In the boss battle of this weekend’s box office, The Super Mario Bros. Movie from Nintendo and Illumination finished with a pretty impressive high score — $146 million, to be exact, on the strength of the star-packed voice acting, enduring nostalgia for the video game franchise, and the movie’s candy-colored, family-friendly romp of a story that left me grinning like a kid again for almost the entirety of the 92-minute runtime.
With respect, the curmudgeonly film critics whose dismissive takes helped earn the movie a “rotten” 56% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes need to, at a minimum, lighten up. And you don’t have to take my word for it: The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for The Super Mario Bros. Movie currently stands at a near-perfect 96% (based on more than 5,000 verified ratings, compared to 206 professional reviews). Moreover, for audience members like me who grew up with the games, the Easter Eggs sprinkled throughout the movie helped add an even deeper level of enjoyment.
These are some of the many favorite references drawn from the 40-year history of the games that caught my eye.
The Mario Brothers in Brooklyn
This is, by no means, a comprehensive list of all the Easter Eggs and the like to be found in The Super Mario Bros. Movie. That said, the part of the movie that unfolds in Brooklyn is jam-packed with them, starting with the fictional pizza franchise — Punch-Out Pizzeria — where we first meet Mario and Luigi in the opening moments.
That name, of course, harkens back to the old Punch-Out!! video games. When Mario and Luigi, as professional plumbers in the human world, also race to answer a customer’s call, they both race through a construction zone from left to right — jumping over and dodging obstacles in a manner reminiscent of the original side-scrolling game that made the characters so iconic.
In terms of some of my other favorite Easter Eggs, when a crowd of civilians in Brooklyn greets the Mario brothers after winning the big fight at the end, the crowd includes a likeness of late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Inside the brothers’ Brooklyn home, Mario is seen at one point playing the video game Kid Icarus, while voice actor Charles Martinet, who provided the universally recognized vocal quips for both characters in the Nintendo games, also voices their father here.
Speaking of Martinet, he also voices the man playing the video game arcade machine in the pizzeria at the beginning of the movie. And as for that customer call we mentioned above, the house the brothers go to is filled with callbacks, like a painting of the Nintendo Duck Hunt dog.
The Mario Kart race
All that, meanwhile, doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the many references that fans of the Mario franchise will be able to spot in the movie. The orchestral soundtrack, for example, includes all of your favorite melodies from the Super Mario games. And it’s during the Mario Kart-style race, in my opinion, where the movie’s provenance is most readily apparent.
Only a true fan, or at a minimum someone with a deep appreciation of the Mario Kart line of games, could get all the little details right here — from the way Peach, Mario, and Toad pick what customizations they want for their vehicles to one of the villains warning that he’s about to unleash a weapon that no one can avoid, one that strikes fear in the heart of every Mario Kart player (the dreaded blue shell).
Peach’s car at one point deploys two very specific gimmicks introduced in Mario Kart 7 and 8 — a glider, which allows her car to float down to a landing, as well as antigravity wheels. And, of course, it’s no accident that the good guys, as well as the bad guys, are zooming down “Rainbow Road,” perhaps the most recognizable course from the Mario Kart games.
The first $1 billion movie globally of 2023?
Over its first five days of availability in theaters, meanwhile, The Super Mario Bros. Movie pulled in $204.6 million domestically and $377 million globally — easily outperforming the debuts of other new installments of big franchises, like Fast and Furious 9 (which brought in $70 million to start) and Jurassic World Dominion (which started with $145 million).
Mario enjoyed the biggest global opening weekend ever for an animated movie. Already, it’s looking like an even more impressive stat is also in sight: $1 billion. As in, this one is on pace to be the first movie of 2023 to reach $1 billion at the global box office. In other words, it’s not game over yet for this ridiculously fun crowd-pleaser.