D&D Movie Showcases the Untapped Potential of Board Game Adaptations

Game adaptations are all the rage in 2023. The Last of Us has been a major hit for HBO Max, and The Super Mario Bros. movie is tracking to do very well theatrically for Illumination. Video game adaptations have been made for almost as long as the medium has existed, and it’s finally looking like the film and television industry is figuring out how to do them right. It’s not just video games that are part of this boom, though, as this past weekend saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves — a movie based on the popular tabletop game that is definitely not screen-based.

Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves was a well-timed release given the aforementioned rise in popularity of game adaptations, but also because of the game’s prominence in the hit series Stranger Things, which brought about a rebirth of spells for it. The film stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant, and Regé-Jean Page and tells the story of a group of thieves with various powersets who must fight to survive and save their families and friends in a fantasy world inspired by the source material.

Unlike with all the video game adaptations we’ve seen on the big and small screens as of late, Dungeons & Dragons is a role-playing game that is characterized by the world it is set in rather than the characters who inhabit it. Since the characters are created by the players, the filmmakers had the freedom to curate their team of fighters and magic-wielders exactly the way they wanted.

Since there was no set storyline to follow like with the aforementioned The Last of Us, they were also able to play around with the material provided in the world and various character classes. Just like when playing the actual game, the Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks serve as tools to shape the film’s story, not dictate the beats and how it should play out.

The only thing those working on the film had to abide by in order to please fans of the source material were the game’s rules. Granted, there are a lot of them, and one or two did end up broken — the inclusion of a Druid shapeshifting into an Owlbear has already become a point of contention among players who’ve seen the film — but for the most part, Honor Among Thieves follows the source material and makes good use of the openness and variety it provides. There were Bards, Paladins, Wizards, Sorcerers and more, and the movie made sure each got to use their specific abilities and powerset in a way that served the story being told.

Of course, there are tons of character species and classes in Dungeons & Dragons that Honor Among Thieves wasn’t able to fit in. This leaves a lot of ground left open to cover in a sequel, but a spin-off could work just as well — perhaps one that focuses on certain kinds of magic-wielders, or even a group of humanoid animals. While one of this movie’s main characters is a tiefling who shapeshifts into more animal-like creatures, it would be fun to see the likes of a Tabaxi (jaguar-like being), Greninja (frog-esque creature), or other Beast races on the big screen in the future.

D&D: Honor Among Thieves Directors Detail Late-Addition of A-List Cameo

It’s likely that video games will continue to be the most attractive choice to studios when it comes to game adaptations, as most of them feature pre-established and even iconic characters that audiences will recognize. Though many tabletop games have this as well, it might be a little silly to base a whole movie around the Monopoly man.

However, games like Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammerand Pathfinder offer the chance for studios to take advantage of a well-established brand to bring in eyeballs while allowing creative team members to develop their own story and characters using the setting and quirks of the game. These tabletop games could be a boon for studios, as the freedom to not only make sequels, but spin-off projects with no prior knowledge of previous ones needed, is the kind of flexibility franchises need right now in the still-in-flux world of cinematic entertainment and the ongoing streaming wars.