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 (USA and Canada)

Carolco Pictures (International)
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 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 The youngest of the three is emotionally withdrawn with a gift for playing video games.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.[citation needed]


Jimmy Woods is a young boy suffering from PTSD after his twin sister Jennifer drowned two years earlier. He is focused on travelling to California for unknown reasons, exasperating his mother Christine and stepfather Bateman. Jimmy’s father Sam lives with his elder sons Nick and Corey, but does little to help his youngest deal with his grief. 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 Christine to find Jimmy. The two parties continue to 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 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. 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, showing he is just as skilled as Jimmy. He informs Haley that he, too, will be entering the tournament.

Corey and Haley learn that a lunchbox Jimmy carries with him contains photos of Jennifer and their family. 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 accuses him of molestation. 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 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 exciteable host announces that the final round will involving playing a brand new game. In between rounds, Putnam chases the children once again, but they escape him 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 Jimmy’s family and Putnam. Jimmy wins the tournament at the last second using the game’s Warp Whistle, earning the prize money.

Later, the family heads back home, but Jimmy spots the Cabazon Dinosaurs, getting his family to stop. They follow him inside, Corey finding Jimmy looking at his photos of the family, one of which was taken at the tourist trap. They realise 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.



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,[4] 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,[6] earning $2,142,525 in the domestic box office.[7] 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.[8] Washington Post staff writer Rita Kempley wrote that the movie was "tacky and moribund", plagiarizing heavily from the 1988 film Rain Man.[9] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 26% score based on 19 reviews, with an average rating of 4.2/10.[10]

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.[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]


  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. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Stomp, Goomba (January 11, 2015). "How 'The Wizard' failed Nintendo". Retrieved June 15, 2017. 
  6. ^ "Weekend Box Office". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 13, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for December 15-17, 1989". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. December 18, 1989. Retrieved February 3, 2016. 
  8. ^ "". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 7, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Washington Post". The Washington Post. December 15, 1989. Retrieved September 6, 2007. 
  10. ^ "The Wizard (1989)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 3, 2016. 
  11. ^ "A Weekend With The Wizard". Retrieved March 27, 2016. 
  12. ^ "The Wizard". DVD Talk. Retrieved June 15, 2017. 
  13. ^ 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]