By 1993 multiple video games had received small screen animated adaptations. Pac Man premiered in 1982 and ran for two seasons and 44 episodes, 1984 saw Dragon's Lair make the leap off laserdisc to Saturday morning television, and even racing game Pole Position became animated for 13 episodes. There was also several live action adaptations, including the geography-fest Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiago?
But no video game character had made the transition to the big screen. Several proposals were made prior to 1993, none of them came to fruition and it's been suggested that the studios and executives concerned did not consider any game characters to be big enough stars to carry a movie. That is until one character became a really, really big star.
1985's Super Mario Bros. became the first game to sell 10 million copies (and has gone on to sell over 40 million to date!), spawning a massive franchise and, what seemed like a million licensing deals. Mario was everywhere, on lunchboxes, on cereal, on clothes... oh yes, and on TV...
The Super Mario Bros. Super Show was a massive hit when it premiered in 1989, the show was bookended by live segments which showed Mario (professional wrestling manager Captain Lou Albano) and Luigi (Danny Wells) as two Italian-American plumbers living in Brooklyn, where they would often be visited by celebrity guest stars. In the middle of the show was a cartoon featuring characters and situations based upon the NES games.
As the eighties closed Mario was about as big of a cultural icon as it was possible to get. A movie featuring the adventures of everyone's favourite plumber was not only inevitable it was surely a guaranteed winner, no?
Production company Lightmotive secured the rights from Nintendo and set about bringing Mario and his world to the big screen. Producer Roland Joffé quickly approached Danny DeVito to play Mario and direct the film but he wanted to read the finalised script before signing and as Lightmotive didn't have one as yet DeVito passed. Harold Ramis was then offered the job of director. Despite Lightmotive being a small production company Ramis took up the meeting as he was a fan of the Super Mario Bros. game but declined the offer to helm the movie. Eventually Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were hired to direct based on their work on the television series Max Headroom.
But what about the cast? Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Keaton were both approached to play the part of King Koopa. Both actors decided not to accept the offers, Dennis Hopper was seemingly not so fussy. Then, in something of an astounding move, Lightmotive managed to secure Tom Hanks for the role of Mario! However, some of the film executives from partners Cinergi Productions believed that Hanks was too costly, far more than the production could afford, and so Hanks was dismissed and Bob Hoskins was hired, who was believed to be a more profitable actor based on outlay/return calculations. Rounding off the main cast were John Leguizamo as Luigi, and Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy.
Released in May 1993, Super Mario Bros. tells the story of the eponymous Mario brothers, as they find a parallel universe, ruled by the ruthless dictator King Koopa, who seeks to merge the two dimensions together so that he can rule both worlds, leaving it up to Mario and Luigi to join forces with Princess Daisy, the daughter of the world's displaced King, to stop Koopa.
It grossed $20.9 million on a $48 million budget.
In a 2007 interview Bob Hoskins spoke critically of Super Mario Bros., saying that it was "the worst thing I ever did" and that "the whole experience was a nightmare". Hoskins was asked, "What is the worst job you've done," "What has been your biggest disappointment," and "If you could edit your past, what would you change?" His answer to all three was Super Mario Bros.
So it might not have been a success but Super Mario Bros. was the first live action movie based on a video game, kickstarting a long line of game to movie adaptations.
Next up, the following year came a film based on Double Dragon, it too bombed, making just $2 million from an $8 million budget. That was quickly followed in December 1994 by Street Fighter. Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raúl Juliá, and Kylie Minogue this game to movie adaptation was panned by the critics but hit big, making approximately $100 million, almost three times its production costs.
Mario, however, returned to the console world and continued to dominate. To date the plumber has shifted over 200 million video games - Mamma Mia!
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