RPG Evolution: What If the D&D Movie is a Hit?

Like, a really big success?


The Big Bet​

It's become clear that the Dungeons & Dragons brand has transformed in the eyes of Hasbro from a product that didn't merit much attention to a tentpole merchandising machine that's a lynchpin of Hasbro's brand playbook.

I've covered the battle over the movie's rights elsewhere in detail, but what's most relevant to this discussion is that somewhere along the line, it was decided the movie property was much more valuable than it had been in the past. Valuable enough to go to court over it.

Hasbro's always wanted to mimic Disney's success with Marvel's intellectual properties. Given that Hasbro was particularly concerned about Disney using the Open Game License, it seems the game company feels they're going to be successful enough in the brand space to be a competitor.

All this adds up to Hasbro betting big on the movie and treating it like it will be a success, well before the movie is even released. But what makes a film successful?

The Right Ingredients​

According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science:
Star power, acting expertise, rousing reviews and public ratings are all key factors that influence our decision to see a movie. Researchers from UTS, HEC Montreal and the University of Cambridge compared these factors across 150 studies to boil down the formula for box office success.
The D&D movie's star power is certainly higher than any other D&D-themed movie released to date. It will feature Chris Pine as bard Edgin davis (Wonder Woman) and Michelle Rodriguez as barbarian Holga (F9) in the lead roles. Justice Smith (Detective Pikachu) as sorcerer Simon, Regé-Jean Page (Bridgerton, The Grey Man) as paladin Xenk, Hugh Grant (Paddington 2) as rogue Forge, and Sophia Lillis (IT) as druid Doric. Additionally, Chloe Coleman (Big Little Lies), Jason Wong (Strangers), and Daisy Head (Shadow and Bone). Test screenings have been positive too:
...the thing that we learned the most from our test screenings was that it really appealed, not just to D&D fans, [but] people that had no idea what they were watching when they were going into the test screening actually were engaged, and they didn't think that they would be because it's a D&D movie, and it's got us not necessarily a stigma, but it has a lot of baggage attached to it in terms of what people expect out of it. I think that was like a pleasant surprise for a lot of people.
The D&D movie was advertised during the Super Bowl, which is another data point indicating the company's confidence in the movie. An average 30-second Super Bowl ad costs 7 million dollars. The movie itself $151 million (UPDATED, thank you for pointing this out!), with Chris Pine's salary pegged at $11.5 million.

Of course, reviews and public ratings will be determined after the box often returns are tallied.

And If It Does Well...​

After box office returns come in, the most immediate sign of the movie's success will be how much it earns. Estimates range between $100 to $120 million.

If the film clears the bar of making more money than it cost to produce and market, the outcomes will be familiar: sequels, spinoffs, and merchandising. That merchandising can take a lot of forms, from pencils to bookmarks, socks to blankets. D&D's already in these spaces, so it won't be a big stretch to brand specific creatures or characters from the film.

Of relevance to tabletop gamers is if any of this attention will result in more players. Hasbro seems to be following the Disney playbook, which means there isn't much cross-branding between the movies and the books that spawned them. While there are signs D&D tabletop gaming will reference the movie, it seems to be a one way street. Contrast this with DC's new strategy, in which they advertised the Flash comics that inspired the movie at the end of its Super Bowl spot.

The good news is even without specific tie-ins, D&D will likely get a boost. We can use the sometimes fraught relationship between Marvel movies and Marvel comics to understand if brand awareness drives readership. According to ComicBookHerald, we can expect anywhere from a 4.5x to 6x increase in sales of D&D-related books:
During non peak seasons (defined here as the first 14 days following a tentpole movie, or the month-long duration of WandaVision hype), the average views for the ‘Where to Start’ guide were 245 per day. During peak seasons, that total jumps to 1096 per day on average, a near 4.5x jump. And if we’re just looking at the Avengers movies, the average is closer to 1500 per day, a 6.1x increase.

Buckle Up!​

Between the legal wrangling, financial investment, and advertising dollars at stake, there's a lot riding on the D&D movie. The brand is about to be introduced to folks who have never played D&D but likely heard of it (thanks to streaming and Stranger Things) in a very big way.

One thing is clear: if the film is a blockbuster hit, D&D fandom will no longer consist of D&D players alone. Here's hoping we can welcome them to the hobby.
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca


Basic was expressly marketed to children; it was mostly sold in toy stores. Receiving it as a gift from an aunt was a bit cringey (inside); I was a teenager already playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and Basic was the baby version of the game. That was our perception at the time.

I still read it and played through the module, though. And I have the dice to this day. Basic is great!

Speaking of which, if/when this film is a hit, expect to see a new starter set featuring characters/locations from it, marketed to children.

Edit: Seriously...are we ready for what happens if D&D goes truly mainstream? Right now, it has high brand recognition, but it is still a niche hobby, even if that niche is far larger than when we were kids. What happens if the film is massive (those reviews look very, very strong for a general audience) and suddenly everyone has thoughts about D&D? What happens if it gets Pirates of the Caribbean big?

A popular film franchise generates orders of magnitude more awareness than what the game currently enjoys.
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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Edit: Seriously...are we ready for what happens if D&D goes truly mainstream?
Given that we still have a few gatekeepers trying to keep out anyone who got introduced to D&D through actual play videos (these aren't necessarily smart gatekeepers), I am sure we're going to have people try this nonsense with people who come into the hobby through the movie.

These people, needless to say, will be wrong.


Do you think Hasbro surrendered so completely on the OGL fiasco because they had pre-screened the film, knew it was good, and didn't want to harsh its roll-out? The film being a success will do a lot more for their bottom line than skimming a few bucks off kickstarters.


Community Supporter
Do you think Hasbro surrendered so completely on the OGL fiasco because they had pre-screened the film, knew it was good, and didn't want to harsh its roll-out? The film being a success will do a lot more for their bottom line than skimming a few bucks off kickstarters.
More the reverse: we got into this mess because WOTC was far more concerned about the potential brand damage in the future to the very valuable multimedia franchise, not the game itself.


For a completely selfish reason, I need it to be a hit. Since I've been working and trying to wrap up development for a DM's Guild Spelljammer custom ship, deck plans, binary Wildspace star system and stat block and few new species and monsters - my Mom's minor stroke event and chipped femur 2 months ago, as me the primary care-giver, and me just getting over the flu last week, are all conspiring to cause delays - it's been a struggle, but am so close to completion. If I'm lucky it will be released at or shortly after the public release of the movie (completely unplanned on my part, just circumstance). If it's a hit, even though Spelljammer is widely not connected to any setting or character element from the movie, as a brand new product, I'm hoping to catch some overlap between existing D&D fans and hopeful large new audience dipping their toes for the first time into the game. Will that happen? I hope. So I need it to be a hit.

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