Noah Brier | September 15, 2023

The Wizard Edition

On movies, Mario, and pop culture history.

Noah here. If you’ve never seen the 1989 film The Wizard, you haven’t missed a great cinematic moment. Starring Fred Savage, the movie follows two brothers across the country as they hitchhike their way to a video game tournament in California. Along the way they hustle people in Double Dragon at arcades, run into a Power Glove-welding punk, and have their savings stolen by some truck drivers. When they finally arrive at the tournament, Savage’s brother, “the wizard,” triumphs over the competition, making it to the final round of games, where a wrench is thrown into the works when the competition’s announcer tells the contestants they’ll be playing a brand new game: Super Mario Bros. 3.

Why is this interesting?

If you were a Nintendo-loving kid in 1989, The Wizard was an important moment in time. Mainly it was the first moment you had seen the much-anticipated third edition of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. After the huge success of the previous games, Nintendo had to delay the North American release of the trilogy’s finale when a ROM shortage held back production. Here I’ll turn it over to a fan wiki article on the movie (though I’ve confirmed the ROM shortage across multiple histories):

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. 

I can’t say the film achieved the same cultural standing as Tommy, but beyond being the first time many of us saw flying squirrel Mario and the Power Glove, it also represents two other interesting pop culture milestones. Savage’s third co-star in the film is Jenny Lewis, who would go on to have an impressive musical career fronting Rilo Kiley (amongst other excellent bands) and as Ben Gibbard’s vocal companion in The Postal Service.

And, as if that’s all not enough, apparently The Wizard also marked Tobey Maguire’s on-film—albeit uncredited—debut as an extra. Important moments in pop history. (NRB)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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