First off, I have finally, finally figured out how to work this thing, or maybe I just found a better browser. Anyway, after a hiatus of…hmmm….it’s been too long for me to remember…I’m back!
So, now that I’ve gotten that taken care of, on with the show!
As we began the 2000 decade, it seemed swords and fantasy on the big screen was in. But as we approach the 2010 decade, it seems the genre has run out of gas. Remember when we thought the releases of the first Harry Potter movie and the Lord of the Rings movies would usher in a new wave of fantasy? As it turned out, those plus Narnia were the only ones that truly broke out.
Consider the fantasy titles of the past decade: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bridge to Terabithia, Eragon, The Dark is Rising, City of Ember, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Inkheart, The Golden Compass, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Peter Pan, and Ella Enchanted. It’s hard to find a movie in there that truly captured the hearts of filmgoing audiences; many of them were in and out before you knew it. Studios sank tons of cash to bring the otherworldly to life, but didn’t get a lot of coin in return.
The ones that succeeded seemed to have to really transcend the genre to achieve widespread success. The Shrek films were mostly satirical jokes on old fairy tales. Narnia and LOTR are like the granddaddies of modern fantasy that everyone else has been ripping off of, and Harry Potter was a pop culture phenomenon that made Pokémon look like Go-Bots. If we want to count the Pirates of the Caribbean flicks, those came from a Disney theme park ride, and seemed to ride the wave of Johnny Depp’s weirdness as much as the swords and swashbuckling.
It seems nothing outside of the Narnia-Lord of the Rings-Harry Potter troika has broken out yet. In fact, if you check boxofficemojo.com, you’ll find a list of live-action fantasy films by box-office gross-and every slot in the first ten is taken up by every Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Narnia film. This may not bode well for future fantasy films, as studio heads may conclude that the trio had tons of name recognition and goodwill to put people in theater seats, enabling them to surpass the restrictions of a genre that produces more cult hits than box office hits. Many of these other books that got adapted are generally the books you read after you’ve read one of the troika. Who was talking about The Golden Compass before it became a movie? It was always on the bookshelf, but it never had Harry Potter’s cache, and audiences didn’t know what to think of it when it came out as a movie. The Golden what? And it certainly didn’t help that TGC was written by a man who had a bone to pick with Christianity. Nope, not at all.
Prior to the troika, it’s hard to think of a fantasy film that really was a major hit. Legend, Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Dragonslayer, Dragonheart, none was a huge hit. Even George Lucas couldn’t push straight fantasy when he did Willow. It’s not an easy genre to master, and it’s not easy to make on the cheap unless you’re doing a Conan or Hercules rip-off in Italy with muscled guys in furry shorts. There are even signs that the big troika is running out of gas. Prince Caspian’s performance was so disappointing that Disney bailed on the forthcoming Dawn Treader picture, which is being picked up by Fox instead. The next Harry Potter flick was delayed until summer for fear that it wouldn’t perform as well.
So why does fantasy seem to be petering out? Is it just cyclical? Or were most of the movies just not that good? I personally saw Eragon, The Seeker: The Dark is Rising, and Inkheart. All of them disappointed me. Somehow, moviemakers just aren’t connecting with audiences. Or perhaps the genre itself is limiting in such a way that you need something more to make the leap to the mainstream, perhaps not unlike Star Wars. There were a number of sci-fi films made shortly after Star Wars, but none were big hits. Aside from LOTR or Harry Potter, a lot of the successful fantasy films were more like adventure pieces, like Indiana Jones or The Mummy. They had fantastical creatures or supernatural powers, but they were grounded more in the real world, taking their cue more from adventure serials than straight fantasy.
So, is it the movies themselves, or the genre? Maybe a bit of both?