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Why Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movies Aren't As Well-Watched as They Should Be

Movies are wonder and both true escapism and a reflection of what it is to be human. You'd imagine fantasy movies being the ultimate experience and go-to for movie-goers, as they contrast our core morality of being human against the expansiveness of our imagination, and intrigue of what lies beyond.

But they aren't, in fact they're almost always big flops at the box office, as nobody seems to take them seriously enough to go out and watch them. Of course, save for a few which are often sequels.

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Take recent movied such as Disney's A Wrinkle in Time and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, the 2018 Robin Hood and Peter Jackson's Mortal Engines for instance. All these movies have had the potential of being big box office phenomenons in theory, but nobody actually cared enough to go out there and watch them. Why exactly is that?

I've recently watched these movies and a few others of their kind for research purposes. I wanted to investigate just exactly why science fiction/fantasy films of such a big scale, from exceptionally regarded studios such as Disney and Universal Pictures were failing this miserably. Although my findings aren't absolute, I think I might have just unearthed some of the pivoting reasons why these cinema epics barely scratch the ever-demanding itch of general audiences.


If a film involves any kind of science fiction or fantasy elements, the filmmaker always has to always be sure to ground the magicals in real-life human experiences. I repeat. Human beings are narcissistic creatures and love to see themselves reflected in everything. That's why so many mirrors exist.

This way, by anchoring the story a solid core story, the magicals are prevented from getting ahead of themselves enough to overwhelm the filmmaker. Which is what almost always happens. Filmmakers of such films allow the mysticism run away with them to the point of no return. Which hurts the film, because nobody wants to watch a clusterfuck of high octane and big, incoherent ideas.



This freedom shapes the illusion that there isn't any boundary, convincing a filmmaker that a silly thing such a metal fish spitting fiery nails at a target, for example, will get the crowd going. Meanwhile the audience roll their eyes at this exuberant fish and instead wish for a fish that could just be a goddamn sea-food to-be and be done with it. It's in this way that these filmmakers tend to not really take the magicals seriously enough to make the audience believe in make-believe. So why should any audience even bother?

To Sci-Fi/fantasy filmmakers: use visual illusion sparingly, and only when absolutely necessary. Minimalism is always key, especially here. It's even better if your protagonist is rooted in the realities of being human. So much so that when the magicals take place, the audiences can feel themselves being pulled into the perculiar activities of the unfolding new world. In other words, stay away from over-familiarising the fantastical elements of your film.


Super great examples of these are the Harry Potters, where Harry and his crew are always reluctant to use their magic and are often shaken by the fantastical beasts they come across, as much as the audience is. Other examples include The Lord of the Rings, Mad Max: Fury Road and the more recent Blade Runner: 2049. Through these movies, and a few other great ones, I've learnt that it's always better when the world we're presented to isn't aware of its Sci-Fi/fantasy elements, and instead presents itself as normal even when the audience know that it's far from. It's a psychological thing, trust me here!

I've realised that what most Sci-Fi/fantasy directors have in common is that they think a massive CGI-fest means an overall exciting, good movie. They couldn't be farther from the truth. CGI becomes way too overwhelming, often boring, and mind-numbing when overused. So much so that the brain subconsciously shuts off from following the story through. Thus I've made a deduction that fantasy films are intriguing and satisfying when the fantasy elements are used in moderation.


Pop-corn flicks can be super thrilling, but there's nothing worse than following a hollow story. This is where world-building and characterisation come in. These filmmakers, for some reason, always fall into the trap of sidelining their characters and the so-called world they exist in, in exchange for, you guessed it, visual extravaganza. Stop it! The world you're trying to sell to us had to be compelling and special enough for us to believe in it and its origin.

This last point might seem weird, but hear me out. The damn trailers. If the trailers are a clusterfuck of big booms and bangs of fancy CGI and action sequences without authentically introducing us to this world we're about to be involved in, its characters and why we should care about said world and characters, then why in the world would we care about shuffling to the cinemas to watch something that seems to be so poorly developed that it can't be sold to us in a 2-minute clip? Let alone a film that's so insecure in the story it apparently wants to tell and the characters therein that it hides behind the cloak of fancy imagery alone.

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  • Neo
    • 1. Neo On 08/01/2019
    Just wanted to start off by saying dope article, I agree with a lot of the points you are making, especially about grounding the story in something that is relatable to us humans. Personally I’ve always felt like writers using protagonists who are just as amazed as us by the world they live in is a bit of a cop out (I get why as it allows us to step into their shoes thus increasing immersion) but I’ll get to that.

    For me personally, when it comes to Sci-Fi and Fantasy, worldbuilding should always take center stage, more so than relatable characters. Creating a world that feels lived in (through a mixture of cultures and societal norms, historical events/lore within the world and a unique “gimmick”) for me is more difficult but can be more rewarding. I’ll take Game of Thrones for example. GoT does a very good job at grounding its fantastical elements through solid interpersonal relationships as well as characters that fit with and expand on the archetypes we are familiar with. Its strength, however, lies in its realistic (lol I know) world. Just a small example is finding out Jon is the bastard son of Rhaegar. A fact like that immediately sparks all kinds of speculation for me. The gravity of a union between two Great Houses. What that means for the throne. The irony of someone so blessed with royal blood serving in the Night’s Watch. Things like make me feel like more of a part of the world than a relatable character, it makes me feel like an actual character just because there’s all this rich history I can draw upon.

    I don’t feel like it’s a rule however. The Phantom Menace does way more to develop the world of Star Wars than A New Hope ever did, but is a terrible movie, precisely because it focuses too much on being a visual spectacle (podrace scene, lightsaber fights etc etc.) sacrificing any semblance of good writing. A New Hope on the other hand is woefully simple by comparison but for me remains the best Star Wars movie for its relatable characters/story and its arguably perfect execution of “The Hero’s Journey”. So ultimately it all depends.

    But yeah just my 2 cents

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