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Roll The Dice On These Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves Facts

"Dungeons & Dragons" has captivated the imaginations of countless fans for decades and left an inedible footprint on countless pieces of pop culture, including modern TV sensation "Stranger Things." Despite its ubiquity and popularity, "Dungeons & Dragons" hasn't been especially prominent in movie theaters, at least in terms of direct adaptations of this tabletop game. The only time "Dungeons & Dragons" has made it to the big screen before 2023 was in the form of a dismally-received motion picture in 2000 that featured Jeremy Irons shrieking that people's blood will "rain down from the sky!" A much more polished take on adapting "Dungeons & Dragons" for the big screen has finally come around in the form of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves."

A new blockbuster hailing from "Game Night" directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, "Honor Among Thieves" was always going to have the unenviable task of satisfying legions of "Dungeons & Dragons" devotees while also making a fantasy movie for the general public. However, that isn't the only problem this production faced. This collection of facts about "Honor Among Thieves" encapsulates just how many obstacles this project struggled against before it even hit the big screen. Not even the most tormented "Dungeons & Dragons" campaign would face the kind of problems reflected here.

The original dueling Dungeons & Dragons movies

Though the very first stab at a live-action "Dungeons & Dragons" movie was a colossal box office bomb, the brand name was too popular for it to remain dormant as a theatrical film property for long. A little over a decade after that initial motion picture, Warner Bros. announced plans to make a new adaptation of the property with a script penned by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick. Considering how much success Warner Bros. has had with other fantasy movies in the past two decades, namely the "Harry Potter" and "Hobbit" films, there was a lot of potential for the studio in pursuing this property.

However, those ambitions got complicated just one day after Warner Bros. announced its "Dungeons & Dragons" movie, thanks to a statement from Hasbro. They claimed that Hasbro owned the film rights to the property, and that they were working with Universal Pictures and "Fast & Furious" screenwriter Chris Morgan on a new film adaptation of the role-playing game. Despite this development, Warner Bros. remained committed to making a "Dungeons & Dragons" movie and stuck with the adaptation through lengthy legal wrangling that lasted until 2015. The outcome of an eventual legal settlement saw Warner Bros. secure the film rights to "Dungeons & Dragons," though now the studio's movie would be made in association with Hasbro. Though everything was eventually settled, it initially appeared audiences were staring down the barrel of two separate "Dungeons & Dragons" reboots.

Rob Letterman was once going to direct Dungeons & Dragons

With big legal matters now firmly in the past, the original Warner Bros. incarnation of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" now needed a director. In 2016, filmmaker Rob Letterman secured the gig: A veteran of DreamWorks Animation projects like "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Shark Tale," Letterman proved his live-action filmmaking chops with the 2015 hit "Goosebumps." This development reflected just how in-demand Letterman was in Hollywood, a fact reinforced by how he was reportedly one of the finalists to potentially direct "Thor: Ragnarok" for Marvel Studios.

Letterman's involvement in "Dungeons & Dragons" initially seemed to be a promising sign that this version of the project was moving ahead with no problems. However, by the end of 2016, Letterman was attached to direct another major blockbuster property, "Detective Pikachu." This video game adaptation quickly took precedence for Letterman, superseding any plans to direct "Dungeons & Dragons." Less than two years after this announcement, Chris McKay was confirmed as the new director of this "Dungeons & Dragons" feature, which officially put an end to Letterman's time with this blockbuster.

Ansel Elgort nearly anchored Dungeons & Dragons

The cast of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" is a mixture of veteran performers (Hugh Grant, Michelle Rodriguez) and up-and-coming stars (Sophia Lillis, Rege-Jean Page), but the entire ensemble is anchored by Chris Pine, a guy with tons of experience headlining blockbusters thanks to the "Star Trek" and "Wonder Woman" movies. A much earlier version of the project from director Rob Letterman, though, would've seen the cast of a "Dungeons & Dragons" reboot led by Ansel Elgort. Fresh off his work in "The Fault in Our Stars," Elgort was a rising star and a heartthrob: The perfect combination for the lead of a tentpole blockbuster.

What's especially interesting about Elgort's casting, though, is his age in contrast to Chris Pine. Born 14 years later than Pine, Elgort's casting suggests that the original Rob Letterman incarnation of "Dungeons & Dragons" could've been aiming for a younger crowd, whereas Pine's casting, consciously or not, puts the lead of "Honor Among Thieves" in the same age range as many people who got hooked on "Dungeons & Dragons" when it first came out. How Elgort's casting would've helped a new "Dungeons & Dragons" movie at the box office is a puzzle nobody will ever know the answer to, since neither his casting nor this version of the production ever came to pass.

Paramount takes over the Dungeons & Dragon movie

Typically, the film rights to a major property like "Dungeons & Dragons" shifting from one studio to another would be massive news. However, the reveal that Paramount Pictures had acquired the "Dungeons & Dragons" license from Warner Bros. was nestled inside a larger announcement regarding release date adjustments for then-forthcoming studio titles. The studio responsible for hits like "Transformers" and "Mission: Impossible" was so committed to getting this "Dungeons & Dragons" movie made that it had set a July 23, 2021 release date for the project nearly four years in advance.

Paramount becoming the home for a Hasbro adaptation like "Dungeons & Dragons" makes a lot of sense given that it also produced other Hasbro features like "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers." Paramount and Hasbro had even signed a long-term distribution and production output deal a month before the news about the film rights to "Dungeons & Dragons." However, it is a tad surprising Warner Bros. let the film rights to "Dungeons & Dragons" slip through its grasp, given how much it initially fought for this property. One will never know why the studio dropped "Dungeons & Dragons," though perhaps Warner Bros. losing so much cash on "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword" earlier that year soured the company's passion for fantasy blockbusters. Whatever the reason, the "Dungeons & Dragons" reboot found a new home at Paramount Pictures.

Two guys walk into a bar ... and get an offer to direct Dungeons & Dragons

So many jokes begin with the premise of two guys walking into a bar, followed by a punchline. It turns out that directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley's connection to the blockbuster movie "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" began the exact same way. The duo explained to Variety that they decided to visit a sports bar back in June 2019 to watch the Chicago Cubs square off against the Los Angeles Dodgers. As they were watching the game, Daley started talking to a guy sitting next to him. He turned out to be a literary agent, who, upon learning that Daley and Goldstein had stepped down from directing "The Flash," got an idea in his head. The agent promptly let Paramount Pictures know that the duo was available for new filmmaking gigs, and the studio invited the pair to pitch an idea for a "Dungeons & Dragons" movie.

The two filmmakers eventually snagged the job and went on to become the creative minds behind "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves." Their work here ran up a budget of over $150 million with a massive cast and crew, yet these expansive efforts all started with a conversation in a sports bar. Not even the most unexpected punchline to a "two guys walking into a bar" joke could be as surprising as the origins of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves."

Daley and Goldstein wanted Dungeons & Dragons to emulate their smaller comedies

Whenever directors known for smaller-scale dramas or horror films make the leap into blockbuster filmmaking, there's always an understandable level of concern over whether they'll be able to maintain the qualities that made them so interesting in the first place. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who established their directorial chops on R-rated comedies "Vacation" and "Game Night," were no different. Though they had experience working on blockbusters thanks to their writing credit on "Spider-Man: Homecoming," it was reasonable to worry that this tentpole wouldn't effectively use their talents.

Goldstein and Daley explained to Variety, though, that a key quality that the pair focused on when laying out their plans for "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" was a hope that the film would come across as an extension of projects like "Game Night," just done on a larger scale. This informed the duo's unique approach to the tone of "Honor Among Thieves," which would be more of a comedy, focused on ordinary people navigating bizarre circumstances, rather than a conventional fantasy drama. With this creative ambition in mind, Goldstein and Daley could ensure that "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" was consistent with the rest of their filmography. 

What drew Chris Pine to Dungeons & Dragons

Long before he stepped foot onto the set of "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," Chris Pine had lots of experience with blockbuster filmmaking. Pine launched himself as a leading man in this expansive form of cinematic storytelling thanks to his work as Captain James T. Kirk in "Star Trek" in 2009. After that, Pine continued to explore blockbuster movies through the "Wonder Woman" films and the 2014 feature "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit." Given how regularly he's dabbled in this field, one might wonder what on Earth "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" could offer Pine that he didn't get in his earlier blockbuster movie gigs.

Pine explained to Den of Geeks that the primary draw for him on joining "Honor Among Thieves" was simply the people involved in the project. Being a fan of directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley was enough to get Pine's initial interest, but he was also enthusiastic because he believed the role was something that tapped into his greatest assets as a performer. Throw in his excitement over getting the chance to work alongside Michelle Rodriguez, and Chris Pine knew he had to leap at the chance to headline "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" even with his numerous previous forays into blockbuster cinema.

The importance of using heist movie trappings in Dungeons & Dragons

A go-to method for grounding very extravagant modern genre movies in something more realistic for moviegoers has been utilizing the terminology and tropes of heist movies. It's a clever move, since not everybody is aware of the finer intricacies of "Avengers" lore but the vast majority of folks have some idea of how heist movies operate, thanks to projects like "Ocean's Eleven." Given the ubiquity of tentpoles like "Ant-Man" that take cues from vintage heist films, it's no surprise "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" also decided to immerse itself in this genre.

However, there was a specific reason for making sure "Honor Among Thieves" was rooted in the finer nuances of heist cinema. Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley explained to Den of Geek that they'd always wanted to make a heist movie and "Honor Among Thieves" offered a great opportunity to tackle the genre. Even better, the plot structure and sources of conflict inherent to heist films offered up countless opportunities for the in-universe characters to mimic the sort of strategizing and gameplay that defines real "Dungeons & Dragons" campaigns. While adhering to heist movies did ensure "Honor Among Thieves" fit right into the trends of modern blockbusters, more importantly, it also guaranteed that the movie hewed even closer to its source material.

The crew of Dungeons & Dragons wanted to break the mold on depicting spell-casting

If you've seen any fantasy blockbuster in the 21st century, then you know what the process of casting spells usually looks like on screen. Thanks to the widespread influence of "Harry Potter" and "Doctor Strange," spell-casting often involves people pointing wands or making hand gestures and blasting vaguely-defined blasts of color at one another. This approach can look visually stimulating in some contexts, but it often lacks a sense of personality, especially in differentiating one spell from another. When the creative team behind "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" sat down to develop the set pieces for this feature, this very issue was on everybody's minds.

Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley told the Austin Chronicle that a key component of the feature was grounding the spellcasting in physical attributes. Most notably, Simon the Sorcerer, a character played by Justice Smith, uses mechanical means to help realize his spells. A similar level of physicality permeates other depictions of spells. With this, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" makes its characters seem a bit more real while also separating itself from the default norms of mainstream fantasy blockbusters.

How COVID-19 impacted pre-production of Dungeons & Dragons

Getting a new "Dungeons & Dragons" movie off the ground and figuring out how to make sure this property had appeal beyond the core "Dungeons & Dragons" fanbase was always going to be a massive challenge. However, every single problem you could have with this blockbuster was exacerbated by a calamity nobody saw coming: the COVID-19 pandemic. This global health crisis shut down the worldwide entertainment industry in March 2020, putting the entire future of theatrical entertainment in jeopardy. Even with all these problems looming large over the cinematic landscape, many projects kept toiling away, including "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves."

Directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley talked to The Hollywood Reporter in May 2020 to discuss the project's pre-production phase during lockdown. The duo noted that being confined to their homes allowed them to really focus on getting a new draft of the "Honor Among Thieves" screenplay just right, but it also indefinitely postponed location scouting for places to shoot the film. The duo was also trying to crack how to film certain big crowd scenes, given the hazards of potentially spreading COVID-19. The pandemic gravely impacted many parts of the pre-production process for "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," but the film's creative team still pushed forward with this blockbuster even in the face of an uncertain future.

Designing the dragons of Dungeons & Dragons was a challenging task

Though there's been only one major live-action theatrical "Dungeons & Dragons" movie before "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves," this new motion picture follows in the footsteps of countless other films featuring striking reimaginings of dragons. In fact, it was an enormously daunting obstacle for the "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" creative team to figure out just what this feature could bring to the table in terms of new, exciting dragon designs.

Directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein discussed with Collider that the initial thought process on what the movie's dragons could look like originated with the original "Dungeons & Dragons" lore. Given all the content connected to this game that has been produced over the years, they had plenty of creative inspiration for what dragons in this universe could look like. However, the team tasked with designing these beasts were also very conscious of injecting unique visual flourishes into the look of these dragons, primarily to ensure that the "Honor Among Thieves" dragons didn't look derivative of similar creatures in productions like "Game of Thrones." Put simply, the design process for the "Honor Among Thieves" dragons involved a delicate balance of leaning on the past, but also delivering something new in the present.

Composer Lorne Balfe had a deeply personal reason for joining Dungeons & Dragons

The first two directorial efforts from "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" filmmakers Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, "Vacation" and "Game Night," employed Mark Mothersbaugh and Cliff Martinez, as their respective composers. The duo opted for somebody they'd never worked with before to craft the score for this big fantasy blockbuster, with the directors settling on Lorne Balfe for this position. Balfe seems like an obvious pick as the "Honor Among Thieves" composer based on his extensive experience with blockbusters like "Mission: Impossible – Fallout" and "Black Widow." However, Balfe also had deeply personal reasons for getting involved in this enterprise. 

Lorne Balfe explained to ComicBook.com that he was obsessed with "Dungeons & Dragons" when he was a kid, which meant that he was instantly intrigued when he heard that a new live-action film adaptation was on the horizon. Closely cherishing those childhood memories of playing "Dungeons & Dragons," Balfe leaped at the opportunity to work on the score of "Honor Among Thieves." This meant that the score for the film wasn't just composed by somebody well-versed in big-budget entertainment, but also by an artist who was just as much a fan of this property as many of the people watching "Honor Among Thieves."

The big Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves premiere at SXSW

"Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" held its world premiere in a location famous around the world for its connections to the landscape of fantasy storytelling: Austin, Texas. Jokes aside, the backdrop of a Texas premiere makes perfect sense when one remembers that "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" debuted at the South by Southwest festival. This event has been the centerpiece for some unforgettable movie premieres for films ranging from "Knocked Up" to "Everything Everywhere All at Once." If you've got a big comedic crowdpleaser on your hands, South by Southwest can be the optimal place to launch it.

Thus, "Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves" kicked off the 2023 edition of South by Southwest, with the vast majority of the film's cast members (including Chris Pine) showing up for the occasion. Given the dismal reputation of the original "Dungeons & Dragons" film, it would've been completely understandable if the "Honor Among Thieves" creative team had some pre-screening jitters over how the audience would respond to this new take on a classic fantasy game. However, such concerns weren't necessary, since "Honor Among Thieves" went over like gangbusters with the South by Southwest crowd. After so many struggles to get a second theatrical live-action "Dungeons & Dragons" feature off the ground, such widespread praise must have been a relief to the feature's creative team.