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Let’s try 20th century cinema for rare gems

We have a trailer for House of the Dragon Season 2, and I have also seen posters for Rings of Power Season 2. So, 2024 could be a good year for fantasy fiction adaptations.

The genre is kicking all kinds of ass on TV. Unfortunately, you can’t say the same about the movies. I have always called Lord of the Rings the greatest trilogy of fantasy fiction films ever made. For years, I blamed that opinion on my considerable bias. I love Tolkien’s books, so naturally, I can’t help but elevate adaptations of his work above all other films.

However, after looking at lists of fantasy films released in the last two decades, I recently came to a startling realization. My bias has nothing to do with it; Lord of the Rings is truly the greatest series of fantasy films ever made but for two reasons entirely unrelated to Peter Jackson’s movies.

First, the majority of fantasy fiction films in the last twenty years are terrible.

Secondly, Lord of the Rings has zero competition. When I think of fantasy, my brain jumps to Tolkien’s work because I associate the genre with magic, castles, knights, shields, swords, horses, and the like.

As far as I’m concerned, the swords-and-sandals subgenre is the backbone of fantasy. And yet, how many swords-and-sandals fantasy movies have you seen in the last twenty years?

An entertainment journalist once argued that Lord of the Rings was so wonderfully made and so successful that Hollywood studios are hesitant to experiment with similar films because audiences would inevitably compare them to Lord of the Rings.

I don’t buy that argument primarily because Hollywood saw the success of Twilight and responded by drowning us in YA fantasy. If they thought they could make money from the swords- and-sandals subgenre, they would have made more films like Lord of the Rings.

Forbes published a list of the thirty top fantasy movies of all time last month that further highlights my frustration with the genre on the big screen.

The writer’s favourite fantasy film is The Seventh Seal from 1957. You also have The Wizard of Oz (1939) at number five, The Princess Bride (1987) at number six, Ugetsu (1953) at number 10, and more. The Green Knight (2021) is the most recent movie on the list, and it sucks (in my opinion). It was trying so hard to be intelligent that it forgot to tell an interesting story.

I will give Forbes credit for including Paddington. Those movies are brilliant. Although, they can’t scratch my itch for High Fantasy. If that term is new to you, High Fantasy takes audiences to an alternate world filled with magic, mythical creatures, and alien cultures and traditions.

Pirates of the Caribbean is high fantasy (sort of), and I enjoyed the first three films. The franchise deserves the mention it got. The same applies to Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).

Maybe I’m in the wrong. I’m complaining about the absence of decent fantasy in modern times when the 20th Century has so many fantasy films I have not seen. I have heard great things about The Princess Bride, The Dark Crystal (1982), and The NeverEnding Story (1984), but have never bothered to watch them, mostly because I expect the dated VFX to repel me.

Then again, I am at an age where a good story and compelling characters are enough to entertain me. Feel free to join me on this journey through 20th Century fantasy cinema.


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