Wed
Jul 17 2013 8:30am

Ten Reasons the Dark Tower Adaptation Will Probably Never Happen

The Dark Tower Stephen King

There have been several attempts to make a big or small screen version of Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series. The rights are currently with Ron Howard, although at one point they were with J.J. Abrams. With big Hollywood players behind it, an author with a proven fanbase and the potential for a big summer tentpole action franchise, it seems like The Dark Tower should have been a slam-dunk. But there are several factors that work against it.

Please note that there are minor spoilers ahead for The Dark Tower.

1. The books are uneven

Of the eight Dark Tower books, two (The Wind Through the Keyhole and Wizard and Glass) are made up entirely of flashbacks, where the main narrative arc pauses and the hero tells a story. The Drawing of the Three has protagonist Roland stumbling along a beach meeting the rest of the main characters. Book six, The Song of Susannah is 400 pages long while book seven, The Dark Tower clocks in at a whopping 850 pages. The novels aren’t like Harry Potter where each has a distinct story that furthers the main story arc; they jump around and work more as one long, rambling novel with occasional breaks.

2. Where do you begin adapting it?

The books are fleshed out with a lot of flashbacks and stories that tell the reader more about the world it takes place in. There’s also a rather good companion comic book series that reveals even more about the history of the characters and of mid-world. But where is the logical starting point? Should a brief history of the gunslingers be included? Should the film start where the books do, at an almost random point in Roland’s journey, or earlier than that so the audience gets a better idea of what’s going on? There are many different ways it could be adapted and each way would produce vastly different results.

3. It’s intricately linked to Stephen King’s other works

Several characters from King’s universe pop up in the Dark Tower books, and even play major roles in the unfolding events. There are also hundreds of references to people, monsters, places and events from King’s vast backlist of novels. Fans would demand the inclusion of many of these, but they may prove alienating for the uninitiated. The novels also feature nods to the worlds of Star Wars, Harry Potter and Spider-man so there may be legal issues to work out too.

4. Stephen King is a character in the saga

How would this even play out on film? King himself turns up towards the end of the saga, as the heroes cross from their world into ours and discover that King is a kind of conduit for the events they are experiencing. Roland also finds his fate and well-being is inextricably linked to King’s. How awesome/weird would it be to have King playing himself? But if it’s not done right, it could come across as awkward and silly.

5. The Western Factor

Roland is, essentially, a cowboy. And cowboy movies don’t have a great track record. There’s definitely an audience for them, but they pretty much have to be Oscar bait to find that audience (think True Grit and Django Unchained). Otherwise, they’re expensive to produce and don’t have broad audience appeal (think Wild, Wild West and The Lone Ranger). While The Dark Tower goes beyond being simply a Western (it’s a post apocalyptic sci-fi/horror meditation on the nature of stories with a solid dose of high fantasy thrown in), the imagery is very much rooted in Clint Eastwood style westerns.

6. The Stephen King Perception Factor

While King has a huge fan base, there is an even larger number of people who are turned off by him. He has the reputation for writing violent horror, and while that’s only a part of what he does, there are people who will not go anywhere near his work.

7. The Stephen King Adaptation Factor

King adaptations haven’t had the best track record in terms of quality or box office. Mostly his adaptations are low budget TV movies or direct to DVD films that are uninspired and lazy. There are a few standouts like The Shining or The Mist (come at me, bro) but they are the exception rather than the rule. The best performing King adaptation of recent years was 1408, which made $130 million. See below for why that’s not good enough for The Dark Tower.

8. The Numbers

Let’s look at it from the point of view of the accountants that run Hollywood. Fewer middle-range movies are being made these days as studios attempt to make low-budget arthouse crossover hits, and uber-budget franchise movies. The Dark Tower would have to have a huge budget, at least $150 million for the first instalment and proabably more for the others. They would need a huge cast, expensive location shoots and special effects, huge production design and a global marketing campaign. For a movie to break even it needs to make back double its production budget (cinemas take about 50 cents for every dollar a movie makes) plus another $100 million or so to cover marketing costs. So the first Dark Tower movie would need a worldwide box office haul of at least $400 million to come out ahead, or $350 million, rave reviews and solid blu-ray sales to make it a good basis for a franchise. To put that in perspective, it would need to be at least as popular as Batman Begins, X-Men: First Class or the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. Bear in mind that those movies had a lot more awareness and cultural cachet than The Dark Tower does.

9. The Green Lantern Factor

Non-comic book audiences didn’t really know much about The Green Lantern when it hit screens and flopped a couple of years ago. The studio and the filmmakers had to spend a lot of time and money explaining the world and the concept before they could let audiences know compelling reasons why they should see the film. The Dark Tower is a similar proposition. Like Green Lantern its awareness is not high outside of its established fan base, and it has a complex world and backstory to explain before it can get to selling movie tickets.

10. It would take about a decade to do it properly

You’d be asking actors, filmmakers and the studio to commit to at least three big budget movies, probably more, spaced out over the course of several years. The production schedule on a film like this can stretch for two years, so the filmmakers would have to dedicate themselves to pretty much this exclusively. It would become the work that defined them, much as Batman has come to define Christopher Nolan and Lord of the Rings has come to define Peter Jackson. The filmmakers would have to really, really want to do it and be prepared to stake their careers on it.

And, as illustrated above, it’s a huge gamble.


This post was originally published July 10th at Momentum Books’ Blog.

43 comments
a1ay
1. a1ay
King adaptations haven’t had the best track record in terms of quality or box office. Mostly his adaptations are low budget TV movies or direct to DVD films that are uninspired and lazy.

On the other hand, name another author who has had their books adapted into films of the quality of "The Shining", "Stand By Me" and "Carrie"? Or even "Misery" and "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile"? And "Children of the Corn" and "The Running Man" were both pretty successful, though I wouldn't want to defend their quality. PK Dick is the only one that comes close, and for every "Blade Runner" he's got a "Paycheck".
a1ay
2. chaosprime
"Cultural cachet", not "cultural cache". ("Cache" is a one-syllable word.)
Steve Oerkfitz
3. Steve Oerkfitz
Would work much better as a miniseries. Unfortunately it's now owned by Ron Howard who specializes in mostly mediocre films(Apollo 11n being an exception). Not good at action or genre(Willow was godawful).
George Jong
4. IndependentGeorge
King himself turns up towards the end of the saga, as the heroes cross from their world into ours and discover that King is a kind of conduit for the events they are experiencing. Roland also finds his fate and well-being is inextricably linked to King’s. How awesome/weird would it be to have King playing himself? But if it’s not done right, it could come across as awkward and silly.
Personally, I thought it came across as awkward and silly in the books. I don't think it can be done right, because it was always a lousy idea from the start.
Unfortunately it's now owned by Ron Howard who specializes in mostly mediocre films(Apollo 11n being an exception).
Sounds like a job for Imagine Generic!
And "Children of the Corn" and "The Running Man" were both pretty successful, though I wouldn't want to defend their quality
Shut your mouth - "The Running Man" was awesome! Name one movie with scintillating wordplay like, "Sub Zero - now just plain zero!". Burn!
a1ay
5. tifaucz
I was excited about the adaptation, and was reading the first book.
But frankly, the more I read about the universe, the less I like it... it doesnt seen consistent, like if it does have a lot of good ideas, but they look silly all together.
Noneo Yourbusiness
6. Longtimefan
Considering how closely most recent productions have followed the source material I would say that it is possible that the series option would eventually be acted upon.

You may not recognize the mess when it is done but it would make money on digital streaming.

Faithfulness to source material has never been a strong point in motion picture or television work.
Robert Dickinson
7. ChocolateRob
Well they just need to get the right actor to play the healer then everything else will fall into place won't it. Once they have that guy then there will always be two more warriors when the plague hits instead of two less.
Di di diddily di di diddly di di didly dii.
a1ay
8. Chris L
@Steve Oerkfitz dude, it was Apollo 13!
Chris Nelly
9. Aeryl
@5, Reading about a book instead of reading the book is about the worst thing I can think of to actually judge it.

Without meeting the characters, learning their stories and their dreams, the themes of the story make little sense.
Adam S.
10. MDNY
@4 George, I liked Running Man when I was young. I saw it recently on TV, and it was so godawful cheesy '80s it hurt. It wasn't boring, I'll grant that, but it was certainly NOT awesome. However, "Willow" rocks (just kidding).
This is something I've been hearing about forever. I'm pretty sure it won't happen, and hope it won't at this point. The only way I could see it working is a miniseries, but even then I am highly doubtful it could succeed in conveying all of the series' changing mood, from the gritty western feel in The Gunslinger to the more pure horror towards the later books.
Chris Nelly
11. Aeryl
As far as the actual construction of the adaptation, Howard's original plan was to do trilogy, accompanied by three miniseries on TV between movies.

While it's a good idea, to not over burden a movie audience, the trick is HOW to construct where you won't be lost if some people missed one or the other.

Whether to include either of the flashbacks(and there are others, Little Sisters of Eluria, for example) I would vote to leave them out. W&G's flashback to Mejis is good and fascinating and really helps to develop Roland, who was severely UNDERdeveloped at this point in the narrative, but it's also not necessary. But if they were to include it, that would be a good one to make a miniseries.

Thing is, The Gunslinger and Drawing are too much for one movie together, but NOT enough for one by themselves. So you'd have to leave the story in the middle of the beach, after he drew Eddie or Odetta.

But the Drawing should really be told with the Waste Lands, at least up until they draw Jake. And Jake's rescue shouldn't be so far away from when Roland dropped him, because that will make it hard for audiences to root for him.

So the best way to do it, IMO, is to do The Gunslinger and Wizard and Glass together, at least partly. Stretch out The Gunslinger with Roland telling Jake about Mejis as well.

Then do a movie with Drawing and the first hald of the Waste Lands. Then the second half Waste Lands, the ACTUAL beginning of W&G and conclude the Mejis story.

You run into a similar problem with the back 3. Wolves of the Calla and Dark Tower are enough for their own movies, but Song of Susannah is not, and it's not really possible to break it up between the two, unless you strip SoS to bare bones and combine it with DT.

And the only way I can see pulling that off, is if you cut the King stuff altogether, which could be done. I enjoyed the King stuff, but I know plenty of people didn't enjoy it, and the story could be shifted enough to not require this particular twist and still work.

And as far as the tertiary references to other King works, those can be Easter Eggs.
Jack Flynn
12. JackofMidworld
I hate your logic. I don't hate well, and I don't hate often but, dammit, I can't find a soapbox to stand on.

sigh

(maybe as a miniseries...)
Jared Shurin
13. Jared_Shurin
I actually disagree on all ten of these points. That's kind of amazing!
a1ay
14. Amy77
If anything they could do an animated movie. The majority of Stephen King's novel to movie/ tv adaptations are awful. I have read most of his books and some of them I just couldn't finish. King's writing style can sometimes be borish, chauvanistic, and or foul. I do like some of them and I have a small collection on my book shelf including the Dark Tower comics. (Sorry for any misspellings)
a1ay
16. Rks1157
I am a Stephen King fan and I enjoyed the Dark Tower series immensely. While many of your points are well taken I think the primary factor preventing it from reaching the screen is that the story is too complex to do it justice. Many of King's works have been too poorly adapted to the screen and it would be sad to see this continue with his epic masterpiece.
Even though Ron Howard had success with The Green Mile, originally a serial novel, it took 189 minutes of screen time to tell the story. In contrast to The Dark Tower, The Green Mile is a short story!

The Dark Tower is a story made of of stories within stories. Its characters are complex and well developed. It conveys a beautiful message to those who seek it and it belongs in the minds of its readers where it cannot be spoiled.
Chris Zaayenga
17. chris777
8, 9 and 10 are your only valid points. The rest are really reletive, and far reaches. While true points 1-7 wouldn't really concern any studio from making the movie(s). 8-9-10 are the big hitters....it's all about the $$. I don't see this being made into a movie. It was supposed to be a movie already. I think HBO could do it if they really wanted, and it would be successful too. But it's too nerdy and not racey enough. It will never happen folks. I would love for it to, but it won't.
a1ay
18. quilciri
I think the only way to cast this series is to do it with almost all unknowns and C-listeers. Relative unknowns would be more willing to make a 6-year commitment, and would be much cheaper on the budget to boot. Most importantly, tthe actors would need to BE the characters, not "Russel Crowe or Javier Bardem AS Roland Deschain."

Rather Than try to pick Roland out of a list of hollywood Celebs, the VERY first step taken in casting Should be to hire Nina Gold and Robert Sterne. These are the two people responsible for the huge and stunning cast of relative unknowns in Game of Thrones.
a1ay
19. quilciri
Also, to address points 8 and 9 (and partially 6 & 7). I think the original idea of how to roll out the series (movie, season, movie, season, etc) should be done in the opposite order.

*Start* with the series. This will give plenty of time for exposition and audience building, and will ebb "the Stephen King factor" through word of mouth over time.
a1ay
20. Tommer1
Umm I've read all the books except that one you mentioned "the wind through the keyhole" missed that. Do you even know what you're talking about.
a1ay
21. cortana49
@16 - Rks1157, Ron Howard didn't do "The Green Mile", it was Frank Darabont. Your point is well taken, though.

I think Aeryl idea is a great one!
a1ay
22. Skinman
@Tommer1. Yes, he does. The Wind through the Keyhole is the latest book. It's two stories of Roland's early days as a gunslinger. Was ok, but felt a bit forced.
http://www.amazon.com/The-Wind-Through-Keyhole-Tower/dp/1451658095
a1ay
23. amerk
We know there is a lot of content in Roland's past to make up it's own movie, if not series. So perhaps they could start by doing a tv series about his time as a youth and how the world moved on without him. We would get to explore a lot of the flashbacks presented in the book this way, and we would get to see how he grew up, overcame his rite to passage, and became the gunslinger he now is.

Put it on a popular station, let it run its course, and once it's generated enough audience, start making the movies. You might still include some flashbacks in the movies that relate back to the series, but you wouldn't have to include all of them.
a1ay
24. Wernher
also, King would have to RE-WRITE BOOK 7.
The pursuit of the Ka-Tet by a Baby/Spider with emotional feelings is just ridiculous and lacking thrills. It's also quite disgusting partly but not in a shocking way unfortunately - instead it is disgusting in a *rolls-eyes Jesus, get over with it already* annoying way. it's very anticlimatic.
in essence it's PURE BULLSHIT.
The whole Spider thing really turned me off from re-reads, although I currently do listen to the Audiobooks...

in any case: PLEASE RE-WRITE THIS CRAP with the BABY SPIDER!
a1ay
25. wernher
just sell it to HBO, they are doing great with Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones - this is the right format .

Nobody cares about going to the cinema anyway, maye 2-3 seasons of TV show out of the 7 books, then you don't have the problem with the "how to put flashbacks into a movie".

put please RE-WRITE THE LAST BOOK, you did it with "The Gunslinger", might as well admit to yourself (Mr. King) that the Spider-Baby storyarc is a total waste of time, boring, crappy, annoying.

The Ending of Roland in the Tower is OK. Could be better, could be worse, but at least he gets inside and it's not a depressing failure.
a1ay
26. Wernher
my idea for a re-wite would be:
don't let the baby-spider kill off 'the man in black' in such a ridiculous way, let them BOTH hunt the gunslingers towards the Tower, then let the Spider die first, and make the final show-off between Randall Flag and the gunslinger more exiting...
The spider is just a sorry ass, and not really interesting as an opponent.
a1ay
27. KellyMarie
Maybe start with Wizard & Glass, as a mini-series, to introduce Roland Deschain to the world, because it's really only after W&G that you really get a feel for why "our" Roland, the one we know, is the way he is. Before this, we really get him the same way Eddie does, and it doesn't help to have a protagonist that you don't really like. Then go back to "The Gunslinger" and go from there, still with series. Thirteen episodes ought be enough to cover each book, and that'd give them six more seasons, seven if they include "Keyhole"
a1ay
28. SirensSong
I am only interested in this being adapted if it can do justice to the storytelling and these characters. Anything less and I would rather keep the story's visuals as my mind's eye sees while reading the books.
a1ay
30. Mr.egan
I don't remember there being ANY reference to spider-man in any of the Dark Tower books.harry potter and star wars- yes, spiderman- no. Or am I mistaken here?-but i dont think i am.
Anyway, I think the only way the DT would work would for it to be a tv series where many of the details and the complex nature of the books would be polished over. Personally i wouldnt want to see it made into anything because it would have to deviate too much from the original story-line to be successful. I love the DT series and it would most likely have to done in the same fasion as the pile of rubbish Under the Dome series( take a good book and turn it into garbage for TV,and money). Just don't think it will work.
a1ay
31. JoeB1981
The problem with the spider is that it wasn't explained well enough to show the importance of it's character to the overall inclusion of characters from Steven King's other works. Does anyone know not know who the spider is? I can't believe I keep hearing about it from people's comment's but nobody addresses who the "spider" is. This is the scary as hell and compelling alien from "IT". Does anybody else not realize it. Being that I read IT a 2 decades before I started the Dark Tower I understand it's importance. But no way does he kill "the man in black" so easily. Randal Flag took out an entire world. No way he should not have the power to repell "IT."
a1ay
32. maclaird
Also the argument of which ending to present. I personally liked the one which recurses but that is jsut me.
a1ay
33. cheryliz72
As much as I would love to see the Dark Tower series as a film series, I think I'm with some of the other fans that it would be better if it wasn't. I prefer how I imagine it. BUT if it had to be made into a film or TV series, it needs to start from the beginning to the end, from "The Gunslinger" to "The Dark Tower" and not anything else before or during. I think part of what I like about the series is how Roland is not a "hero" but an "anti-hero"... you don't know what he'll do because he isn't a stereotypical hero, and you don't always feel sympathetic towards him, especially after Jake falls and presumably dies. I think that's important to the story: how Roland is apathetic but focused on his self-assigned search for the Dark Tower and then how he slowly, slowly changes during his journey when he "acquires" his ka-tet.
a1ay
34. guyroy
As someone who read all the books, I can say there is a #11 reason why The Dark Tower will probably not get made, although Game of Thrones got made with a minor variation of the problem.

That problem is, the last two books are awful. (Roll over for spoilers.) The big enemies that people waited years for are dispatched in a silly manner and King obviously had no idea how to resolve this. The chapter where the "Big Bad" get confronted is actually named "Dues ex machina" , not good. Also he injects himself in the story, which is very silly and was silly at best, ridiculously egotestical at worst.

I have no inside knowledge, but I think many of the names cited as being on board then passing is because the story would have to be radically changed. Since King to this day hates Kubrick for altering The Shining, there is probably is a feeling of why bother.

My GOT reference is to the overwhelming consensus that Book IV was awful, and they are just getting there now. We are also seeing the first big depatures from the books because of this. Book IV was a slog without any of the main characters. Since they would have to go to Book 5 to keep up with the main characters, Martin is basically out of time to write the last books. I would not be suprised if the TV show has an ending different from the author's intent.

(Moderator note: edited comment to white out possible spoilers.)
a1ay
35. Dave Viering
"Behold the Turtle of amazing girth: Upon his back he holds the Earth".

Ok people, let's get real. This is a fantasy story. I'm glad it's evoking such debate, but the story is whatever it means to the reader. Based on the success of GOT, HBO is the only venue that could do this tome justice. It should start from the beginning just as we we're brought in from the beginning. Spider Schmider, get over it! Let it begin and go with the flow.
I am sure we will all be carried along and escape into the realm of Mid-World. I have been a fan of this story ever since I first heard of it in 1982.
There is no way to do justice to this story through theater. It has to be
done through HBO.

One adaption to screen I didn't see mentioned was the "Dead Zone".I thought this was the best adaption to screen.

Props to sirenssong & cherylliz72: I think you are on the right track.

In conclusion, I think the best way to put this story on s creen is through HBO in the same manner as GOT.
a1ay
36. Frizz
It is possible on Netflix. Get started before mr. King goes into the clearing. The tower is falling.
a1ay
37. JayLee
I agree with the previous HBO comments.. This story is one that needs to be followed.. It can't be summed up in a trilogy. 5-7 seasons on HBO would do the trick nicely I think!
a1ay
38. ryan langley
How they don't do it, but the only way I could see it as successful would be as a series like game of thrones
a1ay
39. J.L Hunter
I've thought long and hard about this. My anticipation growing like some behemoth inside long, dark caverns, growling echoes reverberating across the eaves and crevices.... Then something happens and the beast is stifled... I wonder what that is? The object of fear in regards to something as simple as hope, faith?

The scope must be immense... Because this isn't just a fantasy, it's not just a horror or a western. Nothing can really confine this story into a particular genre. It was always meant to be cluttered and disjointed, because it takes us through the universe that is crumbling, festering with a mad disease. Nothing truly makes sense, which is the Gunslinger's goal, it is all you know of his journey at the beginning and then towards the end.

So, I've pondered this and eliminating certain details, I've come to the conclusion that the film pretty much has to be done as an animation, but with the dark, shadowed artwork of Michael Whelan or some other fantastic artist. This would follow along the lines of the truly spectacular marvel comics and also could hold a strict fanbase on it's own, become a cult classic instead of some overblown blockbuster. It could be hand-drawn, or rather like Beowulf with motion-capture... We've seen it work very well in regards to the new planet of the apes movies....

Anyways, there are my thoughts, they have been dwelling inside my subconcious for far too long....
a1ay
40. Jimmy1971
It would need to be broken up into 4 movies and super condensed. Elements such as the backstory in Wizards in Glass would have to be ommitted. The Song of Susannah could be condensed to the point where its regulated to no more than 15-20 minutes. Take book one and two and make one movie. 3 and 4 to make another. Combine 5 and 6. Book 7 would need its own all by itself.

I never visualized TDT in the movies, but an ongoing mini series like those re-imaged Hercules and Zena "action packs" may be a more viable solution. Instead of 7 movies you could make it 7 seasons with plenty of data and story elements to make it succesful.

7 seasons or 5 movies. I think in order to do it justice it should get 7 seasons.
a1ay
41. Jeemboh
It would have to be a TV series done by Robert Rodriguez.
a1ay
42. OLDGUY2
As a fan of ALL of Stephen King's work, I believe that those who can, DO; those who can't, criticize!
Where TDT is concerned, I feel the work is so vast and complex ( written over a 30+ year span with some major re-writes of earlier portions ) that it is best left to the imaginations of its readers to play out in their own minds a visual adaptation.
If you need to see an example of what can happen when an SK work is adapted to a visual media, watch "THE DOME" . I re-read the book prior to the start of Season One and quickly discovered that the only thing they have in common is the reference to the title; the series is entirely different, so much so that it could be a separate entity and Season Two is in a different universe all together.
As much as I would like to see TDT made into either a group of movies and/or TV series, too much time as passed for either or both to be financially viable.
My advice to both old and newer fans of TDT is to just re-read the series every 2 - 3 years and give free reign to your imagination; you won't be disappointed.
a1ay
43. Jeremy Pambrun
I will say this it can be done. Look at memento or the underworld movies or the hobbit/lors of the rings that I am prdicting will reboot the lord of the rings after the battle of the five armies. The powers that be need to read the whole saga and a start from the beginning and make them THE DARK TOWER SAGA based on the works of the novels but put all of it together. Begin with young roland ending with the standoff and him walking away into a desert with a shadow of a doorway behind him. Treat each phase of life with as many episodes or movies as needed. This can be done, it will be a lifetime project but it is rich in life lessons.
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44. Minos
Reason #0 - The ending sucked.

The latter half of the series, after book 4, deteriorated.

I only finished it because I was already invested in it, and in all likelihood, felt just like King did: doing something just for the sake of completion.
a1ay
45. Matthew Coury
yes we all know that hollywood today wants something with a massive fanbase to make a movie on, whether its a book or a movie series already made. i think the problem is, the gunslinger is basically like a cowboy in middle-earth, if you remember the game bravestarr....the dark tower is to the lord of the rings what bravestarr is to star wars....their worlds are far too similar to something already popular on a massive scale

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