The Super Mario Bros. Movie Review

Nintendo and Hollywood have suffered a strained relationship throughout the past several decades. This tension was caused due to 1993’s live-action Super Mario Bros. movie, an infamous disaster of an adaptation that’s credited with pioneering the idea of the ‘video game movie curse’, a widespread belief that video game-to-film adaptations just fundamentally can’t work. Is that a silly superstition? In hindsight, yes. Adaptations of video games have slowly started to hit their stride in recent years, with Netflix delivering some truly excellent video game-adapted TV shows such as Arcane: League of Legends, Castlevania and The Cuphead Show so far, HBO recently crushing it with their superb live-action series adaptation of The Last of Us, and Paramount charming critics and audiences alike with their current duology of Sonic the Hedgehog movies, among other examples.

Regardless, even in a time when video game adaptations are starting to become genuinely appealing to mainstream audiences, let alone video game enthusiasts, Nintendo has remained very cautious when it comes to allowing movie studios anywhere near their prized trove of IP’s. It wasn’t until the Big N recently inked a partnership with Universal Studios in fact, one that would see a Mario-themed expansion added to Universal’s theme parks over the next several years, that the needle finally moved again. This negotiation would see Nintendo finally acquiescing to a movie studio taking another crack at a Super Mario Bros. movie, this time in animation, and overseen by Universal’s subsidiary animation studio, Illumination, of Despicable Me/Minions fame.

The result of this creative mulligan, The Super Mario Bros. Movie, has made a massive splash with audiences as well. The movie has become a huge commercial hit, quickly ascending to becoming the highest-grossing video game-to-film adaptation made to date, as well as the first to approach a billion-dollar gross at the time of writing, despite critics being divided on it. If ever there was a declaration that the world is finally ready to truly open the floodgates on video game adaptations however, it’s The Super Mario Bros. Movie, a production that effectively rights one of Hollywood’s most infamous blunders, one that set video game adaptations back for decades.

But the question nonetheless remains… How good is it? The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an indisputable cash cow for Universal and Nintendo alike, but does it truly push video game adaptations creatively as much as it does commercially? Well… Sort of? I’ll be honest; The Super Mario Bros. Movie is exactly the kind of movie that you would expect Illumination to produce out of a pre-existing IP; It’s uncomplicated, functionally animated, focuses mostly on appealing to children over adults, and a bunch of it feels like it exists to push merchandise… But it’s also pretty fun, and that’s what the Mario franchise has always prioritized most for audiences across all of its products. Sure, Nintendo’s long-awaited return to theatres lacks some of the appealing boldness behind Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog movies, but The Super Mario Bros. Movie still gets the fundamentals mostly right, while packing in a ton of cool nods and Easter eggs for Mario fans young and old.


One strange carryover from 1993’s previous attempt at a Super Mario Bros. movie is Mario and Luigi not being native citizens of the Mushroom Kingdom in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the iconic setting of most of the Mario video games. Instead, Mario and Luigi are fully represented human characters that actually come from the real world, specifically Brooklyn, New York. The two run a struggling plumbing business, eliciting a variety of opinions from their large Italian family, with Mario in particular being seen as the culprit that compromised the professional prospects of his spineless younger brother, Luigi. This conflict is supposedly central to Mario’s and Luigi’s character arcs in this movie… But it’s quickly forgotten once the two actually find the magic underground pipe that whisks them off to the Mushroom Kingdom for the story’s main events. I guess New York’s sewers just have those in this universe…?

Naturally, most of The Super Mario Bros. Movie thus unfolds as a bit of a fish-out-of-water story, as Mario and Luigi wind up separated, and stuck within the fantastical land of the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario ends up falling into the territory of the Mushroom Kingdom’s monarch, Princess Peach, while Luigi ends up stuck in the so-called, “Dark lands”, the territory of the villainous reptilian dictator, Bowser. Bowser happens to be preparing an invasion of the Mushroom Kingdom at that moment, one that Princess Peach is ready to repel, so long as she can secure the help of the adjacent Kong army. Mario is then brought along on this highly sensitive diplomatic task, along with Toad, the guy that found Mario in a field of giant mushrooms, because the plot needs to happen.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is exactly the kind of movie that you would expect Illumination to produce out of a pre-existing IP.”

Yeah, as with many Illumination movies made to date, The Super Mario Bros. Movie doesn’t truly develop the bulk of its characters very much, nor does it flesh out an actual, detailed storyline. Things just kind of happen for the sake of plot convenience throughout the movie, and that can hurt the lead personalities to an extent. This is especially evident when it feels like Mario and Luigi are superfluous within their own movie, as their central character conflicts quickly become abandoned in favour of the Peach/Bowser conflict. This leaves the movie’s supposed heroes to feel like tagalongs with no clearly defined growth, outside of Deus Ex Machina moments, and that’s bound to frustrate longtime Mario fans that were hoping for more interesting story developments in a non-interactive feature film.

Another symptom of this issue comes from Peach’s highly independent, brash and charismatic characterization, which is considerably altered from many of the Mario video games. True, the video games have sometimes portrayed Peach as having combat proficiency and agency in the past, though the majority of them portray her as a damsel-in-distress that’s routinely kidnapped by Bowser, necessitating that Mario and/or Luigi come to her rescue.

Okay, to be fair, that’s probably not a very politically correct Peach characterization for a mainstream movie. Even so, The Super Mario Bros. Movie excessively overcorrects with Peach’s character, and gives Peach way too much agency in the plot, to the point where Mario and Luigi aren’t truly necessary in the story at all. Even if the Mario Bros. didn’t exist in this movie, the core Mushroom Kingdom plot would no doubt unfold the exact same way, because Peach is the one that negotiates everything, manipulates every situation in her favour, and is usually the one that accomplishes most direct action both in and out of combat. If anything, Mario is portrayed as the butt of a joke within Peach’s agenda, being forced to fight for her or win her approval, in ways that feel as contrived as they are confusing. Hell, Peach herself even declares to a crowd that inquires about Mario’s presence at one point that he’s, “Not important”, and it’s treated like a joke, but it’s true! Mario’s not important, in a movie with his name in the title! He’s only there to get knocked around in Peach’s place, frankly, despite the fact that Peach could solve most of this movie’s conflicts by herself.

In fact, to my surprise, it was actually the main antagonist, Bowser that ended up getting the best characterization in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Bowser is the one character that’s given a true sense of complexity and intrigue, not to mention character traits that surprise the audience, while still feeling true to the many distinct Bowser portrayals throughout the Mario video games. Bowser’s first impression in this movie is domineering and dangerous to start, marking him as a violent autocrat that takes what he wants through overwhelming force. In subsequent scenes however, you gradually peel back a disenchantment and a loneliness that Bowser’s loudmouth yes men henchmen are oblivious to, something that of course manifests through Bowser’s bizarre inter-species attraction to the human Peach. There’s a reason why Bowser’s cringey, hilarious homebrew love ballad for Peach, cutely titled, “Peaches”, went viral after this movie’s release; It’s deluded, uncomfortable and kind of adorable in a very sad way, all without betraying the idea that Bowser is this all-powerful bully whose true greatest enemy is his own emotional immaturity. Bowser may be doomed to never have Peach’s heart, but trust me, he’ll steal the audience’s hearts entirely by accident.


Much ado has been made about the Hollywood heavyweight cast voicing the various characters throughout The Super Mario Bros. Movie, many of whom are a far cry from the original Mario video game performers. The gambit of banking on recognizable Hollywood talent over lesser-known dedicated voice actors seems to have paid off regardless, considering that The Super Mario Bros. Movie is about to cross a billion dollars in worldwide ticket sales at this point. Even so, Mario fans will have to make some considerable adjustments with the voice talent here and there, even if some of it turned out better than you may initially expect.

Jack Black and Keegan-Michael Key are the biggest standouts as Bowser and Toad, respectively, with both sounding virtually unrecognizable in the final movie. These characters have the most energy and the most authenticity when compared to their video game inspirations, with Key even somehow managing to contribute a Toad voice that won’t persistently annoy you. Even Charlie Day manages to make a decent impression as Luigi, with Day’s traditional neurotic delivery fitting Luigi’s character very effectively. Day doesn’t appear to make any real attempt at a consistent Italian accent, granted, but at least he sounds the part.

It’s Chris Pratt’s Mario and Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong that serve as the biggest points of contention here. Even Fred Armisen’s Cranky Kong sounds a little bit off, in fact, with Cranky exhibiting quite a lot of over-the-top exuberance for a character that’s supposed to be geriatric and cynical, though to be fair to Armisen, he definitely nails Cranky’s arrogance at the very least. Rogen however is completely undisguised, and his Donkey Kong sounds like, well, Seth Rogen! He sounds like a half-stoned stooge with none of the mighty presence that this iconic character is portrayed with in the video games, making reports of a spin-off movie centered around Rogen’s Donkey Kong feel all the more concerning. There are a few action scenes featuring DK in The Super Mario Bros. Movie, the biggest of which is his introduction (complete with the iconic “DK Rap” from one of the ape’s finest games, Donkey Kong 64), and in all of them, DK sounds like a wimpy, clownish daddy’s boy. Frankly, Rogen just feels like a miscast here, with the role demanding someone like John Cena or, hell, even Vin Diesel would have probably done much better.

As for Pratt, yeah, his Mario voice is… Not too great… But again, to be fair, I was expecting worse when he was announced to be voicing Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Unlike Day, Pratt actually does make an attempt at an Italian accent (albeit one that kind of shifts in and out between scenes), and while it’s not a particularly great attempt, at least he did try. Despite that however, Pratt is completely overshadowed by Anya Taylor-Joy in most of his scenes throughout the Mushroom Kingdom, with Taylor-Joy’s Peach sounding mostly adequate, though again, she’s a much rougher and tougher take on the character than Mario fans will be used to.

This is an issue with the writing more than anything else, but even so, Pratt’s Mario is nonetheless uneven. He sounds acceptable, but a character this beloved throughout the world really should have made more of an impression in a major movie release like this. Even the two brief cameo roles portrayed by the video games’ Mario voice actor, Charles Martinet make more of an immediate impression! Mario fans will no doubt wish that Martinet was allowed to voice Mario throughout this entire movie, though I suppose we did need a recognizable name to draw in mainstream audiences. Still, I wish Pratt was given more to work with, especially being saddled with a Mario that can’t quite find a genuine place in the Mushroom Kingdom’s affairs.


Another thing that longtime Mario fans will be constantly looking out for throughout The Super Mario Bros. Movie is how well (or poorly) it echoes the look and feel of the source games. illumination has built something of a reputation around cost-effective animation so far, and that might create some concern that this movie is not going to put its best foot forward when it comes to portraying one of the most beloved video game settings in human history. Fortunately, those fears would be unfounded in this case, as The Super Mario Bros. Movie does look pretty solid overall, with Illumination boasting some of the most ambitious CG work that they’ve delivered throughout their catalogue to date. Sure, it’s still not Pixar-level animation, but you can at least rest assured that the Mushroom Kingdom is portrayed authentically in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

It’s also evident that a ridiculous amount of love has been put into recognizing Nintendo’s celebrated history throughout this movie. The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a treasure trove of franchise nods for adults that were potentially children even as far back as Mario’s arcade origins from the early 80’s, let alone former children who discovered the franchise on home consoles in the decades since. There are a positively massive selection of Easter eggs that Nintendo enthusiasts will love discovering with viewings and re-viewings of The Super Mario Bros. Movie, many of which date all the way back to the company’s earliest years as a playing card maker. The majority of these Easter eggs are placed throughout the Brooklyn scenes, perhaps because they’re innately less exciting than the bulk of Mushroom Kingdom scenes, but it’s still very cool that this much Nintendo celebration ended up making it into The Super Mario Bros. Movie, with even obscure cult classics like Wrecking Crew and Kid Icarus getting some fun nods.

“It’s also evident that a ridiculous amount of love has been put into recognizing Nintendo’s celebrated history throughout this movie.”

There’s also an extended action sequence built around one of the most universally beloved Mario franchise spin-offs, Mario Kart, and unsurprisingly, it was all over The Super Mario Bros. Movie’s marketing. Is it gratuitous and out-of-nowhere in the plot? Admittedly, yes. Why the characters involved are suddenly driving go-karts on Rainbow Road is never explained, and it feels all the more baffling when you see how this element of the Mario canon is actually overseen in this movie. Still, kids in particular will get a huge kick out of this Mario Kart-inspired sequence, even if adults will wonder why it’s there. Even for older viewers however, this is still a dazzling sequence, especially in 3D, one that presents some of the flashiest and most colourful animation that Illumination has ever attempted in an action scene, so at least it’s a joy to look at, despite this Mario Kart moment feeling quite forced in the storytelling.

Another element of The Super Mario Bros. Movie that fans will no doubt adore is its soundtrack, which is packed with all manner of compositions lifted directly from the source games. Composer, Brian Tyler doesn’t appear keen to fix what isn’t broken, and that’s wise, because the Mario video game music still feels like the only worthy fit for this extraordinary world. Non-fans of the Mario video games are no doubt just as well-versed in a lot of these iconic compositions, though even the featured Mario video game songs that are unfamiliar to the uninitiated still sound fantastic, layered into a recognizable Hollywood orchestral suite that truly does bring together the best of two mediums.


The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun, if lightweight romp that will amuse both children and open-minded adults. The flat, borderline random storytelling is definitely the weakest part of the movie, but even there, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is an enormous improvement over 1993’s awful live-action Super Mario Bros. movie. Sure, many plot turns in The Super Mario Bros. Movie are utterly ridiculous and come out of nowhere, but at least they feel appropriately linked to the heritage of the source games, even if Universal’s and Nintendo’s merchandising motivations are pretty transparent through how forced some of these sequences are.

The A-list Hollywood cast are also going to elicit mixed opinions, especially when some actors definitely feel better cast than others. Again, I’m not sure why Seth Rogen is just playing himself in the role of Donkey Kong, as these two personalities have nothing in common with each other, but at least your worst fears surrounding Chris Pratt’s Mario voice won’t be entirely realized. Instead, Jack Black’s highly enjoyable Bowser performance ends up being the biggest draw here, which is perhaps why it’s Bowser that has currently stolen public attention through his viral song, “Peaches”, effectively giving The Super Mario Bros. Movie its own unique mark with the TikTok crowd. That’s bound to make someone’s bottom line nice and happy.

Thus, I definitely wouldn’t classify The Super Mario Bros. Movie as high art, but it’s also largely inoffensive for tired parents and franchise fans that would logically expect much worse. It’s a colourful, amusing 90-minute distraction that’s packed to the gills with fun Nintendo Easter eggs, and it’s a cut above the majority of Illumination efforts that audiences have received to date. Granted, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is still far from the finest video game adaptation ever made, even when exclusively compared to kid-friendly adaptations like Warner Bros.’ Pokemon: Detective Pikachu and Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog movies, but it does finally give us a competent Mario movie with legitimate franchise potential, even if the source games remain the best way to enjoy the portly plumber’s exploits.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie is bizarrely plotted and full of odd casting, but it's nonetheless a fun and colourful romp that finally gives Mario a competent film adaptation.
Reader Rating0 Votes
Colourful animation that feels true to the source games
Fun soundtrack that's packed with recognizable Mario franchise compositions
Stuffed to the brim with enjoyable Nintendo Easter eggs
Contrived storyline that doesn't make any sense
Some truly bizarre characterization and casting
Mario and Luigi feel superfluous in their own movie