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Directors of live-action 'Super Mario Bros.' wanted the film to rival Tim Burton's 'Batman'

There's a reason Nintendo stayed away from the big screen for three decades.

By Josh Weiss
The movie poster for Super Mario Bros. (1993)

There's a very good reason Nintendo stayed away from the big screen for a total of three decades, forbidding the Hollywood entertainment machine to lay a finger on its classic video game properties.

That reason is known simply as Super Mario Bros., the 1993 attempt at bringing the pipe-traversing, Koopa-stomping plumber (and his younger brother, Luigi) into the realm of live-action. The project starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the titular siblings was — to put it lightly — an unmitigated disaster. Critics absolutely hated the movie, which failed to break even at the box office.

RELATED: Before 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie,' replay the 10 greatest Mario games ever made

Of course, no one sets out to make a spectacular flop...unless their names are Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom. Sitting down with Total Film for a 30-year anniversary retrospective, Super Mario Bros. directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (both of whom are famous for co-creating the beloved Max Headroom) hoped the project would have the power to rival the biggest releases of the era.

"I remember saying to Annabel, 'This is it. This is going to be our Batman," Morton explained to the magazine (whose April 2023 issue is now on sale) while discussing the original, less-than-perfect script turned in by Barry Morrow. "It was very fantasy-oriented and childlike. I wanted to make a film that was mainly for kids, but also had qualities their parents could enjoy."

"It was brilliantly esoteric," added Jankel. "A road movie that very possibly would've make a fantastic film that probably would've been equally revolved because it was such a huge step away from the game. We were animators and through in visual terms, so for us, Morrow's journey wasn't going to work."

The duo ultimately came up with a brand-new story, which sent Mario and Luigi on a mission to rescue Princess Daisy (Samantha Mathis) from an underground civilization inhabited by evolved dinosaurs and their ruthless leader, King Koopa (Dennis Hopper).

"My son was obsessed with dinosaurs at the time, so the idea was that the dinosaurs didn't really get wiped out, they just got shifted into another dimension and the plumbers get shifted there, too. That's how the whole story is triggered," Morton explained, going on to say that the overall idea was for the narrative to serve as a meta prequel to the Mario mythos.

"This was the true story of what really happened before the plumbers return to Brooklyn. Of course, by that point, they're TV celebrities and a couple of Japanese executives from Nintendo want to turn their story into a game, but it gets lost in translation. That's how we ended up with the Nintendo game."

None of this came to pass once Disney, a last-minute financier, insisted on hiring Bill & Ted writer Ed Solomon to overhaul the screenplay. "It wasn't even the 11th hour, it was morel like 11.59," Jankel said. "We were led to believe it was going to be a little dialogue tweaks, but in actual fact, it ended up being a completely different script."

The rest, as they say, is history.

RELATED: Why 'The Super Mario Bros. Movie' has Luigi as the damsel in distress rather than Princess Peach

Mario, Luigi, Toad, Princess Peach, Bowser, and the rest of our favorite Mushroom Kingdom cohorts will officially return to theaters tomorrow (Wednesday, April 5) in The Super Mario Bros. Movie co-produced by Universal Pictures, Nintendo, and Illumination Entertainment. The animated adventure helmed by a pair of Teen Titans GO! alumni — Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath — represents a much more faithful adaptation of the Super Mario franchise.

Chris Pratt and Charlie Day lead the ensemble voice cast as Mario and Luigi, respectively. Jack Black (Bowser), Anya Taylor-Joy (Princess Peach), Keegan-Michael Key (Toad), Seth Rogen (Donkey Kong), Fred Armisen (Cranky Kong), Kevin Michael Richardson (Kamek), and Sebastian Maniscalco (Spike) also lend their pipes to the colorful blockbuster. Charles Martinet — longtime voice of Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi in the games — is also set to make a vocal appearance, though his role is still under wraps.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie warps onto the big screen tomorrow — Wednesday, April 5. Tickets are on sale here!

Want more Illumination goodness in your life? Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 are now streaming on Peacock.