Want to go on an adventure with magic and mayhem? The fantasy genre might be right for you.
Have you ever looked out the window and wished you were anywhere but here? Maybe suddenly that dreary day turned into a massive storm on the sea, or your wardrobe was the entrance to a magical land, or maybe a wizard knocked on your door and asked you to participate in a quest?
It seems to me that most daydreaming occurs in the fantasy genre. There's something about magical lands, wands, powers, and quests that just feels exciting.
That's why I wanted to dedicate this post to dissecting fantasy. And no, I'm not talking about the ones that occur in Wild Things. I'm talking about the ones in Winterfell, the Shire, Narnia, and even Hogwarts. I want you to pack your dark crystals, grab your dress robes, and make sure you have some clean tunics.
It's time to explore the fantasy genre in film and television.
You have my bow, and my ax, and my research.
Follow the Map to the Fantasy Genre in Film and TV
Let's start with an exercise. What was the first fantasy movie or TV show you saw? Like many of our readers, my first exposure on the big screen was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I have a soft spot for the BBC Chronicles of Narnia TV movies produced in the late 80s and early 90s.
These were my gateway into really interesting realms. They helped foster my love of worldbuilding and my appreciation for this genre.
Define the Fantasy Genre
Fantasy is a genre of movies, television, and fiction set in a faraway or fictional universe. These stories usually are inspired by mythology and folklore.
The genre is rooted in oral traditions passed down around the globe. While there is overlap with other genres, fantasy is set in a world unlike our own. While many skew medieval, fantasy has a broad scope that can incorporate many facets of our world and imaginations.
Tropes of the Fantasy Genre in Movies and TV
As I mentioned above, one of the main tropes is the setting in medieval times. Another staple is the adaptation of fairy tales, which is pervasive. Other than that, you have the presence of magic, magical creatures, hidden worlds, and quests. MacGuffins are one of the main tropes within these stories. Many times we see people either in search of something or trying to destroy something.
We also have dark lords, paternal and maternal figures, romances between species, mentors who train people in a skill, powerful familial lines, damsels in distress, magical cities, wise old people, revolutions, and fierce dictators.
You can check out 101 fantasy tropes here.
What Kinds of Characters Inhabit the Fantasy World?
When it comes to character development and arcs, the fantasy genre really shines. I think the reason is that these characters are fun to make up. You're deciding what they do, if they have powers, where they are from... the possibilities are endless.
I mean, look no further than Lord of the Rings for some of the greatest characterizations of all time.
The fantasy genre loves elves, ogres, princes, princesses, wizards, witches, shape-shifters, and talking animals.
Like any other genre, you need to take your time when crafting them. These are people with wants, desires, goals, and motives. I love everything Game of Thrones did to build this world out and show who wanted what, and how they would plan on getting it.
Mashup Potential in the Fantasy Genre
I've said this before, and I'll use this opportunity to say it again—every genre has the potential to be mashed up with another. Fantasy is no different.
There are epic comedies like Shrek and Your Highness. Dramas like Game of Thrones. Science fiction fantasy, like Star Wars. Epics like Mulan. You have a lot of horror fantasy crossover, like Sabrina, and the superhero genre is basically part fantasy as well.
You even have fantasy sports movies like Shaolin Soccer.
There's a ton of elbow room when it comes to fantasy. Let's look at some more examples.
Examples of the Fantasy Genre in Movies
One of my favorite recent fantasy movies comes from Pixar. It's Onward. This movie takes all the tropes and characters we are used to seeing in these kinds of stories and flips them on their head. Sure, we get a quest, but it's about restoring someone's father for one final day together. At its core, this is a story about brothers and family. Still, it manages to have dragons, a wizard's staff, and more magical elements than I can count.
And trash-eating unicorns. Fun!
Growing up, there was one movie everyone I know saw. It also happens to be animated, where a lot of fantasy movies shine, and that's Disney's Aladdin. This had songs and amazing animation, but it was really the Genie and the rags-to-riches story that made it so fun.
It felt like this movie was part rom-com, part adventure, and all fantasy. Its fantasy elements are on full display, even though it happens in our world. We have touches like the Genie, magic lamp, Carpet, and a pet tiger. But everything else has human stakes, even when Jafar is trying to become a powerful dark lord.
Fantasy also excels outside of the animated world.
Just take a look at Disney's other fantasy switcheroo, Maleficent. This movie tells the story of a good witch gone bad. Again, it's subverting the tropes to give us a fresh look at fairytales. I love how much fun it is to see the other POV in Sleeping Beauty, and I think Angelina Jolie shines in this role.
Let's look at some fantasy that shines on the small screen.
Examples of the Fantasy Genre in TV
It would be easy to use this whole section to talk about Game of Thrones, but I wanted to focus on some other titles you may or may not be aware of in the fantasy realm. First up is Netflix's video game adaptation, The Witcher.
This highly successful fantasy and adventure mashup really works at extrapolating a story over a series and using tropes we've mentioned to highlight quests within episodes.
Another show I love, and one I think many people might have missed, is Wynonna Earp. This is a horror western with obvious fantasy elements. For me, I think it's the perfect showcase for how versatile the fantasy genre actually is, especially in television, where you have more time within the medium to explore every facet.
Lastly, I wanted to see what a half-hour fantasy show would be like. So I nominate the hilarious What We Do In The Shadows for this category. Again, this is a horror-forward show, but I love the idea of these vampires living and working with humans. While horror and fantasy are two different genres, I think there is enough magic in this one to classify it as a hybrid.
Summing up the Fantasy Genre in Film and Television
As you can see, this genre is malleable to any situation. It's primed for mashups, has a ton of cool tropes to subvert, and actually lets you build a world from scratch. Fantasy ebbs and flows when it comes to its acceptance in the marketplace, but as more and more streamers look to capitalize on the successes of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, we're seeing the fantasy genre really take over the marketplace.
I hope this guide will help you in your creative endeavors, and I can't wait to see what you come up with on your own.
Got fantasy questions or tips? Put them in the comments.
And last but not least... if you have seen my magic Ring, please let me know. When thrown on a fire, a magical inscription appears, and it's very... precious to me...
What's next? Learn all about TV and Film Genres!
Film and TV genres affect who watches your work, how it's classified, and even how it's reviewed. So how do you decide what you're writing? And which genres to mash-up? The secret is in the tropes.
Click to learn more!
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