In 1993, Rocky Morton's and Annabel Jankel's "Super Mario Bros." was released in theaters to terrible reviews and widespread derision. Many audiences at the time could be heard rejecting the film out of hand, as it invented its own, bizarre premise wholly separate from the games on which it was based. The games dealt hallucinatory adventure/fantasy scenarios about plumbers trekking across a land lousy with hammer-throwing turtles and power-granting mushrooms to rescue a princess that had been kidnapped by a fire-breathing dragon.
The film, in contrast, posited that when Earth was struck by the meteor that killed the dinosaurs, it created two parallel Earths. One Earth was the familiar realm where humans evolved from apes. The other was a world where dinosaurs survived and continued to evolve into human-looking creatures. The dinosaur dimension, however, was facing ruin at the hands of its tyrannical leader King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), leading to the King's plot to kidnap an Earthbound princess (Samantha Mathis) and use her secret royal lineage to take over Earth. The Mario Bros. (Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo), two Brooklyn plumbers, followed the princess into the dinosaur dimension to rescue her.
The film also contained a city covered in fungus, de-evolution guns, rocket boots, and many other things not in the games.
Hoskins went on record as hating the film, calling it the worst thing he's ever done. He also claimed to have not known what "Super Mario Bros." was prior to playing the part. The film was a bob-omb at the box office, and was often pointed to as evidence that good video game movies could not ever be made.
The film is just weird enough to adore and, over the years, it has amassed a cult following of passionate adherents. As for Hoskins' co-star John Leguizamo? Well, his thoughts have changed over the years.
Mario Mario And Luigi Mario
Recently, /Film's own Bill Bria had the opportunity to talk to Leguizamo, who played Luigi in "Super Mario Bros." He, like many others, was embarrassed by the film's poor reception on its release, and once wanted to put it far, far behind him. After so many years of meeting fans, though, Leguizamo has changed his tune considerably. It might have taken nearly 20 years, but it seems that the unironic love for Morton's and Jankel's film has only grown over time. Leguizamo said:
"Yes, definitely my opinion of it has changed. I just did Comic-Con in New York and Baltimore, two big comic cons in America, and so many people are huge fans. There were so many people dressed up as Luigi and Mario, and they [would pose as] the poster with the two plungers. They brought the plungers and there were so many [fans]. They brought their DVDs, their VHSs, their posters. I was signing so much stuff and it was like, 'Wow, there's so much love for this flick' that it softened my heart."
In the 2000s, "Super Mario Bros." began making the midnight movie circuit drawing adults who watched the movie as children and who have been carrying affection for it ever since. Despite the bad reviews, "Super Mario Bros." is creative, strange, and energetic. There are no films quite like it, and many were drawn to Hoskin's grumpy charms and Leguizamo's enthused energy. T-shirts are available now. Some have even bothered to assemble all of the film's deleted scenes into the final cut, creating a 125-minute supercut. "Super Mario Bros." hasn't entirely outlived its reputation as a bomb, but its cult status is undeniable.
Leguizamo, born in Bogotá, Colombia, was moved by more than the film's fans, however. He looked back at the film landscape of 1993 and pointed out that he was one of the very few Latin leading roles at the time, especially when it came to mainstream studio blockbuster filmmaking. Although Leguizamo had been acting in supporting roles since 1985, "Super Mario Bros." one of his first jobs headlining a film. Despite its bad reputation, "Super Mario Bros." seems to have ended up aiding Leguizamo's career. He said:
"Definitely it holds a beautiful place for me now, historically, because there were so few Latin leads, and there I was, the lead of a flick. So that was a big deal, that the directors [Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton] fought for me to be in the movie, because you know how it was back then. They didn't really want Latin people to be the leads of flicks. So they had to fight hard for me. I had the talent, but it was up to the studios to greenlight it. So it has an important place in history for me."
Only two years later, Leguizamo would appear in "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," "Executive Decision," and Baz Luhrmann's "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet." His place in the Hollywood firmament was more or less secured, and the actor has gone on to appear in 90 movies since. That's to say nothing of his TV appearances and his stage career; Leguizamo has won a special Tony Award and has been nominated for four Emmys.
"Super Mario Bros." is not a blot on his career but, thanks to the passage of time, has become a bright spot.
A new Mario movie, the animated "The Super Mario Bros. Movie," is set for release on April 7, 2023.
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