Why Hollywood Needs a Dungeons & Dragons Sequel

Summary

  • Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is one of 2023’s most underrated films, failing to score at the box office despite enthusiastic reviews thanks to poor decision-making behind the scenes.
  • Chris Pine recently mentioned talk of a sequel, which could be just what Hollywood needs.
  • With Barbie proving that people are hungry for more than superheroes, a strong D&D franchise could revitalize genres currently being ignored.


Among 2023’s crop of blockbusters, few are as underrated as Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. The latest attempt to adapt the classic tabletop role-playing game scored high marks among reviewers and fans alike for its breezy not-quite-a-parody of classic high fantasy stories. Unfortunately, its box office figures didn’t reflect its qualities, thanks largely to poor scheduling and similar choices that doomed it before it had a chance. Now talk of a sequel has arisen, with Honor Among Thieves star Chris Pine recently suggesting that a follow-up was in the works. Such talk is hardly uncommon in Hollywood, but in this case, a number of factors may actually make a sequel happen. If it’s as good as the first film, the impact could be transforming.

Honor Among Thieves is one of the best-reviewed movies of the year, with a 91% rating and 93% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s higher than Barbie, which grossed over $1 billion and became the pop culture event of the summer. Honor Among Thieves is cut from a similar cloth — based on an evergreen game line with a lot of name recognition — and while it lacks Barbie’s pointed social commentary, it carries many of the same lessons for Hollywood. Superhero fatigue has left an appetite for movies other than Marvel or DC, which Greta Gerwig’s blockbuster aptly filled. Honor Among Thieves had the same potential but was hobbled by external factors. A sequel — properly handled and released with a better sense of timing — can help cement those lessons and expand Hollywood’s interest in genres and stories beyond the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Off-Screen Decisions Felled Honor Among Thieves

Doric left, Simon center, Holga right, run towards battle in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

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Honor Among Thieves Honors D&D’s Messy Tolkien Influence

Tolkien influenced Dungeons & Dragons, but the chaotic game included more than the orderly Middle-earth in its mythos, as seen in Honor Among Thieves.

Two spectacularly bad behind-the-scenes decisions doomed Honor Among Thieves’ box office chances. The most obvious was its place on the schedule: one week before the massive Super Mario Bros. Movie, which appeals to the same core gamer audience as D&D as well as a staggering number of more casual fans. Compounding that was the release of John Wick 4 a few weeks earlier: one of the more reliable action film franchises in recent years, which once again scored big box office numbers in its fourth outing. Against that kind of competition, Honor Among Thieves simply got lost.

A second, smaller factor played an outsized role in the film’s failure as well, spelled out in an article from the Washington Post. In January, 2023, Wizards of the Coast — publishers of the D&D TTRPG — announced that they were making drastic changes to the Open Gaming License, which allowed other companies to use D&D‘s mechanics, provided it didn’t entail official IP such as characters and art. The new OGL included draconian royalties and similar predatory clauses that threatened to put numerous smaller companies out of business. The backlash among the fans was swift and merciless, with petitioners collecting over 75,000 signatures protesting the move and demanding the return of the original OGL. Honor Among Thieves, opening just a few weeks later, was subject to serious talk of a boycott. Wizards of the Coast quickly backpedaled — and fans relented long enough for Honor Among Thieves to barely top the box office charts opening weekend — but the movie didn’t need its parent company alienating so many devoted viewers just before an already challenging release date.

However, none of this has anything to do with the quality of the film itself: a witty and whimsical emulation of the rollicking chaos of a tabletop gaming session. The ill-timed release date reflects the same lack of foresight as the OGL debacle: made by people who couldn’t see that fans of D&D might very well be fans of Mario and Luigi as well. Furthermore, not only would a move on the calendar have helped immensely, but a specific date was tailor-made for it. Gen Con — the biggest TTRPG convention in the world — takes place every August in Indianapolis, at which point most of the big summer pictures are at the closing end of their run. A well-made lark like Honor Among Thieves could do far better with softer competition, as well as having tens of thousands of D&D faithful gathered in a single place and happy to spread good word of mouth just as the film hits theaters. Instead, Honor Among Thieves was tossed out in front of active — and much bigger — competition for the same core audience just a few weeks after a catastrophic PR blunder left them hopping mad.

A Strong Sequel Could Reveal D&D’s Box Office Potential

Forge Fitzwilliam the rogue cheers in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

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Honor Among Thieves’ Best Joke Hides Clever Commentary

Honor Among Thieves’ po-faced paladin wanders in and out of the story in the movie’s best gag. It reflects a weird aspect of the D&D TTRPG.

Assuming reports of a sequel are accurate, Paramount clearly received the message: the product wasn’t the problem. While post-theatrical figures aren’t publicly known, strong sales on streaming and other platforms would draw further attention to the issue of bad timing. It also undermines one of show business’s fundamental fallacies: that the theatrical release is somehow the final indicator of a film’s financial health. In the streaming era, that means far less than it appears, and a sequel to Honor Among Thieves would be a tacit admission of that fact.

A sequel of Honor Among Thieves would need to score similar high approval ratings from critics and audience members, particularly fans of the TTRPG. A sequel that fails to deliver the same sense of energy or fun won’t last long and compound the sense of an opportunity lost. A strong sequel, on the other hand, could readily tap into the same zeitgeist that Barbie did, as well as reveal the potential for a long series of fantasy movies. The Lord of the Rings has run into trouble as a franchise simply because there’s a limit to how much material can be developed from Tolkien’s work. Similarly, the Wizarding World has lost a good deal of its magic since Harry Potter’s story finished (though controversies surrounding author J.K. Rowling certainly haven’t helped). Other fantasy series face the same dilemma, as those based on established properties eventually run out of novels to adapt and have to mine deeper and deeper to come up with acceptable content.

Dungeons & Dragons is a potential magic bullet for that, owing to the nature of play. Characters in the game are built for long-term ongoing adventures that often change radically over time. That template can provide a potentially endless array of stories: unbound by previous creative efforts, and encompassing anything a good screenwriter can come up with. That can adjust for necessary changes, such as a lower budget (which would be almost guaranteed if a sequel goes forward), which could change the nature of the threat and the scope of the story. But Honor Among Thieves provides a basis for such developments as well, specifically in Hugh Grant’s scene-stealing villain Forge Fitzwilliam who doesn’t require a single set piece or special effect to win over audiences. Similar figures and concepts can work in the setting the way they couldn’t in another fantasy property. As long as they fit the setting and the general tone, the franchise is built for extended staying power: something a successful sequel can readily demonstrate.

A D&D Franchise Can Defeat Superhero Fatigue

Related

A Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Sequel Could Happen Under One Condition

While Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves may have disappointed at the box office, a sequel could still be in the offing.

More importantly, a new D&D film would provide an alternative to superhero movies while still retaining similar widespread appeal. The MCU and various DC projects have dominated Hollywood for well over a decade, and it’s safe to say that neither IP is going anywhere soon. But their stranglehold has prevented other genres from seeing the light of day, a fact highlighted by Barbie’s success. High fantasy is a close cousin to superheroes, with a shared emphasis on spectacle and larger-than-life protagonists. A big hit — especially from a property like D&D — could give Marvel and DC a breather, while providing another template for Hollywood to work from. Furthermore, a revitalized D&D franchise would arrive despite Honor Among Thieves’ poor initial showing, emphasizing that streaming services and other platforms still play a key role in Hollywood finances and encouraging projects built for streaming. All of which would facilitate other kinds of storytelling, as well as de-emphasizing superheroes as the only entertainment option.

That’s a lot to pin on a single comment from one actor, but then again, Honor Among Thieves embodies unusual circumstances. The most underrated blockbuster of 2023 is clearly still on people’s minds, and as time goes on, it has a very good chance of becoming a cult classic along the lines of The Princess Bride. A sequel would give the property another chance to expand beyond the first film, as well as take advantage of the public’s weariness for business as usual. Stranger things have happened, and if things break right, it could turn out to be just what Hollywood needs.

 Hugh Grant, Michelle Rodriguez, Chris Pine, Daisy Head, Regé-Jean Page, Sophia Lillis, and Justice Smith in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

A charming thief and a band of unlikely adventurers embark on an epic quest to retrieve a lost relic, but things go dangerously awry when they run afoul of the wrong people.

Release Date
March 31, 2023

Director
John Francis Daley , Jonathan Goldstein

Cast
Chris Pine , Michelle Rodriguez , Rege-Jean Page , Justice Smith , Sophia Lillis , Hugh Grant

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
2 hours 14 minutes

Genres
Action , Adventure

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