It appears the Gunslinger’s long trudge through development hell is finally ending. The film adaptation has, after many false starts, found a director and, most recently, cast Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey as its two main leads. Written by Stephen King, The Dark Tower is a surprisingly dense fantasy series that started in 1978 with a short story and snowballed into a novel series that began in 1982 and didn’t finish until 30 years later with the final novel, The Wind In The Keyhole.
The series follows Roland Deschain (Elba) and his “ka-tet,” a group of people Roland largely pulls from our reality that are tied to him through destiny. They try to reach the Dark Tower, the nexus of all realities and the only place Roland can save his dying world. Along the way, they fight everything from talking lobsters to a malevolent artificial intelligence, with even more threats lurking in the background. King also ties elements of the series to other novels and his own life; for example, Father Callahan, of Salem’s Lot, turns out to have a major role in the story, nearly 30 years after he originally appeared and Randall Flagg, the antagonist of The Stand, turns out to be a major player.
If that sounds like a great idea for a movie, Hollywood agrees. But getting to the current point took nearly a decade, a process that’s seen major directors come and go and required three movie studios to get it done. Here’s a look at the decade-long process bringing King’s story to the screen.
1978 – 2004
Starting from a story published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, King begins the series with short stories published between 1978 and 1981. They’re collected in a limited edition book in 1982, but the series proper doesn’t truly launch until 1988, when Plume puts out a trade paperback collection and the series appears in bookstores across the country.
King publishes entries sporadically until 2003, when in the space of two years he delivers three novels in the series and seemingly resolves it.
Well before he had any ties to Star Wars, The Dark Tower was going to be J.J. Abrams’ introduction to blockbuster filmmaking. King sold the rights to the franchise for $19, inspired partly by his love of Lost. In fact, Lost‘s Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse worked on the script.
But the demands of Lost turned out to be an obstacle, and not helping matters was the siren lure of Star Trek. Abrams admitted that he couldn’t start working on an eight-film series until Lost ended, and Lindelof confessed he might simply have been too much of a fan of King’s series to get the project off the ground. By the end of 2009, they’d let the rights go.
But the Dark Tower didn’t languish. Ron Howard and Brian Glazer’s Imagine Entertainment, seeing an opportunity, snapped up the rights, with Akiva Goldsman of A Beautiful Mind fame (and Batman & Robin infamy), writing the script. In fact, Universal was so confident in the series they announced a release date of May 17, 2013.
The project quickly became more ambitious than an eight-film series. It wasn’t just going to be a film series, but a collection of television miniseries as well, covering the enormous backstory of the novels. That raised eyebrows, but the first movie, at least, moved forward quickly; by 2011, Javier Bardem had been cast as Roland.
But that was the end of the good news. Universal couldn’t commit to the budget, even after rewrites to factor in budget cuts. Rumors at the time claimed Universal’s top brass were instead banking on sure blockbusters like Battleship and 47 Ronin. Hey, movie studios make mistakes. Howard didn’t give up, though, considering a host of options, the most interesting of which was an idea to make it a big-budget HBO series or take it to Netflix, an enduring rumor.
The next studio to potentially offer a home was Warner Bros., with Russell Crowe taking over for Bardem. Goldsman, who had a long history at Warner Bros., rewrote the script, after which Warner Bros. passed. But, again, somebody else was there to try to pick up the pieces. Media Rights Capital, best known for Ted at the time, stepped in to try and make the series work.
Meanwhile, King expanded the series with a new novel, The Wind Through The Keyhole
2013 – 2014
MRC went to a private investor who wanted to see the series made, but that appeared to be where it ended. Oddly, casting was still be considered: Rumors began to swirl that Aaron Paul and Liam Neeson were being approached for the roles of Eddie Dean and Roland.
2015 – 2016
2015, though, is when the Dark Tower finally got some real momentum. MRC found a studio in Sony, and things have progressed quickly. Danish director Nikolaj Arcel, best know for his 2012 film A Royal Affair, was signed this summer, and began rewriting the script aiming for a January 2017 release date. The first casting announcement came in February with Mad Max: Fury Road‘s Abbey Lee committing to a lead role. And, now, after months of rumors, both Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba were cast as the villainous Man In Black and Roland, respectively.
Currently, production is slated to begin in April. But we wouldn’t count on anything until the movie’s shot; this wouldn’t be the first time Roland’s run into difficulty on a long journey.