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 date
  • 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 The youngest of the three is emotionally withdrawn with a gift for playing video games.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 half-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, thereby winning $50,000.

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, which is why Jimmy wanted to come to California in the first place. 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]

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. [4]

In a 2008 reunion,[5] as well in an interview in 2014,[6] Todd Holland revealed that the original cut of the film was 2.5 hours long and included an extended backstory for Jimmy and Corey.



Box office[edit]

The Wizard debuted at No. 5,[7] earning $2,142,525 in the domestic box office.[8] 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".[9] Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley wrote that the movie was "tacky and moribund".[10] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 26% score based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10.[11]

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.[12]

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.[13] The DVD is a bare bones release without bonus features.


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.[14]


External links[edit]