Once seen as niche or nerdy, science fiction, fantasy and horror fare have moved into a dominant position on the film and TV landscape. Platforms are starving for it, theaters can fill up when it’s playing and producers are always on the lookout for opportunities to back the right project.
“Genre filmmaking presents a climate of opportunity for producers,” says AGC Studios chairman and CEO Stuart Ford. “Genre movies can often be produced on more modest budgets and are not as reliant on big name acting talent,” he explained, citing Neill Blomkamp’s “Demonic,” which AGC Studios screened just before the EFM.
“We weren’t able to make ‘Inferno’ last year, which was much a bigger budgeted, ambitious in scale sci-fi thriller we’d been prepping with Neill. So instead, we pivoted to shooting ‘Demonic,’ a sub-$10 million supernatural thriller, set and shot in British Columbia.”
According to Wild Sheep Content founder and former Netflix VP Erik Barmack, multi-platform IPs are another driving factor for the growth in genre production and offer those footing the bills access to massive fanbases from the word “go.”
“There is a lot of IP that is multi-platform which is driving decisions. We can see it with the popularity of “The Witcher” as a book, video game and then a TV show, for us, it’s “Yakuza” a big video game that we’re making into a TV show, or you can look at what Netflix has been doing with anime like ‘Cowboy Bebop,’ doing a live action version,” he explains. “I think there’s a realization that investing in things with pre-installed audiences matters in that, what we’re calling genre is, a lot of the time, content with a pre-installed audience that will cut through the noise.”
As broadcasters invest more heavily in their own SVOD platforms, they’ve leaned on old favorites to build up their in-house catalogs. CBS is milking the “Star Trek” cow dry, Disney has an entire galaxy of “Star Wars” spinoffs planned, and reboots of “Stargate” at MGM and “Battlestar Galactica” at Peacock have both been confirmed. Outside the U.S. there are other examples. Just this month, Amazon Prime Video launched “El Internado: Las Cumbres,” a reboot of the revolutionary Spanish supernatural drama.
“Sci-fi and genre is something that generally does well for the platforms, yet in general there just isn’t that much of it because it costs a lot to produce these movies,” explains Constantin executive chairman Martin Moszkowicz, producer of “Tides,” playing in the Berlinale Special section.
Acknowledging the role streamers have played in the uptick of genre production, Moszkowicz notes that he has seen the trend carry over to theatrical exhibition as well, citing his company’s latest horror flick “Wrong Turn.”
“Look at the response to that film Australia and Iceland where it’s already been released,” he points out. “Even in limited theaters it has done very well for us.”
Genre filmmaking also allows creators to play in the spaces between categories, crossing back and forth as they see fit.
“The projects we’re seeing at all markets and festivals now frequently speak about topics like history, climate change or immigration using the language of science fiction and fantasy,” says Mónica Garcia Massagué, general manager of Spain’s Sitges Fantastic Film Festival.
Using Berlin as an example, nearly 200 science fiction, fantasy or horror categorized projects and finished films are officially participating at this year’s European Film Market. Sci-fi titles “I’m Your Man,” “Tides,” “District Terminal” and “Night Raiders” are screening in the Competition, Berlinale Special, Encounters and Panorama sections.
As with any production trend, there must be a push from creators as well, and Chilean filmmaker Sandra Arriagada, at the head of a new vanguard of young Latin filmmakers, thinks she knows why.
“I believe that each of us has, to some extent, a pleasure in feeling fear in a controlled environment like the cinema,” she explains. “Humans need to see and feel the darkness to appreciate the light. That is a remarkably interesting starting point for those of us who tell stories with images.”
“Globalization matters, and a lot of creators in other countries grew up, watching “The Walking Dead” or something similar, but they couldn’t do that in their home countries yet because of scale, and because people weren’t taking as many chances then,” points out Barmack. “It’s not that genre wasn’t a thing before, it was just harder to get access to.”
Genre filmmaking also provides a platform for socially conscious filmmaking that can also be entertaining and attract wide audiences.
“Including socially responsible messages in movies is important and I think the audience wants us looking at those issues,” says Moszkowicz. “Modern audiences are highly receptive to socially responsible narratives. Of course, we want to make the most entertaining movies possible, that’s the whole point, but I think part of the entertainment value is that we continue to look at the way we live and recognize the impact we can have on the future.”