While writing my guide to the heroes of Duncan Jones' Warcraft Movie over the weekend, something really struck me. What happened to big ticket Epic Fantasy at the box office?
Fantasy movies in the early 00's went through something of a renaissance - we had Lord of the Rings dominating the box offices, and the explosion of the Harry Potter films leading to Pottermania all over the world. It sparked an explosion of epic fantasy that gave us the likes of the Narnia trilogy, your Eragons and your Beowulfs, and now, that's sort of trickled out into nothingness. Sure, we've had the Hobbit movies recently, and then animated 'traditional fantasy' like How to Train Your Dragon, but that's kind of it. It feels like the Fantasy genre has given way in mainstream movies - Hell, Warcraft feels like it's going to be the next big Fantasy movie on the table at the moment. So where did the Fantasy revival go?
I think it's partially because we've sort of flip-flopped back over to Sci-Fi being the big hot thing - now more than ever it feels like we're getting more and more science fiction, from things like the post-apocalypse dystopia of The Hunger Games, or more spacey fair like Oblivion or JJ Abrams' Trek movies, all rippling out of the likes of Avatar back in 2009. We're arguably at the height of that Sci-Fi bubble right now - the future is currently in, be it TV, in games or at the Box Office. That's not to say that's a bad thing (considering I write for a science-oriented blog, that'd be kind of weird), but it's been an interesting evolution to see movies sort of grow out of the tradition of Fantasy - something that almost harbours a childlike aspect to it, the fairytales and stories of Childhood writ large - and look to the future instead.
But weirdly enough, I think part of Fantasy's decline at the movies is also in part due to the rise of the Superhero genre. Now before you deliver a baffled 'bu-wha?' to your computer screen - if we look at the typical themes of Superheroes, it's easy to see how they'd supplant traditional fantasy fare. There's the monstrous villains, the magical abilities (even Thor, perhaps the most traditionally fantastical of the superheroes we have at the Box Office, has a line about his society being based on science so advanced it might as well be magic - and we'll have Doctor Strange in a few years using actual magic!), the age old battle between good and evil. Superheroes have long been held as the modern myth, the sort of childhood tale that's subverted traditional fantasy stories and supplanted them with Captain America, Batman et. al.. Part of the appeal of the fantasty movie is that inherent childishness that they all tapped into, that they are the stories of our youth writ large on a big screen. Comic books heroes have supplanted that childish nostalgia in a way for so many children (and the still children at heart) - and so they've given us the new fantasy of the big screen, your Avengers and your Justice Leagues, even Big Hero Six. One kind of fantasy, replaced with another.
In a way, it's kind of sad though. Sure, we have the fantasy elements there in the rise of Superhero movies, but for all the similarities it's not quite the same. Maybe it is nostalgia talking (and the blessing and curse that all that entails), but I do miss that sword and sorcery, traditional fantasy world. I can get my fix elsewhere these days - mainly video games, like the upcoming Warlords of Draenor or Dragon Age Inquisition! - but there's something about fantasy at the big screen that's captivating.
Who knows, maybe Warcraft could kick off a new revival of interest in the genre in Hollywood. Maybe when we're done with Superheroes (something that's unlikely to happen soon, if Disney, Sony and Warner Bros. have anything to say about it), we'll turn back to the fantasy of old. But for now, it seems like the days of Epic Fantasy are resigned to anywhere but the Cinema.
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