5 Lessons ‘The Dark Tower’ Could Learn From ‘It’

It trailer record
YouTube screenshot

Two Stephen King big-screen adaptations, released a month apart, had disparate fates at the box office. We examine why “It” proved to be a monster hit while “The Dark Tower” collapsed.

Embrace the R rating

Although they’re considered fantasy novels, King’s “Dark Tower” books are loaded with bloody violence, sex, and adult language. And yet “The Dark Tower” film went out of its way to trim the material to get a PG-13 rating, presumably so that it would appeal to a much wider audience than it would if it was rated R. That clearly didn’t work. “It,” however, stuck to its guns and went for the solid R rating, and the result is obvious. The lesson being? If the material on the page is inherently R-rated, then the movie adaptation should be, too.

Stick to what’s on the page

Although “It” changes several small details and eliminates some unnecessary subplots, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the first half of King’s novel. The structure is virtually identical, and many of the sequences are lifted wholesale from the book. That’s not the case at all with “The Dark Tower,” which functions in some ways as a prequel to the book series. While it contains echoes of specific images and scenes from a few of the books, it’s basically an entirely original story that happens to take place in the series’ universe. The lesson? If you buy the rights to a King novel, adapt the actual novel. He’s already worked it all out for you.



The Best and Worst Stephen King Adaptations Ranked

Make one movie at a time

Before it had even opened, the producers of “The Dark Tower” went out of their way to detail their plans to expand the story’s universe beyond the first film. A television version was promised, with the idea being that it would serve to bridge future movies, tying the whole thing together like Marvel’s superhero film series. In hindsight, it’s clear that they put the cart before the horse. The makers of “It” corrected that mistake by concentrating all of their efforts on making and selling a single movie, even though it was obvious that there was a second half of the novel still to come. The lesson? Selling audiences on a franchise when they haven’t even seen the first movie risks alienating people and scaring off potential viewers.

Pick an image that moves people

Despite all the trailers and marketing, “The Dark Tower” never found a specific image on which to sell their film. The final poster was a colorless cityscape with the outline of a tower hidden inside it. It looked less like an imaginative action-fantasy and more like a movie about real estate and architecture. The dull character posters featuring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey weren’t much better. “It,” on the other hand, landed on the perfect image to sell a horror film. The poster’s bright red balloon became an instant shorthand for terror. The young boy’s memorable yellow raincoat stands out graphically, and the ghostly image of Pennywise the Clown is all audiences needed to see. The lesson? When you’re making a King movie, pick an image that will worm its way deep beneath viewers’ skins, and stick with it.

Stephen King is the real star

“The Dark Tower” features two major movie stars in the lead roles, but “It” has an entire cast of newcomers. So why didn’t audiences for “It” mind seeing fresh faces on screen? It’s because King himself is the film’s big star. Although King didn’t have much direct involvement in either movie, “It” clearly embraced his name in virtually all of their promotional materials. “It” is a property that’s instantly identifiable as a King story, even by those who’ve never read it. “The Dark Tower,” on the other hand, often surprises people when they hear it’s based on a series of King novels. Perhaps the producers of “The Dark Tower” should have spent less time worrying about whether or not Elba could play the gunslinger, and concentrated more on developing the King connection.

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  1. I never liked the book that much, but on the other hand am a really big Dark Tower fan, so you can imagine how I feel. Maybe any future DT installments (if there are any) will get the director and treatment that they deserve, thanks to the success of IT.

  2. SUEB says:

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  3. stevenkovacs says:

    (but will they listen?)

  4. bhimasakti says:

    Watch IT 2017 Full Movie- Sub {Leak}
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  5. Anissa says:

    Best analysis I’ve read, yet. The last tip is a bullseye: King is the star. Focusing on well-known actors is a wasted effort.

  6. Karen says:

    This article doesn’t even mention that It is a remake of a kitschy TV movie… it already had a following wanting to see it done better and updated. Thanks for the heads up that it’s only half the movie… I’ll wait it out. And I prefer a pg, of/13 rating…

  7. Eric P Jones says:

    This movie was like a halloween episode of Dawson creek..there was nothing remotely scary about it and it was slow and boring and im really starting to believe people wil go se whatever rotten tomatoes tells them to..the dark tower was a cliche action film..but about 90 percent of action movies that come out are.It was no horror masterpiece it was a cliche predictable horror movie and pennywise was as scary as bozo

    • Opinion is subjective, there is no right or wrong, but this is a fabulous movie that the audience reacted to in ways one really sees (clapping and other emotional responses). Eric is entitled to his opinions but as someone who loves Stephen King and horror movies, and has been chagrined at the number of poor Stephen King adaptations in the past, “It” was a true, true, delight.
      You will see it again at Oscar time, mark my words.

  8. Ewezero says:

    Watch IT 2017 Full Movie- Sub {Leak}
    Play Now or Download ►► https://t.co/Mb4Rsz7oRZ

  9. Reginaldo Hernandez says:

    Really who gives a damb about movies they are getting very bad lately cravks me up the comments that people write you have to much time on your hands, sad life !!!

  10. John Malatino says:

    First of all it was trash. It needs to take lessons from the dark tower

  11. dgtloutlaw says:

    It also helps that the story and setting has a similar nostalgia to another wildly successful recent project “Stranger Things”.

  12. Rosalinda Cogburn says:

    Look it was not scareie then when it first cane iut abd im asuming it at scarie now youre talking about a child and an Adult now abd ived watched every movie now and i aint watched one yet thats scared me tet and ive been watching ne out of my chsir yet so bring it on stephen king…..

  13. loco73 says:

    To be fair, given the extended and labyrinthine storyline, the multiple novels, the number of characters and the rather complex plot, “The Dark Tower” was never meant for the big screen.

    It would have rather worked, I think, as a multiple season series on either one of the streamers, like Netflix or Amazon, or the payTV behemoths like HBO, Showtime or Starz, platforms and environments supported by deeper pockets than your average network or cabler, where the production values could have resembled or even equalled that of a movie.

    That way the story could have developed and been told in the long format it deserves, while also maintaining the R-rated nature of the novels.

    Who knows, but given the revolving door and fickle nature of entertainment, a few years from now when most people forget about the movie, someone will venture to make the series.

    I can’t help but wonder if given Amazon’s new “get me Game Of Thrones now!” mandate, decreed by his excellency Jeff Bezos, they might not be greedily eyeing this property.

    • Fardarie D. Lawrence says:

      I respectfully disagree. There are many movies out there that people have stated was unfilmable but turned out to be filmable because the director and writers actually put out a great product by whittling the movie down to its essence and the audience responded. Lord of the rings is an example of this. If they had started with the gunslinger as the 1st movie and produced 2 more Faithful adaptations and they failed I would be able to agree with you that the dark tower is unfilmable. The problem is that they took the easy way out. They used the ending a book 7 in order to come back and tell their own tale. In their tale the main character is Jake. If they have read the books they would have seen that Jake was a small part of the book and most other books when they did flashbacks they dealt with Roland’s past and they would have seen at the end roland was only one left if that doesn’t speak main character I don’t know what does. How do you expect to make A TV series based upon wizards and glass when the movie that you put out tells us nothing about the gunslinger. They turned the dark tower into ya novel that nobody want to see. This is why so many directors dropped out because after dealing with the studios attached they realize that they didn’t wanna make the dark tower they want to make their own version of it which they knew was not going to be successful. The studios didn’t want to do the work that was required to actually make this a successful franchise. Stephen King should buy his rights back fire everybody who is involved in this movie and find a small studio who is willing to do the book right and the way it’s written. Just Like the Tolkien family allowed New Line Cinema to bring Lord of the rings to the big screen. You always run into this drama when you’re dealing with large studios who are only looking at the bottom line and could careless about being faithful to the book that they are adapting.

      • loco73 says:

        I never said that “The Dark Tower” is unfilmable or shouldn’t be made into movie/s. I just thought it would have worked better as a TV series.

        You are right, this was a piss-poor adaptation which couldn’t have captured the spirit of the novels, let alone any meaningful segment of the story. It was badly directed and produced. As you already mentioned, the LOTR trilogy is an example of a adaptation done right (actually more than right) as were, in my opinion, the Harry Potter movies and others.

        Still, I think that “The Dark Tower” sequence of novels would do better adapted as a series…

  14. Chris Lavin says:

    Want to bet how many involved with the Dark Tower read the books, all of them? My money is on, “Not many, if any.’” It shows in the ugly results. It appears the whole concept of this variation of the Song of Roland is lost.

  15. harry georgatos says:

    The Dark Tower needed to be R-rated with a 150 minute running time in establishing the story and atmosphere instead of making quick undeveloped scenes that played like a trailer. Heads have to roll at the studio for fitting the number of Dark Tower novels into a superficial quick 90 odd minutes of screen time that felt like a cheap takeaway then a five course meal. Heads have to roll at the studio that was responsible for the development of The Dark Tower.

  16. AllWiledUp says:

    You haven’t mentioned either (maybe you were unaware of it) that a big boycott battle had been waged online by a bunch of Dark Tower fans who are either racist or overly literal minded, because Idris Elba was cast as Roland – a character based on Clint Eastwood. They’d been trashing the film since Elba’s casting was announced. And there seemed to be a lot of them.

    • Andre says:

      The issue is the production team for Dark Tower movie murdered the story. The took the character names from the books and that’s about it. There’s no racism in saying a black actor has no business playing a white character where one of the major plot points in the book revolves around that character being white. Let’s have a look at how well butchering the story worked out for what could have been an epic series of movies.

    • michael says:

      There were also widespread conservative calls for a boycott of IT because of Stephen King’s criticism of Trump, and those don’t seem to have had much impact.

    • I can’t speak to that nonsense but The Dark Tower was a garbage adaptation on just about every level imaginable.

  17. Cath says:

    I actually liked “Dark Tower” better than “It” because it was different. Could it have been better with better writing? Sure. Was all that money well spent? No really. But not having read any of the “Dark Tower” novels I had no unattainable expectations.

  18. EJ says:

    This completely misses the nostalgia factor that “It” has for 90s kids who secretly watched the original back in the day when their parents weren’t around. Nerds didn’t read The Dark Tower series until years later, and the film wasn’t particularly marketed to anyone, except maybe present day Comic Con attendees who skew younger.

  19. Jenn says:

    then there’s the “one movie is really good and the other sucked a bag full of dicks.” Thanks Akiva Goldsman.

  20. How is a movie that was already released and bombed supposed to learn from a film that came out after it?

    The Dark Tower can’t improve, or change, or become something else now… it’s out. It exists.

    I don’t understand the reason for this article to exist. It’s not like The Dark Tower gets a second chance… Well Sony may reboot it in the next 5 years, but still.

    Well i hope Matthew made his money for this article because I just don’t understand why it exists. Might as well have penned the headline as “Why IT is better than The Dark Tower”

    • Jacen says:

      While he’s at it, hopefully he invests some time to learn that IT the novel is not divided into a first half with kids and second half with adults. This mistake keeps getting repeated in articles like this. The story actually goes back and forth between the two eras (and the novel’s earliest scenes feature one of the Losers committing suicide as an adult).

  21. Russ says:

    So frustrating that The Dark Tower creators felt they needed to go with a PG-13 rating. ‘It’ proves you don’t need to sell out to bring in an audience.

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