2017 looks to be a good year for Stephen King. The most influential horror writer of our generation has left his mark on pop culture for close to 45 years, starting with his debut novel Carrie, and he doesn’t seem to be in danger of slowing down anytime soon. With 54 novels to his name (a number that grows almost every year) and around 200 short stories, there are plenty of works ripe for adaptation.
Some films and TV shows based on his work have become beloved classics, from Stanley Kubrick’s masterful take on The Shining (which King himself dislikes) to the psychological tension of Rob Reiner’s Misery. Others have been less successful, like King’s own directorial debut Maximum Overdrive, widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made (King admits it was a mess and that he was “coked out of [his] mind all through its production”).
This year, however, features a major number of high-profile adaptations of King’s work. Televisions series of The Mist and Mr. Mercedes premiere this year, while Netflix will distribute the first adaptation of the psychological horror, Gerald’s Game, starring Carla Gugino and directed by Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil). The long-awaited cinematic take on It will arrive in theatres in September, with the various trailers already racking up hundreds of millions of views. Yet, the King adaptation that has elicited the most intrigue from fans has been The Dark Tower.
King’s Dark Tower series is one of his most ambitious efforts, and to reduce it to a mere synopsis cannot do its scope and skill justice. The eight novel saga is a genre-twisting sci-fi fantasy Western meta-text that combines Tolkien, Arthurian legends, Spaghetti Westerns, and King-style horror. The author himself considers the series his magnum opus, and a big-screen adaptation of the work has been in pre-production for well over a decade.
Originally, J.J. Abrams was linked to the project, then Ron Howard, both under the banner of Universal Studios, but they pulled their support after creative differences. Eventually, the material found its way to Warner Bros., and then Sony Pictures, where it eventually settled with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman on board before he was joined by Danish director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair). A cast was announced, with fan favorite, Idris Elba signed on as the gunslinger himself, Roland Deschain, and Matthew McConaughey as his nemesis, The Man in Black. Even getting it into production was a feat unto itself, but now the film is mere days from release, and the early words are mired in concern.
According to a report from Variety, the film’s production was troubled, with producers worried about Arcel’s work and major cuts taking place in the editing room to mold the movie into something general audiences could get. Test screenings didn’t go over well, according to these reports, and a review embargo remains in place, which is usually a bad sign. Sony denied the report from Variety, but many remain unconvinced, particularly after the run time was revealed to be a mere 95 minutes. Take away the credits, and that means the film itself may not even be an hour and a half long, suggesting some major editing took place once production wrapped.
The Dark Tower was destined to be a hard sell to general audiences even with Stephen King’s name attached, but even some die-hard fans of the novels have been worried about the film’s changes to the source material. The film itself isn’t actually an adaptation of the books; Arcel said it’s more like a sequel to the events of the books, with elements of each of the novels thrown in for good measure. It didn’t ease anyone’s concerns when the film’s release date was moved from February to July, only to be pushed back one more week into August.
Combine all of this – confusion over the plot, changes made to the material, embargoed reviews and behind-the-scenes drama – and The Dark Tower has a mountain to climb to reach commercial success. There’s a lot riding on this movie doing well, as Sony planned a follow-up TV series to fill in some of the movie’s backstory. The main source for this show will allegedly be the fourth novel in The Dark Tower series, Wizard and Glass, with both Elba and Tom Taylor (who plays Jake Chambers) reprising their roles. Sony Pictures could use a hit as recent reports show the studio remains in the red with its operating costs, despite a boost in revenue from TV productions and licensing fees. Given the popularity of the novels, the bankability of King’s name, and an upcoming gap in the market as Game of Thrones sees the end in sight, there’s an immense opportunity for The Dark Tower to be Sony’s golden goose. All in needs is a good starting point.
Fortunately for the studio, The Dark Tower has one great benefit most major franchise starts lack: A smaller budget. With most superhero epics like Marvel and attempts at starting a shared universe like The Dark Universe having $150 million+ budgets as the norm, The Dark Tower is a safer investment at just $66 million. With the rule of two and a half times the budget needed to make a profit, The Dark Tower could succeed by passing around $165 million. That’s a lofty goal, but not an impossible one. This weekend, its biggest competition at the box office is the wide expansion of Kathryn Bigelow’s drama Detroit, although Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is also holding strong two weeks after release. Current estimates have The Dark Tower sitting at a respectable opening weekend gross of around $25 million from 3200 theatres. If it pulls that off, it could knock Dunkirk off the number one spot in the box office top 10, which would make a few executives at Sony Pictures very happy.
A solid North American opening combined with the international numbers in the following weeks would make The Dark Tower successful enough to move forward with its plans. Really, that’s all it has to do. If it’s more successful than that, then everyone is happy, and Sony may be more willing to take risks with the material when it comes to the television adaptation. Regardless of the end result, one man is already very happy with the film. King himself, taking a page from his own work, sent an email to Nikolaj Arcel, telling him, “You have remembered the faces of your fathers.” High praise, indeed.
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