Magic-Fantasy Blockbusters: One Whimsy to Rule Them All

  • Daniel Smith-Rowsey
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Screen Industries and Performance book series (PSSIP)


Smith-Rowsey posits that the reputation of “magic-fantasy” blockbusters has considerably improved from the twentieth to the twenty-first century, and this change was led by strong, believable performances. Smith-Rowsey explains how the excellent acting in the first three live-action Lord of the Rings films both elaborated those films’ themes and, along with the initial films of WB’s Harry Potter franchise, transformed possibilities for blockbusters. In response, Disney mounted a fantastical Pirates of the Caribbean that centralized the protean, unpredictable performance of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow. The author compares Depp’s non-blockbuster work to his work as Sparrow, as well as Ian McKellen’s non-blockbuster work to his work as (the Lord of the Rings’) Gandalf, in order to better understand how (or if) accomplished actors “scale up” or alter their performative styles for blockbusters.


  1. Allison, Tanine. “More than a Man in a Monkey Suit: Andy Serkis, Motion Capture, and Digital Realism.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 28, no. 4 (July 2011): 325–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Cartmell, Deborah, and Imelda Whelehan. “Harry Potter and the Fidelity Debate,” in Books in Motion: Adaptation, Intertextuality and Authorship, edited by Mireia Aragay, 37–50. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2005.Google Scholar
  3. Deakin, Peter. “Masculine Identity in Crisis in Hollywood’s Fin de Millennium Cinema.” Manchester: University of Manchester Research Portal, 2012. Accessed October 12, 2016.
  4. Eller, Claudia. “Disney Comes of Age with PG-13 Rating for ‘Pirates’.” Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2003. Accessed October 12, 2016.
  5. Fradley, Martin. “Why Doesn’t Your Compass Work? Pirates of the Caribbean, Fantasy Blockbusters, and Contemporary Queer Theory,” in The Handbook of Gender, Sex, and Media, edited by Karen Ross, 294–312. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.Google Scholar
  6. Harris, Mark. “Can Johnny Depp’s Career Be Saved?” Grantland, July 11, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2016.
  7. Higginbotham, Adam. “Ian McKellen: ‘People Didn’t Want Me in Their Movies’.” The Telegraph, Dec. 2, 2013. Accessed October 15, 2016.
  8. Laban, Rudolf. The Mastery of Movement. 4th Edition. London: Pre Textos, 2011.Google Scholar
  9. Larkin, Bruce. “‘They Wanted to Fire Me’: Johnny Depp Reveals Disney Chiefs Almost Wielded the Axe on Jack Sparrow on First Pirates of the Caribbean Movie.” The Daily Mail, Oct. 24, 2011. Accessed October 12, 2016.
  10. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Directed by Peter Jackson, 2001. Los Angeles: New Line Home Video, 2002. DVD.Google Scholar
  11. Mast, Gerald, and Bruce Kawin. A Short History of the Movies. 11th Abridged Edition. Boston: Pearson Books, 2012.Google Scholar
  12. Orenstein, Peggy. Cinderella Ate my Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. New York: Harper Books, 2012.Google Scholar
  13. Peberdy, Donna. “The New Hollywood, 1981–1999,” in Acting, edited by Claudia Springer and Julie Levinson, 120–142. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2015.Google Scholar
  14. The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Directed by Gore Verbinski. 2003. Burbank: Disney Home Video, 2003. DVD.Google Scholar
  15. Steinhoff, Heidi. “‘Yo-ho, A Pirates Life for Me’—Queer Positionalities, Heteronormativity, and Piracy in Pirates of the Caribbean. A Queer Reading.” Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies 8 (2007). Accessed October 12, 2016.
  16. Stewart, James. Disney War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.Google Scholar
  17. Thompson, Kristen. The Frodo Franchise: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  18. Walters, James. Fantasy Film: An Introduction. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.Google Scholar
  19. Zhang, M.Y. “Application of Performance Motion Capture Technology in Film and Television Performance Animation.” Applied Mechanics and Materials 347–350 (2013): 2781–2784.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel Smith-Rowsey
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Mary’s College of CaliforniaMoragaUSA

Personalised recommendations