Dungeons & Dragons

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  • Directed By: Courtney Solomon
  • Written By: Topper Lilien, Carroll Cartwright
  • Release Date: December 8, 2000
  • Domestic Distributor: New Line
  • Cast: Jeremy Irons, Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans

Box Office Info:
Budget: $36 million Financed by: J&M Entertainment; Sweetpea
Domestic Box Office: $15,220,685 Overseas Box Office: $18,586,724

Courtney Solomon’s Sweetpea company optioned the Dungeons & Dragons rights from TSR in 1994 for just $15,000.  He tried to set the movie up with studios and attracted numerous A-list directors, with a budget that was approaching $100 million, but nothing ever materialized.  Solomon then crossed paths with veteran producer Joel Silver, who thought the property would work best as a television series and began to negotiate deals with networks.  

Wizards of the Coast ended up purchasing TSR and refused to allow Dungeons & Dragons to be made as a TV series, as Solomon’s contract was only for a movie.  Solomon also had a limited time frame to begin filming a movie or the rights would revert back to Wizards of the Coast.  Solomon had only $3.5 million raised and an approaching deadline and began to shoot a cheap direct to video movie in order to hold onto the rights.  This sparked litigation from Wizards of the Coast who claimed he wasn’t shooting a real movie.  Based on a few scenes that were shot, Joel Silver decided to board as a producer and help raise money for a healthier budget and convince the property owners that the trademark would not be ruined by a low budget movie.

The budget for Dungeons & Dragons was $36 million and J&M Entertainment boarded to handle international pre-sales, which covered the majority of the budget and they also contributed some capital.  Numerous individual investors who put money into Sweetpea padded out the rest of the expenses.  No domestic distributor was attached to Dungeons & Dragons and it was not until mid August 2000 that New Line acquired domestic rights for $5 million.  The studio quickly dated the pic for December 8.

Dungeons & Dragons opened against Vertical Limit and Proof Of Life and was excoriated by critics.  New Line booked the pic into 2,078 theaters and it pulled in $7,237,422 — placing #5 for the weekend led by holdover How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  Audiences gave Dungeons & Dragons a terrible C+ cinemascore, which is still a generous grade for this stinker and it sank 66.3% the following weekend to $2,438,086.  It then plunged 68% in its third session to $779,640 and closed its domestic run with $15,220,685.  New Line would see returned about $8.3 million after theaters take their percentage of the gross, less than their P&A expenses and acquisition cost.

The overseas release cumed $18.5 million across numerous distributors.  The worldwide numbers killed off future plans to franchise the property for the big screen.

Both Warner Bros and Universal, separately decided to resurrect Dungeons & Dragons as a big-budget potential franchise — which led to a 2013 lawsuit.  Hasbro (which took over the rights to the property from Wizards of the Coast) licensed the movie rights to Universal, but Sweetpea claimed they were still the copyright owner.  Sweetpea had produced two cheap direct to video sequels in 2005 and 2012, which the company asserts was made within the timeframe they have to produce a movie or the rights revert to Hasbro.  Hasbro and Sweetpea ended up in court, (WB covered the legal costs) each claiming ownership.  The two parties eventually privately settled, but it is clear that Sweetpea was the winner in the suit.  The movie was given the legal go-ahead at Warner Bros, with both Hasbro and Sweetpea producing.


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