Super Mario Bros. is a 1993 film released by Disney, via their Hollywood Pictures brand. It was produced by Lightmotive in collaboration with Allied Filmmakers, directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.
The film received mixed reactions from the press, but was appalled by fans at the time for being not at all derivative of the source material. However, over the years it has gained a substantial cult following, being considered one of the most enjoyable video-game adaptations due to it's cast, humor, and visual design.
One of the most alluring subjects surrounding the film is it's troubled production, which lead to numerous script rewrites. These constant changes continued into the cutting room floor, leading to a plethora of deleted scenes.
About the Production/Changes
During the late eighties and early nineties, the film rights to Super Mario Bros. were in high demand. Disney, Paramount, and other prolific studios had approached Nintendo of America interested in the rights, but none succeeded in closing a deal. Following a string of successful independent dramas such as The Killing Fields and The Mission, Roland Joffé wanted his next project to be something mainstream that would put his studio, Lightmotive on the map. It was then Joffé and his partner Jake Eberts began interest in adapting the world of Super Mario Bros. to the silver screen. Joffé had visited Nintendo of America to begin negotiations, but promptly realized to secure the film rights he would have to directly discuss the project with Nintendo of Japan. After several days of waiting in Kyoto, Joffé had a meeting with the president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi. The concepts Joffé had presented promised a more intimate tale between the brothers and how their adventure in another world would strengthen their waning bond. While Yamauchi was interested in Joffé's ideas, he was curious why the rights should go to Lightmotive as opposed to one of the many top studios waiting at Nintendo's doorstep. Joffé explained that it would be a gamble, but boldly stated that "I'm here, and they're not". Yamauchi admired his spirit, which then resulted in Lightmotive gaining the film rights and complete creative control to Super Mario Bros. for only $2 million, leaving only the merchandising rights behind to Nintendo.
Initial drafts of the film differed greatly from the final product. Barry Morrow, who had written the film Rain Man wrote the first treatment, which went in a curious direction of an extensional drama between the Mario brothers. This script was nicknamed "Drain Man" by the producers for being far too dramatic and derivative of Rain Man itself. They let Morrow go before he could even fully complete his treatment, handing duties off to Jim Jennewein and Tom S. Parker. This version of the script heavily resembled the Super Mario Bros. cartoons and video-games, albeit with a cheekier, more adult sense of humor that parodied classic fairy tales. Jennewein described this screenplay as "essentially doing what Shrek did."
Greg Beeman was attached to direct this script, and production was nearly set to begin before the very last minute when Lightmotive had a change of heart. Beeman's film Mom and Dad Save the World became a huge critical and commercial failure, leaving the producers uncertain whether they could invest in his involvement - Super Mario Bros. was big, and they needed a big name attached to it! Alas, a lot of time and around 10 million dollars had been invested in this version of the film, so the producers needed a solution quick to kick the project into gear. Their search for a replacement for Beeman lead them to Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, creators of Max Headroom and pioneers of computer graphics. They were seen as prime candidates to bring the fantastical world of Super Mario to life because of their impressive resume. However, they were not interested in the current script, and instead envisioned the film to be something grittier that would attract kids as well as adults, similar to Tim Burton's Batman.
Inspired by Dinosaur Land, the setting of Super Mario World, Morton and Jankel created a darker universe that would substitute for the Mushroom Kingdom. This original world, dubbed Dinohattan is a dystopian city coated by fungus, where dinosaurs continued to thrive and evolve into humanoid beings with intense aggressive instinct. This direction evolved Super Mario Bros. into a more action heavy film resembling Mad Max, full of satire and political commentary. The brotherly storyline that Joffé had originally envisioned was still the heart of the film nonetheless, leaving this liberal, yet intriguing vision to attract production designer David L. Synder, Fiona Shaw, Dennis Hopper and Bob Hoskins to the project. When questioned about the wildly different tone of the film and their familiarity of the games themselves, Rocky Morton reassured that he and Annabel Jankel were fans of the Super Mario games, and that the darker direction of the film was a conscious creative decision.
The script went through a couple more revisions before principal photography began. However, nobody was aware that Lightmotive had enlisted Disney to both finance and distribute the film. After burning through $10 million on Beeman's version, they desperately needed the funds to complete the film; but what they didn't realize was this was going to have a greater cost on the creative vision. Desiring a more frivolous tone, Disney suggested a rewrite of the script which Joffé agreed to behind the director's backs. Ed Solomon wrote a new draft in secrecy which neutered the vision Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were set on creating, adding more slapstick comedy and childish humor to the film. When this script was presented to the cast and crew day one of principal photography, everyone was livid. The script did not match the storyboards Morton had created nor the sets that had already been built, and in a fit of frustration he set them on fire in the back lot. Allegedly, he almost quit in that moment, but endured in an effort to salvage the project.
Parker Bennett, one of the previous script writers that assisted in developing Morton and Jankel's vision to screenplay was rehired by the directors to provide rewrites. The goal was to salvage the current script by returning some of the creative vision that had been lost, however these daily rewrites only caused grief for the cast. They stopped bothering to memorize their lines, as the once focused production became an amalgamation of several different drafts. This majorly contributed to the convoluted tone of the final product.
The production stories onward live in legend, with many misconceptions. However, there is no doubt Super Mario Bros. is remembered as one of the most challenging and hectic shoots of it's time. Contrary to belief, Morton and Jankel did in fact complete filming, only having Dean Semler and several other units provide additional reshoots. This, as well as the fact that the directors had been locked out of the editing room, lead to an even further compromise to the vision for the film they had, removing many significant scenes in the process.
The first cut of the film was estimated to have a running time of over two hours by the film's editor Mark Goldblatt, "I would probably say not more than two hours and ten minutes, maximum. But, I don’t know if we ever played anything that long because for a movie like that even a hundred minutes seems about as long as you’d want it to be. I can’t imagine you’d want it to be longer because it just wouldn’t have any pace to it."
The film proved to be a difficult sell at test screenings. More than a few audience members found the parallel world a confusing concept, so taking this criticism in mind, the producers asked Parker Bennett to write a brand new prologue that would provide exposition for how Dinohattan came to be. Originally, the film was slated to begin with the chase sequence through the streets of Brooklyn between Koopa and Daisy's mother, but this was pushed ahead to accommodate for this new prologue. Written on March 17th, 1993, Bennett suggested this new scene be animated in a pixelated manner representing the original Nintendo game. He quickly throwing together the narration and several unique dialogue exchanges between the dinosaurs, then sent it off. As Bennett was writing the prologue, even he was aware that this was a terrible idea. Right up until these last few months before opening day, significant changes were being made to a film on the verge of completion, mostly in the form of ADR.
Upon the theatrical release of Super Mario Bros. in May of 1993, many who had attended those test screenings noted the excision of several key sequences, most notably Koopa de-evolving a technician into slime as well as a political rap featuring Spike and Iggy at the Boom Boom Bar. This discrepancy between cuts prompted much debate on Internet message boards for decades, many using promotional material such as trading cards and the novelization as reference for how these deleted scenes played out.
About the Rough Cut Discovery
Following the formation of the Super Mario Bros. the Movie Archive in 2007, Ryan Hoss and Steven Applebaum made it a goal to retrieve the deleted footage in hopes of creating an extended cut of the film. They were informed by Mark Goldblatt that the workprint was likely the only surviving version of the film, and that any cut footage were likely preserved as lifts:
"Since there never was a black-and-white dupe made except for the final version, there is no record of a longer cut. The only thing that could exist is if somebody found all of the cutting materials – all of the film – because what we used to do in those days was when you cut whole scenes out of a movie you would keep them. They would be called “lifts.” You know, scenes that we took out of a movie. We would put them in some boxes that would be called “lifts.”
Despite many phone calls to Disney and Lightmotive's offices, all that turned up was a cold trail. In 2015, Lightmotive announced liquidation, scattering any material they might have stored across different companies such as Pathé.
However, on May 15th, 2019 a production VHS tape surfaced in an auction among other materials from Roland Joffé's estate. It is believed all these materials, including the Super Mario Bros. tape originated from Lightmotive's storage locker that had been cleared out four years prior. The tape was acquired by longtime SMB Movie Archive community member, Ryan Parente (Echoes). An announcement of the discovery was made the following day by the SMB Movie Archive's Twitter. The tape was then confirmed to be an extended "rough cut" of the film containing many alternate takes, temp music, unfinished VFX and several deleted scenes. The rough cut has a running time of 1 hour and 55 minutes, in comparison to the theatrical cut's running time of 1 hour and 39 minutes. Many of these recovered deleted scenes expanded upon the story and character arcs which were once removed from the film, much to Morton and Jankel's dismay.
On August 15th, 2019, the first deleted scene premiered on SMB Movie Archive's YouTube channel. Over the following months, SMB Movie in conjunction with Cyberpunk Studios continued to release episodes presenting the deleted footage along with context from interviews and other production materials. In 2020, filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist was recruited to restore the footage, Gilchrist himself being known for his restoration of The Thief and the Cobbler, Doctor Who and Evil Dead II. Several stills from Gilchrist's restoration were shared through SMB Movie's twitter in March of 2020. On April 17th 2020, the Super Mario Bros. the Movie Archive premiered a 35 minute reel of deleted footage, featuring a commentary by Garrett Gilchrist about his progress thus far.
Following the restoration of the rough cut footage, the Super Mario Bros. the Movie Archive aspired to complete a brand new cut of the film as they had initially planned. Using a plethora of production material, the intention has been stated to produce an ideal cut of the film that will better reflect the filmmaker's vision, as opposed to the theatrical cut.
On June 1st, 2021, Garrett Gilchrist released his first version of the extended cut, officially titled "Super Mario Bros.: The Morton Jankel Cut". This subtitle was chosen as this new cut of the film better represents the husband and wife directing team's original vision. In the future, Gilchrist plans to update this in-progress restoration with higher quality sources and editing refinements. As these updates are made, the SMB Movie Archive is determined to push for an international psychical release bundled with a 4K restoration of the theatrical cut. Until then, The Morton Jankel Cut can be viewed here.
List of Deleted and Extended Scenes
Below are a list of scenes that were either changed or removed completely from the film. Not all of these are confirmed to have been filmed, and others are still currently lost.
- King Koopa tailing Daisy's mother in the opening sequence. Upon following the Queen into the human world, Koopa witnesses the sprawling city of Brooklyn, gaining inspiration for his twisted vision that would become Dinohattan.
- An alternate exchange of dialogue between Mario and Luigi while driving to the Riverfront Café. Luigi tells Mario that on Miraculous World they talked about how a man ended up in China by driving into hyper-speed.
- Mario and Luigi entering the Riverfront Café inquiring about their job. Inside they find Doug and Mike, Scapelli's employees have beat them to the scene. Mario honestly tells Pascal, the owner that it's a two hour job, and that the Scapellis are trying to scam him. Mike threatens Mario by invoking his boss's name, which Mario scoffs off, revealing he grew up with him. Doug calls Pascal over, who had been listening to the conversation. When faced with the decision, he gives the job to Scapelli due to his mafia-esque reputation.
- An alternate exchange of dialogue between Spike and Iggy during their introduction. Iggy comments that Spike's failures are making him look bad, while Spike retorts that Iggy doesn't fit in the human world. Iggy reassures Spike that he looks like "a regular Brookland".
- An alternate scene of Luigi meeting Daisy in the Riverfront Café. Daisy accidentally breaks all the dishes that were being carried by a waiter, but Luigi steps in and pays for the damages while assuming fault.
- Mario and Luigi preparing for their double date. In this scene, it is mentioned that Daniella's full name is Daniella Pauline Verducci, and that Mario is hesitant to ask for her hand in marriage due to a lack of self confidence. Luigi then admits that he feels ashamed of being a plumber's apprentice, and Mario encourages him he should have some family pride. This scene would've begun the thread of the family pride subplot, which was intended to be the emotional thorough-line of the film.
- Alternate dialogue of the Mario brothers following Daisy's cries for help down the sewers. Luigi insists that they should go back, but Mario reassures him that she's this way. In the theatrical cut, their roles are reversed as Mario insists they should go back instead.
- An alternate introduction for King Koopa and Lena in Dinohattan. Originally, Koopa was in a meeting with his campaign advisor, who inquired about Koopa's ratings following the concern over the fungus spreading across the city. Upon being challenged by said advisor, Koopa strangles him to death. This is why Koopa sanitizes his hands during his introduction even in the theatrical cut, but the version of the scene featured there is a reshoot missing this exchange between Koopa and his advisor.
- When the brothers first meet Toad, Mario exclaims "I couldn't dream up a nightmare like this!". Toad also has alternate dialogue when meeting the brothers, asking them if they'd like to hear a song. In the theatrical cut, he instead tells them, "Things'll get worse!"
- An alternate exchange between the Mario brothers and old lady. She electrocutes Mario, demanding to take out all his money. Mario then shuffles through his wallet and hands her all his bills only for her to toss them in the air in confusion. Mario yells, "Whaddu' doin'?! That was thirty-one dollars!" as the old lady claims she needs "Koopons". Frustrated, she then proceeds to electrocute Luigi as well before snagging the meteorite necklace.
- Mario and Luigi having an argument in the prison cell. Mario blames Luigi for their current situation, despite Luigi telling Mario that "you told me to go after her!" Mario, in his stubbornness denies that they are in another world, as Luigi then exclaims that if Daniella got kidnapped he would want to find her. Mario laments that he's a failure in keeping the promises that he made of raising Luigi and continuing the family business to their late father.
- The most infamous deleted scene of all is the extended Devo Chamber sequence. After punishing the rebellious Toad by de-evolving him into a Goomba, a nearby technician sneezes in the presence of the germaphobe Koopa. He insists he sit down in the chair, and proceeds to to de-evolve him all the way back into primordial ooze. The technician explodes into slime, which Mario and Luigi take advantage of by pushing him into the chair.
-After escaping the Devo Chamber, a cut exchange between Koopa and Sergeant Simon reveals that Koopa himself invented the devolution technology. He asks for a bath to be drawn as well, which would've set up the mud bath scene later in the film.
- A whole subplot involving Koopa's slow de-evolution throughout the film. This scene was better explored in earlier drafts of the film.
- The Police Car chase was originally longer, with many more instances of vehicles crashing into one another. The Python Pizza car can also be seen while the brothers car is suspended on top of another vehicle.
- Lena singing while entering the mud bath. Koopa fantasizes about Princess Daisy, revealing only she can withstand the force of the meteorite. Lena feels dejected over Koopa's fascination with her, bemoaning, "What am I? Chopped lizard?!"
- A conversation between Daisy and Daniella before Lena enters the Goomba Barracks. One of the Brooklyn Babes offers a cigarette to a Goomba while Daniella walks over to Daisy. They talk about how this alternate world is defying everything they know. Angelica interrupts stating that she just wants to get out there, which Daniella concurs with.
-After Koopa fails to seduce Daisy Spike and Iggy interrupt. They report that they found the Mario brother's vehicle vacant, and that they likely are live somewhere in the desert. Koopa states that evolution has improved their vocabulary, but not their intelligence. He smacks their heads together in anger and demands that they get him the rock.
- An argument between the brothers in the desert. Mario, in frustration says he could be at home with Daniella watching The Knicks instead. Luigi states that he hates The Knicks, which Mario then yells back, "I love 'em now!"
- After the Koopa cousin's dune buggy drifts off the cliff, another argument between Mario and Luigi was cut. Luigi admits fault for leading them into another world, and that he's responsible for all the pain Mario has suffered. He picks up a nearby rock, encouraging Mario to kill him to atone for his actions. Luigi then notices the crashed dune buggy nearby, and accidentally drops the rock on Mario's foot.
- A political discussion between the Mario brothers and Koopa cousins while driving the Sludge Gulper to the Boom Boom Bar. Luigi questions Koopa's publicity and why no one else runs against his campaign.
- After entering the Boom Boom Bar, Spike points out that the reptilian Go-Go Dancers have faced the consequence of de-evolution, visible from their swaying tails. Mario insists that they should take action since this is their world.
- Spike and Iggy's Anti-Koopa rap at the Boom Boom Bar. This change of heart was inspired by the previous two exchanges between the Mario brothers and Koopa cousins. After performing their rap, they are arrested by Lena and her Goomba troop. The final shot of them being carried away can still be seen for a brief moment in the theatrical cut.
- An alternate shot of the jumpsuit reveal. This different take can be seen in the film's many trailers. Alan Silvestri also originally composed an orchestral cover of the Super Mario Bros. Overworld theme for this scene, but it was removed as per the director's request. This composition is still unfortunately lost.
- An important continuity shot was cut, focusing on the Thwomp Stompers left behind Mario and Luigi in the elevator. Many have noted that they lose them between the elevator and ventilation shaft scene in the theatrical cut. On the blu-ray version of the theatrical cut, they can be seen for a couple of frames behind a Goomba as they exit the elevator.
- Luigi, suspended in the air by his tool belt which is caught on a hook, catches a bouncing Mario in the ventilation shaft. He is only saved from death by a trampoline which is formed by the fungus further down the shaft, allowing Luigi the chance to grab him. While this scene is in the theatrical cut, originally this sequence gave closure to the family pride subplot. Upon catching Mario, Luigi earnestly admits to him that he's "proud to be a Mario". This line of dialogue is dubbed over in the theatrical version with the "I should try out for the Yankees!" line, turning a once significant, emotional scene into a humorous one.
- After Daisy informs Mario of Daniella's capture, an entire sequence featuring Mario getting chased by Goombas down the corridors of Koopa's Tower, avoiding fireballs from their flamethrowers was cut.
- Alternate dialogue for Koopa after Daisy calls him a murderer. In the rough cut, he reacts to Daisy saying, "Boy, I am scared...I really am." While in the theatrical cut, he instead says to her, "Now, your father's still hanging around, isn't he?"
- As Luigi and Daisy are brought to Koopa before he orders to muster the Goombas, he originally had dialogue addressed to Daisy, stating, "So I'm not a good guy...but I am going to give you the chance, Princess...to fulfill your spatial destiny."
- An extended ice tunnel slide sequence. The Goombas originally walked over to the open tunnel to investigate it before cutting to the slide scene. Mario had an unused line of dialogue during the scene, yelling, "I don't wanna scare you girls, but I don't really know where this pipe goes!" At the end of the sequence, a shot of the Goombas looking over the city was cut.
- An extended Bob-Omb stand-off scene. We see Mario taunting Koopa, shouting, "Come 'an geddit', Lizard Breath!" a line only heard off-screen in the theatrical cut. This particular shot can be seen in "The Power" trailer. Additional shots of Mario and Koopa that were cut give this scene a far more slow and dramatic "classic Western stand-off" feel than seen in the final movie.
- The Brooklyn Babes getting interviewed by the press after they return to Brooklyn. They inform the anchorman about Dinohattan and how the Mario brothers saved them, to which Scapelli scoffs, "those guys will do anything for publicity". Scapelli's line is kept in the theatrical cut, but without the context of the interview. After Koopa's Tower merges into their world, the Goombas begin to invade the dig site. One of them appears in a porta potty, causing a young girl to faint.
- In the earlier screenplays, the climax of the film was longer and far more complex. The two dimensions merging caused Goombas to get caught between walls, making them explode. Buildings fused with one another, as Mario faced off with King Koopa on the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of this chaos. Mario sets the Bob-Omb, while Koopa would fully de-evolve into a Tyrannosaurus Rex/Human hybrid. Koopa grabbed him by the neck, raising his head up while roaring in victory, only to have the Bob-Omb fall in his mouth, causing him to choke and fall off the Brooklyn Bridge, exploding into pieces once he hit the water. Due to the financial troubles the film faced, this climax was never filmed and compromised into the version found in the final film.
- Alternate dialogue for Daisy's farewell as the brothers return back to Brooklyn. She remarks she cannot leave until Dinohattan is rebuilt, perhaps believing she may be able to get her father back. Unlike the theatrical cut, the King is not shown turning back into his humanoid form.