A 'Tower Of Terror' Movie Is Coming, & Here's Why The Theme Park Crossover Might Actually Work
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is one of the more stomach-dropping rides on offer at Disney theme parks (it's been installed at Disney Hollywood Studios, California Adventure, Tokyo DisneySea, and even Walt Disney Studios Park outside Paris). It's a drop-tower ride, which is exactly what it sounds like, and it features plot lines derived from the beloved Twilight Zone television series. And now, the Tower of Terror is returning to the screen, this time washed of its Twilight Zone associations — Deadline reports that Disney is currently looking for a screenwriter to tackle the Tower of Terror movie adaptation, with writer John August (Big Fish) and producer Jim Whitaker already on board.
The film is reported to only loosely takes the premise of the ride as its plot. It features five individuals who enter an elevator at an upscale hotel during a storm. They mysteriously vanish when the hotel is struck by lightning — but it's anyone's guess where the film will go from there. Perhaps a Tomorrowland-like transport to a foreign world? It's not the first time that the worlds of theme park and big- or small-screen entertainment have overlapped — it's not even the first time that Tower of Terror itself has been used as the premise for a film.
Yet while it might not be the first, that's not to say that it's a frequent occurrence. Disney and Warner Bros. are making a huge bet on the themed ride's viability as a plot device — clean of its Twilight Zone associations, it relies primarily on audiences' predilection for a good haunted house and associations with the Disney theme park. Based on a (fairly unscientific, Wikipedia-based) survey of the history of films based on Disney theme park rides, the most successful of these has been Pirates of the Caribbean, which moved beyond the ride on which it was based to spawn a massive franchise.
Tower of Terror was adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1997, written by Pendragon series author D.J. MacHale. It was a pretty big flop, earning just a 54 percent "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. (There's a number on the Rotten Tomatoes ratings below which a movie reaches "so-bad-it's-good," but this doesn't start happening till about 20 or 30 percent "fresh." 54 is just, well, kind of "meh.") This leaves the door open for a renewed attempt to adapt the ride, but it doesn't bode well for the prospects of the upcoming Tower of Terror.
Following Tower of Terror came quite a flurry of theme park-adapted films — Mission to Mars, The Country Bears, and The Haunted Mansion were all made in a three-year period, and none of them received any notable critical or popular success. But amid those failed attempts was one massive success that proved that perhaps there might be something to the theme park-film adaptation: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003). Armed with a cast headed by Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, and Orlando Bloom, the film could probably pack audiences on the faces on screen alone. But beyond that, it's a genuinely great action-adventure flick. (Unfortunately, the sequels, while still entertaining, didn't quite live up to the promise of the first installment.)
These efforts were all made by Disney, based on its own theme park rides. This year's Tomorrowland was yet another addition to the collection. Tomorrowland is visually striking but ultimately doesn't quite cohere, despite the pedigree of its director Brad Bird, the man behind The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
But Tower of Terror has seemingly been optioned by Disney in collaboration with Warner Bros. — Deadline reported that it was Warner Bros.' decision to remove the Twilight Zone branding from the film. Perhaps in different studio hands, the film might fare better than its predecessor of nearly two decades prior, or the generally kind-of-okay adaptations that have followed. It's bolstered by its association with the Twilight Zone series. Though the TV series' title has been removed from the adaptation, the name "Tower of Terror" will undoubtedly bring to mind recollections of the cult favorite. But first, Disney and Warner Bros. have got to find a writer.
Images: Walt Disney Studios (2)