‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Was Almost A Terrible ‘80s Movie

‘Dungeons & Dragons’ Was Almost A Terrible ‘80s Movie


Dungeons & Dragons, the iconic role-playing game and sunlight repellant, has never inspired a great or even a good movie; from the disastrous 2000 adaptation starring Jeremy Irons to that TV movie in which Tom Hanks murders his friends thanks to a case of D&D fever. Now we’re getting a new film, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. And judging from the recently-released trailer, it looks … pretty good? Also, it’s written and directed by the guys who did Game Night, so hopefully, there’s a twist ending in which the entire movie turns out to be an RPG being played in Jason Bateman’s living room.

But Dungeons & Dragons was almost made into a movie way back when Chris Pine was still a toddler. In 1981, D&D co-creator Gary Gygax broke off negotiations with 20th Century Fox over a possible film adaptation because he didn’t believe that “the studio would be willing to produce the sort of top-notch movie we must have.” So instead, he forged ahead with the project independently, spearheading a movie that he promised fans would be on the level as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Gygax paid (according to some accounts) a whopping half a million dollars to screenwriter James Goldman, who had previously penned the acclaimed epic The Lion in Winter and the cult hit They Might Be Giants.

Weirdly, Goldman’s story began in our world, following a dude named Tom who is taking the bus to Yale. Along the way, he meets a “car racer” and a woman improbably named “Margot Champion” at a county fair, and, eventually, all three of them get sucked into D&D-land. But despite the fact that Gygax claimed that the movie was “intended to capture the essence of the Dungeons & Dragons game,” likely because they were just humble ‘80s preppies, “none of the main characters wields a weapon, casts a spell, picks a lock, uses a magic item, or indeed does much but flee danger” in the course of the entire movie.

Gygax and his company soon fell on “hard times,” and their big screen plans ultimately fell through – although that same premise, in which randos from the real world are transported to the fantasy realm of the game, was seemingly recycled for the Dungeons & Dragons Saturday morning cartoon series … and also its car commercial finale. 

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Thumbnail: Paramount/TSR


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