It has been a long time coming, but The Dark Tower movie is finally on its way. The road to bringing Stephen King’s acclaimed saga to the big screen has been nearly as arduous as the journey undertaken by its protagonist, Roland Deschain, across the course of the series’ eight novels, as well as all of the additional prequels and spinoff stories.
Plans for a Dark Tower adaptation date all the way back to 2007, with the project gaining momentum and losing it at various points — and with various studios — before cameras finally began rolling more than nine years on.
Scheduled to hit theaters August 4, 2017, the film will feature Luther star Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, Dallas Buyers Club star Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, and Doctor Foster actor Tom Taylor as the teenager Jake Chambers. A Royal Affair filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel will direct the movie from a script penned by Arcel, Anders Thomas Jensen, and Akiva Goldsman. The film is also expected to be accompanied by a companion series on television that will expand on the story brought to the big screen.
We compiled all the twists and turns of the project right here and will add updates all the way up to (and likely beyond) the film’s debut.
From zombies to gunslingers
Just a day before The Dark Tower hits theaters, some news regarding the small-screen spinoff of the film found its way online.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Walking Dead and The Shield executive producer Glen Mazzara will serve as the showrunner on the planned television series based on The Dark Tower, which will serve as both a prequel and spinoff from the film.
The series is envisioned as an origin story of sorts for Elba’s character, the gunslinger Roland Deschain, and Elba — along with several other cast members from the movie — will appear in the series to frame the events of the show. Since the show will chronicle Roland’s early years, a younger actor will play the future gunslinger. The series is expected to draw heavily from some of King’s books that explore those early years.
“The events of The Gunslinger, Wizard & Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole, and other tales need a long format to capture the complexity of Roland’s coming of age — how he became the Gunslinger, how Walter became the Man in Black, and how their rivalry cost Roland everything and everyone he ever loved,”Mazzara said in a statement. “I could not be more excited to tell this story. It feels like being given the key to a treasure chest.”
The plan for the series reportedly involves 10 to 13 episodes for the first season of the series, with a target premiere sometime in 2018. The Dark Tower director Nikolaj Arcel and his co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen will pen the series.
Easter eggs, everywhere…
Along with being a story about one man’s quest to thwart an evil entity bent on bringing destruction to myriad worlds, The Dark Tower also serves as connective tissue for many of author Stephen King’s most famous novels.
That’s made readily apparent in a new teaser for the film that runs through some of the many references to King’s other stories that can be found in The Dark Tower.
Among the call-outs to King’s other works that you can glimpse in the new teaser are a photo of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining, the poster of Rita Hayworth from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, a St. Bernard and “Attack Dog” sign referencing Cujo, and a toy 1958 Plymouth Fury like the one in Christine.
There’s also a drawing of a smiling face glimpsed on a wall, much like the signature of the killer in Mr. Mercedes, and a copy of the book Misery’s Child from King’s Misery, and the scrawled number “14-08” over a ragged doorway, referencing the 1999 short story 1408.
Those are just a few of references found in the teaser, with more likely to be found in the film itself.
Just a month before The Dark Tower‘s premiere in theaters, a new international trailer for the film debuted online with some additional footage from the film.
Along with providing a glimpse of Mid-World, the realm inhabited by gunslinger Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the trailer also offers more footage of Roland and The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) battling in a world not too different from our own.
Have gun, will lead
Sony Pictures released a new promotional video for The Dark Tower in June 2017 that puts the spotlight on actor Idris Elba’s character, the last of Mid-World’s legendary gunslingers.
The video features commentary from Elba, as well as his co-star, Matthew McConaughey, who plays the evil entity known as The Man in Black. The creator of The Dark Tower series, novelist Stephen King, also offers some thoughts on both Elba’s character, Roland Deschain, and the weight of the legacy he carries to defend the nexus of worlds located within the titular tower.
The first trailer
After nearly a decade of build-up and uncertainty as to whether we’d ever really see a movie based on King’s beloved saga, the first official trailer for The Dark Tower was finally released on May 3, 2017.
Along with giving fans their first look at the tone and feel of Arcel’s adaptation, the trailer also offered a sneak peek at Elba and McConaughey as the story’s powerful opposing forces in an adventure that spans multiple worlds, and Taylor as the young man who plays a pivotal role in their ambitions.
Time is fluid
Just when it seemed like The Dark Tower was finally locked in and on its way to the screen, The Man in Black — or rather, the studio scheduling strategy — struck again.
Despite releasing a new poster just a week earlier touting a July 2017 release date for the film, Columbia Pictures in late March moved The Dark Tower back a week, setting the long-awaited movie’s new premiere date for August 4, 2017. At this point, fans have already waited nearly a decade for King’s story to make it to the screen, so what’s another week?
The scheduling shift is the latest in a long line of unexpected moves involving the film, which has transitioned in and out of development limbo over the course of its long, troubled evolution. No reason was given for the change.
A topsy-turvy image
After several months of relative quiet regarding The Dark Tower, Stephen King surprised fans with a new poster for the film in March 2017 featuring the core trio of cast members amid a kaleidoscopic city skyline.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 19, 2017
Posted on Twitter, the image was accompanied by a caption from King that recalled familiar themes in the novels.
“Pilgrim, there are other worlds than these. Come with us on the adventure,” King wrote.
It has taken almost 10 years to get The Dark Tower movie into theaters, so what’s a few extra months?
In early November 2016, Entertainment Weekly reported that the film would not be released in February 2017 — the premiere date the film had carried for almost a year — and would instead be pushed back to a potential summer release date. The report indicated the project will need more time for its post-production visual effects to be completed, while also allowing more time for the film to be promoted.
The need to take more time producing the film’s visual effects stems from the project’s relatively low, $60 million budget, according to the report.
“It’s a very fiscally responsible budget, and trying to stay in budget to make money and stay profitable means the VFX won’t be finished in time [for February],” an anonymous source connected with the film told EW. “Now that there’s more time, they’re not paying rush charges to get the effects where they need to be.”
It didn’t take long for fans to find out when they can expect to see the film now, though, as The Dark Tower was subsequently given a new release date: July 28, 2017. That release date was later changed to August 4, 2017.
From the big screen to the small screen
Throughout the process of bringing The Dark Tower to the screen, several iterations of the project have also included a potential television series based on the saga.
In September 2016, production company MRC and Goldsman, the film’s producer and co-screenwriter, confirmed (to Entertainment Weekly) that the long-rumored plans for a companion television series that will explore other areas of the saga’s mythology are still in the works. According to the report, Arcel and Jensen are penning a script for the companion series, which will likely span 10-13 episodes and premiere in 2018 — right around the time when the film hits the home entertainment market.
The series will reportedly adapt the stories told in King’s fourth novel, Wizard and Glass, which was set during Roland’s early years. Elba and Taylor, his teenage co-star in The Dark Tower, are both contracted to appear in the series, with the pair serving to frame the main storyline that follows a young Roland before he became a gunslinger. No actors have been cast at this point for the role of young Roland or any of the other series regulars.
There’s no distributor lined up for the series yet, but MRC’s relationship with Netflix — the home of the studio’s House of Cards series — could give the streaming video service an early edge.
Adapting the epic
A sprawling saga that mixes elements of fantasy, horror, and Westerns, The Dark Tower chronicles the journey of Roland Deschain, one of the last remaining gunslingers — members of a knight-like order charged with protecting the people of Mid-World — as he pursues the ominous “Man in Black” across the land. Both Roland and the Man in Black are on a quest to reach the enigmatic Dark Tower, a magical building that could hold the secret to saving Mid-World, along with countless other worlds.
Stephen King’s saga unfolded over the course of eight novels, and often intersected with characters and events from his other stories. The Man in Black, for example, also serves as the antagonist in King’s novel The Stand. Throughout the narrative of The Dark Tower, characters occasionally crossed over from different dimensions and timelines, with some pulled from worlds not too far separated from our own to become Roland’s traveling companions.
Early rumors indicated the film’s narrative won’t directly follow the novels, and will likely jump back and forth a bit in the source material to tell Roland’s story. Along with playing The Man in Black in The Dark Tower, McConaughey was frequently linked to the character’s counterpart in a potential movie based on The Stand, so there’s the distinct possibility of a shared universe.
In late June and July, filming began on the streets of New York City, suggesting that the movie’s narrative will indeed shift between the desert-like setting of Mid-World and other worlds — including one not too unlike our own.
Just before Comic-Con International in San Diego, the film’s director confirmed a popular fan theory regarding the movie being a pseudo-sequel to the story chronicled in King’s novels, and indicated that it will stand on its own as well as continuing the story told in the books.
“The hardcore fans of The Dark Tower series will know that this is actually a sequel to the books in a way,” Arcel told Entertainment Weekly. “It has a lot of the same elements, a lot of the same characters, but it is a different journey.”
Seeing is believing
The first, semi-official piece of promotional material for The Dark Tower was released by King himself, who posted a cryptic photo on Twitter featuring “The Horn of Eld” on May 19, 2016. Appearing in the background against the message “Last Time Around,” the Horn is an heirloom of Roland Deschain’s family that plays a key role in King’s saga.
The Dark Tower is close, now. The Crimson King awaits. Soon Roland will raise the Horn of Eld. And blow. pic.twitter.com/rqGSKM3dWL
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) May 19, 2016
Twitter continued to be the medium of choice for promoting the film in its early stages, with Elba offering up an in-character oath on June 19, 2016.
“I am Roland, son of Steven, son of Henry, true descendant of Arthur. And I have not forgotten,” wrote Elba, alluding to the way characters in the saga are encouraged to never “forget the face” of their fathers in order to live up to their potential.
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) June 19, 2016
During the lead-up to Comic-Con International in San Diego, the studio released a batch of new images from the film featuring Elba, McConaughey, and Taylor as part of a preview feature in Entertainment Weekly. Along with appearing on the cover of the Comic-Con preview issue, Elba and McConaughey also appeared in a set of photos from various set locations.
Casting the Ka-tet
A few months after The Dark Tower was assigned an official release date, reports began to circulate in November 2015 that True Detective actor McConaughey was a likely contender to star in the film — either as the Man in Black or Roland Deschain. Along with McConaughey’s name being mentioned for a role, Luther star Elba was also suggested as a potential frontrunner to play Roland.
Elba’s potential attachment to the role ignited a bit of controversy among fans of King’s saga, with some questioning the casting of a non-white actor to play a character many presumed to be light-skinned. Depicted as a white man in the illustrations featured on many of the books, Roland also found himself at odds with an African-American woman in the story due to his race. However, King himself weighed in on the controversy and seemingly dismissed fans’ concerns over the role race plays in the character’s story arc.
To me, the color of the gunslinger doesn't matter. What I care about is how fast he can draw…and that he takes care of the ka-tet.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) December 12, 2015
The studio seemed to echo King’s take on the character when it officially announced Elba as Roland a few months later.
It was also left to King to confirm McConaughey as the Man in Black, and the acclaimed author did so in a message on Twitter that prompted a very entertaining back-and-forth conversation between Elba and McConaughey.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 1, 2016
After Elba and McConaughey were confirmed to star in The Dark Tower, the casting for various members of Roland’s ka-tet — the term used for his traveling companions in the saga — soon followed. Mad Max: Fury Road actress Abbey Lee was cast as Tirana, one of the female leads in the film, and she was followed by Doctor Foster actor Taylor as Jake Chambers, Watchmen actor Jackie Earle Haley as Sayre, The Cabin in the Woods actor Fran Kranz as Pimli, Vikings actress Katheryn Winnick in an unknown role, and Little Men actor Michael Barbieri as Timmy.
— Idris Elba (@idriselba) March 1, 2016
More supporting cast members were later added, including Avengers: Age of Ultron actress Claudia Kim as Arra Champignon.
After almost a decade of stops and starts, cameras officially began rolling on The Dark Tower on April 12, 2016. The first images from the South Africa set of the film emerged a month later, offering an early peek at Elba in costume as Roland Deschain.
— Matthew McConaughey (@McConaughey) March 1, 2016
During the filming of some scenes in New York in late June and July, the first photos of McConaughey in costume emerged (via ComingSoon.net), offering a peek at how the Man in Black would be depicted in the movie. McConaughey was dressed — no surprise here — in an entirely black outfit, and was glimpsed walking down the sidewalk among crowds of New Yorkers in some of the scenes being shot.
The movie that almost didn’t happen … three times
The adaptation of The Dark Tower has evolved over the course of three major phases of development, spanning just shy of a decade.
In 2007, Star Wars: The Force Awakens filmmaker J.J. Abrams was initially attached to direct an ambitious, multifilm franchise based on King’s series after the conclusion of his megahit Lost, co-created with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. The latter pair purchased the movie rights to the series, intending to have Lindelof pen the screenplay for the first of seven (and possibly eight) films — a saga that would probably make even Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit filmmaker Peter Jackson shudder at its sheer scope.
As time went on, however, Lindelof and Abrams both expressed doubt regarding their ability to adapt a project they were so fond of, with Lindelof telling USA Today in 2009, “You’ll be hard-pressed to find a huger fan of The Dark Tower than me, but that’s probably the reason that I shouldn’t be the one to adapt it.” Their three-year option on the project eventually expired in November 2009, and the rights reverted back to King.
Just a few months after the adaptation rights for The Dark Tower saga became available, the option was snatched up by Universal Pictures, with Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard attached as director and co-producer, along with his frequent collaborator, Brian Grazer, as well as Stephen King himself. Oscar-winning screenwriter Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) was also attached as a writer on the project, which was intended to take the form of a movie trilogy and two television miniseries that would span the time between the films.
It wasn’t long before casting rumors began to circulate, with the earliest speculation suggesting that No Country For Old Men actor Javier Bardem (pictured below) and A History of Violence actor Viggo Mortensen were both in the running to play Roland Deschain, with Skyfall actress Naomie Harris potentially playing a supporting role. Bardem was officially announced as the film’s lead in April 2011, but the celebration was short-lived, as Universal balked at the rapidly inflating budget for the project and canceled it altogether in July.
Much like Roland himself, however, Howard rode on with The Dark Tower. He eventually convinced Warner Bros. Pictures to pick up the movie trilogy, with HBO taking on the television series, but less than a year later, Warner Bros. dropped the project — just a month after Russell Crowe reportedly replaced Bardem as the new lead actor.
cinemafestival / Shutterstock.com
Things picked up again in 2015 when Sony Pictures and producer Media Rights Capital announced plans to take on the adaptation. Filmmaker Arcel — director of the Oscar-nominated Danish film A Royal Affair — was announced as the project’s new director in July 2015. With Howard staying on as a producer, Arcel and Oscar-winning screenwriter Anders Thomas Jensen were tasked with rewriting Goldsman’s most recent script. The film was assigned a release date of January 13, 2017 (later changed to February 17, and then later pushed to summer 2017), and filming began in South Africa in April 2016.
In September 2016, Goldsman and MRC confirmed plans to produce a companion television series for The Dark Tower that’s expected to premiere in 2018.
Update: We’ve added more news about The Dark Tower television series that will serve as a prequel to the movie.