The Historical Trilogy Vin Diesel Has Wanted To Make Since 2002

Hollywood is haunted by the denizens of development hell. For every movie that is successfully made and released, there are a dozen doomed productions, unmanageable scripts, and expensive vanity projects. Once in a while, these films defy the odds to be made and released, like the science fiction blockbuster "Avatar." In other cases, like Alejandro Jodorowsky's infamous "Dune" adaptation, ideas and production art were recycled across the industry to great effect. Many more are simply canceled. But not every stranded film production is given the gift of finality. There are those that hang in the air like storm clouds, crackling with potential. They drift in and out of the conversation until their existence seems ridiculous, not worth mentioning really. But enough unknowns remain that they cannot be entirely dismissed.

You may know Vin Diesel for his role in the mega-successful "Fast and Furious" films, for voicing Groot in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies, and for being a big fan of "Dungeons and Dragons." But his greatest ambition remains unrealized. Over the past two decades, rumor has it that Diesel has been planning a movie trilogy. His dream is to play the role of Hannibal Barca, the man who led an army across the Alps on the back of an elephant to attack Rome during the Second Punic War. A man who came as close as any man had in his lifetime to crushing the Roman Empire.

Hannibal the conqueror

According to historians of his time, Hannibal was made to swear an oath to his father at a young age so that he would always work against Rome and its aims. He grew to become the commander in chief of the army of Carthage at the age of twenty-six. In the following years, an attack on the Iberian city of Sagantum stoked Roman fears and led to the Second Punic War. Hannibal led an army of tens of thousands (and over thirty elephants) across the Alps so as to take the fight directly to Rome. He preserved a strong enough fighting force to decimate the Roman army on the battlefield, famously killing roughly 1 in 5 Roman soldiers in the Battle of Cannae. Despite these successes, Hannibal's troops chose to fortify and defend rather than push their advantage, and eventually withered away due to lack of support by Carthage. With every path to obliterating the Roman Empire eventually wiped away, Hannibal chose to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of his enemies.

The story of Hannibal Barca takes place over decades, with a grand march across the mountains at its center. The special effects department would need not only to animate the movements of thousands of soldiers, but to either craft believable computer-generated elephants or (even more absurdly) find and train several real ones. It would be a hugely expensive production, at least as ambitious as the "Lord of the Rings" films, but stuck with an unhappy ending due to the vagaries of history. Not to mention that there is no "Hannibal book" that curious readers can buy in stores, like with "The Illiad." There is only the history, which is admittedly exciting and action-packed but sprawls across multiple source texts and conflicting accounts.

You have not directed enough

The task of mounting a Hannibal trilogy, then, would be daunting even for an experienced director. But let us not dismiss Vin Diesel out of hand. Peter Jackson himself was best known for cheap but effective horror comedies like "Braindead" before he and his team brought "The Lord of the Rings" to the screen. Diesel is a director too; it was his short "Multi-Facial" that convinced Steven Spielberg to cast him in "Saving Private Ryan." According to an interview with Men's Health in 2021, Spielberg would give him the camera while on set so that he could rack up filming experience. Years later, Spielberg would reportedly confess to Diesel (according to Diesel) that "I was secretly championing the director in you, and you have not directed enough."

To Vin Diesel, directing movies means bringing the Hannibal Barca trilogy to fruition. "God," he says in an interview with The National, "you promised the universe, very specifically, the Hannibal Barca trilogy, and you haven't delivered." Diesel discussed his efforts to "channel the character" in an IGN interview published in 2003. Just a few years later, it was announced that he would be producing an animated series titled "Hannibal the Conqueror" alongside BET Networks. That same project would be skewered offhandedly in an infamous episode of "The Boondocks," along with BET proper. As of 2022, neither live-action nor animated features have come to fruition, although Diesel teased an "animated Hannibal prequel" in a 2008 interview on

The largest African elephant in America

Details remain scarce on how or if Vin Diesel intends to make a Hannibal movie trilogy a reality. The details that do exist are intriguing. We know from the aforementioned IGN interview that he traveled to Egypt, Tunisia, and Spain in preparation. We know that he built a "Hannibal tent" in his backyard back in 2003. We know from an interview with USA Today that he took his role in the upcoming "Avatar: Way of Water" as a means of learning the ropes of epic blockbuster filmmaking from James Cameron himself. Most importantly of all, we know that the elephants of Hannibal Barca's story are very important to him. In the IGN interview, he discusses making a pilgrimage to see Chris Gallalucci, who owns "the largest African elephant in America" two hours outside of LA.

Vin Diesel's career is a fascinating mix of massive success and deeply personal failures. On one hand is the "Fast and Furious" franchise of movies, in which Vin Diesel holds court as kingmaker. On the other is "The Last Witch Hunter," a movie unabashedly based upon Vin Diesel's "Dungeons and Dragons" character that bombed at the box office. What these two movies have in common is their vision of Diesel as a rebel who fights the powers that be to protect those close to him. In that respect, the character of Hannibal Barca would be a logical escalation. Hannibal fights the Roman Empire until his dying breath. He accomplishes impossible feats through planning and sheer willpower. While he ultimately fails in his cause, he dies believing in its rightness.

A promise to the universe

I think it is revealing that Vin Diesel went out of his way to track down real elephants while preparing for "Hannibal." Some part of him may have realized that computer-generated elephants wouldn't do. The only way to understand what it would be like to be Hannibal, to channel his spirit, would be to ride on top of the real thing. Vin Diesel is a geek with a past affinity for role-playing. The root of the Hannibal story in grand-scale logistics is certainly a part of its appeal. But then, for many folks I know, the number-crunching of Dungeons and Dragons has always been secondary to the fantasy of playing a role. Whether or not a Hannibal trilogy succeeds will likely depend on whether Diesel and his crew convey to their audience how it feels to ride through the mountains on an elephant.

Hannibal died without achieving his dreams, yet history remembers him as a larger-than-life figure who accomplished things many thought were impossible. Over the course of his career, Vin Diesel evolved from a film director to one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood. Soon he will exceed the age of Hannibal at the time that he took his own life. Time will tell if Diesel lets the dream of Hannibal die, or if elephants rise once more from the mountains to ride the Hollywood streets.