the big screen for three decades. In this week’s Variety cover story, Miyamoto said, “We were fearful of all the failure of past IP adaptations, where there’s a license and a distance between the original creators and the creators of the films.”
The Difficult Production
The production of 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.” was marred by drunken actors, last-minute rewrites, and explosive fights between the producers and the directors.
Two weeks before the first day of principal photography, the script was rewritten completely. The producers forbade Morton from talking to the writer. In contrast, the new animated movie has Miyamoto and Chris Meledandri, the CEO of Illumination, leading the project with a team of experienced writers and animators.
They have also stated their commitment to staying true to the spirit of the original video games, while also bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to the table.
Unlike the tumultuous production of “Super Mario Bros.”, the team behind the new animated movie seems to have a clear vision and a collaborative approach. In interviews, Miyamoto and Meledandri have expressed their admiration for each other’s work and their excitement for the project.
They have also emphasized the importance of respecting the legacy of Mario and his world, while also exploring new possibilities for storytelling and animation.
Of course, there is always a risk when adapting beloved properties like “Super Mario Bros.” for new media. Fans of the games have high expectations and strong opinions about how the characters and world should be portrayed.
However, based on the talent involved and the positive buzz surrounding the project, there is reason to be optimistic about the new animated movie.