For decades, many aspiring producers and Hollywood moguls have been grappling with how to profit from one of pop culture’s most beloved pastimes: Dungeons & Dragons. This tabletop roleplaying game evolved from a mysterious hobby known only to nerds in dark basements to become a mainstream favorite.
The first attempt to adapt Dungeons & Dragons to the big screen occurred at the turn of the millennium. After almost twenty years of negotiations and unsuccessful attempts at making a film based on it, New Line Cinema finally produced a movie ready to be shown to the public. With a budget of $45 million and Jeremy Irons portraying the evil wizard Profion, hopeful Dungeons & Dragons fans had high hopes for the ultimate movie experience. Unfortunately, the result was nothing short of catastrophic, and the film remains infamous as one of the biggest fantasy flops of the era. Nonetheless, it spawned two low-budget sequels straight to the home market.
Fast forward to 2023, and a new Dungeons & Dragons movie is ready for the big screen. Many older fans of the roleplaying game may be skeptical and for a good reason. As a fan of this fantasy universe, I wasn’t necessarily skeptical but rather cautiously optimistic as I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons since I was twelve. Remember that nerd in the basement that I mentioned earlier? That was me in the 80s and 90s. I was all those cliches.
But these days, being a nerd is cool, and with the help of social media and YouTube channels like Critical Role, Dungeons & Dragons, also known as D&D, has become mainstream. Live streams and even livelier pubs have replaced those dark basements. It has become okay to talk about wizards and dragons in public. Dungeons & Dragons appear in all sorts of popular media, from the simplified version the kids play in Stranger Things to the banal and misunderstood version of Big Bang Theory. And now that it’s cool, many people want to join in and play wizards, elves, and sword-wielding warriors.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is directed by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, two guys who understand what Dungeons & Dragons is, should be, and what it means to so many people. The movie is a brilliant «natural 20», as we D&D players would say. It is a real love letter to the hobby.
The story takes place in the fantasy world of Faerun, better known as the Forgotten Realms. A good description of this world would be mixing inspiration from all sorts of historical cultures, legends, and myths and sprinkling in a good dose of JRR Tolkien. American author Ed Greenwood created the world and gave us the first stories. Since then, Forgotten Realms has become the most popular fantasy setting tabletop roleplaying, with many other authors contributing their own adventures to build on what Ed Greenwood started.
Our story begins in frigid Icewind Dale, where we meet the adventurers Edgin Darvis (played by Chris Pine) and Holga Kilgore (played by Michelle Rodriguez). The two are an unusual pair; Edgin is a bard – a talkative, charming trickster with a lute on his back and a decent singing voice. Holga is a tough Uthgardt barbarian in exile from the Elk Tribe in the North. She’s strong, boisterous and prefers to solve most problems with her fists – or her favorite axe!
Unfortunately for the two of them, they’re currently in jail after a failed attempt to steal a magical artifact from a vault. After their frantic escape, Edgin and Holga embark on an adventure to find a magical object that can bring the dead back to life. Along with the Paladin Xenk (played by Regé-Jean Page), the clumsy Sorcerer Simon (played by Justice Smith), and the shapeshifting Druid Doric (played by Sophia Lillis), they take on their former colleague-turned-nemesis Forge (played by Hugh Grant) and the Red Wizard of Thay, Sofina (played by Daisy Head).
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is both exciting and hilarious, perfectly capturing the atmosphere and antics of the roleplaying game while avoiding tripping over its own humor and jokes. The key here is the excellent cast of characters, who effortlessly brings you along for the adventure. This is due to some excellent chemistry between the characters, especially Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez.
The film also uses Forgotten Realms in a way that will delight fans of Ed Greenwood’s fantasy setting. Everything feels genuine and well-executed, and there is no doubt that Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley have a good understanding of the roleplaying game on which the film is based. Rather than feeling forced, the references to Dungeons & Dragons and Forgotten Realms come across as fitting and thought through. The film is also easy to understand for those who do not have prior knowledge of the Dungeons & Dragons game or the Forgotten Realms.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is the film adaptation we thought impossible: a fantastic film based on Dungeons & Dragons! As role-players, we have seen failure after failure on screen, but here is proof that it can be done. The film is exciting and hilarious and an absolute delight for fantasy fans!