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Cracking the Code: Why The Lost Symbol Went from Tom Hanks Movie to Peacock TV Prequel

Think of it as too much of a good (and mysterious) thing that you can enjoy over many episodes instead of condensed into a film.

By Benjamin Bullard
The Lost Symbol Still

Ancient Freemasonry, a mysterious kidnapping, and the cryptic key to divine enlightenment lurking deep beneath the seat of power in Washington, D.C. — it’s the secretive stuff that propels Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (stream it here on Peacock!) As luck would have it, it’s also exactly the kind of deep-intrigue material that almost got its own big-screen treatment, with Ron Howard at the directing helm and Tom Hanks in the leading role.

But instead of becoming the third film adaptation (after The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons) drawing on author Dan Brown’s conspiracy-infused Robert Langdon book series, Howard and Hanks bypassed those ingredients from Brown’s 2009 novel The Lost Symbol and went elsewhere in the Robert Langdon timeline, opting instead to turn Inferno (2013) into their next Brown-inspired movie.

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The Lost Symbol, meanwhile, didn’t languish long without an adaptation of its own, eventually spawning a 10-episode Peacock prequel series starring Ashley Zukerman (of Netflix Fear Street fame). Zukerman stepped into the role Hanks made famous in the movies, playing Robert Langdon as a younger version of the character, this time on the hunt for deep, dangerous answers behind the kidnapping of his academic mentor Robert Solomon (Eddie Izzard).

Even before The Lost Symbol landed at Peacock, Howard and Hanks had been skipping around in Brown’s book timeline to find source material for the Robert Langdon films. In order, the books go from Angels & Demons (2000) to The Da Vinci Code (2003) to The Lost Symbol (2009) to Inferno (2013) to Origin (2017), with Origin — at least for now — remaining as the only book yet to receive some kind of screen treatment.

Why Tom Hanks & Ron Howard couldn't "crack" The Lost Symbol 

But what prompted Hanks and Howard to skip The Lost Symbol — seemingly the next book in line for the big screen — in favor of their 2016 movie collaboration on Inferno? According to Howard, it was all a matter of shifting thematic gears to keep the movie content fresh, as he explained to CinemaBlend around the time of Inferno’s theatrical release.

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“Cinematically, when [The] Lost Symbol came out, I think our feeling, my feeling was that it's a terrific, another terrific novel,” Howard told the outlet in a 2016 interview. “It's great material, but it felt like, coming close on the heels of Angels & Demons and [The] Da Vinci Code, that thematically and tonally, it might feel a little bit too much like the other books, at that particular moment. [Inferno] immediately felt like a cinematic next step, and that excited us.”

Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol Still

Howard added that he and co-producer Brian Grazer had, in fact, looked at film treatments for The Lost Symbol, but felt their attempts to “crack” the formula for a movie adaptation simply weren’t distinctive enough — at least in the wake of the two previous Robert Langdon films.

“Well, we had scripts on it,” he explained. “We've had scripts on it, and that was the other thing. We just never could just internally crack it, to the point that we felt like this is, something we're dying, that we just have to sort of, we have to tell, and we believe audiences are going to want to see it.”

The Lost Symbol Poster

In a separate CinemaBlend chat from the time, Hanks echoed the idea that Inferno’s Dante-inspired change of scenery felt like a fresher move away from the themes of his previous team-ups with Howard.

"We actually worked on [The Lost Symbol] for a while to see if there was something, and at the end of the day, Washington, D.C. and the question of the Masons was very reminiscent of the theoretical dilemmas of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons,” said Hanks. “We had to say that we don't quite think there is something [there] to truly hang on.”

In a way, die-hard Brown book fans might’ve gotten a more expansive finished product with The Lost Symbol as a Peacock series. In addition to finding Robert Langdon in a different time and place in his code-breaking career, the series took its episodic time with ideas that a movie likely would’ve skipped over (or at least condensed) — including tons of deep lore investment in characters like the villainous Mal’akh (Keenan Jolliff), Izzard’s complicated mentor Peter Solomon, and Langdon’s small-screen flame (as well as Solomon’s daughter) Dr. Katherine Solomon (Valorie Curry).

Whether you prefer Hanks or Zukerman as your Dan Brown protagonist of choice, though, there’s no shortage of Robert Langdon code-cracking available on Peacock right now. All three films adapted from the series, including The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and Inferno, are streaming now at the bird app — right alongside all 10 episodes of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol.