The genre of comic-book and superhero movies has been dominating the box office for well over a decade now, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that changing anytime soon. However, as the landscape of blockbuster filmmaking and streaming services continues to expand, there is now more film and television available for viewing than ever before. One genre that has been finding more and more success with each year has been the world of fantasy. Fantasy has always been a staple genre of filmmaking since the days of early Hollywood, but as with anything, there have been ebbs and flows in its popularity.
In the current entertainment industry, fantasy is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. With each year, the number of popular fantasy series, both on the big screen and on streaming, continues to grow. As this trend continues, the future of the comic-book movie genre may not be as certain as it has been for the last decade. That’s not to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to suddenly come crashing down as fans around the world lose interest, but rather that as its competition continues to increase, the MCU may not maintain the utter dominance over the industry that it currently holds.
Looking ahead at the future of the fantasy film and television landscape, things are continuing to look up for the genre. Each year brings new shows and films of the style, and there are many more on the horizon that are poised to be big successes.
Where it has been
The fantasy genre has always been able to find some level of success in Hollywood. Some of the most iconic films of classic Hollywood, such as The Wizard of Oz and Disney animated films like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland exist within the realm of fantasy. In the following decades, there were also countless other fantasy film successes and cult classics, such as The Princess Bride, Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story and Conan. Plus, one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood’s history, Star Warsemerged in the ’70s and grew into a collection of different science-fiction fantasy flicks.
Over the last 20 years, the genre has been slowly growing more and more. This growth was largely fueled by the immense popularity of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films in the early 2000s. The films were massive successes both critically and financially, with all three being nominated for and winning various Oscars and other accolades. In addition to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series was also finding great success at the box office, which would continue through to the film’s final chapter earning more than a billion dollars upon its 2011 release. The biggest success of this period, however, came in the form of another sci-fi fantasy film, Avatarwhich grossed over two and a half billion dollars worldwide in 2009 and 2010.
The success of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Avatar, however, did continue through to many other fantasy films of the 2000s and 2010s. For example, while The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe performed well, its two sequels Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader saw progressively decreasing box office results. Other attempts at fantasy franchises, such as Eragon and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, also failed to find a mass audience. By the early 2010s, it seemed that the fantasy genre had lost any momentum it had gained from The Lord of the Ringsbut things would soon start to turn around.
Where it is Now
The second half of the 2010s saw the explosion in popularity of two different fantasy franchises, one being a new brand and one being a revived classic. The revival was Star Wars, as Lucasfilm was purchased by Disney and started producing all sorts of new films and series set in the galaxy far, far away. With the exception of Solopretty much every new Star Wars the film was a massive financial success. The brand was suddenly and successfully revived, and now with shows like this The Mandalorian and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+, Star Wars is in a better place now than it has arguably ever been. The other major fantasy franchise of the 2010s was Game of Thrones, which grew into one of the most watched television series of all time over the course of its eight-season run. Now, the brand has been expanded into its first spin-off series, House of the Dragonwhich is putting up some pretty strong viewership numbers for HBO and HBO Max.
The success of Star Wars and Game of Thrones has resulted in a greater interest in high-budget fantasy storytelling. One of the more recent success stories outside those brands is that of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, which hit theaters last year. In addition to being one of the most critically praised movies of the year, Dune also grossed just over $400 million worldwide, which is a fairly impressive number for a pandemic-era film released in theaters and on HBO Max on the same day. 2021 also saw the release of A24’s indie-fantasy epic The Green Knightwhich has developed a strong cult following of its own.
In 2022, the fantasy genre has really started to explode. In addition to three separate Star Wars series (The Book of Boba Fett, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Andor), House of the Dragon made its debut, Netflix’s The Witcher series will get its first spin-off with The Witcher: Blood Origin, The Lord of the Rings made its grand return with Prime Video’s The Rings of Power and Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman has recently become one of Netflix’s latest hits. The year will also end with the long-awaited Avatar sequel, Avatar: The Way of Waterwhich hopes to replicate much of the same success of its 2009 predecessor.
Where It Is Going
Looking forward, much of the future of the fantasy genre will be built off franchises that have already been established in the 2010s and 2020s. Star Wars has a myriad of new shows in development for Disney+, such as The Acolyte, Ahokaand more seasons of The Mandalorian, in addition to whatever films they eventually release. Both The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon have already been renewed for second seasons, and HBO is also actively developing several other new ones Game of Thrones spin-offs. As for Dunea second film is currently shooting with a release date set for late 2023, and a spin-off series called Dune: The Sisterhood is also in development. A third Avatar film is also set for release in 2024, with the fourth and fifth installments also tentatively slated for 2026 and 2028, respectively.
As for new and revived brands, Disney is doing a lot of the legwork on that front. The Mouse House has announced a slew of new Disney+ series based on popular YA fantasy novels such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Eragon, The Spider-Wick Chronicles, and more. Meanwhile, Paramount is attempting to hop aboard this new fantasy trend with Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves set for release on March 3, 2023. If that film finds an audience, there’s likely to be numerous other D&D films plus whatever shows they develop for Paramount+. In addition to their work on Dune, Warner Bros. Discovery is also looking to bring back The Wizard of Ozas Kenya Barris, the creator of ABC’s Black-ish, has been hired to write and direct a new reimagining of the classic story.
The great successes of Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Dune and more have proven that audiences have an appetite for more than just superhero content. Studios have seen that there is money to be made in the world of fantasy storytelling, and this avalanche of newly announced fantasy content is proof of that. With its various magical and otherworldly elements, fantasy is a genre that is a natural fit for the world of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking, and if the genre continues to grow its audience, more and more studios will be willing to invest in that kind of content. If these shows and movies are as successful as they have the potential to be, then over the course of the 2020s the fantasy genre will become a new competitor to comic-book movies.