When cinemas slowly started reopening after the pandemic, some of the first things that screened were a Harry Potter marathon and an extended cut of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course, new movies were few and far between but there was a key trend surfacing, one that often emerges when people are in troubling times: we were craving escapist fantasy.

Escapism as an increasing need state

The allure of escaping to fantasy worlds was not isolated to the pandemic, we can see it rearing its head at this very moment. One of our annual trend reports for 2022 found that the top 2 needs among people in the UK are ‘comfort’ and ‘escapism’. This is hardly surprising, with the rise in the cost of living and the political instability in the UK, consumers are more stressed than ever and fantasy content offers the perfect medium to sweep you away from these everyday stressors . Through epic worlds that are completely unburdened by real life events, the fantasy genre allows for imaginative storytelling that feels utterly abstract to our everyday lives. Although fantasy content often deals with intensely moral and political issues, the parallel to modern life is often far enough removed that we can become engrossed in this world whilst leaving with a cathartic feeling of release. 

How streaming services are satisfying our needs

Increasingly, we are seeing streaming services serialise fantasy stories, which makes sense as these epic plots are perfect to adapt into long-form programmes, which slowly unveil the narratives.  The two fantasy epics that have gained a lot of viewer attention recently are both prequels to blockbuster fantasy franchises: Amazon Prime Video released The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, while Sky returned to Westeros with its Game of Thrones follow-up House of the Dragon. Both gained high audience viewing figures, with The Rings of Power bringing in 25 million viewers on its first day, making it Amazon’s most successful series premiere of all time, while House of the Dragon earned 10 million viewers. Both The Rings of Power and House of the Dragon have already been renewed for second seasons, and HBO is also actively developing several other new Game of Thrones spin-offs.

Although both similar in many dimensions, the difference in tone within both shows is stark and can serve to meet differing audience needs. The Rings of Power is bathed in ethereal light, showing dramatic yet familiar landscapes, and more family-friendly plotlines. In comparison, House of the Dragon is filled with betrayal, power struggles, incestual relationships and violence. Both shows are loyal to their franchises, viewers are enveloped into a familiar world that taps into nostalgia but still delivers fresh, gripping storytelling.

Amazon and Sky have led the charge with these highly anticipated epics by tapping into viewers’ desire for fantasy content. Other streaming services and broadcasters are also hoping to capitalise on this desire for escapism, strategically releasing their shows as these two fantasy blockbusters conclude. A wide range of fantasy content will be hitting our screens soon, including: Andor from Disney+, The Witcher: Blood Origin from Netflix, and His Dark Materials from the BBC.

Expect more epic fantasy series releases as we get into the peak comfort season, such as:

Willow – Disney+

Siren – Disney+

Vikings: Valhalla – Netflix

Shadow and Bone (S2) – Netflix

Which show are you most excited for?