This past December 15th marked the 25th anniversary of the cult classic video game movie The Wizard, starring Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, Jenny Lewis, Christian Slater and Beau Bridges.
While it’s often regarded as a 100-minute Nintendo commercial, director Todd Holland had more sincere intentions, wanting to create a genuinely fun adventure movie for kids. Twenty-five years later, it carries fond memories for many members for the NES generation. It may be a product of its time, but like a classic video game, it retains an everlasting charm. It has many genuinely funny scenes, a good cast, tons of quotable dialog, and of course, lots of classic video games.
To celebrate (and because I’m a big nerd), I’ve put together a list of 25 factoids about the movie. Enjoy!
1. Director Todd Holland, himself, did not play video games at the time, and he thought that would make him the perfect director for the film. He reasoned that if he could make a movie about video games interesting to himself, it would be interesting to anyone.
2. Todd Holland was forced to shoot every scene in the script, resulting in the first cut of the movie being two-and-a-half hours long. It was whittled down to about 100 minutes for its release. Holland has expressed interest in including the missing footage in a future home video release… provided it still exists, of course.
3. The original trailer shows some of the footage that was ultimately cut from the final film.
4. Christian Slater took the role of Nick because he was interested in working with Beau Bridges. Slater had previously appeared in the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream with Beau’s brother Jeff Bridges.
5. Will Seltzer, who plays Putnam, auditioned for the role of Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars. You can see his audition in this YouTube video.
6. Pocket Power, a mini sample version of Nintendo Power magazine, was handed out at theaters showing The Wizard during its original theatrical run.
7. The song that plays during the opening credits is “You Don’t Get Much” by rock band BoDeans, originally appearing on their 1989 album Home. The band would later achieve mainstream success with their hit single “Closer to Free,” used as the theme for the TV show Party of Five. BoDeans are still around today and continue to release new albums, although only one original member remains.
8. Despite the story starting in Green River, Utah, the whole movie was filmed only in Nevada and California.
9. Jimmy’s repeated line “California” was not part of the original script. Todd Holland came up with the idea of Jimmy’s quest to the Golden State to help give the character a more specific purpose.
10. Jenny Lewis, who played Haley, went on to be the frontwoman for indie rock group Rilo Kiley (with fellow child actor Blake Sennett of Salute Your Shorts and Boy Meets World fame). She has also released three solo albums, including the 2014 release The Voyager.
11. Nintendo provided video game equipment for the production, but had no other input or control on the story or making of the film.
12. The only non-NES game featured prominently in the movie is Taito’s arcade racer Top Speed, although it’s mistakenly referred to as F-1 Dream (a Capcom top-down racing game that bears no resemblance).
13. According to this YouTube video, the drive-in theater that Corey, Jimmy and Haley stay at was located in Fallon, Nevada, and was also used in the movie Pink Cadillac starring Clint Eastwood. It was torn down in 2004, leaving only the snack bar and projection booth.
14. The word “Nintendo” is only heard twice in the film.
15. The set for the Video Armageddon competition was inspired by the movie Aliens.
16. The Wizard marks the first feature film appearance of Tobey Maguire. He briefly appears with Lucas as they walk out of Video Armageddon. Incidentally, Jenny Lewis had a small part in the 1998 film Pleasantville starring Tobey Maguire.
17. Todd Holland stuck a joke into the film where a kid at Universal Studios tells his mother, “I like Disneyland better.” This infuriated execs at Universal who forced Holland to remove it, although it’s thought to still exist in some early print copies.
18. The final scene inside the T-rex was unscripted, with all of the dialog being made up on location.
19. The song that plays during the closing credits is “I Found My Way” performed by Sally Dworsky. It was recorded exclusively for the film and has never been available in any other format as there was no soundtrack album released. Dworsky would later be the singing voice for adult Nala in The Lion King and Princess Fiona in Shrek.
20. While the film is known for its many inaccuracies in its portrayal of video games, everyone somehow manages to pronounce “Ninja Gaiden” correctly. (Remember, this was 1989.)
21. Luke Edwards, who played Jimmy/The Wizard, was promised a free copy of the game Super Mario Bros 3. He’s still waiting for it.
22. The late film critic Roger Ebert considered The Wizard one of the worst films of 1989.
23. Todd Holland would later win three Emmy awards for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series for his work on the hit TV sitcom Malcom in the Middle and The Larry Sanders Show.
24. In 2008, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, screened the film twice for a Wizard reunion. Fred Savage, Luke Edwards and Todd Holland were in attendance, and they held a Q&A with the audience between screenings. The event was documented by Ain’t It Cool News with the intention that they’d pitch it to Universal as bonus material for a future home video release, but it has yet to surface. (Although a few fan-shot videos have been uplaoded to YouTube.)
25. The whereabouts of Jackey Vinson, who played Lucas, were mysteriously unknown for several years until 2011 when he was disappointingly discovered on a list of registered sex offenders. Say it ain’t so, Lucas!
It’s also worth checking out this old interview with Todd Holland from 2008, from which many of these facts came from.
Happy anniversary to The Wizard!
— Todd Holland (@ToddHolland3) December 15, 2014
— Beau Bridges (@MrBeauBridges) December 15, 2014