Since debuting in April 2011, HBO’s Game Of Thrones has slowly become the defining television phenomenon of this decade, dominating the pop culture conversation in a way no other show has since the glory days of The Sopranos. It was one of a number of shows angling to step into the mob drama’s place, along with Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, Sons Of Anarchy, Justified, and House Of Cards. HBO initially sold its adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy epic as “The Sopranos in Middle-earth,” hoping to transplant David Chase’s deeply American saga of violence, sex, family, and power to a sprawling, Tolkien-esque fantasy world. It managed to fulfill those expectations and then some, surpassing Sopranos viewership mid-way through its fourth season. Today it’s gone far beyond that: “Khaleesi” was a more popular name for baby girls in 2017 than “Brittany.”
But winter is coming. As Game Of Thrones heads into its final, six-episode season—slated to premiere sometime in 2019—it leaves a gaping hole in the television landscape. Everyone from Apple to FX has pined, sometimes publicly, for their “own Game Of Thrones,” and the model is clear: Find a nerd-culture tome, and throw money at it. Amazon has pledged to invest $1 billion on its prize-horse, a Lord Of The Rings prequel, but, as you’ll see below, this is a race with a lot of horses. There are dozens of such projects in the works, and even more if you factor in the game, film, and comic adaptations drawn in Thrones’ image, not to mention HBO’s own in-house heirs. And, while there has been no shortage of shows heavily inspired by Thrones in recent years, the sheer surplus of these upcoming projects means that at least a few of these will go on to be good. For lovers of fantasy and sci-fi, not to mention prestige television, this is an inherently exciting thing. But who among these contenders can truly claim Game Of Thrones’ throne? If we’ve learned anything from seven seasons, it’s this: Don’t count out a dark horse.
What is it? Ancient Egypt prospered under the rule of Cleopatra—if we want to get specific, Cleopatra VII—who was forced to share regent duties with various male family members by virtue of being a woman. She’s (in)famous for her alliances and dalliances with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, and was the subject of one of the most expensive movie flops ever, as well as an epic miniseries on Hallmark in 1999.
How far along is it? There are now two seemingly competing Cleopatra projects in the works. In May 2017, Amazon Studios announced it was developing a series based on her life from Black Sails’ creators and EPs Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine. It’s described as a “revisionist take” on the Egyptian ruler’s life, with the logline of “The Godfather in Ancient Egypt.” There’s been no movement there, but in January of this year, Freeform announced its own Cleopatra-centered drama, a “female-centric adventure series” from Michael Seitzman of Code Black and Quantico.
Will it win or die? Cleopatra is a worthy subject for a series, and not just because of her sexual prowess. A diplomat and a polyglot, she’s credited with promoting education and health care during her rule, during which Egypt flourished. So this is one Thrones pretender that lives or dies by the casting of its lead. [Danette Chavez]
2. Conan The Barbarian
What is it? Finally: An update to the old Robert E. Howard stories about the beefy warrior of the same name (as made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger). This Amazon version is supposed to be a totally new story written by Colony’s Ryan Condal that sees Conan trying to find a place in a world that no longer needs beefy warriors.
How far along is it? Conan was announced earlier this year, but Amazon still hasn’t announced who’s going to fill Schwarzenegger’s sandals (or Jason Momoa’s sandals, if you choose to remember the last attempt to revive Conan).
Will it win or die? Come on, who is going to doubt Conan’s ability to crush its enemies? This could have all the fantasy elements, nudity, and brutal violence that people love about Game Of Thrones, and a veteran of that show (director Miguel Sapochnik) is even among Conan’s producers. If Amazon can update the character in a way that makes him more meaningful to modern audiences, he could be a real contender. [Sam Barsanti]
What is it? Iain M. Banks’ 10-book Culture series is one of the more interesting sci-fi worlds of recent memory, envisioning a sprawling, post-scarcity society controlled by hyper-powerful artificial intelligence “minds.” (Elon Musk is a noted fan.) Amazon picked up the rights to its first installment, 1987’s Consider Phlebas, which traces the story of a shape-shifter on the dark periphery of this utopian empire, with Dennis Kelly (of the BBC’s Utopia) penning the first script.
How far along is it? Amazon announced the project in February 2018, with no further details since.
Will it win or die? It’s a big, meaty series of books, with high-flying ideas underpinning its visually described action. There’s definitely potential for a good show here, but its best-case scenario is probably more Battlestar Galactica than Thrones. [Clayton Purdom]
4. The Dark Tower
What is it? A prequel to Stephen King’s thrillingly weird Dark Tower books if we’re lucky, or a prequel to Nikolaj Arcel’s dreadful Dark Tower movie if we’re not. Either way, the show will be about a boy named Roland (Idris Elba in the movie) as he goes from being a young kid in a sci-fi/fantasy kingdom to a grizzled cowboy in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
How far along is it? Not very. Former Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara has been attached to develop the project for over a year, but its fate supposedly hinged on the commercial response to Arcel’s movie. It seemed like the movie being terrible would’ve killed the TV show, but more recent rumblings suggest that it somehow still has life.
Will it win or die? King’s Dark Tower saga would be perfect for a straight Game Of Thrones-style adaptation, capturing the wild drama and cool gun-slinging action of the books, but it sounds like the TV show won’t be that. Much like the movie, this could end up scrapping the stuff that made The Dark Tower cool in the first place. [Sam Barsanti]
5. East Of West
What is it? Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s Image Comics series follows Death—of the Four Horseman Of The Apocalypse—and his attempt at stopping the world from ending. The book is a sci-fi/Western set in an alternate reality-version of the United States, and both Hickman and Dragotta are on board as producers.
How far along is it? Amazon picked up the project in April, but that’s all we’ve heard. That means it’s probably still very early.
Will it win or die? The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman is also on board as an executive producer, and he knows a thing or two about making comic books into hit TV shows, so that’s a good sign. Plus, the original comic is great, so East Of West could have a good shot if development starts to pick up speed. [Sam Barsanti]
6. Good Omens
What is it? One of several Neil Gaiman adaptations in the works, Good Omens is a limited series based on the 1990 horror-fantasy novel by Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A demon and an angel set out to prevent the End Times for less than altruistic reasons, and encounter the Antichrist and the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse. Oh, and it’s a comedy.
How far along is it? Talk of an adaptation started about six years ago, but really kicked into high gear in 2017, when Amazon announced it had picked up the miniseries with Gaiman as showrunner. David Tennant and Michael Sheen have been cast as the supernatural odd couple tasked with stopping the apocalypse, with Jon Hamm, Miranda Richardson, and Nick Offerman playing various heavenly or devilish creatures. It’s now expected to debut in the first half of 2019.
Will it win or die? Though it didn’t quite dominate the cultural conversation like Thrones or even Westworld, Gaiman’s previous TV adaptation, American Gods, was well-received, which augurs well for Good Omens. And again, the cast is stacked—Frances McDormand even plays God. Good Omens’ low episode count puts it at a bit of a disadvantage, longevity-wise, but chances are, um, good, that it’ll make a splash while it’s here. [Danette Chavez]
What is it? This ongoing comics series from writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark is set in a dystopian society where the world has descended back into feudalism and has been divided among 16 warring clans. Each of those clans has an undefeatable “one-person kill squad” known as a “Lazarus” who fights on the family’s behalf; our heroine, Forever Carlyle, is one of these enforcers, a genetically enhanced “daughter” whose relationship with her “family” ranges from complicated to downright abusive.
How far along is it? Lazarus was one of three sci-fi adaptations Amazon ordered to series last October, with Rucka on board to write.
Will it win or die? Lazarus is also one of a slew of series Amazon put into production—we counted seven in one Deadline story—just weeks before Amazon Studios head Roy Price resigned amid revelations of sexual harassment, putting the future of those projects into question. It does have one advantage over its TV siblings: The comics series is still current, while the novels put into development at the same time, Snow Crash and Ringworld, date from the ’90s and ’70s, respectively. [Katie Rife]
8. Lord Of The Rings
What is it? Do you even need to ask? J.R.R. Tolkien’s books about Middle-earth and its denizens’ ongoing struggles against evil (and each other) have already been turned into a pair of film trilogies (one excellent, the other decidedly less so). And now, Amazon might be spending upwards of $1 billion to air a series that, when last we heard, will focus on the adventures of badass human Aragorn in his younger days, between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship Of The Ring.
How far along is it? So far as we know, no one’s been cast, there’s no script, and the only sign of progress is Amazon’s recent hiring of J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay (screenwriters of the still-untitled—and maybe not happening—fourth Star Trek film) to head up development. Still, given Amazon spent $250 million on the rights alone, and is legally required to start production within two years of acquiring the property, there’s no way it doesn’t move forward. Also, it may be getting Peter Jackson involved behind the scenes.
Will it win or die? As long as it’s even halfway decent, we’d be hard-pressed to imagine this isn’t one of the strongest contenders to inherit the Game of Thrones crown. [Alex McLevy]
What is it? Larry Niven’s Ringworld books center on a series of expeditions to the titular big dumb space object, a vast artificial ring surrounding a distant sun, and with millions of varieties of alien life living on its inside surface. The first book stars bored 200-year-old human Louis Wu as he travels to, and then tries to escape from, the massive structure, along with a couple of cool aliens, his 180-years-younger girlfriend, Teela, and some of Niven’s fairly retrograde ideas about women and sex.
How far along is it? Amazon announced a TV version (co-produced with MGM) last year, but that’s all we know.
Will it win or die? On the one hand, Niven’s Ringworld heroes tend to be thought-heavy, action-light nerds, which might be a tad dull for a normal Thrones audiences. On the other hand, they tend to fuck a lot of weird aliens, which might bring those same folks right on back. [William Hughes]
10. Snow Crash
What is it? Neal Stephenson’s near-future novel features a hero protagonist (literally named Hiro Protagonist) who works as a katana-wielding pizza delivery guy and hacker, and who stumbles upon a dangerous computer virus that has the potential to rewrite the coding of actual human brains.
How far along is it? There’s been no updates since it was announced more than a year ago, which is rarely a good sign for presumably expensive projects—especially when they’re merely the latest attempt in almost 20 years of ongoing efforts.
Will it win or die? It’s a feverishly beloved book, but that doesn’t always translate into huge numbers onscreen. Best-case scenario would likely be Amazon managing to expand its subscriber base and pull in an audience comparable to whatever Netflix got for the similarly cyberpunk (although more of a genre mashup exercise) Altered Carbon. [Alex McLevy]
11. The Wheel Of Time
What is it? A TV adaptation of Robert Jordan’s sprawling, 14-volume series of high fantasy novels, which began in 1990 with The Eye Of The World. The series is labyrinthine in plot, massive in scope, and remarkable in its world-building, chronicling the adventures of thousands of characters—Wheel Of Time has 2,782 named characters, making Game Of Thrones seem like kids’ stuff—over several generations.
How far along is it? The backstory of the Wheel Of Time TV series is almost as complicated as the plot of the books: A hastily filmed pilot was produced and aired in a paid programming slot on FXX in the middle of the night back in February 2015, in an attempt by a company called Red Eagle Entertainment to hang on to the series’ TV rights. Jordan’s widow claimed not to know anything about it, which resulted in a lawsuit, which was later dropped, leading the way for Red Eagle to team up with Sony Pictures Television in April 2017 for a legit adaptation with TV writer Rafe Judkins as its showrunner. In January, new Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke said she hadn’t seen the scripts yet, and, well, that’s where we’re at.
Will it win or die? She was talking about the books, but Tasha Robinson summed up fan attitudes toward Wheel Of Time nicely in 2009 when she wrote, “In recent years, griping about the series’ bloat and its wheel-spinning, going-nowhere plot became almost as popular as actually buying and reading the books—in spite of all the fan complaints, the last four Wheel Of Time books all hit #1 on the New York Times bestsellers’ list.” [Katie Rife]
What is it? Isaac Asimov’s Foundation is one of the cornerstone texts of modern science fiction, a sprawling story of psychic powers, historical forces, and the ways civilizations adapt (or fail to adapt) to change. It’s also a supremely weird choice for a TV series, with no consistent setting or characters to speak of, aside from long-dead, future-predicting “psychohistorian” Hari Seldon, who occasionally pops up in hologram form to let his descendants know how well they’re sticking to his grand plan to avert total galactic collapse.
How far along is it? Apple gave a straight-to-series order to the show—produced by David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman—in late August.
Will it win or die? Late bloomer Apple is coming in to this fight at a serious disadvantage, but smart expansion of Asimov’s immensely popular books—possibly with an early focus on the series’ more narratively conventional second novel, Foundation And Empire—might give it a fighting chance. [William Hughes]
13. His Dark Materials trilogy
What is it? The Golden Compass (published in the U.K. as The Northern Lights) was author Philip Pullman’s atheist answer to the decidedly Christian Chronicles Of Narnia. Along with The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, it forms His Dark Materials, a trilogy that interrogates religion and ritual, church-sanctioned child abuse, and the complexities of truth. The 2007 movie adaptation was so poorly received that plans for sequels were scrapped. The BBC’s miniseries is being helmed by former Doctor Who producers Julie Gardner and Jane Tranter; the screenplay is being adapted by Jack Thorne (Harry Potter And The Cursed Child), and the first two episodes will be directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables).
How far along is it? Announced by BBC 2015, the miniseries is slated for eight episodes. As of July 2018, principal photography had begun in Cardiff, Wales.
Will it win or die? A miniseries adaptation could tease out the nuance of Pullman’s complicated and challenging work better than a movie. Another sign it could be a winner: Casting includes James McAvoy as Lord Asriel, Ruth Wilson as Mrs. Coulter, and none other than national treasure Lin-Manuel Miranda as Lee Scoresby. [Laura M. Browning]
14. The Watch (based on the Discworld series)
What is it? Terry Pratchett’s 40-odd Discworld books remain a high-water mark in terms of blending fantasy literature and comedy, depicting a sort of cockeyed take on the Industrial Revolution in a world where magic is real, and the planet flies through space on the back of a giant turtle. The Watch is the latest attempt to bring Pratchett’s beloved characters to the screen, a six-episode miniseries focused on the eternally put-upon police force of the author’s most frequently visited setting, the London-but-with-dwarves-and-wizards-living-in-it metropolis of Ankh-Morpork.
How far along is it? The Watch has been in the works in some form of another since before Pratchett’s death in 2015, but BBC Studios announced some forward motion on the series back in March.
Will it win or die? Past Discworld adaptations have been pleasant enough, but forgettable; Pratchett’s prose is likely to prove a bit too idealistic, warm, and funny for the world of bloody, violent small-screen epics. [William Hughes]
15. Luna: New Moon
What is it? This tale of sci-fi political intrigue is set on a feudal-industrial colony on the Moon in the year 2110. An elite class of corporate families known as the “Five Dragons” (sound familiar?) jockey for control over the contracts that control every aspect of lunar life, from the daily allotments of air portioned out to paying customers to the private, for-profit courts that take the place of a government. For the rich, life on the moon is a hedonistic, pansexual nonstop party where everything can be bought; for the poor, even breathing is uncertain.
How far along is it? CBS bought the TV rights to Luna: New Moon before the publication of the first book in a planned duology back in 2015. In 2016, NCIS: Los Angeles creator Shane Brennan left the long-running procedural to adapt the book for a planned series. Since then? Nothing.
Will it win or die? Even author Ian McDonald jokingly refers to Luna: New Moon as “Game Of Domes,” so it could be a mighty contender—if someone would just put it into active development already. [Katie Rife]
16. The Mandalorian
What is it? This new live-action Star Wars show is set a few years after Return Of The Jedi and before the rise of the First Order, written and executive-produced by Iron Man director Jon Favreau. Pitched as a space Western, the series will follow a lone gunslinger with some connection to famous Star Wars badasses Jango and Boba Fett. Pedro Pascal will be playing the eponymous Mandalorian, but we don’t know much more than that.
How far along is it? Disney+ itself is still shrouded in secrecy, but The Mandalorian seems surprisingly far along. Favreau just has to finish working on The Lion King first.
Will it win or die? Star Wars is obviously huge, Favreau’s Iron Man is arguably one of the most important movies of the past decade, and the setting will let Disney combine the old stuff people like with its newer Star Wars creations. Plus, the cast is incredible and the idea of a new Boba Fett-style character is an undeniable draw. The only hurdle it has to cross is Disney+ itself, which won’t have the built-in audience that HBO did for Game Of Thrones. [Sam Barsanti]
17. The Passage
What is it? There are three books in Justin Cronin’s horror-dystopian fiction novel series, the first of which is The Passage (that’s also the title of the series as a whole). The overarching story is one of a global pandemic that decimates Earth’s population, leaving only vampiric beings and some intrepid survivors in its wake. Does that sound like The Strain? Sure, but the series actually drew favorable comparisons to The Stand when it debuted. Former Friday Night Lights writer Liz Helden has teamed up with Matt Reeves and Ridley Scott to adapt the series for TV.
How far along is it? The Passage, which stars Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Saniyya Sidney starring as two members of the resistance, got off to a rough start when it in January 2019. Comic-Con attendees and TV critics have already watched the first episode, which is set just before the world goes to shit.
Will it win or die? Having two well-worn premises—vampires and a dystopian future (or alternate present)—isn’t doing The Passage any favors. But its real undoing might be in the casting of Gosselaar, who’s much more comfortable (not to mention convincing) playing cocky lawyers and baseball players than he is a gloomy bodyguard to a little girl (Sidney) whose blood might be the key to humanity’s survival. As our pre-air review notes, the series just can’t make the genre jumps with the same ease of the books, which doesn’t bode well for The Passage in the long run. [Danette Chavez]
What is it? Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s Eisner-winning story of a world where all the men—save one—suddenly drop dead has been a fan favorite for more than 15 years, a period that has seen a lot of people fight and fail to bring it to the screen. After more than a decade of aborted movie projects, the comic is finally getting a TV take, with Michael Green and Aida Mashaka Croal sharing showrunner duties, and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer’s Barry Keoghan starring as Yorick, the guy who finds out that being the last guy on Earth is a lot more hellish than it might initially seem.
How far along is it? FX announced a cast list for the pilot—including Diane Lane, Imogen Poots, and Lashana Lynch—back in July.
Will it win or die? That’s a hell of a cast; combine it with the comic’s still-hooky premise, and we might be looking at another Legion or Fargo-level success story for FX. (But it’s still no Thrones.) [William Hughes]
What is it? HBO announced in July 2017 that Game Of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would next be helming Confederate, a sprawling alternate history in which the South won the Civil War, leading to a present with still-legal slavery. The response was… bad. Roxane Gay called it “slavery fan fiction,” and Ta-Nehisi Coates excoriated it in The Atlantic. HBO CEO Richard Plepler later apologized for the rollout, asking for people to reserve judgment, but it may all have been for naught, as Benioff and Weiss were tapped to helm a whole new Star Wars series in February 2018, thus occupying them for the foreseeable future.
How far along is it? It seemed to have some real momentum upon its blundered announcement, with Nichelle Tramble Spellman and Malcolm Spellman on tap as writers for the show. HBO President Casey Bloys has said the series wasn’t shelved just yet, but merely paused until Benioff and Weiss finish up with their Star Wars project.
Will it win or die? Of all HBO’s post-Thrones tentpole possibilities, this is the resident fail-son, an embarrassment to the family name. It’s going nowhere, even if it somehow does make it into production. [Clayton Purdom]
What is it? HBO announced its latest collaboration with J.J. Abrams in February 2018, picking it up for a full series. The network has called it “an epic and intimate fantasy series” that “will focus on a world’s battle against a monsterous [sic] oppressive force,” all of which sounds mighty familiar, in terms of massive HBO series. (Early reports of the script detail a family drama carried out via interdimensional portal.) Acclaimed playwright (and Boardwalk Empire vet) Bash Doran is serving as showrunner.
How far along is it? There’s nothing but the announcement so far, but given the parties involved, expect this one to trot right out in the wake of Thrones’ finale.
Will it win or die? Demimonde is among the most pedigreed of the claimants to the throne. Don’t count it out. [Clayton Purdom]
21. Game Of Thrones “Age Of Heroes” spin-off
What is it? A spin-off of Game Of Thrones set 10,000 years before the events of A Song Of Ice And Fire, and thousands of years before the establishment of Westeros itself, in the mythical “Age Of Heroes” sometimes referred to by characters on the show. The logline says it will chronicle the land soon to be known as Westeros’ descent from “the golden Age Of Heroes into its darkest hour. And only one thing is for sure: from the horrifying secrets of Westeros’ history to the true origin of the White Walkers, the mysteries of the East to the Starks of legend… it’s not the story we think we know.”
How far along is it? HBO gave a pilot order to the series in June, and promised writer Jane Goldman—who completed the pilot script herself, after George R.R. Martin said he’d help out, then went back to doing whatever it is George R.R. Martin does instead of writing—that she’d be named showrunner should it go to series. Filming on the pilot is set to begin in early 2019, right around the time Game Of Thrones season eight premieres on HBO.
Will it win or die? Prequels, as we all know, can be a mixed bag, but if HBO truly can tell a new story here, audiences will be happy to stay in Westeros for another eight seasons. It’s already won. [Katie Rife]
22-25. Four other Game Of Thrones spin-offs
What is it? Perhaps inspired by the show itself, last spring HBO charged four writers with developing competing Game Of Thrones spin-offs, with no guarantee that any of them would make it to air. Then, a few months later, it added a fifth to the mix just for fun. The contenders are largely established TV and screenwriters; the fifth contender, Bryan Cogman, has mostly just written for Game Of Thrones. But that comes with certain advantages, like Cogman’s past as an assistant to showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.
How far along is it? One has been greenlit, and one has been shelved. The rest languish in the script stage. George R. R. Martin says he believes that HBO will order at least one more pilot, but he also said that The Winds Of Winter was going to come out in 2016, so.
Will it win or die? Now that one of the shows is in active development, barring a last-minute trial by combat, the rest look like they’re going to have to bend the knee. [Katie Rife]
What is it? Yet another J.J. Abrams project, HBO’s Glare made the rounds in December 2016 as a new hour-long series detailing the colonization of a far-off planet. (The title almost seems like a cheeky acknowledgment of Abrams’ favorite camera effect.) Javier Gullón penned the first episode, which is a good sign—he also wrote the great Denis Villeneuve film Enemy.
How far along is it? No one has seen heads or tales of this thing since its first announcement, and everybody involved has a lot of rods in the fire, so to speak. Gullón’s own back catalogue has attracted a lot of attention of late, with his short stories “First” and “N” being developed as features and “Satellite” on track to become a TV series. This one may never see the light of day, but hey—if HBO can make a Deadwood movie happen, Glare’s got a chance yet. It at least merited a mention in The Hollywood Reporter’s item on the “First” and “Satellite” deals.
Will it win or die? Consider it an extraordinarily unlikely underdog among HBO’s in-house contenders. [Clayton Purdom and Erik Adams]
27. Lovecraft Country
What is it? An adaptation of Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, about a young, black sci-fi fan road tripping across the Jim Crow south in search of his missing father. Incorporating unspeakable Lovecraftian beasties into a story about racism in America, Lovecraft Country is a prominent example of the buzzy subgenere of “socially conscious horror,” which explains how it caught the attention of Jordan Peele when he was looking to spend some of his post-Get Out cultural capital last summer.
How far along is it? HBO has ordered Lovecraft Country straight to series, with Underground creator Misha Green installed as writer and showrunner. She’s also serving as co-executive producer, alongside Peele, Bad Robot’s J.J. Abrams and Ben Stephenson, HBO’s David Knoller, and White Boy Rick director Yann Demange, who’s directing the first episode. Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett-Bell were cast in two of the three lead roles back in late April and early May, so all we’re waiting on now is a release date.
Will it win or die? In his review of the novel for The A.V. Club, Ryan Vlastelica wrote that the novel “has the basic structure as a season of serialized TV, with each chapter functioning as a type of short story whose place within the overall plot eventually becomes clear.” That should make the adaptation process relatively easy. And considering the caliber of talent involved—like, Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner caliber—this is a smart house to pledge fealty to. [Katie Rife]
28. The Nevers
What is it? Here’s the broad outline, from when this original series by creator Joss Whedon was first announced: “A sci-fi epic about a gang of Victorian women who find themselves with unusual abilities, relentless enemies, and a mission that might change the world.” Beyond that, your guess is as good as ours.
How far along is it? HBO ordered it straight to series last summer, and all has been quiet on the development front since then. But unlike some other projects on this list languishing in development hell, do expect to see it sometime—probably before the end of this year.
Will it win or die? Whedon’s sensibilities have arguably become the lingua franca of contemporary pop culture, ever since he helped shepherd the back half of Phase One and big chunks of Phase Two of the MCU to success over the past decade. So there’s a good chance this will find a big audience. But Game Of Thrones-level big? That’s a tall order for a gang of Victorian women, no matter how badass. (Just ask Harlots.) [Alex McLevy]
What is it? Since almost nobody was terribly happy with Zack Snyder’s faithful retelling of Alan Moore’s landmark Watchmen, HBO decided to hire Damon Lindelof to come in and do a continuation of the story that is definitely not a sequel—at least, not of the subsequent comic series. It will take place some time after the conclusion of the original events, though it’s unknown how many of the original characters will make an appearance in this narrative.
Will it win or die? There’s a lot of curiosity about this project, and it shares a home with Thrones, which helps. But Lindelof’s last show—while one of the best of the new century—was also only watched by about 400 of us in real time, so maybe his sensibilities are a bit too weird to connect with a mass audience at this point. Which, great: We’ll take something with the ambition and quality of The Leftovers any day. [Alex McLevy]
30. Who Fears Death
What is it? Who Fears Death, based on the 2010 novel by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, is a science-fantasy coming-of-age story set in post-apocalyptic North Africa, where the light-skinned Nuru people oppress the dark-skinned Okeke. Protagonist Onyesonwu, whose Okeke mother was raped by a Nuru man, sets out to find and kill her father, a powerful sorcerer, while mastering her own incredible magical abilities. Selwyn Seyfu Hinds has been confirmed as screenwriter.
How far along is it? Okorafor tweeted that the novel was in early development at HBO back in July of 2017, and we haven’t heard anything more.
Will it win or die? With its compelling heroine, and Thrones master George R.R. Martin himself executive producing, Who Fears Death has a real shot at capturing HBO viewers’ attention in a big way, but it’s way too early to tell. [Kelsey J. Waite]
31. Queen Of Shadows
What is it? Throne Of Glass is the best-selling YA fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas, and the fourth book of which, titled Queen Of Shadows, is being adapted for TV by Mark Gordon (Ray Donovan, Grey’s Anatomy). At the center of the franchise is Celaena Sardothien, the badass teenage assassin that Maas dreamed up when she wanted to give Cinderella more of an edge.
How far along is it? The Mark Gordon Company is producing, and The 100’s Kira Snyder is already attached to write the pilot, which will be helmed by Underworld: Blood Wars director Anna Foerster. Two years after it was announced, there’s still no word on when production will begin, prompting fans to start a petition to get the adaptation out of development limbo.
Will it win or die? Queen Of Shadows deals with much of the same themes as Game Of Thrones, including sorcery, palace intrigue, and a young woman’s rise to power. And Snyder’s work on The Handmaid’s Tale and The 100 suggests the story will have the appropriate feminist bent. The success of The Hunger Games suggests there’s a built-in audience for Queen Of Shadows, so we think this is a real contender (if it ever gets off the ground). [Danette Chavez]
32. The Vampire Chronicles
What is it? A series of novels penned by Anne Rice, which gradually reveal that Lestat de Lioncourt, who’s not so favorably portrayed in the first book, Interview With The Vampire, is the real hero. The elegant French bloodsucker has all kinds of wild adventures, including becoming the world’s most famous rockstar, being played by Tom Cruise and Stuart Townsend, and making a deal with Memnoch the Devil.
How far along is it? Well, showrunner Bryan Fuller has already departed the series. But the good news is that Hulu is moving forward with the adaptation, which is being co-produced by Rice and her son Christopher, along with production company Anonymous Content. The search for Fuller’s replacement is ongoing.
Will it win or die? Vampire stories, like the elegant, undead beings themselves, are tough to kill—it wasn’t that long ago that the Twilight franchise was raking it in at the box office, and The Vampire Diaries hung on for eight seasons. But Rice’s florid prose and charming protagonist have yet to be successfully translated onto the screen; and, after a recent glut of vampire-centered projects, these “children of the night” have started to fall out of fashion. But if Hulu can find a showrunner who marries the horror and luxury with the same panache as Fuller, The Vampire Chronicles might have a Gendry’s chance at the crown. [Danette Chavez]
What is it? “In this fresh take on the Arthurian legend, teenager Nimue joins forces with mercenary Arthur on a quest to find Merlin and deliver an ancient sword.” This “fresh take” comes from Tom Wheeler and Frank Miller (Sin City), who imagine the Lady Of The Lake as the teenage Nimune.
How far along is it? In this post-Game Of Thrones world, the book on which the show is based doesn’t even have to be published before its TV adaptation is announced. Cursed the illustrated YA book will be published around the same time Cursed the Netflix series airs. Simon & Schuster publishes the book in fall of 2019. Netflix has “2019” as the date for the series, and with no acting or directing talent attached to the project, it’s likely the show will also debut late next year at the earliest.
Will it win or die? Netflix’s previous Game Of Thrones attempt, Marco Polo, didn’t go so well for the company. But Cursed’s closest recent point of comparison, BBC’s Merlin, did all right, and by putting a woman at the center of the series and a strong visual artist behind the look of the projects, maybe Cursed won’t live up to its name. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
34. The Witcher
What is it? Andrzej Sapkowski’s sprawling series of Witcher novels has already been adapted a few times, most notably via CD Projekt Red’s trilogy of unusually well-written video games. They follow Geralt Of Rivia, a monster-hunting lothario at work in a time of shadily understood magic, grand political intrigue, and appealingly medieval ribaldry. (Fans of the game are obsessed with a sex scene atop a unicorn, for example.) Netflix has tapped Daredevil and The Defenders writer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich to helm an eight-episode series.
How far along is it? Far enough to have its own placeholder page on Netflix. Hissrich documents everything on Twitter, including script progression, shooting locations, and its possible premiere of 2020. And one all-important casting choice has been made: Henry Cavill will be taking on the role of Geralt.
35. Kingkiller Chronicle
What is it? The first two books of the Kingkiller Chronicle series follow the wizard Kvothe from the time he’s orphaned as a child through his adventurous adolescence. The saga is told to a scribe by a much older Kvothe, who in present day is in hiding as a humble barkeep in the boonies. Like George R.R. Martin before him, author Patrick Rothfuss has yet to publish the final installment of his Kingkiller Chronicle series. But that hasn’t stopped Hollywood from envisioning, in Rothfuss’ words, a “big narratively intertwined multi-platform development deal” that includes film adaptations, a TV show set in the same fantasy world, and video games.
How far along is it? In January, Variety confirmed that Sam Raimi will direct the first film installment. Back in 2017 John Rogers (who worked on the shows Leverage, The Player, and The Librarians) was attached to the Showtime series, and Lin-Manuel Miranda is producing and working on music for both projects, though specifics of his involvement have yet to be revealed.
Will it win or die? There’s a lot of content in the works, so it’s very possible one project will flourish and the other flounder. Rothfuss’ work is meandering; the joy of reading his winding prose is often in the setting and character study. It’ll be up to each team adapting the work to make the plot work for a different medium while keeping Rothsfuss’ charm intact. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]
What is it? Halo’s one of the grand sagas of video games, stretching across five numbered installments, although that has a lot more to do with setting and feel than narrative. Still, there’s a rich lore surrounding the hulking, genetically modified soldier Master Chief, his AI companion Cortana, and their fight against a variety of alien races, which has, over the course of well over a decade, seen unsuccessful adaptation attempts by talent like Guillermo del Toro, Alex Garland, Peter Jackson Neill Blomkamp, Steven Spielberg, and D.B. Weiss. After years in limbo, Showtime picked up a 10-episode series in June.
How far along is it? Kyle Killen, of the well-liked but little-watched dramas Lone Star and Awake, is serving as writer and showrunner, and Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ Rupert Wyatt is attached to direct “several” episodes. It’s due out in 2020.
Will it win or die? Showtime CEO David Nevins has pointedly rejected comparisons to Game Of Thrones, comparing Halo more directly to Star Trek. The end result probably won’t be either, but Spielberg’s still serving as executive producer, and they’re throwing an awful lot of money at it. We’ll give it a couple seasons, in other words. [Clayton Purdom]
What is it? One of the more beloved science fiction series from the end of the 20th century, Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos tell the massively sprawling story of a mysterious future pilgrimage, giant outer-space battles, poetry, and the fate of all beings. Maybe that sprawl is why the series will reportedly only be based on the first book in the series, Hyperion—the one with seven pilgrims on a journey to unravel a mystery.
How far along is it? God only knows. Bradley Cooper is one of the primary forces behind this adaptation, and he’s been a little busy since the project was first announced three years ago. Simmons took to the internet last year to suggest there was no way in hell this series would actually be happening, but we have yet to get an official word on that.
Will it win or die? It’s a heady narrative, meaning the odds of it managing to attain Thrones-level numbers (especially on Syfy—and a Syfy budget) is pretty nonexistent. Still, there’s some awfully horrifying violence. [Alex McLevy]
What is it? Long before he began doling out books in the A Song Of Ice And Fire series, George R.R. Martin published the sci-fi/horror novella Nightflyers. In the original novella, the crew of the Nightflyer spaceship—a feat of engineering, it’s almost completely autonomous—conducts extraterrestrial research and battles multiple malevolent, unseen beings. The novella was republished as part of a short story collection, and adapted for the big screen by Martin himself in 1987.
How far along is it? When we first published this feature in September 2018, we only had a couple of teaser trailers to go on. The series, which stars Gretchen Mol, Eoin Macken, and Jodie Turner-Smith, premiered on Syfy in November 2018, at which time we observed in our season review that “[i]t’s never boring, but [Nightflyers] struggles to rise above the uneven handling of the material.”
Will it win or die? The direct Martin connection obviously boosts the show’s profile, but not necessarily its odds of following in Thrones’ footsteps. The previous adaptation struggled to recreate the thrills of Aliens, which was released just one year prior, and fell flat. Ultimately, this latest iteration, produced by Doug Liman and Dexter’s Daniel Cerone, was more “Event Horizon than Game Of Thrones,” likely relegating it to the annals of time. [Danette Chavez]
39. The Continental
What is it? John Wick: Chapter 2 escalated its parent series from above-average action to brilliantly bonkers by leaning hard into the franchise’s goofy mythology, emphasizing a world of honorable contract killers and the high-class, rules-heavy hotels where they reside, wearing fancy suits and thinking about guns. Starz is putting its marker down on the idea that said universe can sustain that same interest even without Baba Yaga himself—although Keanu Reeves is expected to occasionally pop in for this TV take on his hit series, presumably checking in on a new assassin protagonist.
How far along is it? Far enough that director Chad Stahelski has committed to filming the pilot, although it’s not expected to start filming until after John Wick 3 hits theaters next year.
Will it win or die? As we all know, John Wick is functionally unkillable. But despite the occasional Keanu drop-in, there’s no compelling evidence that this’ll end up being anything more than a cheap (if potentially inventive) knock-off of his signature style. [William Hughes]
40. The Broken Earth
What is it? TNT’s new series will adapt the first volume in sci-fi author N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking, three-time Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season. An epic drama set on a supercontinent being torn apart both literally and figuratively, The Broken Earth will follow a woman named Essen as she crosses this ruinous land to piece together her shattered family. Sleepy Hollow and 24: Legacy’s Leigh Dana Jackson is set to write the adaptation.
How far along is it? The adaptation was announced in August of 2017, with no more details.
Will it win or die? The powerful storyline and astonishingly complex world of Jemisin’s series could definitely translate to a seismic, Game Of Thrones-level phenomenon, but its home at TNT does make its execution less sure. [Kelsey J. Waite]
Sellswords (No Network)
What is it? As great and acclaimed as J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy is, [whispers] Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series may be better. The first two books—a hallucinatory saga of a ruined castle and the fantastical creatures still adhering to its archaic rituals—were released in 1946 and 1950, but Peake eventually released a third installment shortly before his death, which detoured into an even stranger, almost proto-steampunk city. (A fourth installment, by his wife, was released in 2009.) The BBC adapted the first two novels to some acclaim in 2000, but Neil Gaiman and hack auteur Akiva Goldsman have been tapped to resuscitate it as a full series.
How far along is it? Gaiman has dreamed of adapting the works, which have a clear-cut influence on his style of lustrous dark fantasy, since at least 2015. The new series isn’t attached to a network yet, and has little more going for it than an announcement.
Will it win or die? The books are incomparably rich reading experiences that sometimes stretch single moments out for dozens of pages. There’s not a lot of Red Wedding potential here, in other words, but a worthy adaptation would still be a lot of fun. [Clayton Purdom]
42. Lord Of Light
What is it? The 1968 Hugo Award winner for Best Novel, Lord Of Light is prime for adaptation. Roger Zelazny’s book traverses space and time to tell the story of an avaricious ruling class—self-styled gods, in this case—and an uprising among the disenfranchised. There were plans for a feature film in 1979; they fell through, but not before comics legend Jack Kirby created some artwork for the set. Those designs were a part of the CIA’s Canadian Caper, which was featured in 2012’s Argo.
How far along is it? Universal Cable Productions optioned the rights to Lord Of Light in July 2017, with TV vet Gale Anne Hurd producing via her Valhalla Entertainment company. Ashley Miller (X-Men: First Class) is writing the series and executive producing. No network is attached yet.
Will it win or die?
If the adaptation leans into a class warfare angle, Lord Of Light could be a timely hit. The book is also packed with enough otherworldly characters to make this a lavish escapist fantasy, too. But given its themes and sprawl, Lord Of Light’s reach will probably be more on par with American Gods—which is great, but not quite a phenomenon like Thrones. [Danette Chavez]
43. Sirens Of Titan
What is it? Kurt Vonnegut’s 1959 novel about time travel and Martian invasion (among other things) is an ideal match for Dan Harmon, beloved creator of Community and co-creator of Rick And Morty. Both use sci-fi as a springboard for dark humor and withering insights into the human condition. Helping Harmon bring the project to life—always a fraught process for the creator—is former 24 showrunner Evan Katz.
How far along is it? News first broke about the project in July 2017, but there’s been little since. In a GQ profile published in May of this year, Harmon submitted a script for the show to a producer, who was quoted as being “impressed and thrilled” by it, so there’s that.
Will it win or die? Harmon’s track record is unimpeachable, and Vonnegut’s Vonnegut. If Rick And Morty can be the biggest comedy on air, why can’t this at least be a live-action hit? [Clayton Purdom]