Alright, folks. It’s time. Let’s do this.
Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere has long provided rich conversational fodder for avid fans, readers who love speculating and swapping theories about his interconnected fictional worlds, and anyone anxiously awaiting the next big fantasy adaptation. What follows will be of special interest to that third group, in particular, because this is as promising an outlook as we’ve seen thus far in my “Please Adapt” column.
Given Sanderson’s popularity, the possibility of Cosmere adaptations are often posed as whens, not ifs. In light of the author’s string of recent successes, the time seems right for a deep dive into this unique, interconnected fictional universe, as we consider how screen portrayals of his books might take shape…
Two notes before we start. One: this is a Cosmere-specific “Please Adapt” column, so I won’t cover Sanderson’s Skyward series or other non-Cosmere novels. Two: I’m assuming a baseline knowledge of the Cosmere going in. If you need a quick primer, here’s a suggested reading order and quick overview I wrote with a friend and fellow reader.
The Story So Far
I want to be very clear that I have no special insider knowledge into any possible adaptations—all we have to go on at this point are Sanderson’s own recent statements and hints, so I’ll summarize some of the key points here…
First, we do have some substantive pieces of information from the last few years, namely Sanderson’s work on a Mistborn screenplay and a deal with DMG Entertainment. In his 2020 Brigham Young creative writing lecture series, which you can watch in its entirety on YouTube, Sanderson references a Mistborn screenplay. It also comes up here and there in his other YouTube videos. Sanderson’s YouTube channel is a treasure trove of information, spoilerific answers to fan questions, and lots of intriguing hints at what’s to come.
During that 2020 series, he seems to be referencing a project optioned by DMG Entertainment. DMG optioned The Way of Kings as well. Sanderson has vaguely hinted that some rights have lapsed and returned to him, though I wasn’t able to confirm whether he was referencing these specific projects. So, clearly, the Cosmere has been of interest to studios even before he made news with the wildly successful Kickstarter in March of this year, but as fans know, no adaptations have thus far seen the light of day.
But it seems like the Kickstarter and the media attention surrounding it may have changed the playing field. You can sift through Brandon Sanderson’s myriad recent streams and videos for the full picture; for our purposes here, I’ll point to a single live stream from August 4, 2022. For a bit more context, this video features the author discussing how Hollywood has come calling this past year. It appears that the overwhelming response to the Kickstarter, along with the popularity of other fantasy shows, has boosted the desire on the network side for more SFF content.
In the stream, Sanderson speaks of the possibility of adaptations with a sense of confidence, answering numerous fan questions directly related to Cosmere movies and shows.
“People are pitching me,” he says at one point, noting the shift in studio attitudes toward his work. The $45-million Kickstarter coup and the media attention it generated has turned Sanderson into a power player. He drops plenty of related tidbits, also emphasizing how he’s the one asking questions and investigating his options: Can he co-showrun a potential series? How much budget will they throw at projects?
It would seem that Sanderson no longer needs to argue his case. Fans of his work have undoubtedly been convinced of the fact that his fictional worlds should be adapted for years, but now Hollywood head honchos are seeing big numbers, and their eyes are lighting up with dollar signs.
“Expect, in the next few months, some announcements that you might find exciting,” Sanderson says. He elaborates, noting announcements will come from the studios involved since they like to manage their own public relations.
He continues: “Imagine your favorite film studio or streamer. I have probably had meetings with high-level people at those companies.” That’s right, all of them. We aren’t privy to any details of the negotiations or discussions, but all signs point to a Cosmere bidding war.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we are on set doing things this time next year,” Sanderson concludes.
So that’s where things currently stand: based on these statements, it seems like the outlook is very positive. So, until we hear something official, let’s discuss how adapting the Cosmere might work! Below, I’ll briefly outline each (currently released) Cosmere book or series and offer my opinions on the ideal format for each one.
Before I begin, a few disclaimers.
First, no animation. I know, it makes me sad, too. This is mostly a choice on my part because I know all too well thatthe mainstream masses can be hesitant to embrace animation. As much as I hate it, I also get it. Studios don’t want to throw money into an animated adaptation that might appeal to existing fans but won’t draw in new ones.
Second, in any case where Sanderson has made statements hinting at an adaptation, I’ve tried to take those hints into account—for example, as much as I want a Mistborn series, movies seem more likely if we go by the Word of Brandon.
Third, because it’s fun, I will offer my suggested actor for exactly one character in each series. (And of course I’d love to hear all your casting suggestions in the comments!)
Finally, I just want to note again that I’m just a guy who loves the Cosmere, and I have no information that isn’t already widely available on the internet. With that in mind, join me for a completely speculative discussion of what the Cosmere might look like on screen!
Mistborn Eras 1 & 2
I suspect we might be looking at a phase one comprising three Mistborn films, one for each of the first three books in the series The Final Empire arc, to be ultra-clear . I wish I could flip a switch and get a premium series instead, but I don’t see it happening. Sanderson has openly referenced a screenplay before, and I do see the appeal of an empire-toppling heist crew learning to work together. The Well of Ascension and The Hero Of Ages both contain arcs that, if adapted skillfully, could rival the storytelling and grandeur of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Era 2 should also be a series, in my opinion, but I expect the Mistborn saga to stay in the cinematic medium. It can be the flagship movie series of the Cosmere cinematic universe. Though I’d prefer longer storytelling formats for this series, it would certainly work better than a Stormlight movie, which I have no doubt would ruin much of what makes those books great. Still, I’ll hold out hope for a Wax & Wayne serial with an Allomancer Jak B-plot.
My pick to play Vin is Millie Bobby Brown.
The Stormlight Archive
To anyone asking what the next TV juggernaut on the level of Game of Thrones will be… here you go.
Just… don’t make movies, okay? Sanderson has suggested he views Stormlight as an anchor series for future Cosmere adaptations, and he views it in terms of a prime-time premium viewing experience. Game of Thrones is the obvious comparison, and it’s a fair one. Stormlight has as much, if not greater, need for CGI and the budget that accompanies it: Think spren, shardblades, shardplate, stormlight, flight, SHADESMAR, and so on.
Stormlight needs space and time to tell its story. It needs a deft hand at the helm, ideally with Sanderson as a co-showrunner. It also needs money.
If given those things, a Stormlight series could be a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve never seen.
I see the novellas—Edgedancer, Dawnshard, and the untitled Rock story—as feature-length specials between seasons of the show.
My pick for Kaladin is Cristo Fernández, most famous for playing Dani Rojas in Ted Lasso.
Limited series. Give me a 10-episode arc that covers the whole shebang. Warbreaker needs time to steep, lest the colors blend into a jumbled mess.
Warbreaker boasts a vibrant world filled with politics, prejudice, and rich cultural detail. The magic system is intricate, requiring a lot of narrative airtime so readers and eventual viewers can fully understand it. How do the gods work? How do the levels of awakening work? What’s a Breath? Who the hell is Nightblood and why is he the best?
Not to detract from the complexity of Sanderson’s other worlds, but Warbreaker would benefit from a lot of narrative legwork just to get all the gears turning.
I also need at least four hours of screen time for Lightsong.
My casting pick for Warbreaker is the fabulous Natalie Dormer—best known for portraying Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones—as Vivenna.
Here, I’m pulling for a movie. Elantris is near the bottom of my Cosmere list, both in terms of how much I like it and how acutely I’m pining for an adaptation—that said, I still think it’d be cool to see it on screen.
Unlike other Cosmere stories, however, Elantris could benefit from some edits…a two-ish-hour movie could tell a streamlined version of the story and lose some of the fluff. Elantris was Sanderson’s first published novel, and a retelling on the silver screen could resolve some of the pacing issues and repetitive characterization found in the book.
It’s still a great Cosmere outing, but its standing in my personal rankings has me excited at the prospect of a new, updated take on this tale.
As for casting, I want to hear Idris Elba as the voice of Ashe, Sarene’s seon.
White Sand is an interesting case because I’m still hoping for a full novel. For now, the graphic novel format works just fine. I think a short series or a pair of movies would serve equally well here. White Sand has a relatively contained story that follows a smallish bunch of characters, at least by Sanderson’s standards.
With this particular title, I honestly don’t care too much about the exact format, whether film or TV: I just want to see it! I’m not overly concerned with the how or when. That opinion might well change if Sanderson releases a full novel.
Angela Bassett as Khrissalla. Enough said.
I’m throwing Arcanum Unbounded at the end of this list because it tells stories from numerous Cosmere worlds. I mentioned Edgedancer above, so I won’t touch on it again here.
The Emperor’s Soul is perfect movie fodder, and Sanderson has said as much himself on recent streams. It could make an interesting follow-up or tie-in to an Elantris movie, considering both take place on Sel and use its magic system.
Mistborn: Secret History provides an interesting challenge. Does that canon work its way into the eventual Mistbornmovies, or is it a separate tale best served on its own?
There’s a case to be made for an anthology series with episodes taking place on different Cosmere worlds. I’d love a “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell” adaption, despite its minimal bearing on the larger Cosmere thus far.
The jury’s out (AKA Cole is uncertain) on this one. In all likelihood, we’ll see eventual expansions of existing Arcanum material that could then lead to bigger adaptations.
For now, let’s cast a single character. I’m going with Gemma Chan (of Crazy Rich Asians and Marvel’s Eternals) as Wan ShaiLu, AKA Shai, from The Emperor’s Soul.
And Now, We Wait.
Hoo boy, I can’t wait for the comments on this one.
Tell me what you want from Cosmere adaptations! Tell me why there shouldn’t be adaptations! Tell me your ideal networks, streamers, and which creatives you want to see attached! Who should play Hoid?! Give me your ideal casting choices! I want to hear it all. Let’s speculate the hell out of this while we wait.
Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.