super mario bros. box set

This absurd box set completes the 1993 Mario Bros. movie’s 30-year redemption arc

Lights, Camera, Fungus!

2023 marked 30 years since the opening of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s notorious Super Mario Bros. movie, a film that no one in their right mind was defending at the time of its release. Flash forward to today and it has plenty of fans willing to go to bat for its bizarre Dinotopia vision, all culminating in an absurd new box set from Australia. 

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Super Mario Bros. Movie
Photo by Destructoid

One of the great things about physical media is, in the right hands, you can see the love for film bursting forth from whatever totem you may be holding. We live in an age of boutique labels that pours tons of time and resources into getting their releases just right, and Aussie distributor Umbrella Entertainment pulled out all the stops for this particular Thwomp Stomper. Beyond two versions of the film — including a vastly different workprint that runs about 20 minutes longer than theatrical — the set includes a 480-page hardcover book, and some unique recreations of promotional ephemera from 1993. 

Two Mario movie posters
Photo by Destructoid

This ain’t no game

The main piece on display in this mini-museum is as wildly uneven as ever in 2024. Super Mario Bros. isn’t a film that was entirely put together by people who love video games; that wasn’t something you were going to get in 1993. There wasn’t a ton of Mario lore to expand upon at the time, and interviews with everyone from screenwriters like Parker Bennet to late Mario actor Bob Hoskins illustrate the fact that they considered its story to be little more than “jumping around from left to right.” 

Whatever the thoughts on the source material may have been, they wanted to do for Mario and Luigi what Tim Burton did for Batman. They designed a suitably gritty world — more Total Recall than Batman for my money — and established a narrative that saw Dennis Hopper embodying a dictator-like Koopa bent on merging the dying desert world of the dinosaurs with the thriving metropolises the mammals so wrongfully called their own. 

It’s kind of a beautiful mess, and as a result it ends up being more interesting than whatever kids like myself might have wanted three decades ago. I was a huge Nintendo nerd; wild for lovable crud like The Super Mario Bros. Super Show and Valiant’s Nintendo comics. In my mind, the nonexistent promise of the live-action Super Mario Bros. movie was a faithful translation from game to screen, whatever that would have been. I pictured Mario leaping from chasm to chasm, bouncing off mushrooms and stomping Koopa Troopas in big screen splendor. What I was really imagining was probably closer to a cacophonous approximation of Super Show leads Lou Albano and Danny Wells shouting about spaghetti in the multiplex. 

Photo by Destructoid

Trust the fungus

That’s not what I got, and while I was disappointed in 1993, I eventually came to look back on the Super Mario Bros. movie fondly. In 2023, we got a better idea of what a straight-up cinematic spin on the Mario universe would look like in the aptly-titled Super Mario Bros. Movie. And you know what? It’s fairly dull and lacks any form of idiosyncratic inspiration. This may shock you, but it turns out that what I wanted when I was 12 wasn’t all that unique or exciting. I’m not saying Morton and Jankel’s production is some kind of revelatory lightning bolt from the past, but at least they tried to do something with what they had.

The fact that they were able to do it in the first place is the best argument for “showing up” I’ve seen in a while. Producer Roland Joffé recalls that he flew to Nintendo’s headquarters in Japan and met with then-president Hiroshi Yamauchi. During the meeting, Yamauchi noted that other studios were also interested in the material. When asked why they should give it to them, Joffé simply said “Because I’m here.” As the story goes, Yamauchi quite liked that response. 

There are plenty of anecdotes like that in Umbrella’s Super Mario Bros. set, which is as close as we’re likely to get to a historical artifact on the subject. One piece of ephemera in particular lit a latent portion of my aging dino-brain ablaze. The box contains a smaller, but otherwise perfect recreation of the Official Movie Magazine that was released to promote the film, right down to all the advertisements inside. It’s one thing to get insight into a production like this, but it’s also helpful to see the other side of the coin; how it was sold and what flavor of unfiltered hype fueled it in that exact moment. 

An old school style magazine for the Super Mario Bros boxset
Photo by Destructoid

Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo(lved)! 

The information on the discs and within the expansive hardcover tome will be new to many of those who peruse this set, but much of it has been kicking around online thanks to the tireless efforts of the SMB Movie Archive. Founder Ryan Hoss and Editor-in-Chief Steven Applebaum shared their thoughts on the trajectory of their fandom — Toad actor Mojo Nixon once called their archeological quest an “insane obsession” — in the book’s introduction. The artwork, photos, and stories that follow are worth the price of admission alone.

The Super Mario Bros boxset

Even if you’ve never come around to the ’93 Super Mario Bros. movie, Umbrella’s collection goes a long way to emphasize the fact that no one sets out to make a “bad” film. All of the artists and creatives behind the production put a ton of work in to realize the vision fueling it all, even if that vision did a complete 180 at one point, leading to more painstaking work. The results are unlike anything one would expect from a Mario movie, and if that wasn’t the cast we might not still be talking about it to this day. 

When I first received the set from Umbrella I was hesitant to post much about it simply because it sold out almost immediately. Thankfully, on March 22 Umbrella announced a reprint, complete with everything the original set included but without the limited numbering. There’s also the option to go disc-less for those who just want to upgrade their standalone 4K copy. At some point in my life I decided it was okay to spend one hundred U.S. dollars on a stupid movie from time to time. This fungal blast from the devolved past easily earned that distinction. 


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Author
Joseph Luster
Joseph has been writing about games, anime, and movies for over 20 years and loves thinking about instruction manuals, discovering obscure platformers, and dreaming up a world where he actually has space (and time) for a retro game collection.