Why Do So Many Fantasy Movies Like Warcraft Flop?
Warcraft wasn’t a bad movie. So why did it flop? Fantasy movies, and to a lesser extent sci-fi movies, have this problem where they can’t seem to be taken seriously, and even worse, can’t perform at the box office. Why is that?
There is one exception to the “fantasy not being taken seriously in cinema” rule, and you know what it is: Lord of the Rings. So what did Peter Jackson do differently in The Fellowship of the Ring, that other movie makers can’t seem to grasp?
The answer is a simple one: character. In Fellowship there are no sweeping battles, no large armies clashing against one another. There are characters though. Characters that we grow to know and love. This means that when our characters are in peril, when we see them fighting for their lives, we care about what happens next. While, we really didn’t care about the humans in Warcraft. I can remember jokes that Gimli said in Fellowship, but I struggle to remember the name of any human in Warcraft. That is their fatal flaw. Warcraft wanted so badly to have to huge armies battle it out, that they forgot to make us care about who was fighting.
Let’s look at other recent examples of successful fantasy versus failed fantasy, and you’ll see a similar pattern emerge.
The Thor movies are always the weakest of the MCU, none weaker than Thor: The Dark World. Let’s compare this to the Harry Potter Series, the only Fantasy series to match Lord of the Rings Success and you’ll see the similar pattern.
Thor is a weak character. He is physically strong, but he lacks motivation, fear and drive. This is why he is constantly in the shadow of the much better character that is Loki (In my opinion the only reason the movie was successful at all). Even worse is Malekith. Now going back to Lord of the Rings for a moment, Sauron isn’t exactly a complex villain. He wants to conquer the world and live forever. Simple enough. Malekith wants to destroy the Universe though. Why? Because he’s the bad dude. Sauron was shown being way too strong at the beginning, so he’s forced into a form he can’t fight in, the all seeing eye. Yet he was more intimidating than Malekith, who was really powerful, except when the heroes were near.
This brings us to Harry Potter. These movies were more than successful; they were good movies. Why? The child acting wasn’t that great, the plot was rather simple, and the action was at a minimum. The answer comes in two parts.
One is character. Once again, we spend so much time with Harry, Ron, and Hermione that we can’t help but grow to love them. They have flaws, Hermione is bossy, Ron is stupid, Harry’s grows kind of arrogant, but they have their strengths as well. We become attached to them as characters.
The second point is the wow factor. I remember seeing the dinner scene in the sorcerer’s stone and being amazed. The best part is this doesn’t necessitate CGI. Peter Jackson wowed with his cinematography in Lord of the Rings. While watching Fantasy there should be a moment where my mouth opens up and I go, “wow.” Warcraft did nail the “Wow” factor, but I never cared for any of these characters.
Movies, or at least good movies, are about character. The fight scenes in the second and third Lord of the Rings movies matter, because we care that Gimli and Legolas have become good friends despite the odds. In Warcraft, I didn’t care for any of the characters like I did in Fellowship, and that’s the advice I can give. Stop trying to be The Two Towers, be Fellowship. If you focus on the small character stuff now, it will pay back with CGI rich battles in the future.