Duke Nukem can never die, baby! The butt-kicking, gum-chewing, action movie quote-stealing macho man featured prominently in one of the grandfathers of the first-person shooter genre, Duke Nukem 3D, is attempting to get the movie treatment again through a couple of heavy hitters in Legendary Entertainment and the creators of Cobra Kai. Per The Hollywood Reporter, Legendary acquired the rights from Gearbox for the film with Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg producing.
Duke Nukem has a complicated history, starting off with two MS-DOS titles released back in the early 90s before its landmark FPS title was released by 3D Realms in 1996. Alongside the likes of Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D, it paved the way for other shooters like it, though it stood out for its brand of crass humor and constant movie references. By 2001, it was already a billion-dollar franchise, though the long-awaited follow-up to Duke Nukem 3D would be stuck in development hell. Years later, Gearbox would purchase the franchise and eventually release Duke Nukem Forever, the last entry in the franchise and a game often considered one of the worst ever made.
Arguably, the film adaptation’s history is even wilder than the games’.
This is far from the first time that Duke has been the subject of attention from major production companies. As far back as the late 90s, a Duke Nukem film in some form or another was in the works, starting with the Mortal Kombat film series producer Lawrence Kasanoff‘s proposed adaptation. More recently in 2017, Paramount Pictures and Michael Bay‘s Platinum Dunes were attached to what would’ve been the highest-profile version of a Duke Nukem film yet. John Cena was even in talks to star as its titular protagonist. Production on that film has since gone radio silent with no real updates after Cena‘s reported casting.
Joining the Cobra Kai creators Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg on the production is Jean-Julien Baronnet of Marla Studios. Baronnet has a reputation for working on a few video game adaptations before the adaptation craze swept over streamers. He worked closely on Assassin’s Creed and Rabbids Invasion. Legendary, who recently backed the massive hit Dune, will also produce alongside the trio who is producing through their Counterbalance Entertainment banner and Baronnet.
No writer or director is currently attached to the Duke Nukem film, but The Hollywood Reporter notes that it’s likely one of the three Cobra Kai alums could take the directing gig. Whoever does sit in the director’s chair and pen the script will face the same challenges that have plagued previous developments — how to make Duke Nukem, a quintessentially 90s character, relevant now. The action blockbuster qualities of the franchise bode well for the big screen, but the character is culturally rooted in a different time from his constant quotes of classic action heroes to his very risqué approach toward women.
While work begins on Duke Nukem, Gearbox is also set to debut a film on one of their other massive franchises Borderlands. The film, starring Kevin Hart, Cate Blanchett, and Jack Black, is slated to release in theaters later this year.