The Dark Tower is a 2017 American science fantasy western film directed and co-written by Nikolaj Arcel. A continuation of Stephen King's novel series of the same name, the film stars Idris Elba as Roland Deschain, a gunslinger on a quest to protect the Dark Tower—a mythical structure which supports all realities—while Matthew McConaughey plays his nemesis, Walter Padick, the Man in Black, and Tom Taylor stars as Jake Chambers, a New York boy who becomes Roland's apprentice.
Intended to launch a film and television franchise, the first installment combines elements from several novels in the eight-volume series, and takes place in both modern-day New York City and in Mid-World, Roland's Old West-style parallel universe. The film also serves as a canonical sequel to the novel series, which concludes with the revelation that Roland's quest is a cyclical time loop; the presence of the Horn of Eld, which Roland carries in the film, indicates that this is the next cycle.
The Dark Tower premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City on July 31, 2017, and was theatrically released in the United States by Columbia Pictures on August 4, 2017. It has grossed $111 million worldwide against its production budget of $60 million, and received generally negative reviews, with critics calling it "a dull disappointment without any set audience: incomprehensible to newbies, and wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King's books," though Elba's performance earned some praise.
Eleven-year-old Jake Chambers experiences visions involving a Man in Black who seeks to destroy a Tower and bring ruin to the world, and a Gunslinger who opposes him. Jake's mother, stepfather, and psychiatrists dismiss these as dreams resulting from the trauma of his father's death the previous year.
At his apartment home in New York City, a group of workers from an alleged psychiatric facility offer to rehabilitate Jake; recognizing them from his visions as monsters wearing human skin, he flees. Jake tracks down an abandoned house from one of his visions, discovers a high-tech portal, and travels to a post-apocalyptic world called Mid-World.
In Mid-World, Jake encounters the last Gunslinger, Roland Deschain who emerged in his visions. Roland is pursuing Walter Padick, the Man in Black who had also appeared in Jake's dreams, across a desert, seeking to kill him in revenge for the murder of his father, Steven. He explains that Walter has been abducting psychic children, and is attempting to use their powers to destroy the Dark Tower, a fabled structure located at the center of the universe; this will allow monsters from the darkness outside to invade and destroy reality.
Roland takes Jake to a village to have his visions interpreted by a seer. Learning of Jake's escape and journey to Mid-World, Walter investigates, and realizes that Jake has enough psychic potential to destroy the Tower single-handedly. He kills Jake's stepfather, then interrogates his mother about his visions and kills her. In Mid-World, the seer explains that Roland can find Walter's base of operations in New York.
Walter's minions, the Taheen, attack the village, but Roland kills them. Roland and Jake return to Earth. When Jake returns home to check in on his parents, he finds their remains and breaks down. Roland vows to avenge them and comforts Jake by teaching him the Gunslinger's creed and the basics of gun fighting.
While Roland re-arms himself at a gun store, Walter captures Jake. At his base, he straps Jake to a machine, intending for him to destroy the Tower. Jake uses his psychic powers to alert Roland to his location, and Roland battles his way through Walter's henchmen.
Walter confronts Roland, wounding him. After Jake reminds him of the Gunslinger's creed, Roland recovers and kills Walter with a trick shot after a brief fight. Roland destroys the machine, saving the Tower, Jake and the other children. Afterwards, Roland says that he must return to his own world. He offers Jake a place by his side as his companion, which Jake accepts, as there would be nowhere else to go. The two depart for Mid-World.
Efforts to adapt The Dark Tower series for the screen have been ongoing since 2007, with periodic reports and official announcements. The project was shelved, before the rights were transitioned to a different production company. Development experienced starts and stops with various filmmakers and studios at different times, including Universal Films, Paramount, Columbia-Tristar Entertainment, and Lionsgate Entertainment. The adaptation went through three major phases of planning: with J. J. Abrams from 2007 to 2009, Ron Howard from 2010 to 2015, and finally, the current iteration, announced in March 2015, produced by Sony Pictures Entertainment and Media Rights Capital, with Nikolaj Arcel directing and Howard remaining in a producing role.
By early February 2007, a film adaptation of The Dark Tower series was in the works. J. J. Abrams, co-creator of the television series Lost, was said to be attached to produce and direct. Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, who co-created Lost with Abrams, optioned The Dark Tower from King for a reported amount of $19, a number that mysteriously recurs throughout the series. According to issue #923 of Entertainment Weekly, King "is an ardent supporter of [Lost] and trusts Abrams to translate his vision" into a film franchise, with Lindelof being "the leading candidate to write the screenplay for the first installment." It was around this time that Marvel Comics launched their graphic novel adaptation of The Dark Tower with The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born. Later, in March 2007, Abrams noted in an interview with Wired that the project is "something that we are just now talking about with Stephen, so it's too early for me to say that we're even officially doing it yet just because the thing is in the early stages of discussion."
A year later, in February 2008, Abrams reiterated that The Dark Tower adaptation was in the early stages of development, when interviewed by Reelz Channel. When interviewed by AMC in September 2008, Abrams admitted that the project needs time he does not have because of Lost, especially since he would like to see a seven-film series (the eighth novel was published in 2012). However, in May 2009, Abrams stated to IGN that he and Lindelof were planning on beginning work on The Dark Tower as soon as Lost finished its run. Speaking to MTV News around the same time, Lindelof revealed some apprehension regarding the project, noting that his "reverence for Stephen King is now getting in the way of what any good writer would do first when they're adapting a book, which is take creative license." In a July 2009 interview with C21 Media, Lindelof revealed that he and Cuse had indeed optioned the rights for The Dark Tower, but said he was wary about committing to such an ambitious project: "The idea of taking on something that massive again after having done six seasons of Lost is intimidating and slightly frightening, to say the least."
With these reservations being voiced by the producers, this initial phase of the project came to an end at the end of 2009 after three years, since this was a three-year option. In an interview with USA Today in October 2009, Damon Lindelof stated: "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. After working six years on Lost, the last thing I want to do is spend the next seven years adapting one of my favorite books of all time. I'm such a massive Stephen King fan that I'm terrified of screwing it up. I'd do anything to see those movies written by someone else. My guess is they will get made because they're so incredible. But not by me." Finally, in November 2009, Abrams stated that he would not be adapting the series. During an interview with MTV News, Abrams made the following comments: "The Dark Tower thing is tricky. The truth is that Damon and I are not looking at that right now."
In April 2010, five months after Abrams revealed he would no longer pursue his adaptation of The Dark Tower, Universal Pictures was set to produce trilogy of feature films, alternating with two seasons of a television series to bridge gaps between the films. The involved parties included Akiva Goldsman writing the script, Ron Howard directing, and also producing with Brian Grazer and Stephen King. The report was made official by NBC Universal five months later via a press release dated September 8, 2010. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly following the announcement, King stated that "I always thought it would take more than a single movie, but I didn't see this solution coming—i.e., several movies and TV series. It was Ron [Howard] and Akiva [Goldsman]'s idea. Once it was raised, I thought at once it was the solution." A month later, the first Dark Tower film was scheduled to open on May 17, 2013. In December 2010, Howard offered the following in regards to the project's progress: "It is going well, and it has been incredibly stimulating to work on. I really can't stop thinking about it. We've been meeting and talking and I've been reading and researching and just kind of living with it. I hope it goes great. I hope it goes the way we think it will. It never does, really. But sometimes it goes better." Despite Howard's enthusiasm, Universal had not yet greenlit the project at that point.
By the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, New York Post was reporting that Javier Bardem and Viggo Mortensen were in line to play the lead character of Roland Deschain, and Naomie Harris was being considered for the character of Susannah Dean. Speaking on The Howard Stern Show in January 2011 and qualifying his words with the phrase "I don't know if it's going to happen or not", Howard said that after the first film, which would be more action-oriented, a six-episode television miniseries would follow, focusing more on character-driven drama. For his part, Brian Grazer stated around the same time that a casting announcement could be made "within a week."
By April 2011, Mark Verheiden was joining the television portion of the project as executive producer and Akiva Goldsman's co-writer. The same month, Javier Bardem was cast in the role of Roland. However, just a month later, a report in Variety revealed that Universal may seek another studio's help, as the project's budget appeared to be more than they were willing to handle. The Hollywood Reporter wrote later that the project was on the verge of turnaround, and Warner Bros. or Columbia Pictures could potentially take the project on, revealing that Universal had paid $5 million for the rights. Shortly after that, Universal committed to a lower budget for the project and Goldsman began rewriting the script to reflect these changes.
Originally, production was slated to begin in September 2011, but in May 2011 it was being pushed back to February 2012 or early spring. The project was still not greenlit by the studio, which had to happen by July 2011. Then on July 18, 2011, Universal decided to cancel development of the entire project due to budgetary concerns. Despite this, Stephen King was confident Howard would see the project through, stating that he was "sorry Universal passed, but not really surprised. I bear them no ill will, and trust Ron Howard to get Roland and his friends before the camera somewhere else. He's very committed to the project." In August 2011, Howard stated that they were "trying to get outside financing to make it, and distribute it through a major [studio]", including the fact that Netflix might be an outlet. Later, in October 2011, Howard confirmed the adaptation is still on track, noting that HBO would now carry the television portion of the project.
By March 2012, Warner Bros. was expressing interested in taking on the project. Several months later, Goldsman delivered a new script for the first film to Warner Bros., and the studio had to make a decision in August 2012 whether to go ahead with the project. As well, Russell Crowe was being talked about as the lead character. On August 20, 2012, Warner Bros. officially passed. At the same time, Media Rights Capital (MRC) was in talks to take over the project from Warner.
In January 2014, Aaron Paul stated that he had a conversation with Howard and was possibly being considered to play Eddie Dean (earlier, in October 2012, Paul had tweeted that the role of Eddie Dean was a "huge dream" of his). Following that, a rumor appeared that Liam Neeson was interested in the part of Roland.
On April 10, 2015, it was announced that Sony Pictures Entertainment with MRC were fast-tracking the project, now with a completely reworked script by Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner. King appeared optimistic, saying: "I'm excited that The Dark Tower is finally going to appear on the screen." Howard appeared to be out as director, but would remain in a producing capacity. By June 2, 2015, Sony was looking to Nikolaj Arcel to direct. Arcel officially signed on July 10, 2015, with him and Anders Thomas Jensen rewriting the script. On August 5, 2015, Sony Pictures Entertainment set the film for a release of January 13, 2017. By November 2015, Matthew McConaughey had been offered the role of the Man in Black (also known as Randall Flagg from The Stand, another role McConaughey had been offered in an upcoming adaptation). In January 2016, it was officially announced that Idris Elba has been cast to play Roland Deschain.
By February 18, 2016, Abbey Lee had been offered the female lead role of Tirana. On March 1, 2016, Entertainment Weekly confirmed the casting of Idris Elba as Roland and Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black, with shooting set to begin in South Africa in April. On March 5, Sony announced that the film would move back on the schedule from January 13 to February 17. By March 10, 2016, Tom Taylor had been cast as Jake Chambers. Filming began on April 12, 2016. Abbey Lee, Jackie Earle Haley, and Fran Kranz were added to the cast when filming commenced, while Katheryn Winnick and Michael Barbieri joined the film at the end of April 2016, and Claudia Kim was cast as Arra Champignon in May 2016. After poor initial test screenings, Sony contemplated replacing Arcel with "a more experienced filmmaker," but instead producers Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman advised Arcel on cleaning up the music and narrative of the film.
The Dark Tower began filming in South Africa in April 2016. The film also shot scenes in New York. In October 2016, the film was screened to test audiences with negative results, with many labeling it confusing and messy. In response, Sony and MRC spent $6 million on reshoots to provide Deschain's backstory.
At one point, the film was scheduled to be released on February 17, 2017. In November 2016, the film was pushed back to July 28, 2017, after the studio's Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was moved from that date. In late March 2017, the film was pushed back again to August 4, 2017, switching places with Sony Pictures Animation's The Emoji Movie.
An unfinished rough cut of the first trailer leaked online on October 10, 2016, but was later taken down almost all over the internet. On May 3, 2017, a full length trailer was released.
A one-minute television spot titled Connected KINGdom featured Easter eggs of other Stephen King stories through the inter-dimensional setting of the titular location, the Dark Tower. Various references included The Shining (1980), Christine (1983), Cujo (1983), Misery (1990), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Carrie, and It.
As of October 16, 2017[update], The Dark Tower has grossed $50.7 million in the United States and Canada and $61.1 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $111.7 million, against a production budget of $60 million.
In North America, The Dark Tower was released alongside the opening of Kidnap, as well as the wide expansion of Detroit, and was projected to gross around $20 million from 3,451 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $1.8 million from Thursday previews at 2,770 theaters, with screenings beginning at 7:19 p.m. as an ode to the 19:19 of Stephen King lore present in the book series, and $7.7 million on its first day. The film went on to debut to $19.5 million, dethroning two-time defender Dunkirk as the top film at the box office, although it was the second lowest gross for a film to finish number one in all of 2017. In its second weekend the film dropped 58.9% to $7.9 million, finishing 4th at the box office.
Critics called The Dark Tower "boring and flavorless" and "incomprehensible to newbies and wildly unfaithful and simplistic to fans of King's books." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 15% based on 215 reviews, with an average rating of 4.1/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Go then, there are other Stephen King adaptations than these." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 34 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.
TheWrap's Dan Callahan was critical of the film's sloppiness and poor editing, saying, "The 95-minute culmination of years-long efforts to bring The Dark Tower to the big screen is a complete disaster, a limp, barely coherent shell of a movie." Mike Ryan of Uproxx also criticized the incoherent plot, writing, "I’ve been told that The Dark Tower books are jam-packed with dense plot, wonderful characters, and a sprawling mythology – which is what made the movie so hard to make for all these years. Well, the solution seems to have been to just scrap all that and release a shockingly short 95-minute movie that just kind of glosses over everything to the point that has any meaning or purpose." Eric Vespe of Ain't It Cool News praised Elba's performance, but said the actor was let down by the decision to make Roland a supporting character: "That puts us in a weird position because Elba's a good Roland in a movie that doesn't allow him to actually embody the character in any meaningful way. He's undercut at every turn. The strongest stuff in the film is when Roland and Jake are bonding, but that relationship is so accelerated that there's no room for an arc."
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of The A.V. Club maintained that the film was "ultimately done in by professionalism; it’s a movie that doesn’t seem to love itself, sidestepping its innate strangeness. [...] If you’re making a movie about weaponized psychic kids, Luciferian wizards, and gun-nut knight-cowboys from another dimension, and your only goal is to get from act one to act three as efficiently as possible, what’s the point?" Peter Travers of Rolling Stone described the film as a "major misfire" and an "unholy mess that shouldn't happen to a King, much less a paying customer". Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Richard Roeper panned the film with its criticism on the cinematography, special effects and dialogue, referring it as "dull", "mediocre", and "stilted" while calling Matthew McConaughey's performance as the lead villain "terrible" and calling it "the film's unfortunate elements".
Vox's Aja Romano wrote that the film's disjointed narrative structure, favouring fast-paced action over exposition and backstory, gave it a "basic, wondrous glee" that made it "feel more like a Stephen King film than any other Stephen King film since Stand By Me", and applauded its faithfulness to King's fictional multiverse, an idea usually discarded by adaptations.
In an interview with Vulture, King suggested that the film's critical and commercial underperformance was due to the length of the source material, and "the decision to do a PG-13 feature adaptation of books that are extremely violent and deal with violent behavior in a fairly graphic way". However, he also defended the film, believing that screenwriter Akiva Goldsman "did a terrific job in taking a central part of the book and turning it into what I thought was a pretty good movie".
By September 2016, a television series was scheduled to be released in 2018, with Glen Mazzara as showrunner. Elba and Taylor are set to reprise their roles as Roland and Jake respectively. The series has been confirmed to fill in the backstory to the film, being based on King's The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass, The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole and elements of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, with a new actor playing young Roland, and Haysbert attached to return as Steven Deschain. Mazzara said that the series will explore "how Walter became the Man in Black, and how their rivalry cost Roland everything and everyone he ever loved", though McConaughey's involvement is not locked in. While discussing the development of the series in the light of the film's critical and commercial underperformance, King expressed "we'll see what happens with that. It would be like a complete reboot, so we'll just have to see".
In an interview with Collider, King expressed hope for a sequel film in addition to the television series, suggesting that it should be R-rated, have Roland wearing a hat, and include the "lobstrosities" from The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three. In an interview with ComingSoon.net, Arcel confirmed that The Drawing of the Three would form the basis for the sequel, and that Eddie and Susannah would appear alongside Elba, McConaughey, Taylor and Haley reprising their roles as Roland, Walter, Jake and Sayre respectively.