TV is set for an onslaught of high-profile fantasy epics in the next few years, and we at Rotten Tomatoes can’t wait. Witness the buzz around The Lord of the Rings television series in development at Amazon — acquired for $250 million and expected to ultimately cost more than $1 billion — along with the Gormenghast series announced early last year by FreemantleMedia North America, and Netflix’s new take on the Arthur legend, Cursed. It’s a big change from the genre’s historical position in the medium.
It may be strange to think of it now, but Game of Thrones was a risky proposition when HBO first began development of the series, and its prospects were buoyed by the fact that its more fantastic elements appeared later in the narrative (we had to wait so long for those dragons). Prior to that, fantasy was relegated to syndicated fare like Conan the Adventurer and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Xena: Warrior Princess was an outlier in terms of quality storytelling, but its occasionally cheesy effects proved to the television executives that fantasy TV was too expensive, while other series proved it was often built on poor story standards. GoT changed that perception, even if the fantasy shows that emerged in its wake — The Shannara Chronicles and Shadowhunters for example — proved closer in story quality to the BeastMaster television series.
But The Lord of the Rings, Gormenghast, and Cursed are not the only promising fantasy series in development at the moment. A number of classic fantasy epics and novels will become television thanks to the power of streaming services like Amazon, cable options like BBC America, and other outlets that are worth spotlighting. There are also a few notable series not yet scooped up by the powers in television that we think should get the TV treatment as soon as possible. So here are 15 fantasy epics set to hit your screen soon and three more we hope will follow them.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The yarns of history or myth A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin likes to tell while characters eat sweet meats and plot their next move in the Game of Thrones. Also based on the short stories and longer histories the author publishes while he is not finishing The Winds of Winter.
The Fanbase: Game of Thrones fans, which is a large part of HBO’s subscriber base at this point.
Everything We Know So Far: At one point, HBO president Casey Bloys said there could be as many as five prequel series after Game of Thrones completes its run this year. Developed with Martin, multiple premises were in an informal competition for a programming slot.
The first prequel to get the greenlight in a 10-episode, straight-to-series order, is called House of the Dragon. The announcement was made at the October 29 HBO Max presentation on the Warner Bros. lot in in Burbank.
The series is co-created by @GRRMSpeaking and Ryan Condal. Miguel Sapochnik will partner with Condal as showrunner and will direct the pilot and additional episodes. Condal will be writing the series. pic.twitter.com/9ttMzElgXm
— Game of Thrones (@GameOfThrones) October 29, 2019
The series, set 300 years before the events of Game of Thrones, tells the story of House Targaryen. Emmy-winning director Miguel Sapochnik (Game of Thrones) and Ryan Condal (Colony) will partner as showrunners and will also serve as executive producers along with Martin and Vince Gerardis. Sapochnik will direct the pilot and additional episodes of the series, which will be written by Condal.
Martin responded to the news on his blog.
“House of the Dragon has been in development for several years (though the title has changed a couple of times during that process). It was actually the first concept I pitched to HBO when we started talking about a successor show, way back in the summer of 2016. If you’d like to know a bit more of what the show will be about… well, I can’t actually spill those beans, but you might want to pick up a copy of two anthologies I did with Gardner Dozois, Dangerous Women and Rogues, and then move on to Archmaester Gyldayn’s history, Fire & Blood.”
Martin released Fire & Blood, the first volume of a two-part history of the Targaryens in Westeros, in November 2018. Centuries before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire series, the Targaryens fled Valyria and landed at Dragonstone. The book begins with Aegon the Conqueror, who married his sisters and created the Iron Throne. The second prequel would cover the events in that novel up through the Dance of Dragons, a bloody, great civil war between Targaryens for the Iron Throne that saw sibling slay sibling and dragon battle dragon.
Did someone say “dragon battle”? Yes, unlike the now-deceased first prequel, the second story should feature some of the most fearsome of the Targaryen dragons, including Balerion (The Black Dread), the only Westeros dragon to have lived in Valyria and whose skull is seen filling the basement of the Red Keep in Game of Thrones.
“But… let me make this perfectly clear… I am not taking on any scripts until I have finished and delivered Winds of Winter. Winter is still coming, and Winds remains my priority, as much as I’d love to write an episodes of House,” Martin wrote in his October 30 blog post, following news of the series order.
In his September post, Martin gave an update following the intense media attention to news on the second prequel: “Yes, it is based on material from one of my books. (FWIW, those who have read Fire & Blood will realize it contains enough materials for a dozen shows.) This one has a title, but no one else has revealed it, so I had better not either. (But it’s not the obvious title.)
“It has a script and a bible, and both of them are terrific, first rate, exciting. They’re the work of Ryan Condal,” he wrote. “He’s a helluva strong writer, and a huge fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, Dunk & Egg, and Westeros in general. I’ve loved working with him, and if the Seven Gods and HBO are kind, I hope to keep on working with him for years to come on this new successor show, the title of which is… Ooops. Almost slipped. Can’t say yet. I can say that there will be dragons. Everyone else has said that, so why not me?”
The Dead Prequel
Goldman’s project eventually won the first pilot order, but is now dead, Deadline reported. And it looks unlikely that the project, said to take place “thousands of years” before the events of the original series,
Goldman’s prequel series was to have focused on the decline of the Age of Heroes and the descent into the first Long Night. Production on the pilot took place in summer 2019. In mid-September 2019, Martin wrote on his blog that filming wrapped a month before, the pilot was in post production, and that he expected a first cut from Goldman shortly.
“Last month in Belfast, I got a behind-the-scenes look at some of her sets, and they were spectacular,” Martin wrote.
Martin has not yet addressed news of the prequel’s demise.
The announced cast:
Naomi Watts (The Impossible)
Josh Whitehouse (Poldark)
Ivanno Jeremiah (Humans)
Denise Gough (Monday)
Jamie Campbell Bower (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)
Sheila Atim (Harlots)
Alex Sharp (How to Talk to Girls at Parties)
Naomi Ackie (Lady Macbeth)
Toby Regbo (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald)
Georgie Henley (The Chronicles of Narnia films)
Miranda Richardson (The Crying Game)
John Simm (24 Hour Party People)
Marquis Rodriguez (Hostages)
Richard McCabe (The Constant Gardner)
John Heffernan (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell)
Dixie Egerickx (The Secret Garden)
Other Prequel Ideas: At least one other is thought to still be in development focusing on the Doom of Valyria, a cataclysmic event that saw the Essos city and surrounding region destroyed. The Targaryens, having previously departed for Dragonstone, were the only dragonlords of Valyria who survived the disaster. In Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister and Jorah Mormont pass through the devastated region, and Jorah contracts greyscale when they are attacked by some stone men.
They’re Most Like: Game of Thrones.
Chances They Will Be Certified Fresh Hits: Unless they’re colossal train wrecks, the prequel series will be hits. Until its eighth and final season GoT never dipped below 90% Fresh on the Tomatometer. And with a new production staff coming in, the senioritis that plagued GoT‘s final year shouldn’t be a factor.
TV Release Date: November 4, 2019
Based on: Philip Pullman’s epic trilogy — Northern Lights (published in the North America as The Golden Compass and adapted into a movie of the same name), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass — centers on two children who grow up while journeying across parallel worlds, where they encounter talking armored bears and, of course, our world. Pullman’s story upends fantasy conventions and revolves on the notion that Original Sin is one of mankind’s greatest qualities.
The Fanbase: The kids who read Harry Potter and wanted more.
Everything We Know So Far: The British Broadcasting Corporation commissioned an eight-part adaptation of the entire trilogy in 2015. In April 2017, writer Jack Thorne said the program was still in preproduction and that he was still trying to balance “what works and what doesn’t” while maintaining as much fidelity to the books as possible. In September 2018, HBO came on board to produce the series, acquiring worldwide rights to the series outside of the United Kingdom in the process. The cable giant’s involvement sped up development with the BBC releasing a 30-second trailer for the first season in February.
Logan’s Dafne Keen stars as Lyra Belacqua, the series’ protagonist. Other cast members include Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby, Clarke Peters as Dr Carne, Amir Wilson as Will Parry and Andrew Scott as his father Col. John Parry. The series will also feature the voices of Helen McCrory, David Suchet, Cristela Alonzo, and Kit Connor as the characters’ various dæmons. Brian Fisher will also articulate the sounds made by Mrs. Coulter’s mute dæmon while Joe Tandberg will voice the panserbjørn Iorek Byrnison.
The show will finally debut in November with a second season already in production. A trailer released a month before season 1’s debut shows more effects, including the devastating strength of the armored bear in action.
It’s Most Like: Harry Potter with a healthy skepticism of organized religions. Pullman was surprised by the intense scrutiny the Potter books received from religious groups in the U.S. while his series openly criticized a Catholic form of government. Catholics eventually took notice and campaigned against the series’ film adaptation, 2007’s The Golden Compass.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Produced by Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner — two of the people heavily involved in Doctor Who’s revival (88% Fresh) — the series may prove successful depending on how much compression of Pullman’s world is required to make it fit into eight hours of television. If first reviews on the series are any indication, its chances are very, very good.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. Set in Ravka — a fantasy version of 1800s Russia — a mysterious darkness settles on the Unsea and breaks the country in two. From there, monsters emerge to ravage the land. Some travelers cross the monster-infested wastes with the aid of a Grisha, a person with the innate ability to manipulate aspects of the physical world. One such Grisha is Alina Starkov, whose powers manifest as the rare ability to summon light itself — which may be the only way to stop the darkness in the Unsea. Well, once she learns to be a proper Grisha, of course.
The Fanbase: Quite devoted.
Everything We Know So Far: Originally set up at DreamWorks Television, the project moved to Netflix with Bird Box screenwriter Eric Heisserer set to serve as showrunner and Stranger Things‘ Shawn Levy as an executive producer. Pouya Shahbazian, Bardugo, Dan Levine, Dan Cohen, and Josh Barry will also executive produce. The series is set for an eight-episode first season.
In October, Netflix unveiled the cast, which includes Ben Barnes as General Kirigan — aka the Darkling — Jessie Mei Li as protagonist Alina Starkov, and Archie Renaux as Aline’s childhood friend Malyen Oretsev. Freddy Carter, Amita Suman, and Kit Young will play characters from the Shadow and Bone spin-off series Six of Crows: Kaz Brekker, Inej, and Jesper Fahey, respectively. Additionally, Sujaya Dasguptato will recur as Zoya Nazyalensky, as will Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Daisy Head as Genya Safin, and Simon Sears as Ivan.
#ShadowAndBone — based on @LBardugo's Shadow and Bone and Six of Crow novels — has found its cast: Ben Barnes as General Kirigan, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov, Archie Renaux as Malyen Oretsev, Amita Suman as Inej, and Kit Young as Jesper Fahey. pic.twitter.com/4Y79wWleMl
— See What's Next (@seewhatsnext) October 2, 2019
It’s Most Like: Harry Potter with side orders of Tolstoy and Young Adult tropes for good measure.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: While Bird Box earned a 63% on the Tomatometer, it became something of a phenomenon in the meme-heavy world of social media. It also broke the highly imprecise Netflix viewing records. More telling of Heisserer’s ability as a writer is Arrival, which he also adapted from a novel. The film is Certified Fresh at 94% and stands as one of the better science fiction films of the last 10 years. If Heisserer can bring that sort of care and attention to the Grishaverse, it may prove to be the fantasy series Netflix has been looking for.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: Patrick Rothfuss’s as-yet incomplete trilogy – which began with The Name of the Wind and continued in The Wise Man’s Fear – and other works Rothfuss set in the same reality. The main series tells the tale of a famed scribe and biographer listening to the stories of an adventurer, arcanist, and musician named Kvothe, who appears to have settled into a retirement as an innkeeper.
The Fanbase: Fantasy lovers and musicians like Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Everything We Know So Far: Lionsgate has been developing a series, film, and video game series based on Rothfuss’s novels since 2015. In November of 2016, Miranda signed on as a “creative producer” for the film and TV aspects of the project. The films – the first of which is to be directed by Spider-Man’s Sam Raimi – will concern Kvothe’s chronicle, while the TV series will explore other aspects of Rothfuss’s world. Both the author and Miranda are said to be developing characters for the series, which was in development at Showtime. In February, Showtime president Gary Levine told reporters showrunner John Rogers (Leverage) and “a group of writers” were working on the series with input from Manuel, but offered no further details. The premise reportedly revolved around two traveling musicians a generation prior to the events of the main novels and eventual film series. In September, Showtime passed on the series, but left Lionsgate’s television division free to shop it around to other outlets. Reportedly, a number of scripts have already been written and at least one set-to-launch streaming service may be in the process of reading them.
It’s Most Like: Other fantasy epics with a wonderful Interview with the Vampire–esque narrative conceit.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: It all depends on when it happens. Since the movie appears to be further along in development, it remains to be seen how much crossover will exist between it and the series. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. attempted cohesion with the film franchises for the first couple of years, but eventually needed narrative distance. And without that strong tie to the films, it is unclear if fans will take to new characters without Kvothe as a unifying force. Also, this is assuming the film itself is a Certified Fresh hit.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: Elements from the 41 Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. Set on a world that is really a disc held in place by four elephants standing on the back of a turtle, Discworld is both a parody of early fantasy works and a sweeping universe in its own right. Thanks to the series, Prachett was the U.K.’s best-selling author in the 1990s. While Discworld does not tell one single overarching tale, its characters weave in and out of story lines, with characters like Death receiving major ongoing tales and constant cameos.
The Fanbase: Trickster know-it-alls with hearts of gold.
Everything We Know So Far: The eight-episode BBC America series will focus on the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, a group of misfit cops patrolling the major Discworld city with meager resources and limited jurisdiction. Game of Thrones’ Richard Dormer stars as Sam Vimes, captain of the Watch. Pennyworth’s Adam Hugill will appear as Constable Carrot Ironfoundersson, a naïve human who was raised believing he was a dwarf. Other characters set for the series include Lady Sybil Ramkin (Lara Rossi), a “formidable” member of the city’s aristocracy who turns to vigilantism; Corporal Angua (Marama Corlette), Carrot’s training officer; Constable Cheery (Jo Eaton-Kent), a non-binary forensics expert in search of a new home and identity; and Carcer Dun (Sam Adewunmi), a wounded and wronged citizen looking to take power and “exact a terrible revenge on an unjust reality.” Death is also slated to appear, but has not yet been cast. The Musketeers and Strike Back’s Simon Allen is the lead writer with Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who), Catherine Tregenna (Torchwood), Amrou Al-Khadi (Little America) and Ed Hime (Skins) rounding out the writing staff. Craig Viveiros (Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None) will direct. Production is set to being on September 30th and is slated for a 2020 debut.
It’s Most Like: Like Douglas Adams’ comedic sci-fi yarn, Pratchett’s work appeals to those with a wide sense of humor and a love of rich characters.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Previous Discworld-based television series like the Cosgrove Hall–produced Discworld animated shorts and The Hogfather are cult classics in the United States, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to major critical or commercial success. But the series could last a long time should BBC America position it toward the right audience.
Based On: The Earthsea novels and stories of Ursula K. Le Guin. Set on a planet of small archipelagos, various cultures, and a real magic tradition, the first novel centers around Ged, a young mage who comes of age while trying to escape a demonic shadow he conjured into being. Sadly, Le Guin passed away before anyone could make an Earthsea adaptation that reflected her core concept for the world: a fantasy setting composed mainly of brown-skinned people accepting the inevitability of death.
The Fanbase: Almost every fantasy and science fiction fan on the planet.
It’s Most Like: Itself. The Earthsea series set the standard for so many that followed.
Everything We Know So Far: Optioned for films by Nightcrawler’s Jennifer Fox (pictured) shortly before Le Guin’s death in 2018, A24 and Fox revealed in September they will develop the project as a television series.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Adaptations of Earthsea have not fared well. Studio Ghibli’s Tales from Earthsea, directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son Goro, rests at a Rotten 43% on the Tomatometer and almost equally bad audience score of 46%. Le Guin was disappointed in its focus on combat and an externalized villain, despite praising its visual beauty. An earlier Sci-Fi Channel miniseries fares a little better with an audience score of 53%, but has no official Tomatometer score. Le Guin was not a fan, as it cast Shawn Ashmore as the brown-skinned Ged among other liberties taken with the material. Her criticisms of the adaptation are far more entertaining than the show itself. All of which means that any new adaptation has an uphill battle as it begins its development as a television series — at least the Tomatometer bar is set low.
TV Release Date: most likely 2021
Based On: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, an epic tale of four Hobbits, a Wizard, an Elf, two Men and a Dwarf attempting to destroy the Dark Lord Sauron’s master weapon without letting him discover their plan. A war across most of Middle-earth ensues.
The Fanbase: The obsessive devotees of Tolkien’s legendarium and fans of the Peter Jackson film series.
Everything We Know So Far: Amazon is committed to produce a five-season series based on The Lord of the Rings in partnership with Tolkien’s estate and the various rights holders of the Rings and Hobbit film series. While reports speculated that it would focus on a younger Aragorn, who roamed the lands of Middle-earth as a Dunedain ranger under various names like Strider and Thorongil, Amazon’s own teases contradict that early speculation.
In February 2019, Amazon teased fans with a beautifully illustrated interactive map of Middle-earth extending into the far east region not included on maps Tolkien made himself, though he sketched out some topography for the area in his notes. The streaming platform also included this enigmatic quote from Tolkien’s Ring Poem: “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky.” But after weeks of teasing, the map finally changed to reveal a Second Age setting — the time in which the Elven rings were forged and the Dark Lord Sauron conquered lands in the southern parts of Middle-earth.
In July, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona signed on to helm the first two episodes of the series. He and producing partner Belén Atienza will also serve as executive producers.
There have so far been two castings that have not yet been confirmed: In July, Australian actor Markella Kavenagh (The Cry) was said to be in talks to play a character called Tyra, while Will Poulter (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch) was in September reported to have been cast in a lead role.
It’s Most Like: The Lord of the Rings film series. Since the TV rights to Tolkien’s work remained with his estate, hammering out a deal with the likes of Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, and MGM suggests Amazon has an interest in making the series visually consistent with Jackson’s vision of Middle-earth. Some rumors indicate the production will make use of New Zealand, where Jackson’s six films were shot, but this is far from confirmed.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The Lord of the Rings films are all Certified Fresh at 91%, 95%, and 93% respectively. The Hobbit films less so — 64%, 74%, and 59% — but they were always at a disadvantage by adopting the tone of LOTR. The tale of Sauron and the various people he encounters in the Second Age share the scope and thematic consistency of Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan and concluded by Brandon Sanderson — whose own Mistborn series is getting the film-franchise treatment — after Jordan’s death in 2007. Set in a world that is both Earth’s distant past and far future, the cycle of time is threatened by a Shadow of ultimate evil. It searches for “The Dragon Reborn,” a being of light fated to clash with the Shadow. Various enemies and allies of both sides appear as the main characters learn more about their fate and even cross into parallel worlds. Each book in the latter half of the series — books eight through 14 — hit No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list.
The Fanbase: Probably every fantasy fan you know.
Everything We Know So Far: Amazon and Sony Pictures Television announced in February 2018 that they are developing the series in concert, and at a London press event on Oct. 2, 2018, they announced that they ordered the one-hour action-fantasy to series, with Rafe Judkins (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Chuck), who adapted the novels for television, serving as showrunner and executive producer. Rick Selvage and Larry Mondragon of Red Eagle Entertainment, Ted Field and Mike Weber of Radar Pictures (Beirut, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) are executive producers. Consulting producer Harriet McDougal edited the Wheel of Time novels written by her late husband Jordan and is the current copyright holder. In June 2019, Rosamund Pike signed on to star in the series as Moiraine, a woman who leads a group of youngsters across the worlds in an attempt to find the Dragon Reborn. Pike will also serve as a producer on the series. In August, the streaming service announced the five fresh faces who will play those young men and women: Madeleine Madden as Egwene Al’Vere, Marcus Rutherford as Perrin Aybara, Barney Harris as Mat Cauthon, Zoë Robins as Nynaeve, and Josha Stradowski as Rand Al’Thor (pictured above). In September, Hawaii 5-0’s Daniel Henney joined the cast as al’Lan Mandragoran, the last scion of Malkier’s noble line.
It’s Most Like: The Lord of the Rings, which may be a problem as Amazon’s five-season LOTR series is also in the works.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: It’s hard to say. Judkins boasts credits on CF seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fresh season of Chuck, but his primary credits also include a co-producer role on the 27%-scoring first season of Hemlock Grove; that said, the disastrous Netflix supernatural series starred Bill Skarsgård, who’s gone on to roles like Pennywise in CF horror film It and the mysterious prisoner in another supernatural series, Hulu’s CF hit Castle Rock. The key issue now is whether or not Amazon will have money to develop another property with an epic scope once LOTR begins production.
TV Release Date: 2019
Based On: Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher novels and short stories centering on Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who roams The Continent hunting legendary monsters and getting involved in geopolitical upsets (in spite of his own political neutrality). But when destiny hurtles him toward a powerful sorceress and a young princess with a dangerous secret, the three must learn to navigate the increasingly volatile Continent together.
The Fanbase: An international group composed of Sapkowski’s fans and gamers thanks to CD Projekt Red’s incredible The Witcher video game series.
Everything We Know So Far: Netflix picked up the rights to adapt the novel series back in May 2017. The Expanse’s Sean Daniel and Jason Brown were announced as executive producers with Sapowski set to serve as a creative consultant. “I’m thrilled that Netflix will be doing an adaptation of my stories, staying true to the source material and the themes that I have spent over 30 years writing,” the author said at the time. In December 2017, Daredevil and Defenders co-executive producer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich was hired to run the show and write the pilot script. In September, Henry Cavill (pictured above) accepted the lead role in the series as Geralt of Rivia. The news got people talking, particularly as it seems his commitment to the series may prevent him from returning to the role of Superman. In October 2018, Into the Badlands‘ Freya Allan was cast as key supporting character Ciri, princess of Citra, while Anya Chalotra was added as sorceress Yennefer. Both characters will join Geralt in his journeys across the Continent in the eight-episode first season. Other cast members include:
Jodhi May (A Quiet Passion) as Queen Calanthe
Björn Hlynur Haraldsson (Fortitude) as Eist
Adam Levy (Before I Go to Sleep) as Mousesack
MyAnna Buring (Ripper Street) as Tissaia
Mimi Ndiweni (The Legend of Tarzan) as Fringilla
Therica Wilson-Read as Sabrina
Lars Mikkelsen (House of Cards) as Stregobo
Millie Brady (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Princess Renfri
Directors for the series include Game of Thrones veteran Alik Sakharov, Luke Cage’s Alex Garcia Lopez, and Outlander’s Charlotte Brändström. In April, Netflix announced that the series will debut sometime in the fourth quarter of 2019. And in July, the streaming service released the first official poster and images for the season (pictured above — click here for the full poster, and click here for the newest gallery images).
It’s Most Like: A grizzled private eye in Middle-earth. With its large assortment of creatures and various city-states in uneasy alliances or all-out war, the Witcher series takes many of its cues from the same European mythological traditions as Tolkien. But Geralt proves to be a unique character in this milieu thanks to his reluctance to pick sides and dedication to his first job: killing monsters.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: If the video game adaptations – which are not considered canon with the novel series – are any indication, The Witcher may be Netflix’s best chance at a true Lord of the Rings rival. The most recent game, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, was nearly universally praised as a marvelous role-playing video game thanks to its expansive version of The Continent and compelling characters like Geralt and Ciri. It also won a striking number of Game of the Year awards. Given a budget to make the monsters Geralt fights believable, it could surpass The Lord of the Rings.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The DC/Vertigo comic book series by writer Neil Gaiman and a variety of artists, including Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Michael Zulli, and Jill Thompson, in which Dream of the Endless – the manifestation of dreams across the cosmos – faces a dilemma when his self-imposed obligations make it impossible for him to continue to function as he has for millennia. Of course, before he can deal with that internal conflict, he must put his realm, the Dreaming, back in order after being held prisoner on Earth for 75 years.
The Fanbase: Goths, Tori Amos fans, and people who started reading books for fun at a really early age.
Everything We Know So Far: After nearly 30 years of attempts to adapt The Sandman into a feature film, Warner Bros. Television and Netflix struck a deal for a direct-to-series adaptation — which is, really, The Sandman’s best destiny outside of the comics. Gaiman will executive produce alongside Krypton’s David S. Goyer — the pair was also attached as executive producers on the last feature film attempt — while Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg will co-write the pilot alongside Gaiman and serve as showrunner.
The rumors are true. The tangled story of Morpheus, King of Dreams is becoming a Netflix series! Warner Brothers and executive producer Allan Heinberg (Wonder Woman screenwriter) have signed on to bring the dream of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman into reality. pic.twitter.com/cOMjPL5cqp
— 🐐🎃 NheX 🦇🔪 (@NXOnNetflix) July 1, 2019
Following the announcement, Gaiman took to Twitter to clear up some confusion about his role in the series. Among the nuggets he offered: the series will be set in the present day — outside of flashbacks to certain incidents in history, we’re presuming — and not the late 1980s/1990s setting of the original comic book series. He will be involved “much more than American Gods” but “less than Good Omens.” He also hopes “we can make something on television that feels as personal and true as the best of the Sandman comics did.” The first season will be 11 episodes and comprise the story told in the comic’s first seven issues (now known collectively as Preludes & Nocturnes) and “a little bit more.” We’re hoping a single-issue tale like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Calliope” or “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” becomes that “little bit more.” Although, we’ll be stunned if “The Sound of Her Wings” is held back until season 2.
It’s Most Like: Good Omens, which is no surprise as Gaiman began writing the series around the time he and Terry Pratchett were writing the novel upon which the recent Amazon series was based. Both span thousands of years of history and see characters learning they are more than their titles. Then there’s also the whimsy to consider, and another role in which Michael Sheen could dress all in white. Although, the Corinthian is a far less agreeable chap than Aziraphale.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Good Omens was a Certified Fresh hit at 82% on the Tomatometer. Readers seemed to like it a bit more, as it has a 92% audience score. American Gods, also based on Gaiman’s work, came out of its second season with 75% on the Tomatometer and an 82% audience score. Considering Gaiman intends to be more involved in The Sandman than he was during American Gods’ reportedly troubled second season, we predict a high Tomatometer score when the Sandman series eventually debuts. Though the comic was a magnet for Gothy types, it really appeals to just about everyone who gives it a shot. Presumably, its best qualities will make it irresistible to Netflix subscribers and reviewers alike.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: Mervyn Peake’s mid-20th century novel trilogy — Titus Groan, Gormenghast, and Titus Alone — and the incomplete follow-ups centering on Titus Goran, reluctant heir to the immense Castle Gormenghast and the surrounding domain. But even as Titus grows up knowing he must eventually become a ruler, an ambitious kitchen boy plots his downfall.
The Fanbase: Writerly types like Neil Gaiman.
Everything We Know So Far: Gormenghast fan Gaiman, Doctor Who scribe Toby Whithouse, and Star Trek: Discovery’s Akiva Goldsman set up a new version of Gormenghast for FremantleMedia North America in 2018 without a streaming platform or broadcaster attached, but in August 2019 the project landed at Showtime. While the 2000 BBC adaptation of Gormenghast, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers (pictured above), focused on the first two novels, the new series will cover all three of Peakes completed novels and the two further stories he outlined prior to his death in 1957.
It’s Most Like: Historical fiction with a few fantasy trappings.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Unlike most of the other projects in development, Gormenghast is notable for a distinct lack of magic despite its fantasy setting. Like the grounded first season of Game of Thrones, the more realistic world will set it apart from Middle-earth and the Hyborian Age.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The seven Narnia novels by author C.S. Lewis, in which a group of WWII-era British school children gain access to a parallel realm known as Narnia. There, the Great Lion Aslan – a manifestation of Jesus Christ – teaches the children life lessons while giving them dominion over the land. The series eventually pivots from the Pevensie children to their cousin Eustace Scrubb, who goes from being a right git to a proper hero of Narnia. Santa Claus also makes a cameo appearance.
The Fanbase: Fans of high fantasy with overt Christian allegories.
Everything We Know So Far: On October 3, 2018, Netflix announced it acquired the film and television rights to the Narnia book series. The plan includes both films and television series, which suggests there may be a way to include the prequel novel, The Magician’s Nephew, in the story cycle. Mark Gordon, Douglas Gresham, and Vincent Sieber will serve as executive producers for the television series and as producers for features. In June 2019, Coco co-writer Matthew Aldrich signed on to oversee the adaptation as an overall creative director for both the television series and the planned films.
It’s Most Like: As Lewis and Tolkien were friends and sparring partners, similarities between Narnia and Middle-earth abound, right down to walking trees. As realized in other media, though, Narnia is not as fully formed as Tolkien’s Arda, with the world, costumes, and critters seeming more traditionally European in concept.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The Narnia film series followed a downward slope with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe obtaining a Certified Fresh 76% on the Tomatometer, Prince Caspian following it up with a 67%, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader striking out with a 50% score. But as the series eventually changes protagonists, the switch to Eustace always made Narnia a tougher theatrical sell. He may fare better on television.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The stories of Robert E. Howard featuring Conan the Cimmerian who roamed a fictional “Hyborian Age” said to occur after the destruction of Atlantis, but before the rise of “modern” civilization. An accomplished warrior in his teens, Conan became a pirate, thief and mercenary before claiming the throne of Aquilonia in his forties by strangling the man who was sitting in it at the time.
The Fanbase: Everyone from fantasy authors like Robert Jordan to filmmakers like Oliver Stone and former president Barack Obama, as well as fans of the Conan films like 1982 Universal Pictures release Conan the Barbarian, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured).
Everything We Know So Far: Amazon is developing a series based more directly on Howard’s stories than later authors’ work or the Marvel Comics series of the 1970s and ’80s. Colony co-creator Ryan Condal hopes to reveal Conan’s search for a purpose, but the pilot will reportedly see him driven out of Cimmeria, possibly setting up his eventual fate on the Aquilonian throne. Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik (“Battle of the Bastards”) is set to direct the pilot. Unfortunately, the project appears to be stuck in development hell as Amazon devotes its resources to series like The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time. Late in 2018 rumors surfaced indicating the entire series was kaput, but there has been no confirmation that this is the case.
It’s Most Like: A Dark Age version of Thrones in which men wear fewer garments.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: If the pilot is anything like Sapochnik’s “Battle of the Bastards” – an episode which happens to be 98% Fresh on the Tomatometer — the program will make a great initial splash. As part of Amazon’s overall push toward fantasy, it may have a hard time distinguishing itself from The Lord of the Rings and the streamer’s other fantastical offerings.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: Stephen King’s flagship fantasy series The Dark Tower. Across eight novels, a number of short stories and numerous connections to his other writings, the series details the journey of gunslinger Roland and his band of friends as they attempt to reach the Dark Tower — anchor point of the multiverse — before the Man in Black can destroy it. Once there, Roland discovers he’s played out this cycle before, clearing the way for film and television adaptations to be sequels of the original novel series.
The Fanbase: King’s wide audience and fantasy lovers who manage to get past the rough first chapters of The Gunslinger, the cycle’s first novel.
Everything We Know So Far: Originally intended as a companion piece to 2017’s The Dark Tower film centering on the life of Roland (played by Idris Elba) in Mid-World, the series will instead start over with Nightflyers’ Sam Strike (pictured above left) as Roland and Vikings’ Jasper Pääkkönen (pictured above right) as the villainous Man in Black. Considering the film’s poor performance (17% on the Tomatometer), it is probably for the best. Former The Walking Dead executive producer Glen Mazzara will reportedly serve as showrunner on the series.
It’s Most Like: Like a number of fantasy series from the 1970s and ’80s, it openly wears its Tolkien inspiration everywhere. In fact, King says as much in a foreword to the novel series. But it grows by leaps and bounds as King discovers a way to tie Mid-World to Derry, Maine, and his other favorite locations.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The film’s rough showing is definitely a black mark against its potential as a series. But the sweep of the epic was always an ill-fit for the sort of movie Sony seemed interested in making. A full series, backed by Amazon’s money, could reveal characters and settings in a more successful and lucrative way. Plus, King is on a roll, between the success of the feature film It remake, which was Certified Fresh at 85% on 348 reviews and Hulu’s Castle Rock, which earned an 87% for its first season.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The forthcoming novel by The Cape creator Tom Wheeler and illustrated by 300’s Frank Miller. It is a retelling of the Arthur legend though the eyes of Nimue, the Lady of the Lake as she journeys to deliver a sword to the wizard Merlin. Along for the ride is a young mercenary named Arthur.
The Fanbase: Unknown, but fans of Miller’s art will likely take a look at the book once it is published and look to the series to visually capture his unique style.
Everything We Know So Far: Netflix is producing a 10-part series alongside Wheeler and Miller’s final revisions of the novel. Both are attached to the project as executive producers, alongside Zetna Fuentes, who will also direct the first two episodes. In September 2018, 13 Reasons Why’s Katherine Langford was cast in the lead as Nimue. Other cast members include Barry‘s Devon Terrell, Vikings‘ Gustaf Skarsgård, and Ozark‘s Peter Mullan. Production began in March, but no release date has been set.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Considering most King Arthur live-action movies falter — Excalibur is the only Certified Fresh live-action Arthur film at 78% — there is something of a curse around the legend and its various tales that affects attempts to film it. (Crossing fingers for the live-action feature-film adaptation of Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, based on the beloved 1963 animated film and which reportedly will start production in Belfast, Ireland, sometime this summer.) Arthur has fared better on television with shows like Merlin surviving for five seasons, although its first season is rated at 29% on the Tomatometer. The new protagonist may be the best thing going for the project.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The first novel in author Jenn Lyons’ A Chorus of Dragons series. Young thief Kihrin discovers he may be of the royal bloodline, and he may also be at the center of a prophecy stating that he will end the empire. There are a lot of conditional statements in his life, making him sound more like the most timid Skyrim player to ever live. But the Black Brotherhood, after buying him as a slave, may provide motivation enough for him to care about his foretold destiny.
The Fanbase: Since the book only debuted in February 2019, the fanbase is still forming.
Everything We Know So Far: Annapurna Television optioned the rights shortly after The Ruin of Kings was published. Presumably, the search is underway for key creatives and a home for the program.
It’s Most Like: Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings with its mix of prophecies, scrappy heroes, gods, witches, zombies, and even krakens.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: Even odds. A Chorus of Dragons is such a new concept that a simple logline makes it sound utterly derivative of other popular series. But with fantasy, it is all in how those well-worn creatures and tropes get used. And if reviews of the novel are to be believed, The Ruin of Kings mixes those elements in an unexpected and worthwhile way.
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: N.K. Jemisin’s novels about a world in which the single supercontinent, Stillness, is ravaged every few centuries by a dramatic climate change known as “The Fifth Season.” The most recent Fifth Season proved to be particularly bad, leading some to believe the end is at hand. The society of Stillness is broken into races, castes and species. Those divisions help and hinder the people’s efforts to weather the possible apocalypse. Set against this landscape is the tale of three women with the power to both calm and agitate seismic activity under Stillness. All three books in the series won the Hugo Award for best novel.
The Fanbase: The voting bodies of both the Hugo Awards and the Nebulas, who nominated The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate for best novel in their respective years.
Everything We Know So Far: The Fifth Season was optioned by TNT in August of 2017 with Sleepy Hollow’s Leigh Dana Jackson set to write the pilot. Heroes’ Tim Kring was also set to serve as an executive producer. There has been no news since, but development on even a simple (from a design perspective) high-school drama can take forever.
It’s most like… Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind with a touch of Game of Thrones.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: As suggested above, it could be a strong counter-program to Amazon’s The Wheel of Time and Lord of the Rings series with a strong emphasis on female characters and ecological disaster. At the same time, TNT is not known for long-running fantasy series – unless you count the fantastic elements of The Librarians – with its last true fantasy project, The Mists of Avalon, debuting back in 2001. That miniseries falters at 44% on the Tomatometer, but it should be noted that TNT was very different entity at the time. The current leadership could offer The Broken Earth the money and support it needs to be a special voice in fantasy television.
Based On: The novellas – and later novels – of Michael Moorcock featuring Elric, a frail albino who also happens to be the 428th and final emperor of Meliboné. Though quite weak, Elric’s sword, Stormbringer, offers him renewed health and vitality, but it requires a constant supply of souls to keep it powered. At odds with traditional Meliboné society, his antics cause him troubles at court and lead to his own nephew plotting a coup against him.
Why We Want a TV Series: In its setting, it may remind some of Lord of the Rings and Conan, but Moorcock actively wrote Elric as an antithesis of the Cimmerian wanderer. Heady, weird, and expressly anti-Conan, Elric’s chances of success commercially or critically are a long shot. But then, an enterprising producer could position a series based on Moorcock’s stories as a compelling alternative to Conan.
Based On: The Dungeons & Dragons role-playing scenarios by Laura and Tracy Hickman and the later tie-in novels by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. In the world of Krynn, dragons dominate and dragonlances are the only weapons mortals not adept in magic can use to kill them. In the first trio of novels, the Heroes of the Lance fight to restore order to the realm. Since then, nearly 200 Dragonlance novels have been published.
Why We Want a TV Series: While seemingly obscure, a properly developed Dragonlance series would have the potential to fill the void left by Game of Thrones when it ends in 2019. The upcoming Dungeons & Dragons film is said to be based on Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the first Dragonlance novel, but a full series devoted to the game mechanics of D&D and the world of Krynn could be something revolutionary. And as Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role proves every Thursday, there is an audience for stories steeped in the role-playing tradition.