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Is Jumanji Based On a Real Board Game?

What's the origin story of the legendary jungle adventure game that comes to life?

By Matthew Jackson
Tumanji board game with ornate wood carving appears in Jumanji (1995).

It's been almost 30 years, but if you're a '90s kid, there are still few movies that take you back to your childhood like Jumanji. Directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, the fantasy adventure was a hit upon its release back in 1995, and admiration for it has only grown in all the years since. 

But where did this whole story start? Did the film about a board game that comes to life with each roll of the dice have its roots in something real? Let's take a closer look.

What is Jumanji Based On?

Jumanji tells the story of Alan Parrish (Williams), a man who was sucked into the title board game as a boy after he found it buried at a construction site and attempted to play it. Years later, Alan returns when two kids (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) find the game and try to play it themselves, unleashing a new jungle adventure on their town with each turn. It is, at its core, a very simple idea, and it's easy to imagine the creators of Jumanji basing the story on a board game they played themselves, albeit one without sudden stampedes and spider attacks. 

RELATED: Everything You Didn't Know About Jumanji

The film itself, as anyone who paid attention during the credits will know, is not based on a real board game. Instead it's based on a children's book of the same name, with the same concept, written by Chris Van Allsburg and released in 1981. Van Allsburg even has a story credit on the final film, beyond his contribution of the source material, because he helped come up with new story elements for the big-screen version of his tale. But what about the book? Is it based on a board game?

Unless Van Allsburg is hiding some secret jungle board game somewhere in his past, the answer is no. Jumanji is a tale the author dreamed up by himself, without any direct correlation to a real board game. That said, the name of the game does have some interesting roots. According to Van Allsburg, it's a Zulu word that means "many effects." The "many effects" are, of course, a reference to all the different things that could happen to you depending on how you roll the dice in Jumanji

The Jumanji Legacy

Robin Williams in Jumanji (1995)

So, Jumanji is not directly based on any one real board game (that we know of), but it did actually give birth to a real board game along the way. In 1995, a tie-in game was released for home play (actual jungle animals and big game hunters not included), which represented just one part of the film's impact.

After it became one of the top-grossing films of the 1995, Jumanji's pop culture impact just kept expanding, giving rise to an animated series which ran from 1996-1999, the spinoff film Zathura (featuring the same concept, but in space), and of course, the reboot movies Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Jumanji: The Next Level. Throw in merchandise, theme park rides, and more, and you've got a franchise.

Jumanji is now streaming on Peacock.

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