The Dark Tower

Universal has said no to the quest.

The studio and filmmaker Ron Howard announced last year an ambitious plan to make three movies and two seasons of television based on Stephen King’s The Dark Tower — an epic, seven-part (so far) series of novels that fuse westerns and sci-fi/fantasy in the tale of Roland the Gunslinger and his journey through surreal and treacherous territories to a mythical structure that binds the dimensions of existence.

Here’s what went wrong: Today the studio told Howard — whose Imagine Entertainment was shopping the project with plans for him to direct and Javier Bardem to star — that the project was too costly, too big a risk, and not something they felt comfortable moving forward on, according to sources close to the project. It’s disastrous news for fans of the books, who had hoped this wide-ranging plan was a chance to see King’s imagination brought to live on the big and small screens.

But Imagine retains the rights — in fact, Universal’s first-right-of-refusal option expired this week, forcing the decision — and Howard and Co. are free to begin shopping the project elsewhere in Hollywood. The screenplay for the series was being developed by Akiva Goldsman (Oscar-winner for A Beautiful Mind) so another studio looking to acquire a series of high-end tentpoles, such as Warner Bros., which just saw its Harry Potter series come to a spectacular end, may decide to move fast to keep it all in place.

The project began to crumble about two months ago when Universal pushed back the planned start date of the movie from this fall to early next year while both sides tried to work out a deal that would lower the budget. (One source tells EW $200 million was what Howard wanted to make both the first movie and the first season of television.)

But for a sprawling, effects-heavy fantasy series that could either only be aimed at adults, or lose much of the savagery that made it distinctive, it was too big a gamble for Universal, which would find itself stuck with a costly commitment if the first film underperformed.

Howard did not immediately return a request for comment about what is next for The Dark Tower proposal, though he has already begun to make alternate plans for himself.

For more movie news, follow Anthony Breznican on Twitter: @Breznican.

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