The Super Mario Bros movie managed to break every record for a big-screen video game adaptation over the weekend. Nintendo’s triumphant return to the silver screen overtook Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog to the tune of $377 million in worldwide box office returns. That puts it over Frozen 2 for the title of the biggest animated film opening of all time.
However, critics are lukewarm on the movie, which has only a 46 rating on Metacritic. So, how did the film manage to connect with audiences despite missing critics entirely? It must be that Nintendo magic.
Mario has headlined a big-budget blockbuster before. There was another Super Mario film back in 1993 that starred Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo, but that entry was as weird as it was dark. While it’s spawned something of a cult following in the intervening thirty years, it was far from a tentpole success around which Nintendo could craft a cinematic universe.
This outing is very different from its predecessor, offering filmgoers a chance to see the iconic Mushroom Kingdom in all its colorful glory. It’s also got a star-studded cast of voice talent who work overtime to make these goofy video game characters likable and relatable.
The Super Mario Bros Movie is kid’s fare through and through, but it offers plenty of fun set-pieces to make general audiences happy. That much is evident from the glowing audience scores–Metacritic shows that users have scored the Nintendo film at 8.6 out of 10.
A serviceable plot and some superb musical arrangements make this movie a good time for kids and families. However, the film was also made with longtime Nintendo fans in mind, and it delivers nearly-endless visual references and callbacks for those faithful gamers.
The animators at Illumination pulled out all the stops when it came to jamming The Super Marios Bros Movie with visual references to the source material. There are Easter eggs in almost every frame, with enemies from long-forgotten entries in the franchise littering the background of the busy action sequences.
Clearly, this was what moviegoers wanted because Nintendo is reaping the rewards from the box office returns. Sequels seem like a foregone conclusion. Every new franchise feels like it’s ramping up for a “cinematic universe” these days, and there’s plenty of room for Illumination to take Mario and his pals on future adventures. And those will probably also make millions of dollars.