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Home / Features / Another Super Mario Bros. movie? Put these retro games on the big screen instead

Another Super Mario Bros. movie? Put these retro games on the big screen instead

From a down-and-out Pac-Man to Tom Cruise as a mole, these are the videogame movies we really need

Retro mash-up for Mario Bros feature
Cinema background photo: Geoffrey Moffett

During the 8- and 16-bit eras, video games based on movies became endemic. Software houses like Ocean hoovered up rights, transforming major motion pictures into cookie-cutter platform games designed to relieve you of crisp tenners. But movies based off video games were rare – and with good reason. They were even worse.

The most notable example was the original Super Mario Bros., a 1993 film that taught Nintendo a harsh lesson regarding creative control. The movie was a famously disastrous production that ended up as a bizarre mix of horrific dystopia and terrible gags.

I’ve not seen the 2023 film, but based on the furious online reaction from people old enough to know better, it surely does its job. The trailer suggests a kid-friendly animated adventure with mildly chucklesome jokes. It won’t smash it at the Oscars, but also won’t cause Nintendo’s leadership to want to smash themselves in the face.

Nintendo would like you to pretend the 1993 movie didn’t happen, thanks.

Back in the game

What’s curious is when you look at video game movies between the two Marios, there was no interest in visiting the past. Instead, we got a glut of 1990s films based on contemporary fighting games, and a smattering of movies based on PlayStation and PC-era hits. DoomPostalHitmanNeed for Speed. Several Tomb Raiders.

The main exceptions were older properties Rampage and Sonic, both of which were the epitome of “yeah, whatever” in movie form – at least once someone replaced the initial creepy Sonic with human teeth that I assume he stole from an unsuspecting person he murdered off-screen.

Still, this got me thinking. (The games thing, that is – not killing for dentures.) What other older retro games could be turned into award-winning cinematic classics to stand alongside The GodfatherCitizen Kane and Howard the Duck?

Video game swears back in the early 1980s. Tsk.

Game time

In Q*bert, Samuel L Jackson regrets his decision to star in a film that’s mostly about jumping. But he revels in a story based around video gaming’s earliest sweary star. The standout line is the knowing “Enough is enough! I have had it with these mother@!#?@!g snakes in this mother@!#?@!g game!”

Pac-Man gets a gritty reboot that makes Bel-Air seem jovial. Jack ‘Pac’ Man(gan) has spent his life eating pills and hallucinating ghosts. His estranged wife and child can’t drag him from the mire. Made by the Requiem for a Dream folks, just to hammer the misery home.

British ‘comedy’ Jet Set Willy features Rowan Atkinson channeling Mr. Bean. He stars as Miner Willy, cleaning up after a massive party, and getting into ‘japes’ with his angry housekeeper. Everyone silently wishes Rik Mayall was still around to play the role (and write the script), because then it might have been good.

Watch a mole drive a C5.


Monty Mole gets a $250m budget by shifting the premise of the series to real-world USA and starring Tom Cruise as Monty, banged up for stealing coal. He escapes thanks to Sam Stoat (David Thewlis), partakes in a surreal chase scene featuring a Sinclair C5 (the one visual element of the game series to inexplicably remain), and in a whiplash plot twist becomes a superhero after being recruited by ‘aliens’ to locate their ‘secret scrolls’. Audiences are exhausted by the end. Close observers narrow their eyes on realising the main alien is named Xenu.

Finally, Robotron: 2084 is the logical conclusion of Keanu Reeves vehicles, refining an action movie into a relentless display of gunplay and terrifying body counts. Reeves spends 90 minutes in confined spaces, blowing away enemies. A wag ensures the kill count precisely matches the number in the title, to the horror of certification boards worldwide.

I’m sure there are others. Dizzy (90 solid minutes of egg puns, until the audience b–eggs for mercy). Boulder Dash (a heart-wrenching tale of a miner who discovers gorgeous underground butterflies he has to crush because they turn into diamonds he can sell to feed his family). Hungry Horace (an arthouse movie about ski rental and an unfathomable lack of road safety).

Hollywood, I’ll await your call with great anticipation.

Related: The 14 best Mario games of all time: where is your favourite?

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