1993’s Super Mario Bros. The Movie is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made but it turns out, this reputation differs depending on who you ask.
Take Mario super-fan Ryan Hoss, for example. He’s not only convinced that cinema’s first video game adaptation is one of pop-culture’s most misunderstood gems but since 2007, he’s spent his spare time trying to convince others to change their own views of this box office bomb. His tireless work is actually paying off too, giving a once-notorious flop an unexpected extra life.
Hoss is the founder of SMBMovie.com, a site dedicated to archiving anything and everything relating to directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s widely-slated take on Nintendo’s flagship plumber.
A few years into the project, he hired Stephen Applebaum as the site’s editor-in-chief and together they’ve attracted a thriving and diverse community of fans that believe this divisive movie is long overdue a second look.
“The very first purchase I ever made was the CD soundtrack album for the movie and from then on, I just started to buy up any Super Mario Brothers-related merchandise I could find,” says Hoss, explaining how his archive began.
“I was so enamoured with the movie and without realising it, I was trying to piece together the puzzle of what it was. At that time, there was no great spot on the internet with any information on the movie or its production. I had all this stuff and the discourse online was kind of like ‘this movie was a joke,” he continues.
“I just felt the movie was misunderstood and that there needed to be a thing online — and I felt equipped to make it because I had all of this stuff.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Morton and Jankel’s film, try imagining this year’s Chris Pratt and Jack Black-fronted cartoon version and inverting every joyful, colourful aspect of it.
Emerging from a troubled gestation full of rewrites and various would-be stars and directors, it ultimately featured an unlikely duo as its sibling heroes, with Bob Hoskins playing Mario and John Leguizamo as Luigi.
When an eleventh-hour script shuffle left its directors with a tonally uneven story that contradicted much of the pre-production set-building that had already taken place, Morton and Jankel were forced to struggle through a shoot that baffled and angered its stars and later had a similar impact on viewers.
Upon release, its dark and dystopic aesthetic, overseen by Blade Runner’s Art Designer David Snyder, was met with confusion from fans who received something that looked nothing like the Mushroom Kingdom they were used to.
Critics hated it and its actors wasted no time distancing themselves, largely at the expense of Morton and Jankel. However, for a small section of 90’s kids who grew up with it, the film, complete with its dino-human Goombas, Thwomp Stomper rocket boots and an oddly photo-realistic Yoshi, offered something unlike anything they’d seen before.
“I knew the franchise best from Super Mario World and already understood that dinosaurs were an important aspect of that universe, so it wasn’t too much of a confusing situation for me when I finally saw the film,” admits Applebaum, commenting on the Dino-hattan parallel universe in which much of the movie takes place.
Devised by Morton as a place created for a breed of humans that evolved from dinosaurs instead of apes, this post-apocalyptic locale featured a heavily industrialised-yet-garish style that resembled something between a car garage and a tacky nightclub.
“Anyone familiar with the games knows that Kooper or Bowser is generally fought in a Mordor-esque location where there’s not a lot of fertility, so I didn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like this interpretation when it seemed to be derived so clearly from the games.”
Over the the years, Hoss and Applebaum have collected countless items that have helped them better understand the movie. Visit the archive and you’ll find details on almost every element of its production, from pre, during and post spanning merchandise, toys, press kits and notes, early scripts and even early rough VHS cuts.
The pair have interviewed cast and crew members about their on set experiences and even developed their own unofficial ‘director’s cut,’ featuring ‘lost’ deleted scenes that they have since unearthed.
“I wanted to get the information out there so people could make up their own mind about the movie. Love it, hate it or feel indifferent about it — I at least wanted to highlight the work and effort that went into making the picture so people could appreciate it,” reasons Hoss.
“I wanted to right the ship for the movie in the hope that more people could come to the site, learn about it and change the the conversation if not into a more positive direction but a more informed direction.”
Since its inception, that’s exactly what’s happened. The duo’s work has attracted a community with no memory of box office receipts or legacy reviews but a strong belief that 1993’s Super Mario Bros. The Movie offers something unique.
“It was super fans at first but nowadays it’s people who have shown this film to their kids, always thought it was misunderstood or found our site and now have a deeper or different appreciation for it,” reveals Hoss.
“It’s all the things you would hope for. There’s definitely a large, passionate community centred around the site and the positive fandom it represents.”
Its fans are far reaching too. In addition to developing a strong connection with LGBTQ+ audiences thanks to its outsider-vibe, others have found identity in this unlikely adaptation.
“The Black community really adore the Big Bertha character,” reveals Applebaum, referencing the character played by Francesca P. Roberts who dances with Mario part way through the film.
“In a similar fashion, it’s very popular with Latin American and Hispanic audiences because of John Leguizamo who has since said he owes his career to the film,” he adds.
“As the film hits its 30th anniversary, I’d say the love for it has become self-sustaining.”
Despite being three decades old, Hoss and Applebaum still continue to discover new artefacts that provide new context and push the conversation into unexpected places. For Hoss, saving the film from a ‘game over’ fate has been wholly satisfying: “The movie always felt incredibly special to me for reasons I couldn’t fully articulate as a kid,” he says.
“Creating the website was only the start of trying to understand it all, and after interacting with so many cast and crew, fans or people who’ve just discovered it, it’s clear we’re not the only ones who agree that Super Mario Bros. is one of the most intriguing films ever made.”
Super Mario Bros is streaming on Prime Video in the UK.