The Tom Hanks Dungeons & Dragons Horror Movie That’s Actually A True Story

By Charlene Badasie | Updated

tom hanks
Mazes and Monsters

The 1982 Tom Hanks movie, Mazes and Monsters is currently streaming on Peacock. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Rona Jaffe and revolves around the dangers of role-playing games, focusing on a fictional game similar to Dungeons & Dragons. Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern, the movie features Hanks in his first lead acting role.

The story follows four college students who become deeply involved in a fantasy role-playing game known as Mazes and Monsters. Robbie Wheeling (Tom Hanks), Daniel, Kate, and Jay-Jay are the students. Robbie, who has a troubled past and an overprotective mother, becomes increasingly engrossed in the game, slowly blurring the lines between fantasy and reality.

Mazes and Monsters was not released in theaters. Instead, it was a made-for-television movie that aired on CBS in 1982.

The story takes a dark turn when Robbie decides to embark on a journey to find the secret Great Hall. Concerned for his well-being, his friends try to bring him back to reality, but their efforts only drive him further into his delusion. The movie culminates in a gripping finale where Robbie’s life is in danger as he remains convinced that he is on an actual quest.

Mazes and Monsters was not released in theaters. Instead, it was a made-for-television movie that aired on CBS in 1982. The film received mixed reviews from critics. Some praised the performances of the cast, especially Tom Hanks, while others criticized the portrayal of role-playing games and their alleged impact on mental health.

tom hanks
Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters

Real-Life Tragedy Inspired The Movie

The Tom Hanks movie was inspired by the real-life disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, a college student who went missing in 1979. Jaffe based his novel on inaccurate newspaper stories about Egbert’s disappearance, which blamed Dungeons & Dragons for his actions. But it was later revealed that personal issues unrelated to the game were the primary reasons for what transpired.

James Egbert III was a brilliant young man with a troubled personal life. He had experienced difficulties adjusting socially and had faced bullying in his earlier years. He turned to fantasy role-playing games, particularly Dungeons & Dragons, which he played with friends and local gamers as a means of escape and expression.

In 1979, during a break from college, Egbert went missing. His disappearance was initially linked to his interest in D&D, and rumors circulated that he had become so immersed in the game that he had lost touch with reality. It was speculated that he was attempting to live out a real-life version of the game, including hiding in steam tunnels beneath the university’s campus, just like the Tom Hanks movie.

The media attention and sensationalized coverage of the case led to a moral panic surrounding D&D and other role-playing games. The portrayal of the game as dangerous (as seen in the Tom Hanks movie) created a distorted image of the hobby and its enthusiasts. Investigations into Egbert’s disappearance were complex and involved multiple agencies, including private investigators hired by his family.

The case also took a toll on Egbert’s parents, who struggled to cope with the uncertainty surrounding their son’s disappearance. In reality, Egbert’s disappearance had little to do with his interest in Dungeons & Dragons. After an extensive search, it was discovered that Egbert had left MSU voluntarily to visit several cities, staying with various people he had met along the way.

The portrayal of Dungeons & Dragons as dangerous (as seen in the Tom Hanks movie) created a distorted image of the hobby and its enthusiasts.

tom hanks
Tom Hanks in Mazes and Monsters

Unlike the Tom Hanks movie, with its questionable ending, Egbert was found in Morgan City, Louisiana, staying with a private investigator named William Dear, who had been hired to find him. Egbert was dealing with personal issues and academic pressure, which had led him to run away and seek refuge outside of Michigan.

His connection to role-playing games was a small part of the broader picture. As more accurate information about Egbert’s disappearance became known, the link between the case and D&D was debunked. James Dallas Egbert III returned to Michigan and resumed his studies, but he tragically died by suicide in 1980, less than a year after his initial disappearance.

In retrospect, the case of James Dallas Egbert III serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of sensationalized media coverage, the complexities of mental health struggles, and the need for understanding and support for individuals facing personal challenges. Unfortunately, the Tom Hanks movie saw this tragedy as an opportunity to make a quick buck.

Mazes and Monsters, starring Tom Hanks, is currently streaming on Peacock.