Fantasy Rehabilitates Its Happily Ever After

By Siegel, Tatiana | Variety, June 11-June 17 | Go to article overview

Fantasy Rehabilitates Its Happily Ever After


Siegel, Tatiana, Variety


In the immediate aftermath of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, with its 17 Academy Awards capped by a best film Oscar for 2004's "The Return of the King," Hollywood seemed ripe for a fantasy invasion.

Yet despite the success of that franchise, including a nearly $3 billion (non30) box office haul, film studio executives largely have given dragons, fairies and gnomes the cold shoulder when filling their development pipelines. Though two successful fantasy franchises, "Harry Potter" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," were already under way, only a handful of new projects found their way to the screen in the years following "Lord of the Ring's" final triumphant bow: Fox's "Eragon," New Line's "The Golden Compass" and Sony's "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep." All three were box office disappointments, cooling any bigscreen momentum the genre might have enjoyed.

In 2007, amid little fanfare, HBO optioned George R. R. Martin's bestselling fantasy series "A Song of Fire & Ice" - the basis for "Game of Thrones." The show debuted in 2011 to critical and audience acclaim, and today, coupled with the breakout success of ABC's "Once Upon a Time," and the qualified success of NBC's "Grimm" on a tough night (Friday) - it is spurring a new hunger for projects that explore magical realms. The fantasy uptick in TV, which coincides with Peter Jackson's return to the Shire for the bigscreen prequel "The Hobbit," suggests the genre, which plays well on 3D screens around the world, may be sowing the seeds of what could be a broader revival.

"Everyone is now looking for another 'Game of Thrones,' and everyone is trying to handicap what will be the next 'Game of Thrones,' " says Intellectual Property Group partner Amy Schiffman, who reps authors Dennis Lehane and Don DeLillo as well as the estate of fantasy writer Andre Norton, whose work she is pitching. "There is absolutely more appetite (for fantasy books) at the feature, cable and network levels right now."

In the 13-plus months since "Game of Thrones" debuted on HBO, a number of fantasy books have been optioned for the screen in splashy deals, including the e-book "Wool" in mid-May. Fox acquired film rights for the Hugh Howeypenned sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, with Scott Free producing alongside Film Rites' Steve Zaillian and Garrett Basch.

Evan Daugherty, who wrote Universal's fantasy tentpole "Snow White and the Huntsman," which woke up to $95 million worldwide over the June 1 weekend, dates the genre's turning point to a year before the "Game of Thrones" bow. The scribe, who wrote the "Snow White" reimagining as an NYU undergrad around the same time "Lord of the Rings" was conquering the box office, found little interest for his fairytale take until Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" became a behemoth in spring 2010, raking in more than $1 billion worldwide.

"A lot of people read it at the time," recalls Daugherty of his gritty PG-13 take on the "Snow White." "Some liked it, but most didn't. They didn't get it until Disney's 'Alice' came out and was successful. I think that started the trend."

Still, inasmuch as "Snow White's" trailers feature scenes with visual similarities to "Game of Thrones," the new Universal pic seems to be reaching out to viewers of the HBO series.

Whatever sparked the renewed interest in the genre, Ut agents are pleased to find eager buyers looking for their next franchise property.

"In the past five years, (film and TV studios) are much more open to fantasy," says Kassie Evashevski, cohead of UTA's book department, who brokered the "Wool" deal amid a heated bidding war. "Even in publishing, if you look at the YA (young adult) market, so much of it is fantasy, post-apocalyptic, dystopian. There's definitely something happening in culture that is being reflected in the book market as well as television and film. …

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