Stephen King on why he thinks The Dark Tower movie failed

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Dec 22, 2017

Stephen King has had a great 2017. IT, the new adaptation of his beloved horror novel, became the most successful R-rated horror film of all time. His novel Sleeping Beauties (co-written with son Owen) and his novella Gwendy's Button Box (co-written with Richard Chizmar) were both acclaimed hits. And then there were the TV shows, like Mr. Mercedes and The Mist.

There was, however, one dark spot in all of these triumphs: The Dark Tower, the long-awaited film adaptation of King's western-fantasy epic starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. Despite a long build-up to its release and plenty of fan anticipation, the film was both a critical and commercial failure, earning just $111 million worldwide. That would sting for any creator, but for King this was his chance to have his most ambitious work finally delivered to the big screen, and it didn't work. In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, he explains what he thinks went wrong.

First of all, he blames the studio for demanding that the filmmakers produce a PG-13 movie, while the source material is very much rated R.

"I liked everybody involved with that movie and I liked some of the casting choices for it. I liked Modi Wiczyk, the producer, the director, everybody. So you know I’m always careful what I say about it," King said. 

"But I will say this, okay? The real problem, as far as I’m concerned is, they went in to this movie and I think this was a studio edict, pretty much, this is going to be a PG-13 movie. It’s going to be a tentpole movie. We want to make sure that we get people in there from the ages of, let’s say, 12 right on up to whatever the target age is. Let’s say 12 to 35. That’s what we want. So it has to be PG-13 and when they did that, I think that they lost a lot of the toughness of it and it became something where people went to it and said, Well yeah, but it’s really not anything that we haven’t seen before."

One of the most common criticisms of The Dark Tower film was its reliance on being just another action-fantasy franchise, rather than embracing the weird energy of King's original novels. King sees the problem. He also wasn't wild about the studio's choice to set the plot in kind of a hybrid place in the timeline, which was basically part of the first novel and part of the third. 

"There was a decision made, too, to start it pretty much in the middle, and when they actually made the movie I had doubts about it from the beginning, and expressed them, and didn’t really get too far. Sometimes when people have made up their mind, the creative team that’s actually going to go and shoot the movie, it’s a little bit like hitting your fist against hard rubber, you know. There’s a kind of it doesn’t really hurt, but you don’t get anywhere. It just sort of bounces back and I thought to myself, Well, people are going to be really puzzled by this, and they were. So there was some of that problem, too."

It's hard to tell where The Dark Tower will go from here, despite the possibility of the same franchise continuing on with a TV series. When it was suggested to King, though, that the franchise could be rebooting on cable or a streaming service as the next Game of Thrones, he seemed optimistic.

"That might happen," he said. "It might happen."