There are a lot of movies being postponed or canceled right now. Reading about all these cancellations during our downtime got us thinking – whatever did happen to that ‘Duke Nukem’ we were all promised two years ago, with WWE star John Cena in the lead role and a huge Hollywood budget to back it up? Shouldn’t that have finished filming by this point? In fact, shouldn’t it already have appeared on someone’s release schedule?
The fact that there’s no sign of the film should be enough to tell you that things didn’t go to plan with the character’s transition to the big screen. Some people even claim that the movie was never supposed to happen at all. Early in 2019, Jon St. John spoke to ScreenRant and confirmed that not only was there no movie or new video game planned, but there had never been in the first place. All the speculation, according to him at least, was unfounded. He was concerned that the character – one that he’s grown very attached to over the years – was slipping away forever, without any future at all.
Jon St. John’s words should be taken at face value. He’s about as big an authority on all things ‘Duke Nukem’ as it’s possible to be, and if anything was currently up anybody’s sleeve – be it a movie or a new game – as the character’s iconic voice performer, he should be among the first people to know. That doesn’t mean that he’d necessarily know everything, though. Jon wasn’t the man in the frame to play the character on the big screen. John Cena was. Any movie studio interested in developing a Cena-led film wouldn’t have to seek Jon St. John’s blessing, and it’s entirely conceivable that someone, somewhere, is pressing on with the work quietly unbeknownst to Jon St. John or anybody else connected to the classic series of games.
While nothing is certain in Hollywood, we’re as positive as we possibly can be that a movie version of ‘Duke Nukem’ had been given the official green light at one point. The John Cena stories, which first appeared in early 2018, didn’t come from nowhere. The Hollywood Reporter broke the story and claimed that Paramount had picked up the project, and pro-wrestling star Cena had already signed on the dotted line to play the part. Not only that, but Platinum Dunes were also involved as the production company, and a script had been ordered. At the end of 2018, things were still moving forward. Cena was still involved, and Assassin’s Creed producer Jean-Julien Baronnet had been put in charge of developing the film and ensuring that viewers ended up with a quality product.
Since then, everything’s gone quiet. If the movie is dead, this wouldn’t be the first time that ‘Duke Nukem’ fans had been let down in recent years. Many of us are still angry about what a mess ‘Duke Nukem Forever’ was when it was released in 2011, and it’s thought that the failure of that game is at least partially responsible for the cancellation of ‘Duke Nukem Begins,’ and the lack of interest in bringing the character back from anybody involved with Gearbox Software. We’re now on our ninth year without a new game, and the longer that wait goes on, the more likely it is that the character is gone forever – from the video game world at least.
It wasn’t just the main series of games that took a hit from the failure of ‘Duke Nukem Forever.’ One of the few playable parts of the game was a slot machine that brought rewards and achievements if players hit the jackpot. Apparently, that was supposed to lead to an official Duke Nukem game being released for online slots websites such as Dovecasino.com. That would put ‘Duke Nukem’ among a small and very select number of video game characters that have their own online slots, including Lara Croft, the cast of ‘Street Fighter,’ and (strangely) ‘Bloodrayne.’ Millions of people play online slots all over the world every day. An official ‘Duke Nukem’ slot could have sustained or even grown further interest in the product. Sadly, it never saw the light of day.
As it’s been so long since there was any news on the feature film, all we’re left with is speculation and assumptions. Perhaps there were difficulties with the script. Perhaps it’s stuck in ‘Development Hell.’ This was always likely to be a difficult game to turn into a movie – the main cut and thrust of the character’s personality is brash, out-of-touch, and decidedly un-PC. A ‘Duke Nukem’ movie that drew heavily on the source material would be met with bad reviews and complaints in 2020, and there’s little doubt that the protagonist would appear dated and out-of-touch to the majority of younger movie-goers.
One way around the problem of the character’s sexism and other undesirable traits would be to play it for laughs, with fourth wall breaks and several knowing looks to the camera, but ‘Deadpool’ has taken that ball and run with it about as far as it’s possible to go. Writers wouldn’t want to be accused of copying ‘Deadpool,’ but nor would they want to be stuck with a film that would be panned by sensitive critics the moment it was released. It’s a difficult situation to navigate, and so it’s entirely possible that the reason there’s no sign of the film is that the team trying to put it together just haven’t come up with a solution for the problem yet. Unfortunately for us, it’s possible that they never will.
The mere existence of this website and its forums proves that there’s still a market there for ‘Duke Nukem’ and that there’s still a demand for new content. That could be a new game, a new film, a Netflix television series, or just about anything. If the movie idea has been ditched, it would be nice if somebody could tell us. If Gearbox has made a final decision about abandoning the franchise, it would be nice if they could tell us that, too. Some news would be better than no news – even if the news is bad.