The 2010s were a decent decade for fantasy movies, if not a particularly groundbreaking one. Big franchises, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, built on the impressive foundations they laid in the 2000s. Meanwhile, classics like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast were given live-action reboots.
For the most part, the fantasy films that dominated the box office over the last 10 years were optimistic and escapist. The top TV fantasy series, Game of Thrones, was grim and gritty, but in the movie theater it appears that audiences preferred being transported to a whimsical world with a happy ending, even if just for two hours.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $794m
This year, Johnny Depp has been in the public eye for personal rather than professional reasons. So thoroughly has the Heard-Depp trial dominated the news cycle that it’s easy to forget that just a few years ago Depp was one of Hollywood’s most bankable, drama-free stars.
The Pirates of the Caribbean movies, originally based on a Disneyland ride, are among the biggest box office heavyweights of this century. Unfortunately, Dead Men Tell No Tales is one of the weaker entries in the franchise. With each film it seems that Pirates relies more and more on flashy CGI and stunts at the expense of story.
Jumani: The Next Level – $800m
The 2010s really were the Age of the Reboot. So it was only a matter of time until someone revived Jumanji, the 1995 hit starring Robin Williams. The Next Level, the second new entry in the series, revolves around a group of teenagers who are sucked into Jumanji, now a videogame, but this time there are some unexpected switcheroos with their avatars.
Many reboots are lackluster (see 2017’s The Mummy) but Jumanji: The Next Level succeeds thanks to great performances from its cast, who have amazing chemistry. Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson are especially hilarious. The result is some good old-fashioned adventure fun.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – $814m
Harry Potter is the undisputed king of fantasy, at least in terms of the box office. So it’s no surprise that the spin-off series also raked in big returns. Fantastic Beasts takes many of the wizarding world‘s most beloved tropes (charming monsters, magical duels, a down-to-earth hero) and re-imagines them in a gorgeous 1920s New York setting.
That said, the film is not without its flaws. The American magical world is not as detailed or immersive as Hogwarts and the lead characters are not as instantly likable, aside from shy magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Hopefully future films in the Harry Potter universe take note.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – $958m
“I am fire. I am death.” Middle-earth returned to the big screen in the 2010s with Peter Jackson‘s Hobbit films. Jackson’s decision to split the slim novel into three movies is questionable, but The Desolation of Smaug deserves kudos for its visually striking depiction of one of literature’s most famous dragons. Benedict Cumberbatch is suitably smug and menacing in the role.
Like the book it’s based on, The Hobbit movies are sillier than The Lord of The Rings, but that’s also their charm. At its best moments, The Desolation of Smaug has a kind of screwball energy that can’t help but be infectious.
Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle – $962m
A big part of Jumani: Welcome to the Jungle‘s appeal is its body-switching premise. The film’s lead characters are teenagers who climb inside a videogame where they have very different avatars. Nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) gets a bodybuilder’s physique in the form of Dwayne Johnson; football hero Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) is played by Kevin Hart, the awkward Martha (Morgan Turner) transforms into the athletic Karen Gillan; and popular girl Bethany (Madison Iseman) morphs into Jack Black.
Much of the humor and tension follows from the gap between the characters’ real-world personas and their new avatars. A particularly memorable scene involves Bethany (now Jack Black) teaching Martha (in the form of Karen Gillan) how to be sexy. Fortunately, Jumanji has more than enough heart to pull off its whacky premise.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – $1.01 bn
Despite the source material only being 300 pages long, movie economics demanded that The Hobbit be adapted into a movie trilogy of its own. As a result, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey includes events from Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s appendices, as well as entirely new characters and plot points crafted by Peter Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh.
This can make An Unexpected Journey uneven at times. Its pacing is particularly jarring, and some scenes add little to the plot. Nevertheless, Tolkien‘s world-building and Jackson’s craftsmanship ensure that there’s more to love than hate about this movie. Martin Freeman also shines as Bilbo. His comic perfomance suits the film’s goofy, slapstick tone. Then there’s the CGI and set design, which are excellent. In particular, the early scenes in the dwarves’ mining kingdom rival anything in Lord of the Rings.
Aladdin – $1.05 bn
The live-action remake of Aladdin doesn’t reach the heights of the original animated movie, but that was to be expected. The animated Aladdin was an event; a larger-than-live critical darling that greatly influenced animation for decades. Robin Williams was also iconic as the genie, and is credited for prompting more big-name stars to lend their voices to animated films.
Will Smith is not as good as Williams as the genie, although he deserves credit for attempting to put his own spin on the role. Mena Massoud is better as the titular thief turned prince. The filmmaking is nothing special, possibly because this kind of material is not in director Guy Ritchie‘s wheelhouse. Nevertheless, Aladdin clearly resonated with audiences, judging by ticket sales. A sequel is currently in development.
Beauty and the Beast – $1.26 bn
Yet another live-action remake of a 90s animated classic, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast was more warmly received than Aladdin. Once again, it had enormous shoes to fill. The 1991 version drew rave reviews and was the first animated movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Emma Watson puts in a solid performance as Belle. She more than holds her own in the film’s musical numbers. Dan Stevens also manages to convey a surprising amount of emotion from beneath his layers and layers of make-up. The costuming and set design also serve up a visual treat of bright colors and shiny details. Beauty and the Beast works because it closely sticks to the 1991 version. Sometimes with remakes it’s better to play it safe.
Frozen – $1.29
In 2013 and 2014, Frozen‘s reign was absolute. It seemed like you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing children cosplaying its characters or singing its songs. In fact, many parents complained that their kids were playing the music ad nauseam. It’s understandable, as Frozen‘s soundtrack is without a doubt its strongest feature. It added iconic songs like ‘Let It Go’ and ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman?’ to the Disney canon. Kids will probably still be singing them decades them from now.
But there are still some quibbles to be had with Frozen. Its Barbie-esque animation style is a little disappointing. Likewise, the story isn’t quite as innovative as the movie makes out. It pushes some boundaries, yes, and puts a twist on a few tropes, but it’s still rather formulaic – not that its legions of devotees seem to mind.
Frozen II – $1.45 bn
Sequels often struggle to get out of the shadow of the original, especially when the first movie was so successful. But Frozen II builds on almost everything that made its predecssor a hit. The visuals are better this time, even if the songs aren’t as memorable. The voice cast is brilliant once again and the humor of screenwriter Jennifer Lee is on full display.
Frozen II also deals in more complicated themes than the first film. Much of the drama revolves around a damn built on tribal land that has thrown the elemental spirits out of balance, raising questions about humans and their relationship to nature. It approaches this subject in an entertaining way that can be understood by audiences of all ages. Frozen II won’t appeal to everyone, of course, but it certainly set a high bar for children’s entertainment.
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