The Wizard Movie

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The Wizard (1989)

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Video games have come a long way since their inception in the mid 1940s. (Yes, 1940s.) They’ve grown in public appeal and budget to be on par with big studio films, but they still support an avid underground culture of professional competitive gamers. My first exposure to this lesser-known world of video games came from the 1989 film The Wizard, starring Fred Savage, Luke Edwards, and Jenny Lewis. (Music nerds will recognize Lewis as the lead singer from Rilo Kiley.)

The Wizard is a sometimes-saccharine film that focuses around a possibly-autistic boy, Jimmy, who has a natural aptitude for video games, and his half-brother, Corey, who runs away with Jimmy with the goal of getting him to compete in a major tournament in LA. They team up with misfit Haley, who helps them make the trek for a cut of the tournament winnings.

What sent every kid running to the theater was to get the first glimpse of the highly anticipated Super Mario Bros 3 (which went on to become one of the best-selling games ever), the tournament’s final game. The movie is filled with references to some of the most popular NES games of the time including Contra, Double Dragon, Mega Man 2, Ninja Gaiden, and Zelda 2. There were so many that various critics and moviegoers complained about it being a feature-length commercial; but we didn’t care what adults thought, it was pretty damn sweet to get a whole movie filled with our favorite games.

Aside from watching a whole feature about Nintendo, the film was influential for me, and many kids born in the early ‘80s, because it showed a world of video games that stretched beyond the living room. The Wizard showed gaming as not having a social stigma, but rather as a means to build common ground with loved ones and participate in a larger community. In the end, it shows video games helping the troubled Jimmy become more sociable, rather than less so. Regardless of anyone’s opinions of the film’s technical merits, this casting of a traditionally negative social stereotype in a positive light is a powerful message for young viewers. It says, “Do the things you love, and you will find a community to do them with.”

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