The Wizard (1989 film)

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The Wizard
The wizard poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed byTodd Holland
Produced by
Written byDavid Chisholm
Based onMario by Shigeru Miyamoto
Music byJ. Peter Robinson
CinematographyRobert D. Yeoman
Edited byTom Finan
  • The Finnegan/Pinchuk Company
  • Pipeline Productions
  • Nintendo Films KK
  • Nintendo of America
  • Cinergi Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures (United States and Canada)
Carolco Pictures (International)
Release date
  • December 15, 1989 (1989-12-15)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$6 million[1]
Box office$14.3 million[2]

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.[citation needed]

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 The youngest of the three is emotionally withdrawn with a gift for playing video games.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 North America's introduction to what would become one of the best-selling video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3.[3] Despite receiving consistently negative reviews, the film has garnered a cult following.[4][5]


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 Bateman (an unfeeling man who wants little to do with the boy and is looking for an excuse to be rid of him). Jimmy’s father Sam lives with his elder sons Nick and Corey but does little to help his youngest deal with his grief, as he himself is severely marked by the tragedies in his life (the death of his first wife, His daughter's death and divorce from his second wife). 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 bounty hunter hired by 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. Also if Jimmy wins the tournament, they can prove he 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. It's here Corey explains that he and Nick are Jimmy's half brothers, their own mother having died when Corey was young. Nick remembered her best and didn't get along with Christine. 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 trains on arcade machines, but Putnam arrives to retrieve him, only for Haley to get him thrown out when she falsely accuse him of sexual harrasement. The children escape to Haley’s house, revealed to be a rundown trailer. She explains to Corey that her late mother was a gambler and wants half of the prize money to help her dad buy a proper house. Putnam finds Haley's home and re-captures Jimmy, but Haley summons several truckers to rescue him. Spankey then drives the children to the tournament.

Jimmy is registered in the tournament and 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 using the game’s Warp Whistle 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 the mementos of his sister in a place where she was happy. Leaving his lunchbox at the site, Jimmy goes home with Sam, his brothers, and Haley. Haley kisses Jimmy and Corey, then Jimmy kisses her.



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.[6] 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 movie; 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 movie's production, the filmmakers requested and were granted approval from Nintendo regarding the script and portrayal of the company's games.[7] 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.[7][8]Despite the movie touting itself as featuring the first public reveal of Super Mario Bros. 3, the game had already been released in Japan 14 months earlier.[9]

Filming took place between June 5 and July 25, 1989.[1] 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.[10] In a 2008 reunion,[11] as well in an interview in 2014,[10] 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.[12] In 2010 it was spotted for sale in truck jackknife stuntman George Sack Jr.'s California scrapyard.[13]



Box office[edit]

The Wizard debuted at No. 5,[14] earning $2,142,525 in the domestic box office.[15] At the end of its run, the film had grossed $14,278,900.[2] Based on an estimated $6 million budget, the film was a moderate box office success.[1]

Critical reception[edit]

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.[16] Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley wrote that the movie was "tacky and moribund", plagiarizing heavily from the 1988 film Rain Man.[17] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 26% score based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10.[18]

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.[19]

Home media[edit]

The Wizard was released on VHS and LaserDisc three times, in 1990, in 1992, and in 1997. By 1993, The Wizard grossed $6 million in video rentals.[20]

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.[21] The DVD is a bare bones release without bonus features. The Blu-ray version was released on May 15, 2018.[22]


On September 6, 2016, Pax West 2016 concluded with a Super Mario Bros. 3 tournament with a replica of the "Video Armageddon" from the film.[23]


  1. ^ a b c "The Wizard (1989) - Box office / business". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  2. ^ a b "The Wizard (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  3. ^ " Super Mario Sales data". Retrieved October 9, 2007.
  4. ^ Onanuga, Tola (April 7, 2014). "My guilty pleasure: The Wizard". The Guardian. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  5. ^ Matheson, Whitney (December 18, 2014). "FLASHBACK: Fred Savage & Jenny Lewis In Cult Classic 'The Wizard,' AKA 1989's Biggest Nintendo Ad". E!. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  6. ^ Sheff, David (1993). "Game Masters". Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children. Random House. p. 222. ISBN 978-0-679-40469-9.
  7. ^ a b Sheff, David (1993). "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children. Random House. pp. 190–191. ISBN 978-0-679-40469-9.
  8. ^ McFerran, Damien (April 2008). "The Making of The Wizard". Retro Gamer (49): 84–87.
  9. ^ Matti, Michele (November–December 1989). "NES Journal: The Wizard". Nintendo Power (9): 90.
  10. ^ a b Life, Nintendo (June 18, 2014). "Interview: The Wizard Director Todd Holland On Everyone's Favourite Nintendo Movie Turning 25". Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  11. ^ Stomp, Goomba (January 11, 2015). "How 'The Wizard' failed Nintendo". Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  12. ^ "Autocar A64 B in "Over the Top"". Retrieved 2018-07-13.
  13. ^ "Home". JACKKNIFE KING. Retrieved 2018-07-13.
  14. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2012.
  15. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for December 15-17, 1989". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 18, 1989. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  16. ^ "". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 7, 2007.
  17. ^ "Washington Post". The Washington Post. December 15, 1989. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  18. ^ "The Wizard (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
  19. ^ "A Weekend With The Wizard". Retrieved March 27, 2016.
  20. ^ Kinder, Marsha (1993). Playing with Power in Movies, Television, and Video Games: From Muppet Babies to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. University of California Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780520077768.
  21. ^ "The Wizard". DVD Talk. Retrieved June 15, 2017.
  22. ^ "The Wizard Blu-ray".
  23. ^ Ellis, Tim (September 6, 2016). "PAX West concludes with a real-life version of 'The Wizard' in Seattle". Retrieved September 6, 2016.

External links[edit]