What's Next for 'The Dark Tower' Cinematic Universe

THE DARK TOWER - Still 2- Publicity-H 2017
Courtesy of Sony Pictures
Despite the film's modest $19.5 million debut, producers plan to move forward with a TV series that will serve as an origin story for Stephen King's gunslinger.

After more than 10 years of turbulent development, the film adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower finally made its way to the big screen this weekend, earning a modest $19.5 million at the box office.
The project, directed by Danish helmer Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair), is based on King's eight-book fantasy series about the world's last gunslinger (Idris Elba) who is determined to hunt down the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) in order to protect the Dark Tower. It moved from director to director over the years (J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard were both attached to direct at different points), and studio to studio (it was previously at Universal before landing at Sony, with backing from Media Rights Capital). By all accounts, it was a challenging story to crack because it's based on King's massive and complicated world that he created over eight books.

"It’s just an introduction to the world; it’s not the whole world or all the books," Sony Motion Picture Group chairman Tom Rothman told THR at the film's premiere. "The credit goes to MRC, [screenwriter] Akiva [Goldsman] and Nikolaj Arcel — I think they were the ones that cracked it creatively and realized that the way to do it is not to try to eat the entire feast all at once, but to maybe just start with the first course."

Before the first course was served, however, the filmmakers were already busy preparing the second — which would be served on a smaller screen. The film installment (with a budget of $60 million) is just the first step in what the producers hope can be a massive, cross-platform cinematic and TV universe.

The wheels are already in motion: MRC and Sony Pictures Television Studios recently tapped Glen Mazzara (The Walking Dead) as the showrunner for the potential TV series, as THR reported. Producers MRC and Sony are aiming for a 10- to 13-episode per season series as they search for a cable network or streaming service to call home. The plan, for now, is to begin production in 2018, though it is technically still in the early development stages. 

The idea of a cross-platform universe was first hatched more than a decade ago when Howard came on to direct the film with Goldsman attached to write.

"It was Ron Howard's idea, and at the time it was pretty revolutionary," says Goldsman, who had been talking to Howard about the project as far back as 2001, when the two were working together on A Beautiful Mind(which Goldsman wrote and Howard directed). "What Ron came up with was this idea that the stories had different sizes, which is part of what's interesting in Dark Tower — it can be really epic but the stories can also be very small and personal. He said, 'What if we told the stories on platforms that were commensurate with the narrative?'"

At the time, there was no other property attempting to cross between film and TV. Today, Marvel is the closest comparison with its Avengers universe that includes light crossovers between its superhero films and ABC drama Agents of SHIELD.

Goldsman and Howard (who will both exec produce the TV series) had imagined that the TV show would shoot nearly back to back with the film, in hopes of keeping the momentum going, but while the timeline has shifted, sources say the TV show will move forward regardless of whether the film is deemed a financial success or not.

The TV show will be an origin story of sorts, focused on gunslinger Roland's (Elba) younger years, and introduce a new actor to play the character. Elba is signed on to appear in the series, but in a limited capacity, just book-ending the show to introduce the new story. Dennis Haysbert (who plays Roland's father in the film) and Tom Taylor (who in the film plays Jake Chambers, a young man with certain abilities that allow him to help the gunslinger) will also appear in the potential series, which will be based on Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in The Dark Tower series. But while there is casting overlap, the plan is for the TV series to stand on its own and build its own universe — including potential spinoffs. (Sources note that it could parallel Warner Bros.' DC film and TV universes, where The Flash, for example, exists on both the big and small screen in completely separate stories.)

"The plan is definitely to have the TV show dive into [Roland's] past and see what happened there, and that informs the stories in the films," says Arcel, who has been involved with how the franchise would move forward on TV, but is not officially attached to the small-screen effort. "And the sequel to me would be very much almost like [the second book in the Dark Tower series] The Drawing of the Three. Most of that would be finding what the quest exactly is for the remainder of the saga ... So part of that, and even part of the [third book] Wastelands maybe."

When it comes to the film sequel, however, Goldsman says there are ideas, but no script yet. The ending of the first film sets it up for a sequel easily, but the filmmakers, as is customary, aren't open to discussing it before seeing how the first film performs. Insiders stress MRC is taking a wait-and-see approach to a sequel, with a decision likely to come a few weeks after the film has been released and international returns can be reviewed. If the numbers warrant it, a sequel could potentially have a larger budget to match the more ambitious elements of King’s novels that were not reflected in the first movie.

Still, according to Goldsman, the hardest part is behind them now. "I think the first movie is the biggest challenge because it's the introduction to a world that is fantastical but not entirely fantasy," he says. "There's a mixing of genre, there's sci-fi and frontier and magic. If the first movie lands, everything gets easier."
Aaron Couch and Ashley Lee contributed to this report.