Entertainment Escapism – F&SF

While I’m anything but a television or cinema or gaming addict, I can’t help but notice a growing trend in what I’d classify as the field of “video entertainment” – the enormous growth of fantasy and science fiction video-type entertainment.

While Star Wars was released in 1977, with the next two movies in 1980 and 1983, sixteen years passed until The Phantom Menace premiered in 1999. A similar pattern occurred with Star Trek. The original series began in 1966 and ran for three years. It was ten years before the movie, and almost 20 years before The Next Generation appeared as a series.

Over those years, while there were some other F&SF films, I don’t recall anything close to the deluge of F&SF films, TV shows, and spin-offs of spin-offs that began in the late 1990s, possibly spurred by Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

Fantasy and science fiction have been around for well over a century, but they were primarily available in written form, for the most part, until comparatively recently. And most movies, with the exception of a few, like Portrait of Jennie, and possibly Forbidden Planet, were essentially “B” movies, if that. So what happened?

Some will say that it’s been fueled by the improved technology and the CGI special effects. That certainly enabled the field, but that overlooks the fact that for something to be popular, people have to want to watch it.

One of the main reasons for entertainment is to be diverted from the day-to-day… or, if you’re really desperate, to escape entirely from the “real world” in some way. It’s no coincidence that the years of the Great Depression fueled the rise of feel-good movie musicals and up-beat movies.

A century, or even fifty years ago, people could feel that there were unexplored places in the world, places where “escapist” movies could be set, and there was an innocence, a belief that movie musical magic could happen in “the real world.” For the most part, now most of that innocence is gone, and except for the greatest depths of the ocean, the vast majority of the world has been explored and found not to contain Shangri La or Tarzan’s hidden cities, or islands that contain monsters like King Kong.

So, given all that, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re seeing an enormous rise in fantasy and science fantasy video entertainment today. There aren’t many other places to escape.

6 thoughts on “Entertainment Escapism – F&SF”

  1. R. Hamilton says:

    In favor of your argument, one could also regard video games as video entertainment, and a lot of them are F&SF.

    On the other hand, there’s this (not that I think highly of the ranking, but it is an eclectic list, both by content and by year):


    1. Tim says:

      And eclectic is the word. Classifying Yellow Submarine as an SF movie was certainly a surprise.

      Fascinating list and thanks for posting it.

  2. Alan Naylor says:

    I’ve discussed this rise in SF&F movies with people before and our general consensus is that it has to do with the generations that control the dollars. Movies, in general, are about relaxing, escaping from the hum-drum of daily life. The wild west, outer space, etc.

    Children born in the 80’s grew up in a building technology/information society. With computers and video games as a growing part of their lives. Children of the 90’s didn’t grow up with tech, it was already there! Video games with decent graphics and the electronics to introduce high tech fantasy in surrounding environments was a fact of their lives.

    Fast forward to the 2000’s and today, the spending dollars are dominated by the people who grew up with sci-fi and fantasy, with video games of high quality as a part of their lives. I believe this created a strong market which wasn’t there before.

    Westerns were primarily the way to make money in theatres before the late 70’s, then action heroes up till the mid-90’s. Action hero films still do well, but the real dollars are in super-hero films, because those who were raised on such cartoons and video games control the spending.

    Probably another factor that comes out of the same pot is that the money spending generation is also willing to believe in the films premises. Their suspension of belief to enjoy the movies comes much more easily than some one born in the 50’s or 60’s when it comes to sci-fi and fantasy. People in their 50’s and 60’s who I’ve spoken with have a great deal of trouble relating to the characters on screen in most sci-fi and fantasy movies.

    Hollywood doesn’t have many new ideas, and frankly they’ve been robbing books, movies and comic books for the last 30 years for their best presentations. But that said, the stories aren’t any different at their core than they were in the 60’s. It’s just the presentation and window dressing which is different. And that presentation turns off many people born in the mid-50’s to mid 70’s.

    Coupled with this is the fact that, as you mentioned, CGI and effects have caught up enough to produce amazing renderings. Realistically you can make a movie without a single live person yet people would believe they were viewing a live action film.

  3. Rick says:

    Alan,I agree with most of your points. But I think you are overlooking something about those of us from the ’50’s to mid ’70’s. And that is comic books! I grew up in the 50’s and loved comic books. Only in the last couple of decades has the tech become available to really showcase almost any comic written. Maybe it is a combination of regaining your childhood/youth be seeing these comic characters on screen and (in Marvel’s case)also a return to a more simple good vs bad storytelling. Seeing these comic book heroes doing the right thing to help/defend people without expecting rewards is like a throwback to the days Westerns were our moral examples. Just a thought.

    1. Tim says:

      Oddly in the UK we we also into US comics. I remember collecting the Fantastic Four from #4 and all of the Avengers when at the age of 11 until I stopped when I was 15.

      Then I gave them away!

  4. Chad B says:

    The entertainment industry had to turn to something instead of doing the same old action, comedy, rom-com stories over and over. Fantasy and science fiction was a breath of fresh air to the industry.

    Factor in the rise of the internet and “geek” culture, and all of a sudden there are huge communities of people online who are spreading the word about sci-fi and fantasy.

    Marvel, DC and Disney have dominated the box office in recent years, and the movie industry has definitely noticed.

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