Warhammer 40K is set to bring its epic warfare to a new global audience. The world’s most popular miniature wargame has far outgrown tabletops since British manufacturer Games Workshop introduced it in the mid-1980s. Its spin-offs include card games, board games, video games, and animated series. There’s also been a wealth of novels expanding the epic future of a war-riven galaxy and creating a rich mythology that’s now set to come to high-budget TV.
Henry Cavill is set to star and executively produce the new franchise emerging from a deal between Amazon and Games Workshop. After the streaming giant beat off rivals, fans expect Warhammer 40K’s epic warfare to reach a new level in live-action series and films.
In an increasingly crowded fantasy space, Warhammer 40K offers something different. It’s regarded as a grimdark sci-fi, transporting fantasy elements into a bleak far future, where factions fight in a vast and violent war. Those factions include the Imperium of Man, a vast human empire of a million planets, sustained and built around an unseen god-like Emperor. Like the spin-off fiction, any series will probably focus on humanity and its hordes of Space Marines as they engage in an unwinnable battle against alien orks, the elf-like Aeldari, forces of the chaos gods, and Nekron androids.
The canvas is vast, and there’s no doubt the potential for Warhammer to rival Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings in the TV fantasy stakes is huge. Among many hanging questions, there’s the one of who has the vision capable of bringing this gigantic franchise to life. As a space opera with battleships 8 kilometers in length, millions of worlds, and billions of fighters, who’s got the ability to bring that to the screen?
Here are 10 directors with the experience that can bring the colossal universe of Warhammer 40K to Amazon.
Snyder’s ability to take well-known stories and characters and make them darker and heavier is well-proven. He’s also undoubtedly one of the most critical people in Henry Cavill’s career, having cast him as Superman for Man of Steel after a 2004 chance fell through.
Snyder works better with known properties, adding his own distinctive and famously divisive style. If Snyder brought his considerable experience handling vast hordes of zombies and parademons to help develop 40K’s expansion, you might expect a die-hard faction of WarSnyders of Snyderkayers to spring up within days.
The director is currently busy building the Army of the Dead franchise over at Netflix and is set to launch the space opera Rebel Moon on the streamer too. A sci-fi saga at the big rival may be a bit much unless Cavill is particularly persuasive.
British director Marshall has repeatedly proven that he can deliver horror, tension, and action. Game of Thrones purposefully brought him onboard to bring the Battle of Blackwater from page to TV at the climax of season 2.
After a long dip into TV and an unfortunate scrape with big-budget fantasy in the form of the ill-fated Hellboy reboot, Marshall has returned to directing the lower-budget horror action that made his name, so it’s unlikely he’ll be tempted back to a mega-studio production. That’s a shame, as Warhammer 40K will need to retain its distinctly British slice of dystopia among the carnage.
Jones is known for his scrape with another fantasy war epic, World of Warcraft. The reputation of his adaptation, 2016’s Warcraft, is unfair — it remains the highest-grossing video game adaption of all time. Still, his skills as a director of riveting and mysterious sci-fi (Moon, Source Code), paired with his experience with high-profile orks and elves, could be the perfect mix for 40K’s Orks and Aeldari.
Jones isn’t shy about taking British genre concepts to the next level. He’s currently attached to an adaptation of 2000 AD’s super soldier saga, Rogue Trooper.
Another Thrones alumnus and one of that series’ key directors, you’ll be familiar with Sapochnik’s work on the show through forgettably unimportant episodes like “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” in the sixth season, the former winning him a directing Emmy. He returned for the final season for epic episodes “The Long Night” and “The Bells.”
With “The Long Night”, Sapochnik was responsible for the longest Game of Thrones episode and an epic feature-length conclusion to the series’ major fantasy plot.
J. A. Bayona
The first movie Bayona ever watched was Richard Donner’s Superman, so what could be better than working with an actual Superman? His diverse and successful feature career has taken him from 2007’s The Orphanage to the epic actioner Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. That’s a strong pedigree, but most recently, he’s also helped develop Amazon’s massive fantasy epic, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Bayona directed the first two episodes of the biggest fantasy TV show ever put into production.
He’s currently working on the true story Society of the Snow for Netflix and an adaptation of Chaves Nogales’ Spanish civil war tome, Sangre y Fuego. However, having launched one fantasy epic for Amazon, he may be tempted to repeat the (unchaotic) magic.
Verhoeven is another director who’s fallen back to lower-profile work after the high-concept, hard-edged, and wryly political actioners that made his name in the ’80s and ’90s, like Robocop and Total Recall.
The treatment he gave Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers in 1997 was sublime, juggling three essential factors in a way that’s certain to influence Warhammer 40K. These factors being: forces of humanity heading out into the universe against impossible hordes, the chaotic but mysteriously organized Arachnid forces, and perhaps most importantly, he ensured satire was front and center, adding depth, resonating socially and politically, and paying tribute to B-movie sci-fi actioners.
Wayne Che Yip
This British director’s career looks like a march toward helming Warhammer 40K. He followed Brit cult shows like Misfits and Utopia with five episodes of Doctor Who and its young adult spin-off Class.
Yip has also notched credits steering Doom Patrol, The Wheel of Time, and most recently, The Rings of Power. His vast experience could apply to various aspects of the 40K universe.
Best known as Commander Riker, the accomplished director once faced one of Star Trek’s major challenges – directing the difficult second-second film. The second movie starring the original series’ crew was the ground-breaking classic The Wrath of Khan, which redefined Starfleet and gave Trek a new militaristic emphasis.
For The Next Generation’s second big-screen outing, Frakes ramped up the ante with First Contact’s ludicrously good sci-fiction actioner and the Borg’s finest hour. Frakes would bring a stable pair of hands to add weight to the armies of 40K, particularly a hierarchy of crucial characters against unimaginable hordes.
Another British director with an immaculate record of big-screen battles, historical epics, and dystopian science fiction. Yes, there’ve been a few clangers along the way, but Scott’s arguably never had this kind of playbox. Kingdom of Heaven showed what he could do with a 12th-century crusade. Warhammer would give him a chance to update it to a space crusade.
Imagine the betrayals and battles, politics, and power struggles of that 2005 epic, as well as Robin Hood and Gladiator, played out with Space Marine Power Armor.
It’s no mistake that several names on this list have withdrawn from just the kind of high-profile, big-budget, mega-concept projects Warhammer 40K promises to be. Adapting vast imaginative universes and managing diverse vested interests isn’t easy. Lynch is one of the most famous examples of a singular vision caught by the studio system. But despite its evident problems, his 1984 Dune is an influential classic.
While Denis Villeneuve’s 2021 adaptation wisely split the first volume of Frank Herbert’s epic in two, it felt rushed in some areas compared to the early acts of Lynch’s imaginative take. His memorable, if flawed, adaptation also delivered his usual superb casting. It would be incredible if the legendary helmer combined his sci-fi pedigree with his non-narrative, dream-like take on man’s future fight against chaos.