When someone mentions video games, we think of our favorites—modern games like Minecraft or Fortnite, classics like Sonic: The Hedgehog or Super Mario Bros. One thing we tend to forget about, though, is video game movies. Is there a reason we all collectively push video game movies out of our minds?
“The Book is Always Better Than the Movie”
This phrase has been uttered countless times in movie theaters across the globe, so much so that it’s almost an expectation when watching any movie adaptation of a book. But can the same be said for movie adaptations of video games?
Video game movies are seldom received positively. It’s hard to live up to expectations when you go from a revolutionary platformer game to an outlandish feature film. But that didn’t stop the creators of the Super Mario Bros (1993) movie from producing the monstrosity we all love to hate. It’s corny, it’s uncanny, and it has paved the way for even more poor adaptations of beloved game franchises.
The main problem Super Mario Bros (1993) faced with becoming the very first video game film was living up to the expectations set by gamers. If it was too similar to the experience of playing the game, then why even make a film at all if the audience could just grab a couple of quarters and head down to their local arcade?
If the film strayed too far from the game, experimenting too much with plots, characters, and settings, then they would be setting themselves up for failure. The viewers would pull back, disappointed to see their favorite game characterized as something completely unrecognizable. So gamers can’t help but wonder: why even make the film at all if it seems impossible to get it right?
The first time I ever watched the Super Mario Bros (1993) film, my older brother had recommended it to me. He said it was one of his favorite “so bad, it’s good” films and that any gamer should give it a chance at least once to truly appreciate its awfulness. So, with already low expectations, I pulled up the trailer to get an idea of what I was in for. Between the erratic pacing, the completely bizarre crystal plotline, and awful human redesigns of characters like Bowser, I felt confused at best and increasingly disturbed at worst.
Every other scene I endured caused a plethora of questions to pop up in my mind. Who thought this was a good idea? Why did that have to make this movie so erratic and strange? How desperate was John Leguizamo to get that paycheck? But one question hasn’t left my mind – do gamers even want movie adaptations of their favorite games? I love to play classic solitaire, but that doesn’t mean I would enjoy a quirky live-action take on the simple card game.
Some people do adore this film. It’s become a cult classic in certain circles. But would that love still be there if we took the nostalgia out? I argue that if the film wouldn’t be worth watching without the iconic names slapped on the front, it shouldn’t have been made in the first place.
Super Mario Bros (1993) has paved the way for a generation of awful video game movies, such as Hitman, Doom, and Tekken. Still, that doesn’t mean we should completely throw away the genre. Recent films such as Detective Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Werewolves Within have all been much more well-received than previous attempts at creating a successful video game movie. Sonic the Hedgehog has been much more well-received than previous attempts at creating a successful video game movie.
Are these films perfect? Of course not. However, despite the challenge that is trying to sit through Super Mario Bros (1993) without cringing, it did open the door to potentially creating a fantastic genre worth getting excited over. And when we eventually do get that blockbuster film, we will have Super Mario Bros (1993) to thank for it.