(Photo by New Line Cinema)
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 in 2018 by FreemantleMedia North America, and HBO’s endless plans for the Game of Thrones world. 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 and the Game of Thrones prequels 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 is a handy list of the fantasy series currently in development and a couple we hope will follow them.
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. Amazon renewed the series for season 2, while season 1 is still early in pre-production in New Zealand, Deadline reported in November. The renewal necessitates a break in filming season 1, so that the writers room can reassemble and address season 2 plotting and scripts — possibly facilitating simultaneous or back-to-back filming of seasons 1 and 2.
While early reports speculated that the series 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 theory. In February 2019, Amazon released an 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 of 2019, 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.
(Photo by HBO: Joseph Mawle as Benjen Stark in 'Game of Thrones')
The cast includes Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Joseph Mawle, and Morfydd Clark as Galadriel. In March of 2021, Tom Budge announced his departure from the series, citing the producers’ decision to take his character in a different direction. That same month, Wayne Che Yip took over directing duties in New Zealand.
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.
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.
(Photo by Netflix)
TV Release Date: TBD
Based On: The world created by Witcher novelist Andrzej Sapkowski and Netflix’s Witcher television series.
The Fanbase: The various factions of Witcher fans who come to the series thanks to the novels, video games, Netflix series, and that song.
Everything We Know So Far: On July 27, 2020, Netflix announced its intention to produce a 6-episode limited series based on a key aspect of Witcher lore. 1200 years before Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) walked the Continent, a conjunction of the spheres forced the worlds of monsters, elves, and men to become one land. And out of the tumult, the first Witcher was born. Laurence O’Fuarain stars as Fjall, a fierce warrior whose search for redemption leads him into unlikely company. Declan de Barra serves as showrunner while The Witcher’s Lauren Schmidt is also onboard as an executive producer. Production is expected to begin in July. Unfortunately, Jodie Turner-Smith, who was cast as another lead character, dropped out in April over scheduling conflicts.
It’s Most Like: Well, The Witcher, but the prominence on Elves does offer it a slight Lord of the Rings vibe as well.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: The first season of The Witcher produced a Tomatometer score of 67%, but an audience of 91%, so the program will likely please fans of the Continent and its history.
(Photo by Macall B. Polay/HBO)
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 completed its run in 2019. Developed with Martin, multiple premises were in an informal competition for a programming slot. All of those initial programs failed to become series, but a new round of spinoff development began in 2021.
In the interim, 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, 2019 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 sister 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, 2019 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?”
Across late 2020 and early 2021, a cast formed including Rhys Ifans, Steve Toussaint, Eve Best, Sonoya Mizuno, Paddy Considine, Olivia Cooke, Matt Smith, Emma D’Arcy and Fabien Frankel. Considine plays King Viserys Targaryen, a kindly ruler of the Seven Kingdoms whose unusual plan for succession leads to the Dance of Dragons. The other castmembers either play his relatives or other ambitious people within the realm looking to use the instability for their own gain.
In January of 2021, word broke that HBO is also developing as series based on Martin’s “Dunk and Egg” novellas. Currently known as Tales of Dunk and Egg, the proposed program is set 90 years prior to Game of Thrones and will center on Ser Duncan the Tall, aka Dunk, and his squire, Egg, as they journey around Westeros. It is unclear how important Egg’s destiny as King Aegon V Targaryen will be to the program, though.
Beyond House of the Dragon and Dunk and Egg, four other projects are in the works at HBO. These include an animated series of which little is known, a program Bruno Heller is developing about House of the Dragon supporting character Lord Corlys Velaryon – although it is unclear if it is a direct spinoff of that series – a show focusing on Princess Nymeria and the founding of Dorne 1,000 years before Games of Thrones, and another set in the King’s Landing slum of Flea Bottom.
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.
(Photo by DAW Books)
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 of 2019, 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. By that 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. In November of 2020, Miranda said working on His Dark Materials gave him a new perspective on the material and that it just needs the right director and script to make the whole thing work.
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.
(Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images; Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
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 of 2019 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.
(Photo by )
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. That 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 that year, Hawaii 5-0’s Daniel Henney joined the cast as al’Lan Mandragoran, the last scion of Malkier’s noble line. In March of 2021, Amazon released a very brief tease of Pike’s Moiraine declaring “Do not underestimate the women in this tower.”
(Photo by Tor Books)
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.
(Photo by DC Comics)
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
— Netflix Geeked (@NetflixGeeked) 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. The cast includes Tom Sturridge as Morpheus, Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer, Vivienne Acheampong as Lucienne, Sanjeev Bhaskar and Asim Chaudhry as Cain and Abel; and Boyd Holbrook as the Corinthian.
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.
(Photo by BBC/courtesy Everett Collection)
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.
(Photo by Walt Disney/courtesy Everett Collection)
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. In early 2021, Netflix film cheif Scott Stuber mentioned Narnia is still in the works.
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.
(Photo by Universal Pictures)
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: At one time, Amazon was 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 was onboard to write and produce with Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik attached to direct the pilot. But years went by with no further developments and both Condal and Sapochnik moved on to House of the Dragon. In September of 2020, word broke indicating Netflix now had the property with Pathfinder Media set to produce. But as before, news on Conan is surprisingly scarce.
It’s Most Like: A Dark Age version of Thrones in which men wear fewer garments.
Chances It Will Be a Certified Fresh Hit: In light of the significant change, this one is tough to call. Netflix’s experience with fantasy (The Witcher, Cursed) is encouraging, but without any creatives attached to the project, the program is even more of a wildcard than it was during the Amazon years.
(Photo by Photos by Jonathan Hession -- Sam Strike in 'Nightflyers' Syfy/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; Jasper Paakkonen in 'Vikings' History)
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. In early 2020, Amazon passed on the project, although executive producer Glen Mazzara said he hoped the series will find a home elsewhere. One year later, we doubt Roland will ever make it to the Dark Tower in live action.
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: It seems The Dark Tower may be unworkable as either a film or television series. Or, at least, too expensive and unwieldly for companies already engaged in creating things like The Lord of the Rings and The Witcher. In terms of critical reception, any such series would need the full resources of a streaming service or cable outlet to be welcomed favorably.
(Photo by Macmillan Publishers/Annapurna Pictures)
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.
(Photo by Orbit)
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.
(Photo by Nelson Doubleday)
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.
(Photo by Wizards of the Coast)
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.