The Original 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie had an interesting and crazy development and production story. It was not the easiest film to make. Husband and wife directing duo Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel had quite the experience developing this movie, and when it was all over the movie was trashed by critics and their filmmaking careers were destroyed.
It didn’t help that they were reportedly difficult to work with on the set and the script for the film was constantly being rewritten, and you can read all about that madness here. I actually enjoyed the movie that they ended up making and the fact that it served as the prequel story that inspired the video game.
It’s funny, the first original script for the movie was written by Rain Man screenwriter Barry Marrow, and his story was actually inspired by Rain Man.
Producer Roland Joffe explained that he and his producing partner Jake Eberts fought hard to get the rights to Super Mario Bros. and when he went to Nintendo to make his pitch to Nintendo President Hiroshi Wayauchi, he went in with a storyboard and story outline. Joffe explained: “I said, ‘This won’t be the story, but it’ll be a story that contains some of these elements.’ I was improvising.”
Nintendo obviously trusted him with this half-assed attempt at a pitch, and they nabbed the rights for $2 million. After they landed the rights, Joffe explained: “We needed to find a way into this story to bring the game to life, that gave everything a kind of reality and created a myth of its own. The game is made up of an odd mixture of Japanese fairy tales and bits of modern America.”
He wondered, “How do we catch this wonderful mixture of images and inputs and strangeness?” Then Morrow enters the picture. He brought aspects of his film Rain Man to the two main plumber characters.
The LA Times says, “the first draft established Mario Mario as the elder brother, Luigi as the naive sibling. Together the blue-collar team formed a dysfunctional family relationship. Their story would be a prequel relating the adventure that led to the Mario brothers’ “super” video game status.”
The only known details of the story are that it centered on a ring that is lost down a pipe, which “somehow kickstarts an existential road-trip where Mario and Luigi bound as brothers and eventually become super. Mario is described as being the brains while Luigi is apparently a savant.”
When talking about that script, Fred Caruso said: “It was more of a serious drama piece as opposed to a fun comedy. We were looking for the same audience that enjoyed E.T. as well as Ghostbusters as well as Terminator II and Batman.” They basically want to make sure the movie had the elements of a big hit movie.
After Morrow turned in his draft, the first rewrite came from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure co-writer Ed Solomon. They were hoping he would be able to add the comedy elements to the story that they were looking for. Not that it did the film any good because once the directors came on board the basically tossed the script out and were doing rewrites for the movie every day!
It was explained that at least nine writers worked on the script, which had “now grown as thick as nearby Wilmington’s phone book, rainbow-colored with rewritten pages. The only page color missing is the original draft’s. No white pages remain.”
During the early process of developing some king of script, though, Joffe was inspired by Max Headroom. He explained: “We made some mistakes. We tried some various avenues that didn’t work, that came up too medieval or somehow wasn’t the right thing. I felt the project was taking a wrong turn. And that’s when I began thinking of Max Headroom.”
Joffe was a fan of the TV show, so he set off on a journey to Rome to meet with two of Headroom’s creators, Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel. Joffe remembers their immediate description of what their version of the Super Mario story would be, saying: “65 million years ago, when the meteor hit the Earth where Brooklyn is today, it pushed a small group of dinosaurs into a sub-dimension, and they evolved into something like us–humans descended from reptiles.”
That’s kind of what they ended up running with! The movie follows Brooklyn plumbers Mario and Luigi as they “get the shock of their lives when they discover a parallel world populated by the intelligent descendants of dinosaurs. It seems they weren’t destroyed by a meteor millions of years ago but hurled into another dimension and, now, they have plans to rule our world. It’s up to our unlikely heroes to battle the evil King Koopa and his Goomba guards, free the beautiful Princess Daisy and save mankind in this adventure of a lifetime.”
I’d be curious to know how that initial Rain Man version of the script turned out, but the script is said to be lost.