Think being the bestselling role-playing game of all time entitles you to a halfway decent on-screen adaptation? Think again. Despite its ubiquity in popular culture, Dungeons & Dragons has flopped on both the big screen and the small screen, with the 2000 feature film starring Jeremy Irons and Marlon Wayans taking the most relentless drubbing of them all. As Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “Imagine a kingdom that looks half the time like a towering fantasy world of spires and turrets, castles and drawbridges—and the other half like everyone is standing around in the wooded area behind Sam’s Club on the interstate.” The film flopped so hard that its sequel was a made-for-TV movie, while the threequel was a direct-to-video release—those too were critical and commercial failures.
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But Dungeons & Dragons’ luck may be about to change. After a lengthy battle over the intellectual property rights, a new feature film has landed at Paramount Pictures, with a distinguished creative team and an all-star cast attached. At long last, the stars may finally be aligning for this beloved game’s second life on screen. Here’s everything we know so far about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie.
But First, What Is Dungeons & Dragons?
If you’ve yet to be indoctrinated into the cult of D&D, we’ve got you covered. Published in 1974, D&D is a popular tabletop roleplaying game rooted in storytelling, with an open-ended and cooperative structure. We promise, it’s not as confusing as it sounds. As D&D’s official website describes the game:
Like games of make-believe, D&D is driven by imagination. It’s about picturing a crumbling castle in a darkening forest and imagining how a fantasy adventurer might react to the challenges that scene presents. In this fantasy world, the possibilities are limitless. Unlike a game of make-believe, D&D gives structure to the stories—a way of determining the consequences of the adventurers’ actions. Players roll dice to determine whether their attacks hit or miss and whether their characters can scale a cliff, roll away from the strike of a magical lightning bolt, or pull off some other dangerous task. Anything is possible, but the dice make some things more probable than others.
A typical game of D&D is often composed of four or five players, as well as a Dungeon Master. Players choose a race (such as halfling or human) and a class (such as fighter or wizard) for their characters from predetermined categories, then imagine their characters’ personalities, appearances, and backstories. Together the characters form an adventuring party, who set out on a quest, working collaboratively to make their way through the fictive landscape. To explore, travel, and fight, players roll dice, which determine the outcomes of their actions. Dungeon Masters facilitate the game, acting as the storyteller and referee, while also determining the results of the players’ dice rolls. The game has no real end or winner; some games stretch across months and years, at which point they become “campaigns.”
What Will The Dungeons & Dragons Movie Be About?
The official Dungeons & Dragons movie synopsis reads as follows:
An ex-Harper turned thief escapes from prison with his partner, a female barbarian, and reunites with a no-talent wizard and a druid new to their team in an effort to rob the cheating conman who stole all their loot from the heist that landed them behind bars, and used it to install himself as the Lord of Neverwinter. Only the traitor is allied with a powerful Red Wizard who has something far more sinister in store.
Though the synopsis isn’t all that detailed, D&D die-hards can read between the lines. According to the official D&D website, a Harper is a faction of characters, whose goals include, “To gather information… discern the political dynamics within each region or realm, and promote fairness and equality by covert means. Act openly as a last resort. Thwart tyrants and any leader, government, or group that grows too powerful, and aid the weak, the poor, and the oppressed.”
The synopsis is classic D&D: a band of unlikely companions comes together, then sets off across a fantastical landscape to achieve a goal and defeat a Big Baddie.
Who’s In the Cast?
Headlining the cast are Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez, who star in leading roles, but whose characters remain unnamed. Given that the ex-Harper and the female barbarian are listed first in the official synopsis, we’re guessing Pine and Rodriguez will play these key roles. Pine and Rodriguez were recently spotted on set in northern Ireland, with Rodriguez kitted out in medieval attire.
Also joining the cast in an unspecified role is Regé-Jean Page, who teased that the film will be “a huge sigh of relief for Dungeons & Dragons fans everywhere,” as well as “a breath of fresh air.” Sophia Lillis will play Doric, while Jason Wong will play Dalas. Little is known about these characters, but we’re guessing the five characters listed in the synopsis form the typical adventuring party, with the roles rounded out by Pine, Rodriguez, Page, Lillis, and Wong.
As for villains, Hugh Grant has been casted as the story’s main villain, Forge Fletcher. So far, nothing is known about this character beyond his name, but if Grant’s Paddington 2 performance is anything to go on, we suspect he’ll be a spectacular villain.
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This week, rumors circulated that Benedict Cumberbatch will join the cast in an unspecified role. If the rumors are true, our money is on a villain role for Cumberbatch.
Who’s On the Creative Team?
The Dungeons & Dragons movie will be directed by Game Night’s Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who also wrote the script. If Game Night’s success is anything to go by, D&D fans can expect a similarly deft touch with humor and meta-references. Daley also has serious D&D cred—during his time on Freaks & Geeks, he appeared in one memorable scene as a D&D geek.
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When Is The Dungeons & Dragons Movie Coming Out?
The film is currently slated for 2023, with no month specified. Watch this space for updates as we continue to learn more.
Adrienne Westenfeld is a writer and editor at Esquire, where she covers books and culture.
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