With Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves coming out, fans of Dungeons & Dragons are finally getting another big-screen adaptation of the series. While some previous attempts have been reviled, the universally-known table-top RPG has managed to inspire many other creatives.
As such, it has been featured in a number of movies, and particularly in episodes of television, where the game has been used in the past to mock nerd culture. However, at other times it is shown for the eventful, fun storytelling and the madcap way in which players can get incredibly invested in a fantasy world in a short space of time. Some of these scenes are great examples of how Dungeons & Dragons can truly grip players.
6 Stranger Things
It was a particularly bold move for a television show to open with a scene where a group of young boys is playing Dungeons & Dragons. The many parallels made by the Stranger Things gang to how their lives have slowly become a long D&D session have always been amusing. But it is easy to forget that they started the worldwide phenomenon of a show with a bog-standard nerdy kid night-in after a mysterious terror scene in a lab.
Mike threatening his three friends with the Demogorgon was foreshadowing for the rest of the first season and what the town of Hawkins would face. But it was also an introduction to these four characters, who have remained central to the show to this day. While they have changed since then, the way they get invested in their adventures, both table-top and real-world, hasn’t changed at all. D&D helped to truly set the scene in this case for a show that has become one of the most culturally significant in the world over the last ten years.
Few shows have deep-dived so completely into D&D for an episode, and even fewer have repeated the feat a second time around. Community creator Dan Harmon is known for doing takes on pop culture between this show and Rick & Morty, but one of his very best has been the Dungeons & Dragons-themed episode “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” from season 2.
This Community episode did several things very well. Presenting Pierce as the foil to the group that wasn’t invited to play was excellent. Having an actual point as the group tried working together to include Fat Neil, a character who seems on the verge of self-harm gave the episode stakes. Finally, having Abed control and build the world with incredible detail, and having the players get invested in the game in a very true-to-life fashion was brilliantly shown and executed. Fans of Dungeons & Dragonshave cited this Community episode as a perfect example of how first-time players get drawn into playing more Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, it seems Dungeons & Dragons won’t be coming to the Community movie.
While it isn’t a huge scene, E.T. gave the world one of the first major movie scenes that referenced Dungeons & Dragons. Coming in 1982, the scene featured Elliot’s older brother playing the game with his friends. When asked how they win the game, their mother is told that you can’t win.
The cultural significance of this scene being played in such a major motion picture at the time was huge. While Elliot wasn’t allowed to join in by the older boys, the play seemed to be intense and an exciting way to spend an evening. This representation of the game was one of the first steps to it becoming as mainstream as it has managed today.
While this was not a single scene, nor one which actually featured the game being played, it had to be included. The Futurama movie released in 2008 was set inside the mind of Bender after he went insane, and it built an entire world that was fully inspired by D&D.
Featuring an actual tribute to Gary Gygax, who created the game and died during the production of the movie, this was one of the most blatant examples of how Dungeons & Dragons has influenced pop culture. The movie was all a tribute to the game, featuring many aspects and a very recognizable world to anyone that has played much D&D. Futurama has powerful emotional tributes to pop culture, and this was one of the best.
2 The Big Bang Theory
It is surprising that it took a show like The Big Bang Theory so long to have a major D&D scene, but it wasn’t until the final season of the show that this major one took place. Wil Wheaton was a recurring character throughout the show, and appearing as the Dungeon Master here to a star-studded cast of cameo guests was no surprise.
The fact that William Shatner was one of those guests elevated the entire episode a great deal though. Joe Manganiello, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kevin Smith also joined in for what was a very fun episode. It was referencing the kind of game that it is frankly surprising the main characters hadn’t been seen playing more in the previous eleven years.
1 The I.T Crowd
A slightly more niche, but excellently executed take on Dungeons & Dragons from the world of television came on The I.T Crowd. The British show was famous for pitting two “standard nerds” in Roy and Moss against their boss/relationship manager Jen. However, when Jen had to entertain some businessmen from out of town for an evening, she left it up to Moss to run a game of D&D for them.
The episode features some ruddy mysterious music, a number of notable D&D elements, and most importantly a group of men who had no intention of enjoying the game finding themselves in love with it after only a short time. Also helping Roy get over a break-up through the storytelling of the fantasy world, Moss led a great game and made for a comical but wonderful episode.
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is set for release in theaters on March 31st, 2023.
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