Secondary World Fantasy Movies / by Matthew Marchitto

I don’t actually know that many secondary world fantasy movies. Off the top of my head I can only think of a handful of them. At least for the good ones. I know there’s a couple of meh to bleh fantasy movies, but I can’t think of many that are really good. If they’re out there, I haven’t seen them.

There’s a format that is associated with fantasy and I think that’s one of the things holding back its potential to make awesome movies. It’s the “epic” part of what is routinely called Epic Fantasy. Armies clashing, dark lords a summoning, and evil gods a cajoling. Also, elves, orcs, dwarves, fa(e)ries and the like.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this stuff. But one of the reasons it works in something like Lord of the Rings is because there are three movies to span the entirety of an epic world breaking story. Most movies don’t get that opportunity. That’s what I think has been holding them back. It seems like there’s this notion that if you’re going to make a fantasy movie it’s got to be like Lord of the Rings or it’s a waste. 

I think that is entirely wrong. Again, not because I dislike those kinds of stories, but because those aren’t the only kind of stories we can tell in a secondary world setting. 

I want more small and intense fantasy stories. 

A smith who owes the wrong kind of guilt a debt. All of a sudden they come knocking and he has to try and find a way to pay them back before things get nasty. Maybe things get nasty anyway, and he finds himself having to cope, or on the run, or something. There could be some kind of magic, or creatures woven into the world, and we get to see how they affect day to day life at an individual level. It might not be the most original premise, but its an example of how easy it would be to make a personal story set in a secondary world that doesn’t need big world breaking wars. (Or maybe there is a couple in love who live in a steampunk society powered by a pterodactyl trapped in a floating crystal.)

Science Fiction has been doing this for years and years. Movies like Looper, Blade Runner, Alien (and countless others), are all set in intricate worlds that don’t feature huge spaceship battles or exploding planets or the fall of an evil empire.

So, why not Fantasy?  

I do adore big stories with warring armies and usurped kings. But those really are big stories. The kind that are extremely difficult to pack into a two hour or hour and a half movie. Peel away some of that grandiose fat—as juicy as it is—and make the stories more narrowed and intense, and I think we could tell an infinite number of stories within fantasy worlds. And make a whole lot more movies. 

Question to readers: What are some of your favourite fantasy movies?

(Author’s Ramble: From recent years the only movies I can think of are Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter (even though its more urban fantasy), Pirates of the Caribbean (more historical(heh) fantasy) and, um… How to Train Your Dragon? Spanning the last ten or so years that’s not very many, and I really think there should be more. Conan the Barbarian comes to mind, but that’s pretty old. If we’re going back in time The Dark Crystal and Legend are up there too. But you have to dig all the way back into the 80s and beyond for those. I love ‘em, but I want more recent secondary world movies.