The Dark Tower Movie: What We Know So Far

Idris Elba and Tom Taylor in The Dark Tower

There was a stretch, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when Stephen King's novels were inspiring numerous horror and suspense-thriller films. King's name, alone, got people into theaters to see adaptations of Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, Christine and Firestarter, to name just a few. The machine slowed down over the years, still producing gems -- Misery in 1990, or The Shawshank Redemption in 1994 -- but not churning out nearly the number of King-based films as those earliest days.

That doesn't mean the author ever stopped telling stories. Quite the opposite, in fact. So now that Hollywood is circling back around to the cinematic-worthy works of Stephen King, they are remembering just how many incredible tales the writer has in his chest, and new movies are hopping on our radars. Hulu, for example, rolled the dice on King's JFK assassination thriller, 11.22.63. The author's mesmerizing It is back in play (with a terrifying trailer). And Sony Pictures is readying its long-gestating adaptation of Stephen King's The Dark Tower, a seven-book series that could produce as many films, or may venture off into television for a portion of its run. The first movie in the series has a director, a cast, a release date and a trailer. Why don't we start there?

Uh, holy crap. I just got chills. The Dark Tower is certainly looking like a film that will need to be checked out in the theater as soon as it opens. So, let's get the meat of this guide going with when we can all finally get a look at the latest Stephen King adaptation.

The Dark Tower book art

What Is The Dark Tower Release Date?

Sony Pictures originally circled February 17, 2017 as the release date for The Dark Tower, the first chapter in what's expected to be an ongoing saga. But then, that changed. The Dark Tower was given a July date, and then a shift back to August 4, 2017... where it currently stands. Originally, I questioned the February release, even though recent hits such as Deadpool, Fifty Shades of Grey, Kingsman: The Secret Service and The LEGO Movie have shattered the notion that quality movies can't make money in February. That August slot worked very well for movies like Suicide Squad and the first Guardians of the Galaxy. Could lightning strike for The Dark Tower, as well?

Idris Elba as Roland in The Dark Tower

What Is The Dark Tower Rated?

We're not certain, as the most recent The Dark Tower trailer STILL says that the feature has not yet been rated. It's possible that Sony is allowing the adaptation to remain mature, meaning that The Dark Tower could look to achieve an R rating. However, seeing as how the studio likely is going to want to explore the notion of a multi-part fantasy series -- which is necessary when creating Stephen King's Mid-World, where The Dark Tower is set -- I'm willing to bet that The Dark Tower tries to stay in the PG-13 range, similar to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, and even the later Harry Potter adaptations. We shall see what the MPAA thinks as we get closer to the movie's release date.

The Dark Tower roland with roses

What Is The Dark Tower Based On?

Here's where things start to get a little bit dicey. Sony is keeping a tight lid on the plot of The Dark Tower, so we have to take what we know about the books and make educated deductions. This is being pitched as "sequel" to the books rather than a proper adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower series, primarily because the first movie doesn't begin with the first book, The Gunslinger. The Gunslinger is a relatively simple story meant to introduce the saga's main character, Roland Deschain of Gilead. Roland's a Gunslinger, something like we'd consider an Old West cowboy, and he's the last of a long line of noble Gunslingers. He's on a quest to reach The Dark Tower, and there's something very powerful pulling him along on this journey to the fateful destination. But several things stand in Roland's way.

Now, the main reason The Dark Tower doesn't sound like a true and faithful adaptation of The Gunslinger alone is because casting details suggest elements from other King novels in the series. We will explore those as we continue the guide. Also, the presence of an object -- The Horn of Eld -- in a promotional Tweet leads some of us to believe that THIS version of Roland's quest comes after the finale of the book series, meaning it's a sequel of sorts to the book, and his final go-round. But The Dark Tower will pull heavily from Stephen King's 1982 novel The Gunslinger, because the series HAS to start here, for so many reasons.

The Dark Tower setting

When Is The Dark Tower Set?

Stephen King primarily sets his Dark Tower stories in Mid-World, which exists in an alternate (and assumedly future) timeline that might run parallel to our own. It has several qualities reminiscent of our Old West, but also maintains several supernatural elements. Roland treks through a time when the world has "moved on," and he often tells stories of better days, when the Gunslingers were prosperous.

Over the course of the seven books, the story shifted to our world (though during different decades), and often flashed back to times in Roland's past. So the timeline of the movies will be vague until we see exactly how these movies are going to adapt all of King's books. But for now, it's safe to assume that the bulk of The Dark Tower will take place in Roland's home of Mid-World, in an alternate and futuristic timeline, with occasional pit stops to familiar locations on our own timeline. In King's world, all timelines serve a greater power called The Beam, and all beams lead to The Dark Tower, so as long as all characters stay on The Beam, that's what we can expect in the movies.

Nikolaj Arcel

Who Is Directing The Dark Tower?

What's more interesting is, who isn't directing The Dark Tower? Over the years, several A-list filmmakers have expressed interest in helming an adaptation of Stephen King's work. Dating all the way back to 2009, J.J. Abrams (he of both Star Trek and Star Wars) circled the project. Abrams is a devout King fan, and would have done The Dark Tower proud. Additionally, Ron Howard is a filmmaker who spent years trying to get a Dark Tower adaptation off the ground.

It wasn't meant to be. By the time the dust settled, Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) had emerged as the lottery ticket holder, and he will helm the first chapter in this saga.

Idris Elba and Tom Taylor in The Dark Tower

Who Is Idris Elba Playing In The Dark Tower?

Hey, finally. Casting news! Readers of Stephen King's Dark Tower series argued for years over who could possibly play Roland, the Gunslinger, in a feature-film adaptation. Similarly, over the years, several big names were attached to the role, with everyone from Russell Crowe and Javier Bardem to Christian Bale reportedly vying for a chance to play the Tower-obsessed leading man. However, toward the end of 2015, producers settled on Idris Elba to play The Gunslinger, a move that thrilled Stephen King! But, who will Roland be chasing in the race to reach The Dark Tower?

Matthew McConaughey as The Man in Black

Who Is Matthew McConaughey Playing In The Dark Tower?

The opening line of Stephen King's The Gunslinger reads, "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Since we have our Gunslinger in Idris Elba's Roland of Gilead, The Dark Tower needed a Man in Black... and it found him in Matthew McConaughey. The role that the Man in Black plays over the length of the story is something that I do not want to reveal here. Roland spends the bulk of The Gunslinger pursuing The Man in Black, and if the movie sticks to King's books, they will have a very lengthy (and important) conversation.

Outside of that, I think it's safe to tell you that the character goes by many names, one being The Crimson King, and he has appeared in other Stephen King stories, from The Stand to The Eyes of the Dragon. Like Roland, the Man wants to reach the Tower. He also wants to stop Roland from reaching it. As the Dark Tower series unfurls, you will see a LOT of connections to King's previous stories, and the Man in Black (as played by McConaughey) expects to be one of them.

Tom Taylor is Jake Chambers in The Dark Tower

Who Else Has Been Cast In The Dark Tower?

Those who read all of Stephen King's Dark Tower books -- or even just The Gunslinger -- probably expected to hear three names AFTER the casting of Roland Deschain: Eddie Dean, Odetta Holmes, and Jake Chambers. These are the three members of what Roland refers to as his ka-tet, the people who will assist him along the way on his journey and, hopefully, help him reach the top of the Dark Tower (even though he does not know what's waiting for him at his ultimate destination).

However, as casting reports filtered in, we heard names of characters we didn't expect... and some whose names didn't match anyone in the stories at all. In February, it was announced that The Dark Tower had cast 28-year-old Australian actress Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) as the movie's female lead, Tirana. Only, Tirana was a VERY minor character in the books, and nowhere near being a female lead. Later, noted character actor Jackie Earle Haley joined the ensemble, playing Richard Sayre. Readers will remember Sayre as being a member of the Sombra Corporation... only, we can't quite figure out HOW that will be introduced in the first Dark Tower film. That's a fact that should come up MUCH later in the story. Clearly, there will be changes made to King's overarching story.

Ultimately, the movie DID find a young Jake Chambers -- a pivotal role -- in newcomer Tom Taylor. And supporting roles, so far, have been filled by the likes of Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), Claudia Kim, Fran Kranz and Jose Zuniga, though the characters they are playing -- according to IMDB -- are not of significance, so we're waiting on further word.

Aaron Paul

Is Aaron Paul Going To Be In The Dark Tower?

This might seem like an odd question, so let me explain. The character of Eddie Dean, who I mentioned as being one of Roland's ka-tet (who is pulled into the story in the second chapter, "The Drawing of the Three") is a character who is similar to the one Aaron Paul played on Breaking Bad. Sort of. Eddie Dean isn't a Meth kingpin. He's a drug addict, and one who's regularly crippled by his addictions. Eddie has a fantastic arc, not unlike Jessie on Breaking Bad... and fans of the actor, and of the show, have made their voices heard on social media. Paul has said in the past that he'd LOVE to play Eddie in a Dark Tower movie. He has been saying that since at least 2012. And he and Stephen King even traded Tweets recently about the fans' desire for him to play the role. Unfortunately, as of right now, that hasn't led to anything significant, so the answer, at the moment, is no.

The Drawing of the Three the dark tower

What Stories Might Come After The Dark Tower?

If, in fact, this first movie, The Dark Tower, borrows heavily from The Gunslinger and establishes Roland (Idris Elba), Jake (Tom Taylor), Roland's quest to reach the Tower and his nemesis, The Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), then the next few movies in the series will bring in the two other important players in Roland's story: Eddie and Odetta. Eddie's a drug addict from New York City who is pulled into Mid-World through a mysterious "door" (portal) between Roland's world and our world. Odetta is a schizophrenic, who is bound to a wheelchair and has... secrets I can't reveal here.

The Drawing of the Three should be the next movie in this series, and it would be a disappointment if the movies strayed too far off that Beam. After that, though -- depending on how deep into King's world the movies wanted to get -- the books entitled The Waste Lands, Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla could be condensed in ways that streamlined the story. First, The Dark Tower has to succeed in hooking a large audience, so Roland's first step toward cinematic glory begins in 2017.

Sean O'Connell
Managing Editor

Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.