I wouldn’t be surprised if you have no idea who Duke Nukem even is — that’s how hard the classic video game franchise cratered a decade ago. Today, the character is mostly known as a punchline for video game vaporware jokes, about how Duke Nukem Forever spent 14 years in development hell only to become a huge flop.
And yet for years now, Duke’s corporate owners have been whispering that a movie is coming, culminating in The Hollywood Reporter’s story today: Legendary Entertainment has tapped Cobra Kai creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg to actually produce a feature film.
I don’t quite know how to react! As a gamer who actually quite liked Duke Nukem, Duke Nukem II and Duke Nukem 3D, I absolutely agree that this movie should never be made because Duke Nukem has no depth and no story and was always designed to be a caricature. (Side note: the famous quote about coming to kick ass and chew bubblegum and being all out of gum? Like most of Duke’s other quotes, it’s from the movies they based him on.)
But have you seen Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid spinoff that reunites the original actors for a TV series that’s gone four seasons and counting and is maybe worthy of calling it a sequel? We were skeptical at first, but after a handful of episodes I had to admit they found something worth watching.
If anyone can redeem an old embarrassingly machismo and often insensitive franchise that’s become totally irrelevant to the modern era, it’s these people. They’ve got an entire playbook.
The previous producers attached to a Duke Nukem movie, back when John Cena was going to star, also understood he was going to be a tough sell — in 2018, they told CinemaBlend that they’d have to pull a Deadpool to get the tone right, and admitted they were “struggling” with how to make the misogynistic character “fun and loveable” and “an incredible badass” all at the same time. (There were also earlier attempts at a Duke Nukem movie in the late ‘90s, 2001, and 2008, according to Wikipedia.)
Since 2018, plans for a film have been off and on again, possibly due to the status of the Duke Nukem intellectual property rights. Embracer Group, which just this week saw Saudi Arabia purchase a $1 billion stake in the company, snapped up Gearbox Software in February of last year, and it also bought the owner of 3D Realms last August. Prior to that, Gearbox and 3D Realms had fought for the better part of a decade over who actually owned which parts of Duke Nukem in a series of lawsuits, but now they’re all under the same umbrella — which, as Rock Paper Shotgun points out, paves the way for a Duke Nukem revival.
But my question is: which Duke will return? Here’s hoping the Cobra Kai creators remember there was a time before the ugliness of Duke Nukem 3D. Remember when men were pixelated, enemies were robots, and sustenance consisted of a turkey leg that turned into an entire turkey when you shot it with a laser pistol? Those were the days.