The 5 best movies inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, from a low-budget parody to a psychological thriller starring Tom Hanks.
It always surprises me how despite it being a global phenomenon for almost 50 years, there haven’t been that many good movies inspired by the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dungeons. Perhaps it’s due to the nature of the game and it’s simply just hard to adapt a game where there’s no set story, but it feels like it should be a lot easier than it obviously is. Whatever the reason is, finding a good Dungeons & Dragons movie to watch is a quest in itself, so to make that job easier for you, I watched a handful of films inspired by the classic game and have compiled a list of the 5 best movies that I saw.
1. THE GAMERS
Director: Matt Vancil
Often, the best parodies come from people who are genuine fans of whatever it is they’re making fun of, and The Gamers is a very obvious example of that. On the surface, everything about this movie may seem unappealing. It’s got an incredibly low budget, it’s got a runtime of 45 minutes, the audio can be very rough to listen to and the acting definitely can’t be described as Oscar-worthy, but somehow, despite all this, it’s without a shadow of a doubt my favourite of all of the movies on this list. It’s a film made by fans of role-playing games for fans of role-playing games, filled to the brim with genuinely witty references and jokes that will only make sense to those who have spent time actually playing Dungeons & Dragons with their friends.
The Gamers focuses on a group of friends playing a role-playing game in their dorm. Yeah, the premise is literally that simple. The film flips between the group of friends playing the game in real-life and their in-game characters, played by the same actors, embarking on a heroic quest. It’s a novel idea and one the film has a lot of fun with, littering the fantasy scenes with plenty of visual gags, such as the character of a player who didn’t turn up constantly just standing in the background of every scene. Easily the biggest strength of the film is just how witty the dialogue is and how funny the jokes are, but if you’re not overly familiar with the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, it might be worth skipping.
2. MAZES AND MONSTERS
Director: Steven Hilliard Stern
Mazes and Monsters, a made-for-television film which is the first to feature Tom Hanks in a leading role, is a very weird movie. It focuses on the titular fictitious role-playing game, the film’s version of Dungeons & Dragons, and a group of friends who decide to take their campaign up a notch, choosing to play in a local cavern. There, Robbie (Tom Hanks), who plays as a priest, experiences a psychotic episode, which eventually leads to him believing himself to actually be his character, and embark on what he believes to be an actual fantasy quest, whilst his friends try to save him from his delusions.
The reason I say it’s an odd movie is how it chooses to portray Dungeons & Dragons and those who play it. The book it’s adapted from was written in a time when Dungeons & Dragons was seen as a dangerous pastime that potentially drove its players insane, and many readers reportedly ended up thinking the contents of the book were all true. Its cinematic adaptation, released one year after the book was published, continues to push these claims, portraying role-playing games as dangerous and almost like an addiction that young people need to cut out of their lives. If you can look past the message it’s trying to push though, you’ll be left with an entertaining thriller that is mostly carried by an incredibly charismatic Tom Hanks. It’s a very easy watch, and one I’d recommend mostly because of how strange it is.
3. FUTURAMA: BENDER’S GAME
Director: Dwayne Carey-Hill
Futurama (1999-), a show that perpetually lived in the shadow of Matt Groening’s other animated sitcom, The Simpsons (1989-), has gone through a large amount of turmoil over the course of its seven seasons. It once got so bad that its fifth season isn’t even a collection of television episodes, and is instead composed of four direct-to-video films that were later given TV edits. The third of these films, Futurama: Bender’s Game, spoofs Dungeons & Dragons, focusing on the robot Bender (John DiMaggio) and his attempt to gain an imagination through playing the game, and the hijinks that ensue when he starts actually believing himself to be his Dungeons & Dragons character. Weirdly, the plot has a surprising amount in common with Mazes and Monsters.
These characters, moulded over the course of four seasons, are all naturally very funny, and whilst this definitely isn’t them at their best, it’s simply just a good entry into the Futurama canon. The latter half of the film sees the characters transported to an actual fantasy realm, and that’s where the movie really gets to shine, with plenty of fun references to Dungeons and Dragons and various other epic fantasy franchises. Out of all the films on this list, this one is definitely the most accessible, and is probably the best one to start out with if you enjoyed Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves but aren’t too familiar with the actual rules of the game.
4. DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: WRATH OF THE DRAGON GOD
Directors: Gerry Lively
I do need to come clean about something before we go any further. Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God is not a very good movie. You may be wondering why it’s on the list then, and that would be a very fair question, but simply, it felt wrong to make a list of Dungeons & Dragons movies and not include any of the films in the actual Dungeons & Dragons film trilogy. Well, there are also not a lot of actually good Dungeons & Dragons films in the first place, so this just about manages to slither into the top 5. The film is a stand-alone sequel to Dungeons & Dragons (2000) set 100 years in the future and follows a new party of heroes embarking on a quest to defeat the evil wizard Damodar (Bruce Payne).
As much as this movie isn’t great, there’s definitely still a lot to enjoy here for hardcore Dungeons & Dragons fans. There are plenty of references to the game and the production design is actually quite nice. It’s all very obviously cheap and low-budget, but it’s all still charming and combined with the fun performances and brief runtime, it’s a surprisingly breezy watch. Payne is obviously having a great time as the film’s antagonist and his performance makes the film so much more fun to watch than you’d expect. It’s without a doubt the best of the original Dungeons & Dragons trilogy, and whilst it’s definitely not essential viewing, it’s a fun watch for any fans of the role-playing game who want to scratch that fantasy adventure itch.
5. KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM
Director: Joe Lynch
It may not be strictly inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, but it does name-drop the game a few times and is about fantasy role-playing, so although it may focus on a different side of role-playing, I’m letting myself include it. Knights of Badassdom follows a group of friends who participate in a fantasy live-action role-playing event and accidentally summon a succubus hell-bent on killing all of the players. Without a doubt, the best thing the film has going for it is its cast, with Peter Dinklage, Steve Zahn, Ryan Kwanten, Summer Glau and Danny Pudi making up the party. Whenever the script falters, the cast carries it on their back, with Steve Zahn in particular delivering a great comedic performance as the sorcerer Eric.
It definitely has its fair share of problems, namely the editing and visual effects, but it’s massively helped out by the fact it’s actually really funny. It’s also got the odd touch of horror and gore, which only helps enhance the overall experience. Knights of Badassdom may not be anything particularly special or unique, but it’s a fun comedy that will get a laugh out of anyone at all familiar with live-action roleplaying, whether it’s through actually playing it or just knowing someone into it.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves will be released globally in theaters on March 31. Visit the official site of the Dungeons & Dragons movie and read our review below!