Unlike any other medium, film has the ability to transform our perception of reality, and to transport us to another world for hours at a time.
From fairy tales to horror stories, for the last century, people have been captivated by the alternative universes films can create. Sometimes, the power of these stories is so strong that it can even change a culture. In the upcoming film The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson places his star-studded cast in the fictional country of Zubrowka, and uses this backdrop to tell the story of a famous concierge and his unlikely friendship with a lobby boy.
To prepare for its release, we’ve taken a look at the top ten fictional worlds in film.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
When Dorothy and her dog Toto were first caught in a tornado in Kansas, it was not apparent that their story would become a commercial success. Over the years, however, it has become one of the most popular American films of all time, and audiences of all ages have found that it courageously pulses with both an intelligent brain and a charming heart. The original novel and this most famous adaptation served as the source for the Broadway hit Wicked, and subsequent movies, plays, and songs.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Based on the book by Lewis Carroll, this Disney retelling takes us down the rabbit hole, and into the surreal world of wonderland. The movie is an iconic Disney classic, and has inspired numerous cultural offspring including Jefferson Airplane’s classic song White Rabbit. In 2010, it was remade by Disney again with live-action and directed by Tim Burton.
Peter Pan (1953)
Dreaming of a world filled with pirates, swordplay, and the evil Captain Hook, Wendy Darling tells the tale of Peter Pan to her brothers. On her last night in the nursery, Peter Pan appears and leads them over the city of London and into the stars to the island of Neverland. Here, Wendy and her brothers join Peter in a magical world where they are free of rules and will never grow up. The film is one of the top portrayals of childhood imagination, and with successful spinoffs and remakes over the last 50 years, has helped many adults reclaim a sense of lost childhood freedom.
The Matrix (1999)
The Wachowski brothers flipped the world of science fiction on its head in 1999 with block-busting thriller The Matrix. In their fictional world, computers have taken over, and the world as we know it is merely a mirage known as “the matrix.” Through their mixture of Hong Kong flick style action, cyber punk, and ground-breaking special effects, the Wachowski brothers changed the direction of Science Fiction films. The Matrix won four Oscars in the process.
The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003)
Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic trilogy, Peter Jackson’s three films follow Frodo and company as they embark on a journey to save middle earth. Throughout the films, Frodo and his fellow hobbits meet a myriad of mythical creatures including wizards, orcs, and elves. The trilogy received both critical and commercial success for its portrayal of Tolkien’s vision, and the final chapter of the film, The Return of the King, took home 11 Oscars including best picture.
Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
An adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are is the story of Max, a disobedient boy with a bad temper. After feeling ignored by his mother, Max stubbornly sets off from home and lets his imagination run wild. The movie received critical praise, and for the first time, brought the beloved classic to life on the big screen.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
In Pan’s Labyrinth, Director Guillermo Del Toro uses the Spanish civil war as a backdrop for an adult themed fairytale. Throughout the film, Del Toro slowly intertwines mythical elements from fairy tale lore with guerrilla warfare to shed light on the real world tragedies of war and tyranny. As the movie progresses, the horrors of both the real and fantasy worlds quickly synthesize together and build to a gut wrenching climax. Critics applauded Del Toro for his fusion of myth and reality, and David Germain of the Associated Press called it “one of the most magical films to come along in years.”
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Over the last decade, there has been no story more cherished than Harry Potter. The books hold a special place in their muggle readers’ hearts, and when the announcement came out that the books would be turned into a series of major motion pictures, fans were both excited to see their imaginations come to life, and worried that the films would ruin their favourite story. Luckily for fans however, the films were a worldwide success, and left people of all ages eagerly checking their mail for Hogwarts acceptance letters.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
While Woody Allen is one of the most successful Hollywood writers/directors ever, critics began to disregard his films as one-liner fluff early in the 21st century. With Midnight in Paris however, Woody Allen regained critics’ attention by grabbing their hand, and taking them on a timeless walk through Paris. Using Owen Wilson as a vehicle for discovery, Allen creates a magical world where Paris socialites from different time periods are able to interact, and even date. Midnight in Paris uses this fictional setting to shed comedic light on nostalgia, and by the end of the film, ultimately brings the joke back on itself in typical Allen fashion.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Through his use of stylized set pieces, intelligent dialogue and introspective character development, Wes Anderson has created a unique, immediately recognizable film universe. For the Grand Budapest Hotel, he transports us to a 1930s version of Central Europe in a fictionalised country called Zubrowka. With a cast that includes Ralph Fiennes, Jude Law, Bill Murray, and Edward Norton—just to name a few—The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most anticipated films of 2014.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is released in UK Cinemas March 7.