Another Super Mario Bros. Movie Was Released 30 Years Ago. The Actors Hated It.
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During a 2011 interview with The Guardian, actor Bob Hoskins was asked, “What’s the worst job you’ve done?” Without hesitation, he answered, “Super Mario Brothers.”
Next, he was asked about his greatest disappointment. His answer: “Super Mario Brothers.”
Finally, he was asked the one thing he would change in his life if he could edit the past. His response? “I wouldn’t do Super Mario Brothers.”
A new animated The Super Mario Bros. Movie hits theaters on April 5, but it’s not the first film adaptation of the revolutionary 1985 Nintendo video game. The live-action Super Mario Bros., which marks its 30th anniversary this year, starred Hoskins in the title role; John Leguizamo as his brother, Luigi; and Dennis Hopper as the evil King Koopa.
Plagued by creative differences, script rewrites, on-set bickering, and accidental injuries, the 1993 film was a colossal box-office failure. Although it gained a cult following, critics and audiences alike panned its poor dialogue, bizarre story, and goofy action sequences. Some consider it one of the worst movies ever made.
Hoskins isn’t alone in his contempt for the film. Few among its cast have anything positive to say about it, though some are more forgiving about it than others.
Bob Hoskins: “The whole experience was a nightmare.”
Hoskins, the outspoken English actor who died in 2014 at age 71, made no secret of the fact he only took the part for money. Directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel had settled for him after Danny DeVito turned down the role.
Hoskins didn’t even know Super Mario Bros. had been a video game until after he agreed to play Mario. He only learned about the game after his kids showed it to him. “I saw this thing [Mario] jumping up and down,” Hoskins said, “and thought… ‘I used to play King Lear.’”
Hoskins became frustrated with constant script rewrites that continued even when shooting was underway. He also did many of his own stunts, which resulted in several injuries. He told Entertainment Tonight in 1993: “If you’re going to survive this film, you’re going to have to be very, very careful. … I got stabbed four times, electrocuted, broke a finger, nearly got drowned.”
He also clashed horribly with Morton and Jankel. In a 2007 interview with The Guardian, Hoskins said: “The whole experience was a nightmare. It had a husband-and-wife team directing, whose arrogance had been mistaken for talent. After so many weeks their own agent told them to get off the set! F––ng nightmare. F––ng idiots.”
John Leguizamo: “We made a lot of mistakes.”
Leguizamo, who played Hoskins’ on-screen brother, Luigi, was responsible for one of Hoskins’ injuries. The two actors drank whisky before and during takes to cope with the troubled production, which contributed to an accident during a scene in which Leguizamo was driving a van while Hoskins held onto the side.
“I wanted to look cocky and like a stunt man,” Leguizamo said in a 2013 video for the Super Mario Bros. Movie Archive fansite. “I hadn’t really driven a big truck like that, ever. I grew up in Manhattan, so I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 26, so I was a terrible driver, but I didn’t want to tell Bob that.”
Leguizamo slammed on the brakes too hard during filming, making the van door slam shut on Hoskins’ hand. He broke one of his fingers, a fact the crew hid by painting his cast pink and taping his prop weapons to his hand during filming.
Leguizamo, now 62, is one of the few actors who has not openly criticized Super Mario Bros. too harshly. In his 2013 video recognizing the movie’s 20th anniversary, he acknowledged the film’s flaws but said he had “a lot of fond memories” of making the film and appreciated that it had developed a cult following.
“It was one of the first video game movies, so it was tough because it was the first. Nobody had ever really done one before, didn’t really know how to go about it,” he said. “So we were pioneers, you know. We made a lot of great things, and we made a lot of mistakes. But I’m proud of the movie in retrospect.”
Dennis Hopper: “You call this writing? This is s––t!”
Hopper, who played Mario’s nemesis King Koopa, was less forgiving. He called the movie “a nightmare, very honestly” and got along with Morton and Jankel even worse than Hopkins did. Hopper described them as “control freaks [who] wouldn’t talk before they made decisions.”
Richard Edson, another actor in the film, recalled that filming stalled for several hours one day when Hopper started angrily screaming at the directors after learning of yet more script rewrites: “He’s telling them they’re completely unprofessional, that he’s never seen anything like this. … He yells: ‘You rewrote my lines! You call this writing? This is s–t! It’s s–t! And the fact you’d do it without asking me?’ He went on and on. He couldn’t control himself.”
Edson said the tantrum provided entertainment for the other actors, who thought it was “better than the movie.” But Morton said working with Hopper was anything but entertaining: “That was really, really hard. Really hard. I don’t think he had a clue what was going on.”
During a 2008 interview with Conan O’Brien, Hopper discussed his regrets over making the movie. “My 6-year-old son at the time... he said, ‘Dad, I think you’re probably a pretty good actor, but why did you play that terrible guy King Koopa in Super Mario Bros.?’ I said ‘Well Henry, I did that so you could have shoes.’ And he said, ‘Dad, I don’t need shoes that badly.’”
Hopper died of cancer in 2010, at age 74.
Samantha Mathis: “It was a troubled shoot.”
Samantha Mathis, who played Luigi’s love interest, Princess Daisy, in the film, didn’t get along as poorly with the directors as her co-stars did but told The Guardian she felt they were “overwhelmed” by the problems that occurred during filming, and that there were “a lot of cooks in the kitchen.”
“I don’t think it’s any secret that it was a troubled shoot,” she said. “I would say Bob didn’t suffer fools gladly—he was an artist, he could see the chaos swirling around the set and the lack of clarity. I think it’s a rare thing to have two people directing a movie together well—I certainly haven’t experienced it. The production just took on a life of its own.”
Prior to the film’s release, Mathis and her co-stars took part in an extensive press junket in Japan, during which Buddhist monks at a Tokyo temple prayed for the movie’s success. “We all looked at each other when we realized what was going on,” Mathis recalled to The Guardian. “We thought, ‘This is sacrilegious—these priests should not be praying for our crazy movie!’”
Although she called Super Mario Bros. “kind of a mess,” Mathis told Playboy in 2018 that she has been approached by many fans of the movie. “I still meet people that say to me, ‘It was my favorite film as a kid.’ ... It was just nailed—quite rightly, too—by the critics, but the kids that saw it didn’t really care too much about that. They were just along for the ride.”