Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Todd Holland|
|Written by||David Chisholm|
|Based on||Mario by Shigeru Miyamoto|
|Music by||J. Peter Robinson|
|Cinematography||Robert D. Yeoman|
|Edited by||Tom Finan|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures (United States and Canada)|
Carolco Pictures (International)
|Box office||$14.3 million|
The Wizard is a 1989 American family film directed by Todd Holland, written by David Chisholm, and starring Fred Savage, Christian Slater, Jenny Lewis, Beau Bridges, and Luke Edwards. It was also Tobey Maguire's film debut.
The film follows three children as they travel to California. The youngest of the three is emotionally withdrawn with a gift for playing video games. The Wizard is famous for its extensive product placement of video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The film was also well known for being the official introduction to Super Mario Bros. 3 in North America. Despite receiving consistently negative reviews, the film has garnered a cult following.
Jimmy Woods is a young boy suffering from PTSD after his twin sister Jennifer drowned two years earlier. He is focused on traveling to California for unknown reasons, exasperating his mother Christine and stepfather Mr. Bateman. Jimmy's father Sam lives with his elder sons Nick and Corey but does little to help his youngest deal with his grief. Fed up with his broken family, Corey sneaks Jimmy out of a mental institute, and they travel on foot for Los Angeles. Nick and Sam head out to bring the boys back, in competition with Mr. Putnam, a sleazy child bounty hunter hired by Mr. Bateman and Christine to find Jimmy. The two parties continually get into fights with each other on the road.
At a bus station, Jimmy and Corey meet Haley Brooks, a teenager on her way home to Reno. They discover that Jimmy has an innate skill for playing video games. They make an agreement to take Jimmy to "Video Armageddon", a gaming tournament being held in Universal Studios Hollywood, with a grand prize of $50,000, splitting the cash if Jimmy wins. By doing so, they hope to prove that Jimmy doesn't belong in a mental institute. The trio hitchhike cross-country, using Jimmy's skills to hustle people out of their money by playing games. They eventually meet Lucas Barton, a popular but snobbish gamer, who owns a Power Glove and shows that he is just as skilled as Jimmy. He informs Haley that he will also be entering the tournament.
Corey and Haley learn that a lunchbox that Jimmy carries with him contains photos of Jennifer and their family. The trio arrive in Reno, gaining more money with help from Haley's trucker friend Spankey by having him play at a casino's craps table. Jimmy then begins training on arcade machines with help from the Nintendo Power Line. Putnam tracks down Jimmy and tries to retrieve him, but Haley gets him thrown out by screaming and yelling, "He touched my breast!" The children escape to Haley's house, revealed to be a rundown trailer. She explains to Corey that her estranged mother was a gambler and wants her share of the prize money to help her father buy a proper house. Putnam finds Haley's home and re-captures Jimmy, but Haley summons several truckers who barricade Putnam on the road, beat him, and rescue Jimmy. Spankey then drives the children to the tournament.
Jimmy enters the tournament where he plays Ninja Gaiden. He qualifies as a finalist, where the excitable host announces that the final round will involve playing a brand new game. In between rounds, Putnam chases the children once again, but they escape in an elevator back to the tournament. Jimmy, Lucas, and a third finalist play Super Mario Bros. 3 (unreleased at the time in the United States). Cheered on both sides of his family and even by Putnam, Jimmy wins the tournament at the last second and earns the prize money.
Later, the family heads back home, but Jimmy spots the Cabazon Dinosaurs and gets his family to stop. They follow him inside, and Corey finds Jimmy looking at his photos of the family, one of which was taken at the tourist trap. They realize that Jimmy just wanted to leave his sister's mementos in a place where she was happy. Leaving his lunchbox at the site, Jimmy goes home with Sam, his brothers, and Haley in the back of Sam's truck. Haley kisses Jimmy and Corey's cheeks, then Jimmy kisses Haley's cheek; the children laugh as they drive off into the sunset.
During 1988, a shortage of ROM chips, along with Nintendo of America's preparation of a version of Super Mario Bros. 2 for Western gamers, prevented Nintendo from performing various North American game releases according to their original schedules. The delayed products included Super Mario Bros. 3 and, according to Nintendo Power, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. The delay, however, presented Nintendo with an opportunity to promote the game in a feature film. In 1989, Tom Pollack of Universal Studios approached Nintendo of America's marketing department about a video game film; inspired by Nintendo video game competitions, Pollack envisioned a video game version of Tommy for younger audiences. Nintendo licensed its products for inclusion in the film. During the film's production, the filmmakers requested and were granted approval from Nintendo regarding the script and portrayal of the company's games.Super Mario Bros. 3 was one of the products shown in the film and was used in a final scene involving a video game competition. Despite the film touting itself as featuring the first public reveal of Super Mario Bros. 3, the game had already been released in Japan during the previous year, with U.S. magazines such as Electronic Gaming Monthly and GamePro having already covered the Japanese version before the film's release.
Filming took place between June 5 and July 25, 1989. Lee Hartney from The Smith Street Band was nearly cast in the lead role, but due to location conflicts was never officially offered the part. In a 2008 reunion, as well in an interview in 2014, Todd Holland revealed that the original cut of the film was 2.5 hours long and included an extended backstory for Jimmy and Corey.
The 1965 A64B Autocar severe-duty, Cab Over Engine vocational truck that Spanky drives was previously used in the 1987 Sylvester Stallone film Over the Top. When the truckers box Putnam in on the road after he nabs Jimmy, "Hawk Hauling," (the name of Stallone's character Lincoln Hawk's company in Over The Top), can still clearly be seen on the driver's-side door when Spanky opens it to exit the cab around the 57:35 minute mark in the film. Following Over The Top and before it finally made its way into The Wizard, the truck was also used in 1988's Messenger of Death. After filming The Wizard in 1989, it went to sit on a Universal backlot for years until it was called back into service once again, this time for the Lori Petty film Tank Girl, where it was repainted silver. A few years later it appeared in another science fiction film, again in its silver repaint. In 2010 it was spotted for sale in truck jackknife stuntman George Sack Jr.'s California scrapyard.
The Wizard debuted at No. 5, earning $2,142,525 in the domestic box office. At the end of its run, the film had grossed $14,278,900. Based on an estimated $6 million budget, the film was a moderate box office success.
The film received generally negative reviews from critics. It was widely considered to be little more than a 96-minute commercial for Nintendo games and Universal Studios Hollywood. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times called the film "a cynical exploitation film with a lot of commercial plugs" and "insanely overwritten and ineptly filmed". He later called it one of the worst films of 1989.Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley wrote that the movie was "tacky and moribund", plagiarizing heavily from the 1988 film Rain Man. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 26% score based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10.
Despite the negative reception, the film was still popular enough to achieve cult film status and to receive a reunion screening from Ain't It Cool News at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in Austin, Texas, on February 8, 2008. Director Holland and stars Savage and Edwards were in attendance to take questions from fans.
It was first released on DVD in Region 2 on February 2, 2001 and finally in the US and Canada (Region 1) on August 22, 2006. The DVD is a bare bones release without bonus features. The Blu-ray version was released on May 15, 2018.