The Wizard is 1989 film about three kids who run away to California participate in a video game tournament. Although most of the games are played in arcades, the games are almost exclusively PlayChoice-10 titles — essentially NES games played by paying for a certain amount of time. For this reason some have condemned the movie as nothing more than a 90 minute commercial for Nintendo. Because of its emphasis on Nintendo games The Wizard is one of my all time favorite movies and delights fans to this day.
After Corey discovers that his half-brother Jimmy is being placed in a mental institution he decided they should run away to California… on $27. They sneak into the back of a Hostess truck and they’re on their way.
Meanwhile Jimmy’s mother and stepfather have hired the creepy Mr. Putnam who “retrieves children professionally.” Sam and Nick, Corey’s father and brother, are threatened by the child seeker and head out to find the brothers themselves.
Jimmy and Corey spend the night in Goblin Valley. Not Happy Valley, or Wonderful Valley… Goblin Valley. Why not Axe Murders Valley?
Jimmy plays his first video game of the movie, the PlayChoice-10 version of Double Dragon, in a bus station. Corey tries to buy a bus ticket to L.A. but doesn’t have nearly enough money. As a cop pulls into the station Haley notices Corey’s uneasy reaction and follows him and Jimmy into the back room. As Corey pulls Jimmy away from Double Dragon he notices that Jimmy got a score of 50,000. Quite impressive for about 27 seconds of play!
Haley refuses to believe in Jimmy’s mutant skill and loses her bus ticket to Corey. As they argue, the bus pulls away and all three of them are stranded. Haley convinces Corey to use Jimmy to con others out of money the same way they had done to her. After a couple wins Haley introduces the idea of competing Video Armageddon, which has the cash prize of $50,000. If she helps get them there they will split the winnings. Corey agrees and their adventure begins.
Elsewhere, Sam nearly drives off the road and into a truck reading a map while driving. They pull into a small town to grab some food, and as the first of many chance encounters they meet their child seeking rival. Putnam decides the best course of action is to grab his knife and stab the Woods’ tires. Of course Sam isn’t too happy to see this, and pursues Putnam with a shovel, smashing his car repeated as he lets out a feeble “It’s very hot…” Putnam eventually escapes and Sam makes a his final move by throwing the shovel and missing Putnam’s car.
Corey, Jimmy, and Haley find a ride in the back of a livestock truck. Haley explains how her father is a trucker, so she knows all about truckers. They have a code. Apparently that code doesn’t say anything about robbery. Upon spotting the wad of cash Haley is counting, the truckers pull over and steal all but four dollars Corey has stashed away in his shorts.
Though they are down on their luck in the middle of the desert, they manage to make it to an arcade where they con several surprisingly skilled old men into a bet against Jimmy. Pockets once again lined with cash they spend the night in a junk yard, and continue their travels with a friendly biker gang the next day. At the same time Sam and Nick are getting their truck repaired, and Nick somehow fixes the broken NES they just happened to store in the truck along with a copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Adventures of Link, and Super Mario Bros 2.
Stranded again, the trio spends the day trying to get a ride. Eventually they just start walking, and are picked up by a truck carrying three Native Americans. At their next stop they take a group of kids for about $20. One of Lucas’ friends looks on and comments that Jimmy is good, but no match for Lucas. In the next scene they meet Lucas, and his Power Glove. Letting out his famous line, “It’s so bad,” Lucas demonstrates his skill with the ill-fated peripheral. Jimmy refuses to play against him, and as they walk out Lucas informs the travels that he is not only going to the championship as well, but has all 90 of the currently released NES games.
Sam and Nick spend the night in a cheap Motel where they are forced to share a bed. After an awkward attempt at conversation, Nick grabs the NES from the truck and starts playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sam’s first comment is “It doesn’t take much intelligence to play those games,” but by morning he is obsessed with them himself. When Nick wakes up he finds his father wilding playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and ranting about how far he got before he died.
The next morning Corey wakes up in a panic to find Jimmy has wandered off. Corey finds him in the yard, but is upset that he is building a tower out of popcorn boxes the same way he always has; a sign in Corey’s mind that he isn’t improving and the trip is failing. Suddenly the kids they beat in the arcade the previous day pull up in a pickup truck and chase down the trio demanding their money. They manage to take it, with interest, as well as Jimmy’s hat. In the struggle Jimmy’s lunch box is opened for the firs time, and Corey explains that Jimmy is hording photos of Jennifer, his twin sister who drowned in a river only a few feet from Jimmy under Nick’s careless watch. Corey is ready to pack it in and call his father, but Jimmy finally speaks and tells Corey that he wants to keep going, and onward they go.
Putnam comes up to a kid playing pinball and asks if he knows where the Jimmy is. Putnam refers to Jimmy as a mental case, and the kid asks if he dresses like Putnam does. When Putnam says no, the kid says he must not be much of a mental case. If Putnam thought that was bad, it was only the start of his troubles. Sam and Nick have wound up in the same town with him again, and this time they crash their cars into each other as an old hillbilly watches from a rocker on a porch. Putnam emerges from the battle as the victor, although his car is badly damaged.
Jimmy, Corey, and Haley arrive in Reno, Haley’s hometown, where they meet up with one of Haley’s father’s friends, Spankey. With coaching from Haley, Spankey wins $400 in a casino before being thrown out for having kids with him. Haley cuts Spankey $10 of the winnings and they head to the arcades to practice. Haley gets the Nintendo helpline working around the clock as Jimmy masters game after game.
On the road again, Sam and Nick stop for a bite to eat. Once again Putnam isn’t far away. Seeing their truck unattended, he pays a tow truck owner to tow it away. Their truck already far in the distance by time they emerge from the restaurant, Sam and Nick decide to eat inside. While eating they notice the kid who stole Jimmy’s hat. The kid doesn’t know where the trio is headed, but Lucas, only a seat away, is happy to tell them about the tournament. They head out again, but by time they find their truck it is already being torn apart as scrap.
Putnam finally meets Corey in an arcade and quickly finds Jimmy. As Jimmy is carried off my Putnam, Haley screams that he touched her breast, and he is carried away by security. The trio is safe for the moment and runs off to Haley’s home — a dirty old trailer in the middle of the desert. They next morning Corey wakes up to Jimmy being recaptured by Putnam. Haley calls some of her trucker friends and repeats the breast story. They set up a blockade on the road and beat up Putnam. Jimmy is reunited with Corey and Haley.
Finally arriving at Video Game Armageddon, Jimmy quickly makes it to the final round against Lucas and a girl. The trio is discovered by Putnam and a crazy chase through Hollywood ensues. Finally arriving at the last moment to the final round Jimmy takes his place and the three contestants begin to play Super Mario Bros. 3. At the time Super Mario Bros. 3 had not yet been released, and its large feature in The Wizard was many peoples’ introduction to the game. Jimmy dies several times, but somehow manages to discover the Warp Whistle in the first fortress, and by warping to World 4 regains his lead and takes the prize. By this point all of Jimmy’s family is watching, and his mother fires Putnam.
On the way home Jimmy notices giant dinosaurs and calls out California. They pull over and he runs into the Dinosaur’s head. There Corey discovers a picture of their entire family, Jennifer included, happily gathered at that very spot. Jimmy found his perfect place to let the memory of Jennifer rest. The family reunites and rides home, presumably to live happily ever after.