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

Like, a really big success?

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

Von Ether

I think a popular film is not presenting the same "issue." I think it will be the new version of the complaints about all the new players want to play the game like Lord of the Rings or about everyone playing dual-wielding drow rangers struggling with their past.
And let's forget that we can bring it around LOTR for AD&D and scoff at the punks who wanted TSR to give them stats for Gandalf.

Official stats? Bah! No Galdalf is going to be better than the Gandalf you made for your game. How lazy!

The lazy bit is assuming a new GM's lack of confidence and not wanting to do a thing "wrong" is not the same as not wanting to the work at all.

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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I think D&D as a movie franchise is likely to be extreme "fragile".

That is to say, it may succeed in producing sequels, but at some point fairly soon, the bubble will burst, due to some kind of bad creative decision - i.e. wrong director(s), wrong writer(s), big cast change/failure to change cast, etc., and then that'll be it for a few years. But I will say that even they only manage one successful sequel, it's then likely Hollywood will continue attempting to "reboot" D&D movies for the rest of eternity, every 10 years or so.
Incredibly true to the source material: "Look, this campaign will be different ..."


Community Supporter
I think a popular film is not presenting the same "issue." I think it will be the new version of the complaints about all the new players want to play the game like Lord of the Rings or about everyone playing dual-wielding drow rangers struggling with their past.

I know D&D is working on incorporating turning into an owlbear as part of the druid, but I feel like there will be "pre-owlbear-wildshape" and "post-owlbear-wildshape" and the distinction will be whether or not someone came to the game via the movie.

Also, news to me that displacer beasts use their tentacles to project their displacement. Cool idea but I never thought it was something they projected like a holographic beam?

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