Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Duke Nukem Movie Will Only Succeed By Embracing Its Evil Dead Trappings (& Ditching The Outdated Humor)

Video game adaptations are starting to find their groove. HBO's "The Last of Us" series will probably top countless "Best of 2023" lists at the end of the year, and the new "Super Mario Bros." animated movie is doing gangbusters at the box office. After years of console classics being misunderstood by Hollywood, the tide seems to be turning. However, will the upcoming "Duke Nukem" movie please fans of cinema and video games alike? 

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Legendary Entertainment has tapped "Cobra Kai" creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg to produce a film based on the controversial first-person shooter series. So, that should give us an idea of what type of movie it's going to be. These days, "Duke Nukem" is a punchline in the video game community, mainly as a result of the games becoming more ridiculous as the series progressed. Furthermore, 2011's "Duke Nukem Forever" is the "Chinese Democracy" of video games as it took years to come out and failed to deliver the goods. There is too much fun to be had at the franchise's expense for Hollywood to resist making a goofy movie.

Going goofy is the wrong choice, though. With this material, the filmmakers must resist the urge to make jokes that probably won't be funny. Instead, they should focus on the creepy atmospheric qualities that made 1996's groundbreaking "Duke Nukem 3D" — the game that turned Duke into an icon, and the one everyone actually looks back fondly on — stand the test of time. That game, in fact, is packed full of homages to the "Evil Dead" universe, and the planned "Duke Nukem" movie could learn a lot from how Sam Raimi's iconic horror series balanced its scares and laughter.

The Duke Nukem movie is planning to be like Deadpool, and that's a mistake

Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg surprised many people when they turned "Cobra Kai" into a brilliant show. The "Karate Kid" spin-off is a perfect mix of funny, dramatic, action-packed, nostalgic, and modern. Theoretically, their sensibilities could align with a humorous movie that happens to be a throwback to old-school entertainment. But is that the type of "Duke Nukem" movie people want to see?

It's certainly the type of movie that Legendary wants to make. Prior to the "Cobra Kai" creators joining the project, John Cena was attached to play the title character — an actor who's primarily known for action movies and self-deprecating comedies. That's the lasting legacy of this gaming series in a nutshell. Producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller also told Cinema Blend that they wanted to make a movie that's tonally similar to "Deadpool," fearing that Duke's misogynistic personality might offend people otherwise. 

Right now, all of the signs point toward the "Duke Nukem" film being an over-the-top genre deconstruction that satirizes a character who isn't particularly relevant these days. Throw in some Pig Cops and it risks becoming another forgettable sci-fi comedy blockbuster in the vein of the "Men in Black" sequels. Frankly, it has "R.I.P.D." written all over it, albeit with more social commentary and wink-wink-hee-hee meta-humor.

Here's the thing: the "Duke Nukem" games got far worse when they became sexist parodies of themselves. Once they left the darkness of "Duke Nukem 3D" behind, interest in this franchise dwindled. Sure, it's understandable why filmmakers want to address the problematic elements of the past, but a movie that embraces the genuinely brilliant aspect of the games is a much better idea.

Duke Nukem should embrace the games' Evil Dead influence, instead of running from it

No one is going to walk into a theater expecting #discourse from a "Duke Nukem" movie. People want guns and monsters, so the filmmakers should focus on making an action movie that's reminiscent of the game's demented inspirations.

Duke is more than a sexist jerk. In "Duke Nukem 3D," he was an amalgamation of muscular '80s action stars and the everyman heroes who populate the films of Sam Raimi and John Carpenter. In that same game, he quotes lines from the "Evil Dead" franchise and "They Live." There are also nods to James Cameron's "The Terminator," Ridley Scott's "Alien," and countless other sci-fi, action, and horror franchises. Those are the types of movies that "Duke Nukem" should aspire to hang out with.

Granted, "Duke Nukem 3D" incorporates these references in a tongue-in-cheek way, but the movie should lean into these inspirations more sincerely. "Evil Dead" and "They Live" are funny movies, but they're full of moments that are genuinely frightening. Furthermore, while Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) and Nada (Roddy Piper) have one-liners for days, you get the sense that they've been dragged through the emotional and physical wringer.

Making Duke a sarcastic everyman in a movie that finds a perfect balance between outlandish and frightening is way more interesting than another neutered Hollywood comedy. The "Evil Dead" franchise is proof that over-the-top comedy can exist alongside punishing horror without losing the integrity of the latter. The silliest moments in Raimi's franchise still pack a disturbing, unhinged punch, and this approach would suit the "Duke Nukem" movie if it really insists on being comedic. That said, the nightmarish concepts should take precedence.

Duke Nukem 3D was genuinely creepy, and the movie should expand on its horrors

The "Duke Nukem" games have already provided filmmakers with enough inherently creepy material to make a great action-horror movie. For example, when judged purely on appearance and intent, the Pig Cops are grotesque, not funny. They're actual human beings — the L.A.P.D., to be precise — mutated into pig-monsters by the alien Cycloid Emperor. The humor in that concept is more subtle instead of overt. And those monsters are like kittens compared to the other alien monstrosities on display, such as the Protector Drone and Octabrain. The list goes on. 

Some of the levels are genuinely gritty, too. "Hollywood Holocaust" sees Duke shoot his way through realistic-feeling streets and into abandoned theaters, where he encounters human beings trapped in torture devices, begging for him to kill them. Later on, "Lunar Apocalypse" strips away most of the game's gags and puts the protagonist in claustrophobic dark facilities, which are located in the vast nothingness of space. You can't make a "Duke Nukem" movie without aliens causing havoc and humans in peril, and these concepts are genuinely horrific. Don't ruin the suffering by making cheap "Deadpool"-style jokes.

A "Duke Nukem" movie doesn't have to be complicated. By fully embracing the games' darker and more demented qualities — with just the right amount of dark humor sprinkled in for good measure — this adaptation could be refreshingly twisted in the current blockbuster climate. Unfortunately, that's not what's going to happen. Instead, it's probably going to be a forgettable action comedy that waters down the cool monster stuff fans want to see — and that, in the end, will be a missed opportunity.