January 27, 2022 — It has been a full 48 years since the original publishing of the role-playing, tabletop masterpiece Dungeons & Dragons. In that rather tumultuous half-century, the much-loved franchise has seen countless reimaginings — from various tabletop editions and spinoffs to video games and films.
Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most widely-known creative works of all time, and such notoriety is bound to be both a blessing and a curse. The sheer number of players and fans ensures that the fanbase grows, all the while new D&D content and spinoffs are consistently released.
However, for every person who falls in love with the D&D universe, there are those who simply do not get it, and Dungeons & Dragons has been the subject of massive pop-culture hype and even panicked controversy. Thus, the brand has seen high peaks and deep valleys. Regardless, the upcoming 2023 reboot is a sure cause for tentative excitement.
“Gven that many big-name studios and actors have been willing to contribute to the D&D reboot, the upcoming film has the potential to be a pretty good movie.”
Fans and followers may be aware that past D&D movies have not exactly gone smoothly. As far back as the 1980s, two decades before the release of the first film, there were plans to bring Dungeons & Dragons to the big screen. Disputes about rights have plagued such efforts for nearly 50 years. As such, getting these franchise films off the ground has always been a lengthy and arduous process — an immense amount of work that has not truly paid off yet.
Canadian director Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea Entertainment produced the first D&D film in 2000, simply titled Dungeons & Dragons. The results were catastrophic. In total, the film was nominated for eleven ‘Stinkers Bad Movie Awards’, including ‘Worst Picture’ and ‘Worst Sense of Direction’. Worldwide, the first Dungeons & Dragons movie grossed just under $34 million — more than $11 million short of its $45 million budget.
Even though the first film was an utter flop — and a disappointment to fans and film-lovers alike — Solomon agreed to work on a made-for-tv sequel directed by Gerry Lively, hence Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God was released in 2005. The sequel’s reception — as well as its financial loss — strongly resembled that of the previous movie. Finally, in 2012, Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness was released direct-to-DVD, again directed by Lively. Interestingly, The Book of Vile Darkness boasts the kindest reviews of the film trio, though the bar was not set particularly high to begin with (review scores for the 2012 DVD film reached about 4.5 out of 10.)
Despite its ups and downs in the last half-century, public reception of Dungeons & Dragons is arguably at an all-time high now. By the early 2000s, D&D had already established itself as the world’s premium role-playing game. Then, in the 2010s, wildly popular D&D-based spinoffs like the weekly podcast ‘The Adventure Zone’ and web series ‘Critical Role’ made huge waves within the pop-culture zeitgeist, expanding D&D awareness as well as popularity and sales of the game’s ongoing 5th edition. By now, there are over 15 million players in North America alone, along with untold legions of fans who are not players but have a positive inkling to the universe anyway. As such, it is safe to say the upcoming 2023 film will be a well-timed release — even if the new movie is only “baseline good”, it is highly plausible it will do exceptionally well. Unless, of course, the production has suffered from the lingering effects of COVID as some movie-goers remain cautious of the in-theater experience. With its release still two years away, it is possible these fears will have dissipated.
Should theater attendance still be wavering at Dungeons & Dragons’ release, it does have one thing going for it — it is being handled by behemoth studio Paramount Pictures’ streaming service, Paramount+. In October 2021, Paramount released Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin on Paramount+. Although a direct-to-stream release has not been confirmed, it is within reason to assume the 2003 reboot could receive the same treatment.
Scant information about the reboot is widely known, save that the film’s expected release date is March 3, 2023, and that filming and principal photography were finished by August 19, 2021. Still, some crucial knowledge has been made public. For example, the cast is known to include Hollywood veterans such as Chris Pine, who’s alleged to play the film’s human protagonist, Edgin, and Hugh Grant (as “Forge Fletcher,” the lead antagonist), as well as up-and-coming actors Justice Smith and Sophia Lillis. Not much is known about the full cast, though The Illuminerdi may have unveiled some details on Pine’s Edgin, who’s described as an unlucky character who falls short of being a typical hero. Riding on the coattails of characters like Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy, Edgin is expected to put humor over brawn. It may not be the expected hero of a D&D story, but the 2023 film isn’t looking to retread the waters of its predecessors. In fact, it’s safe to say that this new film’s production quality will be far greater than its predecessors’.
A Bigger Universe
The 2023 D&D film isn’t the only upcoming project stemming from the world and fantasy, heroes, and monsters. In an interview with Deadline, HBO’s former president of programming, Michael Lombardo, was a little loose on what the future of the franchise will look like. The new film will find itself tied into a new TV series, which was announced a little over a year ago with no real movement made since.
John Wick creator Derek Kolstad has been tied to the Paramount production, which Lombardo assures will be the start of an expansive, interconnected cinematic and televised universe. It sounds like D&D is getting the MCU treatment, which means franchise fans can expect plenty of return trips to the Forgotten Realms, even after the film releases.
It may also be reassuring for fans to know a fresh team is behind the upcoming D&D film reboot. New writers, a director, executives, and actors like Hugh Grant — this is all cause to be rather hopeful for the new movie, and that it will not be weighed down by the same issues that left its three predecessors panned by critics. Of course, it is no more than speculation to think the new production team will do justice to D&D any more than those responsible for the previous movies.
“Whatever the case, given that many big-name actors and studios have been willing to contribute to the reboot, it has potential to be a really good movie.”
Unfortunately, for the most part, the details of the film are up for speculation as the plot has not yet been disclosed. If the production team takes note of the reviews of past Dungeons & Dragons films, they should come to the conclusion that the previous films which included more details from — and references to — the game itself were better received. With this in mind, a daring fan might bravely consider the possibility the 2023 film will be loosely based on existing 5th edition adventures like ‘Curse of Strahd’ and ‘Tomb of Annihilation’, even though none of the character names revealed so far have been pulled from the D&D core lore. Still, a fan can only hope!
Whatever the case, given that many big-name actors and studios have been willing to contribute to the D&D reboot, it has the potential to be a really good movie. Whether it will be a hallmark entry in the Dungeons & Dragons movie universe specifically, only time will tell.