By now, we’ve all heard it at least a thousand times: during its eight seasons on air, Game of Thrones has become a cultural sensation, with more influence than almost any franchise could ever hope to achieve. Its ratings are impenetrable, and each and every decision the series makes sparks passionate conversation. For better or worse, few series can ever spark enough emotion in fans to convince them to, say, start an absurd petition calling for an entire season of television to be remade.
But soon, Game of Thrones will be gone forever, unless you want to stream the entire series again on HBO’s apps or, the premium cabler hopes, tune in for the upcoming spin-offs. So, what will replace it after the finale airs on Sunday night? Throughout its run, Thrones has inspired plenty of imitators—and now, with the finale looming, there are more hopeful contenders waiting in the wings than ever. When viewed at a distance, the Game of Thrones model is simple: make a well-composed and -performed adaptation of existing I.P. that comes with a passionate fan base. The devil, as ever, is in the details.
There are several projects in development right now that are at least trying to fit that formula. And more than anyone, Amazon seems to be leading the charge, hopeful that if it spends enough money on a popular franchise, it can strike gold as well. Though it’s worth a reminder: it’s very likely we’ll never see a phenomenon like Game of Thrones ever again.
Might as well start in the most obvious place, right? HBO has been working on multiple Game of Thrones spin-offs. The first of these will debut next year, and comes from X-Men: First Class and Kingsman: The Secret Service screenwriter Jane Goldman. It’ll take place thousands of years before the events of Game of Thrones. The spin-off’s informal title is The Long Night, and Naomi Watts is on board to star.
There’s a good chance that the spin-offs—or “success shows,” as George R.R. Martin prefers to call them—will gain at least a decent amount of traction, as have series like Better Call Saul and The Good Fight. But replicating the cultural impact of Thrones entirely is a tall order. Chances are, none of the series in this list will match the power of Thrones—but if any of these spin-offs capture even a fraction of that lightning in a bottle, HBO will likely be more than pleased.
Meanwhile, Hulu got its hands on a different Martin work: Wild Cards. In fact, beyond one show, the streamer has a whole universe of series in mind. This series, however, is set in the present, exploring the aftermath of an alien virus that killed off most of Manhattan in 1946. (For another Martin adaptation away from HBO that’s already premiered, see Syfy’s Nightflyers.) For now, the series is still in development, with no expected release date.
Another contender from HBO comes from a different world entirely: the Regina King–staring Watchmen adaptation, which just released another teaser earlier this month and premieres this fall. It’s an adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s popular limited series of graphic novels, and promises to explore some new territory while also hitting a few nostalgic beats.
The series has good chances for success: Damon Lindelof, who created the critically beloved The Leftovers, will executive produce—and given the widespread name recognition Watchmen will bring, its potential seems pretty great. And let’s not forget: V for Vendetta made $70 million in domestic box office, beating its production budget by $15 million. And although there’s been some debate about whether the 2009 film adaptation Watchmen, which ended its box-office run with a multi-million-dollar deficit, was really a “hit,” it did bring in more than $100 million domestically. So if HBO’s adaptation is actually good and well-packaged, there’s a chance HBO could have another big win on its hands.
This one doesn’t require too much explanation, right? Amazon announced two years ago that it was working on a Lord of the Rings streaming series, set before Frodo’s journey out of the Shire. It’s very expensive and based on extraordinarily popular I.P., which will likely bolster its chances—but then again, after the disappointing Hobbit films, Tolkien fans are probably a little wearier than your average fantasy nerd, and some of them might be reluctant to flock to a new adaptation, especially given that the concept is pretty loose. That said, there’s still a lot of potential here, especially if Amazon can throw enough money at a Lord of the Rings star or two to stage a crossover cameo.
But Amazon is actually working on more than one potential Game of Thrones replacement. In addition to Lord of the Rings, Amazon has also dropped $1 billion for Chinese author Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem series. Amazon is also working on an adaptation of The Wheel of Time. The Lord of the Rings series is expected in 2021.
C.S. Lewis’s popular book series is getting its own combination film-and-TV adaptation from Netflix. The same rule for fantasy adaptations still stands, but then again—have you seen this franchise’s box office power?
Also coming from Netflix: The Witcher, adapted from the Polish novel series by Andrzej Sapkowski. The star of that project!? Henry Cavill!
Release dates have yet to be announced for both projects.
This one’s actually a film and TV adaptation. The Kingkiller Chronicle is a book series from author Patrick Rothfuss following a young man named Kvothe on a very magical journey. (A reductive summation of the series would be that it is, in some ways, a geekier Harry Potter—by which I mean Kvothe goes to magic school.) The series is intended to be a trilogy, but so far Rothfuss has released only the first two books—The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear—and a novella about one of Kvothe’s friends, Auri, titled The Slow Regard of Silent Things. Lin-Manuel Miranda is on hand to handle the musical side of the projects, since one of Kvothe’s defining traits is his passion for music and skill with a lute. The TV adaptation will premiere on Showtime.
But the upcoming TV adaptation is not a straight adaptation of Rothfuss’s first Kingkiller book. Instead, it’ll take place a generation before Kvothe’s time, possibly following his parents. This seems like an odd choice, considering most non-fantasy fans would probably scratch their heads if asked what The Kingkiller Chronicle even is. Presumably, Showtime is hoping its own standalone story will be strong enough to capture people’s interest regardless of their familiarity with the source material—and that fans of Rothfuss’s original work will appreciate the expansion of its story. That said, Thrones aired as a faithful adaptation of its source material, which is part of what boosted its success. Plus, as V.F.’s Joanna Robinson has pointed out, one rarely creates a TV sensation by so closely mimicking another one. In other words: if anyone wants to replicate Thrones’s success, they’d probably be well advised to avoid the fantasy genre altogether. Either way, a release date has yet to be announced.
Remember that time Hollywood made a Golden Compass adaptation that premiered and then the franchise went nowhere? The BBC is probably hoping you’ll forget about that and focus on its upcoming adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy series. And the production shingle making it, Bad Wolf, is connected with not only the BBC, but also HBO. The series is set to premiere later this year.
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