The Wizard (film)

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The Wizard
The wizard poster.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Todd Holland
Produced by
Written by David Chisholm
Music by J. Peter Robinson
Cinematography Robert D. Yeoman
Edited by Tom Finan
  • The Finnegan/Pinchuk Company
  • Pipeline Productions
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • December 15, 1989 (1989-12-15)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6 million[1]
Box office $14.3 million[2]

The Wizard is a 1989 American adventure comedy-drama 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.

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 The youngest of the three is emotionally withdrawn with a gift for playing video games.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 numerous references to video games and accessories for the Nintendo Entertainment System and has been called a feature-length commercial. 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] Over time, the film has gained somewhat of a cult following.


Jimmy Woods is a young boy who has suffered from an unnamed, but serious mental disorder ever since his twin sister Jennifer drowned in the Green River two years earlier. He does not interact with anyone, spending most of his time building things out of blocks or boxes, and he always carries his lunch box with him. He is determined to go to "California", at first nearly the only word he can say since the tragedy. The trauma of the drowning and Jimmy's condition have broken up his family; he lives with his mother Christine Bateman and stepfather, while his brothers Corey and Nick live with their father Sam. When Jimmy is put into an institution, Corey breaks him out and runs away with him to California. Christine and her husband hire Putnam, a greedy and sleazy runaway-child bounty hunter, to bring back only Jimmy; he competes with Sam and Nick to find the boys, and both groups sabotage each other's efforts, resulting in chaotic confrontations.

Along the way, Corey and Jimmy meet a girl named Haley Brooks, who is on her way home to Reno. After discovering that Jimmy has an innate skill for playing video games, Haley (who nicknames him "the Wizard") tells them about "Video Armageddon", a video game tournament with a $50,000 cash prize. She then agrees to help the two reach Los Angeles to participate for a cut of the money. By doing so, they hope to prove that Jimmy does not need to live in an institution. The trio hitchhike across the country, using Jimmy's skill and appearance to hustle people out of their money by playing video games. Along the way, they encounter Lucas Barton, a popular preteen big shot who owns a Power Glove and shows his skills at Rad Racer, declaring he is also entering the tournament.

They finally arrive in Reno, where it is revealed that Haley wants her share of the prize money to help her father buy a house. With the help of an acquaintance trucker, Spanky, they use money won at the craps tables to train Jimmy on several games in the Reno arcades, using Nintendo PlayChoice-10 machines. After a difficult search, Putnam catches up with the trio, capturing and losing Jimmy twice. At the tournament, which is held at Universal Studios Hollywood located in Spartacus Square, Jimmy qualifies as a finalist after a preliminary round of Ninja Gaiden. In between rounds, Putnam chases the kids through the park and almost causes Jimmy to miss the final round. The Woodses, the Batemans, and Putnam convene in the crowd as Jimmy competes with Lucas and another finalist in a game of Super Mario Bros. 3, which at the time had not been released in the United States. Jimmy wins the tournament at the last second after finding a Warp Whistle and getting the star.

On their way home, the family passes by the Cabazon Dinosaurs, a tourist trap, and Jimmy becomes so excited and restless that they pull over. He runs from the car up into one of the dinosaurs, his family in pursuit. Inside, Jimmy takes from his lunchbox one of his pictures of Jennifer, taken at the foot of the dinosaur with the rest of the family during a vacation, and Corey realizes that he simply wanted to leave his sister's mementos in a place where she would be happy. He leaves the lunchbox inside the dinosaur and, at Christine's request, Sam drives the boys and Haley home. Haley kisses Jimmy and Corey after which Jimmy kisses Haley on her cheek.



Filming took place between June 5 and July 25, 1989.[1]



Box office[edit]

The Wizard debuted at No. 5,[4] earning $2,142,525 in the domestic box office.[5] 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 negative reviews from critics. It was considered 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".[6] Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley wrote that the movie was "tacky and moribund".[7] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 26% score based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10.[8]

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.[9]

Home media[edit]

The Wizard was released on VHS and Laserdisc three times, in 1990, 1992 and 1997. 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.[10] The DVD is a bare bones release without bonus features. The film has not been released on Blu-ray Disc as of June 2015.


In 2015, Polygon remembered the film as a "Nintendo Entertainment System and Power Glove advertisement masquerading as a feature film". The website wrote that gamers associate the film with its "shameless Nintendo promotion" and the debut of the now classic Super Mario Bros. 3.[11]


  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 2007-10-09. 
  4. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-06-13. 
  5. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for December 15-17, 1989". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 18, 1989. Retrieved February 3, 2016. 
  6. ^ "". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-09-07. 
  7. ^ "Washington Post". The Washington Post. December 15, 1989. Retrieved 2007-09-06. 
  8. ^ "The Wizard (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 3, 2016. 
  9. ^ Barnholt, Ray. "A Weekend with The Wizard". Retrieved 1 April 2013. [dead link]
  10. ^
  11. ^ Frank, Allegra (November 20, 2015). "Rifftrax takes on The Wizard, the classic 100-minute Nintendo ad (correction)". Polygon. Vox Media. Archived from the original on November 22, 2015. Retrieved November 22, 2015. 

External links[edit]