In 1989, the prolific comic book creator, screenwriter, and novelist Neil Gaiman re-invigorated the dark fantasy genre with The Sandman, a 75 issue tale which examined the many elements of fiction through the anthropomorphic personifications of its characters. In his story, he introduced us to Dream, the lead character who occupied the Dreaming, watching over all stories that ever were or have ever been imagined. He, along with his six siblings, collectively known as the Endless, guarded the realms of existence, carrying out their duties over billions of years.
The complexities of Gaiman’s narrative would come through his seamless interweaving of urban fantasy alongside historical dramas, superhero fictions, as well as other mythologies. A Hollywood treatment of Gaiman’s creation has been floating around for some time. Most recently, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was attached to direct before withdrawing his name entirely in early 2016. Obviously, we cannot include an all-encompassing list of everyone from the comics, so we’ve opted to include some notable names that will hopefully make the final cut. So without further ado, this is our attempt at DREAMcasting A Live-Action Sandman Movie.
20. Death – Tatiana Maslany
The eldest sister of the Endless and the second oldest overall, Death appears as an attractive young woman with a friendly and optimistic disposition. At first, Death did not treat people so kindly. She saw her job as the most challenging of the Endless, which left her cold inside. After deciding to live one day as a mortal, she changed her opinion of the world, becoming a friend to those who died, accompanying them all to the afterlife and visiting them during their time of birth.
As one of the most powerful beings in the DCU (Vertigo is a DC Comics imprint), Death is omnipotent and omniscient, making her an intimidating figure to those around her. As such, the actress for the part should be able to invoke fear while remaining approachable and comforting. The Canadian-born Tatiana Maslany is already a sci-fi darling with her multiple parts in Orphan Black and has proven to be capable of jumping into any role. While Maslany looks the part, she can also be witty, sweet, or tough as nails, depending on the scene. Having played so many parts in one setting, she should have no problem taking on one of The Sandman’s most beloved and complex characters.
19. Cain and Abel – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost
Getting their start in the 1960s as hosts of separate horror anthology titles, House of Mystery (Cain) and House of Secrets (Abel), these two biblical brothers were drafted by Gaiman to provide the occasional moment of dark comic relief. Invited into the Dreaming by Morpheus, the two live next to each other as neighbors, where Cain seems to harbor contempt for his brother. In an obsessive-compulsive act of violence, Cain is shown murdering Abel over and over again, re-enacting the first murder. Abel recovers after only a few hours with a renewed sense of brotherhood for his sibling.
As two characters constantly shown together, it would be ideal to have an already-established chemistry on set between the duo of actors chosen for the parts. Like few other pairings in the industry today, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have exhibited a bond on film as both friends and frequent collaborators. Appearing in movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Frost often plays the dimwitted, annoying sidekick to Pegg’s main character, who’s often irked by his friend’s shortcomings. It’s a match we’re sure to see again in the future, and together they can bring the reciprocal entertainment needed for these two characters to come to life on screen.
18. Corinthian – Timothy Olyphant
The man with teeth for eyes — it sounds like a nightmare come to life, and that’s exactly what it is. First appearing in issue ten, the Corinthian was created by Dream to be the fear in every human’s heart, but when he goes AWOL, he takes up the role of a serial killer, removing the eyes of his many victims. Given the ability to possess human beings, the teeth in his eye sockets devour the eyes of those he controls. Despite his deformity, he has the ability to see better than most and may even speak, eat, or breath through the mouths that he hides under his thick set of sunglasses.
Timothy Olyphant may have made a name for himself in shows like Deadwood and Justified by playing upstanding figures working outside the law to deliver justice to the bad guys, but it’s his work as the villain in films like The Perfect Getaway and Live Free or Die Hard that puts him at the top of our list for the role. Apart from his intimidating presence, he’s known for gritting his teeth when he speaks, which couldn’t be a better match for a character with this much bite.
17. Destiny – Benicio Del Toro
The eldest and least shown member of the Endless, Destiny first appeared in the 1970s DC horror comic Weird Mystery Tales before taking over as a storyteller in the Secrets of Haunted House title.
Making his Sandman debut in issue seven, the blind, cloaked figure can be seen walking the maze-like paths of his realm, The Garden of Forking Ways. Chained to his right wrist is a book which is said to contain the stories of everyone and everything. Rarely working outside of his duties, Destiny is considered to be the wisest of the Endless, perceived by the others as emotionally removed and meticulously devoted to his purpose.
Apart from being the oldest of the Endless (which can be easily fixed with a touch of makeup), Destiny should be depicted as a low-speaking, morally observant figure who operates only within his garden. Benicio del Toro’s soft, raspy voice, along with his ability to, well, play just about anyone, makes him an ideal fit for the part. With darker, more tragic roles in movies like Sicario, he also has the ability to add just a touch of menace, topping the character off with that extra something needed for the role.
16. Doctor Destiny – John Malkovich
If a Sandman movie turns out to be anything like the movies of the DCEU, it’s going to need a villain. Showing up in a 1961 issue of Justice League of America, John Dee was a criminal scientist who used his intellect to fight the superhero group. In Gaiman’s retconned version of the character, he obtains Morpheus’ Dreamstone, which grants him immeasurable powers. He would soon be imprisoned in Arkham Asylum by the JLA, where they stripped him of the ability to sleep, leaving his mind to slowly deteriorate. After his escape, Morpheus runs into Dee, retrieving his powers from the villain and restoring his ability to catch some Z’s.
While Doctor Destiny isn’t the most likely character to pop up in a Sandman movie, he could be a connection between Morpheus’ world and the rest of the DCEU, if that’s something that DC would be looking to do. As such, a veteran actor like John Malkovich would be a suitable choice for the part. Malkovich has a history of playing sadistic villains in films like Con Air, and he has no problem turning up the crazy when he needs to. And, at six feet tall, he would make a worthy adversary going up against the likes of Tom Hiddleston.
15. Daniel Hall – Steven Yeun
The son of Hector and Lyta Hall, two children of superheroes, Daniel found himself in the Dreaming before he was ever born. Shortly after his father was killed, his mother Lyta was taken into the Dream World, where Daniel was incubated. When Morpheus returned to his realm, he warned that he would someday return for her son, who he believed belonged to him. When Morpheus is later forced to destroy himself by the Furies (still to be seen on our list), he is given no other option than to transfer his powers to Daniel, who’s forced to take his place.
As the new Dream, Daniel transforms into an adult form, appearing in all white with long, white hair. Little of the humanity from his child self remains, yet he acts similar to the old Dream, but with less experience to refer to. As Glenn Rhee in AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun was the epitome of an inexperienced, diligent leader with a bright outlook. Not only will he bring instant likability to the cast as the adult version of Daniel, he’ll immediately draw support as heir to the Dream as he becomes keenly aware of the tasks ahead of him.
14. The Kindly Ones – Emily Bett Rickards, Jessica Lange, Betty White
The Kindly Ones, more commonly referred to as the Furies, are the three goddesses of vengeance, consisting of Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. Based upon the Greek mythological figures, the Furies have deep historical roots, originally killing those who drop familial blood. When Daniel Hall is taken from his mother Lyta, she approaches the three with the request that they kill Morpheus. She acts as a vessel for the three, who go about destroying the Dreaming in return.
Adapting the neopagan stages of the Triple Goddess, the Kindly Ones represent three separate stages of a woman’s life cycle: the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. As sisters, the three actresses cast in the roles should share some resemblance but also fit the parts age-wise. Emily Bett Rickards of Arrow has gained recognition recently thanks to her role as the cyber nerd Felicity Smoak on the CW series. Meanwhile, Jessica Lange and Betty White are veterans, appearing in shows such as American Horror Story and The Golden Girls. Together, the three represent the up-and-coming star, the seasoned pro with many years still ahead, and the crowning queen of the screen, giving them the feel of Gaiman’s characters with an already well-established fan base.
13. Lucien – David Thewlis
A long, thin man with pointed ears and red hair, Lucien is the most devoted servant of the Dreaming, primarily in charge of the library of the Dream’s palace. Previously one of Dream’s messenger ravens, he is rewarded for his faithfulness by being granted a new human form, accounting for his rather elfish appearance. Although the role of a librarian sounds far off from the most interesting, Lucien has not only access to every book ever written, but also every work ever imagined, even if it was never published, giving him an incredible amount of knowledge, should he ever need it.
As the only friend to Dream who never abandons his post as a member of the palace staff, Lucien must be dependable, highly educated, and in the know about the latest gossip of the Dream World. At six feet, two inches with the red hair to match, David Thewlis played the clever Professor Lupin in the Harry Potter franchise. Not only does Thewlis have the imagination and acting chops to play the character, but as Professor Lupin, he played a werewolf, something he shares in common with Lucien, who’s spent some time with a werewolf companion of his own.
12. Delirium – Amandla Stenberg
When Delirium first came into existence, she was incarnated as the manifestation of Delight. For reasons unknown, she transformed into what she is today. The youngest of the Endless, she lives in a realm of constantly changing colors, appearing as a fourteen-year-old girl with two different color eyes, one blue and the other green.
Personality-wise, Delirium suffers from incoherent thoughts, often losing track of her conversations. She is known for her seemingly incomprehensible observations, but she speaks in a jovial manner despite those around her wondering about her mental state.
As the youngest sibling of the Endless, Delirium retains an innocence while also being perky and punkish. As the least experienced, it makes sense to cast an up-and-coming actress in the same age range. Amandla Stenberg, though not a household name, has made an impact in films such as The Hunger Games while also starring in Beyonce’s video for “Lemonade.” Beyond her skills as a performer, Amandla has made news as an an intersectional feminist with a non-binary gender identification. A pretty major figure in the LGBT community, the 18-year-old star is a nice fit into Gaiman’s world of patronal feminist characters.
11. Lucifer Morningstar – Michael Fassbender
Satan, the Devil, the Fallen Angel — Lucifer has been widely adapted by DC and various other sources more than almost any other character in existence. The Biblical figure remains a notable figure of sin, bringing nothing but chaos and upheaval everywhere he goes. In Neil Gaiman’s interpretation, he abandons his position as Lordship of Hell. Becoming bored of his existence, he requests that Dream cut off his wings, surrendering his key to the underworld and retreating to Los Angeles, where he opens a piano bar. Now appearing in his own self-titled series on Fox, Lucifer once again finds himself in the spotlight, rebelling against what he perceives as a tyrannical and unjust God who does not permit mortals the gift of free willpower.
Playing such a formidable villain with a storied history will be a tall task for any actor, but Michael Fassbender has shown no reluctance to accepting iconic comic book roles in the past. As Magneto in the X-Men franchise, he’s highly intelligent and cunning, while never rebelling against his own kind. With almost unlimited power, he has the on-screen presence and general charisma to win over audiences, even as the Prince of Darkness.
10. Destruction – Mahershala Ali
A burly, masculine depiction of the tool for change, Destruction is shown in Gaiman’s story to be a red-haired man of great warmth and affection. The only sibling of the Endless to abandon his post, he does so after the turn of the seventeenth century, right as the onset of human reasoning begins to make way for more scientific exploration. He correctly foresees the inevitable use of science as a tool for the destruction of the world, which would eventually lead to the creation of the atomic bomb.
A wanderer seeking an alternative path, Destruction views the Endless as lords of opposites. For him, his life is not only about destruction, but also creation, which he partakes in during his travels by building a cathedral, writing poetry, and becoming a painter. Having the strong build for such a character, Mahershala Ali has been turning in memorable performances for years, most recently breaking onto the scene for his tough-minded, but equally emotionally compelling performances in Luke Cage and Moonlight. Although he does not look like the red-haired creation in Gaiman’s story, he shares his wise-looking features while maintaining the physique needed for the role.
9. Matthew the Raven (Voice) – Tom Waits
In his days as a human, Matthew Cable was an elite government agent appearing in issues of Swamp Thing. After succumbing to injuries sustained in a car crash, he is revived in the pages of Sandman, becoming the messenger raven for Dream. Losing all signs of his mortal self, he begins acting like a bird, hinted at through his cawing voice. His relationship with Dream is one of companionship, as he’s often seen giving the Dreamlord advice.
It goes without saying that whoever is cast as Matthew will spend time in a recording booth, so we’re looking for a gruff voice who can pull off the scratchy cawing sounds of the character seen in the comics. The performer in question must also speak with an irreverence while occasionally sounding like a loyal friend.
American singer-songwriter and part-time actor Tom Waits has wowed audiences with his growling sound and experimental mix of blues and jazz. His voice has been described as that of a hard drinker who’s probably smoked a cigarette or two (or a million) in his day. With such a distinct sound, he has the ability to transform into Matthew and offer sage words of wisdom while perched atop of Morpheus’ shoulder.
8. Merv Pumpkinhead – Bruce Campbell
The streetwise, cigar-smoking groundskeeper of the Dreaming, Merv Pumpkinhead is a pastiche of Jack Pumpkinhead from L. Frank Baum’s series of Oz books. An immortal resident of the land of dreams, he often complains about his job. Seen by most as a walking human body with a large pumpkin on his shoulders, his appearance may change depending on the viewer. Published in 2000, Merv would star in his own spinoff publication, Merv Pumpkinhead: Agent of DREAM, in which he appeared as a dapper, tuxedo-wearing agent in a James Bond-like story with more than enough bad guys and attractive women to go around.
When seeking someone to cast as Merv, it’s important to note that the character will be at least partially CGI, with voice work becoming an important part of the performance. The man behind the voice should then have a self-assuredness with just a hint of shrewdness and a bit of self-entitlement. Bruce Campbell has stepped up his game in that regard as the reliable, but ultimately irresponsible Ash Williams in Ash vs Evil Dead, making us believe he’d been an ideal choice to play Morpheus’ janitor.
7. Desire – Tilda Swinton
Desire is the embodiment of want. A strikingly beautiful figure without a gender, it can be either male, female, both or neither. Its realm is known as the threshold, which is a large statue in its image in which it dwells. Depicted as being of medium height with pale skin and sharp yellow eyes, Desire is cruel to its siblings, especially Dream, with whom it often interferes.
As an androgynous character with a playfully malicious attitude, Desire must be played by someone capable of transcending conventional gender narratives. The actor must be capable of portraying a male, female, or some mixture between the two at any given time. Tilda Swinton is no stranger to gender controversy, having recently played the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, a part originally portrayed as male. While she may not quite be the ideal age for the role, she certainly has the range for it, having played unconventional characters in movies like Snowpiercer and Only Lovers Left Alive, in which she shared screen time with our choice to play Dream (we’re getting there, don’t worry). The role is certainly a challenge, but it’s a task that someone like Swinton would take in stride, adding yet another stellar performance to her resume.
6. Despair (CGI) – Andy Serkis
Fat, flabby and grotesque, Despair is the second youngest of the Endless, the twin of Desire, and the least talkative of the bunch. She’s shown to be fully naked with black messy hair pulled back in a bun and pointed teeth. She wears a hooked ring on her left hand, which she uses to cut into her own flesh. She’s most commonly seen with Desire, plotting ways to challenge the elder Endless, though she is often roped into these situations by her sibling.
As an inhuman entity that’s impossible to cast without adding pounds of makeup and an insufferable bodysuit, Despair’s part will be up to the technical geniuses behind the scenes. Moving like a sloth with eyes that are at times either grimacing or distraught, it’s going to take the very best CGI actor available, and there’s no denying that Andy Serkis is that actor. Famous for his portrayals in Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and the Planet of the Apes franchise, he’s more than capable of bringing the sullen features and slow, sluggish movements of the character to life. And since Despair is an entity of few words, he’ll be just the person needed to convey all of those qualities without speaking a line.
5. Nada – Lupita Nyong’o
An ex-lover of Morpheus, Nada’s relationship with Dream was a tragic one that ended in flames. First seen trapped inside a cage, Morpheus encounters Nada in Hell on his way to retrieve his lost helmet. The events leading to her entrapment began ten thousand years prior. She was the queen of the city where man was first born. At only sixteen years old, she fell in love with Morpheus, but the Endless were forbidden to be with mortals. When the sun saw the two together, it burned her city to the ground. Feeling guilty, Nada committed suicide and was condemned to Hell by Morpheus after she rejected his proposal to be together.
Described as a beautiful woman with great remorse for the tragedy of her people, Nada must be played with grace and a strong sense of leadership. Lupita Nyong’o has quickly become a hot commodity thanks to her wide range of performances in films like 12 Years a Slave, The Jungle Book and the new Star Wars trilogy. She has the youthful elegance for the part of Nada while also being able to express the melancholy of someone caught in a love that can never be.
4. Roderick Burgess – Bill Nighy
A powerful magician, the English-born Roderick Burgess founded the Order of Ancient Mysteries in the early 1900s, operating the occult organization from his manor in Sussex. In 1916, in search of immortality, he uses a spell in an attempt to capture Death. Instead, he imprisons a weakened Dream, locking him in his basement for the next 70 years.
Loosely based on the occultist Aleister Crowley, Roderick is depicted as a decrepit man in search of control over his own destiny. After his death in 1947, he hands the reigns over to his son Alex, who eventually allows Dream to escape after his caretaker accidentally breaks the magic circle holding him in captivity.
The actor cast as Roderick must not only be age appropriate for the part, but should exhibit the feeble, desperate state of a man running from his impending death. Bill Nighy has prior experience in fantasy epics with the Harry Potter franchise, as well his work in both the Pirates of the Caribbean and Underworld series. As Roderick, his pale features and knack for playing sharp characters will come in handy, making him just the guy to lock up Dream for seven decades.
3. Rose Walker – Ellen Page
A protagonist of the “Doll’s House” story arc, Rose Walker would be the perfect segue into the introduction of the Endless’ world of mythical beings. Known as the vortex of dreams, Rose discovers her connection to the Dreaming when she learns of her potential to destroy it by bringing all dreams together. As a likable but ultimately detached young woman in her 20s, she carries the traits of a moody teenager, wearing red and purple-dyed streaks in her hair. She grounds the story to earth, but Dream soon comes for her after learning of her ability.
At 29 years old, Ellen Page may be pushing the limit on a Rose casting, but with her 5’1” frame, she does benefit from the ability to both look and play younger characters. As the witty, sarcastic teenager in movies like Juno, the actress has shown her ability to capture the moody adolescent, though she isn’t afraid to star in bigger pictures, playing characters in both the X-Men franchise as well as Inception. In all of these roles, Page is the furthest from bubbly, standing tall as a girl who is at once cool but capable of being a loner, making her the ideal choice to play Rose.
2. Thessaly – Amanda Seyfried
Named after the region in Greece, Thessaly is a millennia-old witch, the last of her kind. She first appears when a dream by the name of the Cuckoo tries to kill her, using her roommate to nearly do so. In retaliation, she tortures her roommate for answers. She then uses her powers to enter the Dreaming and go after the Cuckoo, but to no avail.
Though never actually shown in the series, Thessaly later returns as the love interest of Dream, a relationship which ends badly for them both. She would openly grieve his death later in the comics, attending his wake and funeral after his encounter with the Furies.
Appearing with long brown hair and large glasses, Thessaly is a cold, amoral character who would kill you if you give her a reason. As our choice for the part, Amanda Seyfried has shown her darker side in the past, playing a vindictive escort in Chloe and the best friend of a man-killing succubus in Jennifer’s Body. With a little hair dye and some glasses, it’d be easy to see why Morpheus would take a liking to her, despite the fact that she’s not the most approachable of characters.
1. Dream – Tom Hiddleston
The lead protagonist in Gaiman’s series, Dream has gone by many names, including Morpheus, Oneiros and the Sandman. Appearing as a physical mixture of Gaiman and the frontman for The Cure, Robert Smith, he has deathly white skin, black messy hair, and a tall, thin frame.
Although ultimately perceived as a heroic figure, Dream comes off as emotionless at times. Always conscious of his responsibilities, he lives in a castle in the heart of the Dreaming. It’s there that he watches over all the stories in existence, whether written or imagined. He struggles with change throughout his reign, a struggle which is made more difficult when he is imprisoned by the magician Roderick Burgess and held in captivity for 70 years.
Apart from the look, the actor who plays Dream must show a certain level of insensitivity in his portrayal. Often seen portraying articulate characters, Tom Hiddleston is not only the frontrunner, but the best casting choice available. His 6’2 physique and highly expressive eyes capture the dreamy state of Morpheus, while his experience portraying gothic figures in movies like Only Lovers Left Alive and Crimson Peak should prove vital in the film’s more crucial scenes. If the 35-year-old is hunting for his next big role to follow up his celebrated turn as Loki in the Thor franchise, this would be an ideal fit.
Who would you like to see sign on for a Sandman film adaptation? Let us know in the comments.