'The Last Witch Hunter' may not a winner, but the fantasy genre is

'The Last Witch Hunter' stars Vin Diesel. While the movie isn't winning over critics, executives most likely hoped the film could take advantage of the popularity of the fantasy genre.

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP
Vin Diesel holds a prop while attending the premiere of 'The Last Witch Hunter.'

Following the success of the 2014 comic book movie “Guardians of the Galaxy” and this spring’s “Fast and the Furious” installment “Furious 7,” actor Vin Diesel stars in the fantasy movie “The Last Witch Hunter,” which is now in theaters. 

“Hunter” tells the story of Kaulder (Diesel), an immortal "witch hunter" who must stop his enemies from going after the population of New York City. Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, and Rose Leslie co-star. While it involves the Big Apple, “Hunter” features fantasy elements, and according to “Hunter” director Breck Eisner, Diesel’s performance in the movie was influenced by his affection for the fantasy Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.

Critics aren’t loving the movie so far – Washington Post writer Michael O’Sullivan called the film “dully derivative,” while Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Abele found it to be “loud, convoluted… [an] artlessly restless, exposition-dialogue fantasy-action slog” and New York Times writer Andy Webster called it “a smorgasboard of empty calories.” 

But the mere fact that it’s being made shows how big fantasy has gotten in pop culture over the past decades. When the movie adaptations of what are often called the best fantasy books of all time, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, were released in the early 2000s, they were called a risky bet by many in Hollywood, but the first two “Lord of the Rings” movies were the second-highest-grossing movies of the years in which they were released and the final movie, “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” became the highest-grossing movie domestically of 2003. It also won the Best Picture Oscar, the first fantasy film ever to get that distinction. 

At almost exactly the same time, the “Harry Potter” films arrived. While they belong less to the elves-and-dwarves fantasy genre in which “Rings” dwells, they also proved that tales with magic can work at the box office. When the first “Lord of the Rings” movie came in second at the domestic box office for the year, it was bested only by “Potter.”

The newest property to show the genre can succeed is the HBO smash hit series “Game of Thrones,” which is set in the fictional land of Westeros. “Thrones,” which is based on George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, has become HBO’s most popular series of all time. (Incidentally, Ms. Leslie starred on "Thrones" and Mr. Wood starred in the "Lord of the Rings" films – those behind the camera are no doubt hoping faces that are familiar to fantasy fans will help out the box office performance of "Hunter.")

So while “Hunter” may not have won over critics, the film’s chances of being greenlit by studio executives with words in the pitch like “medieval” and “magic” are a lot better than they would have been before Frodo, Harry, and Tyrion Lannister arrived on our screens.

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