September 2017 is SYFY’s 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror—a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back. Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.
What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!
The past 25 years have seen a definite rise in the popularity of all things “geeky.” Some call it the rise of geek chic, but that sounds dumb. Genre enthusiast? Yes, we’ll go with that. With the huge successes of many fantasy, sci-fi, comic book, and video game properties, the genre landscape has definitely been through a period of change—and some of these changes have been seismic, marking huge turning points in genre entertainment as a whole. Camp out all night, put on your motion capture suit, and make a $4 billion deal to acquire our list of the 25 biggest turning points in genre in the last 25 years!
Andy Serkis’ performance as Gollum redefines motion capture
Andy Serkis showed up on the set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy wearing a slim body suit, and then he started to climb around on rocks. Amidst all of the costumed hobbits and orcs, nobody really knew who this person was, or what he was doing. Originally, Serkis was only going to supply the voice for Gollum/Sméagol in these films, but having him give a live performance on set changed everything. He threw himself into the role so fully, so completely, that it could not be ignored. Technically, everyone’s favorite bumbling Gungan came first, but Serkis took the concept of a digitally created character to an entirely new level. It was a fully realized performance in every way, not just on the set, but on the motion capture stages, after the rest of the cast had gone home. Serkis is the undisputed pioneer king of this new age of digital puppetry, continuing to supply his talents in King Kong, the Planet of the Apes prequels, and the new Star Wars films. His own motion capture studio has helped give life to Ultron, as well as assisting with countless other films, and we’re sure that this gifted artist will continue to astound us for many years to come.
Avatar leads the 3D revolution
James Cameron’s film of giant blue space cats and the incredible world that they inhabit was the first film that really showed us that 3D in movies could be more than just having things fly out towards the screen. The 3D was used to immerse you, and the result was a fully realized sci-fi planet that audiences felt like they had really traveled to. 3D was a fun experiment before this, but this film was a must see—and to get the full experience, audiences had to shell out the extra bucks for the 3D glasses. It proved worth it in the end, and the result was a huge financial success. Because of it, most genre films are now released with a 3D version, some shot for 3D, but most given the 3D effect in post. The quality varies depending on the film, but 3D has certainly helped get more people back into the multiplexes during this age of home theaters.
The Bechdel Test is created
Named after comics writer Alison Bechdel, the test is simple. If a piece of fiction contains at least one scene of two women talking about something other than a man, it passes. The sad truth is that most films, shows, comics, and games do not pass. Some are not even close. A new standard that helps to bolster representation in all works of genre, this test can inspire creators to try new approaches when they originally may not have. Coming at a time when about half of all projects actually passed, the test has (very slowly) changed the conversation around representation, and has started the wheels of change turning…ever…so…slowly.
Blade is a moderate hit
This was Marvel’s first success of any kind at the box office. Previous efforts had been disastrous—Howard the Duck did, um, not do well, and other adapted properties never saw stateside release. The moderate success of this vampire superhero film helped to not only pave the way for two more Blade films, but for other Marvel properties. It is likely that without this small ray of hope, the first X-Men film would never have come along, and without that, the great rise of the comic book film (Marvel properties especially) would never have happened. Without Blade, there would be no MCU. Thank you, Blade.
Battlestar Galactica wins Peabody Award, named “Best Political Show on TV”
It was huge for a science fiction show to receive this honor. After it was largely ignored by the Emmys, BSG taking this award (and quote) showed that people were paying attention. Sure, it involved spaceships and “Toasters,” but underneath all of that were real political stories, and people were taking it seriously. They were admitting what many of us have known for years—that the best science fiction shows us hard truths about our real lives. Should Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, James Callis, and countless others also have received Emmys for their acting? Two answers to that: yes, and YES.
The Crow recreates Brandon Lee in CGI
A tragic accident (involving a prop gun) on the set of The Crow resulted in the death of Brandon Lee in 1993. It was a terrible and needless end to the life of this talented man, and certainly the fact that the film was not yet finished proved to be the least of the real-life issues at hand. Eventually, however, the film was completed and Brandon Lee was briefly resurrected with the aid of digital effects. It was the first time this was ever done, it would be done again over the years when actors passed during filming (Oliver Reed in Gladiator comes to mind). Now, however, the process is being used to insert legacy characters into entirely new films long after their deaths. The most recent example is Rogue One, which, with the help of master actor Guy Henry as well as tons of digital wizardry, brought Grand Moff Tarkin back to the Star Wars films. Peter Cushing (the esteemed original Tarkin) died in 1994, but there he was, back up on the screen. The result was strange for some, while others had no clue.
The Death of Superman
Whether you read comics or not, chances are that you heard about this. It was reported everywhere, that Kal-El, son of Krypton, was dead. Most of the people reporting on it were not aware that comics have long tradition of killing characters only to revive them soon after, so, for some, the feeling was that Superman was gone for good. The reporting paid off, and this became the best-selling comic of all time. Of course, it was a publicity stunt—there was no way DC Comics was going to kill off Superman for good. Soon enough, he was back. Different, but back. It will be hard for them to pull off something of this magnitude again, but we’re sure they’ll keep trying.
Disney buys Lucasfilm
Disney had always had a nice friendship with Star Wars, including (but not limited to) the wonderful Star Tours ride appearing in Disney Parks. This was an instance of Disney eating and absorbing its friend, and paying $4-billion dollars for the privilege. George Lucas walked away, Kathleen Kennedy took the reins, and a new age of Star Wars began. The EU was blown apart like Alderaan, a new canon was jumpstarted, and the Lucasfilm Story Group oversaw everything. The result so far has been two excellent films, one fantastic animated series, (check out Rebels if you haven’t) and many books and comics, all of them canon official. You could say that this landmark acquisition has paid off for Disney, as the two new films in particular have basically printed money for them. It was the second property that Disney had recently bought, the other being…
Disney buys Marvel
The mouse strikes again! Well, since this happened first, we guess it’s a prequel. So, The Phantom Mouse? Time to abandon the metaphor. In another $4-billion-dollar deal, Disney bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009. With the company came its 5,000 characters. The MCU was just beginning, so this proved to be a very sound investment. With Disney now raking in all of the money from Marvel and Star Wars (as well as their own animated and live-action remakes), they have come to dominate the box office and are a genre giant that is almost impossible to avoid.
Dropping entire seasons at once
Thanks to Netflix, streaming, and the dawn of binge watching, original shows often come to us in the form of one huge season. You don’t get just one, measly episode of Daredevil; you get 12 at a time. While some people still like to watch just one episode per sitting (or a few), there are many of us that devour these complete seasons like the Rancor devours Gamorrean Guards. Those of us with no self-control will not hesitate to chug down an entire season of Bojack Horseman in one day, and no further explanation is needed past what Captain Kirk’s reasons are for climbing a mountain in Star Trek V. Why do we blow through a whole day of our lives watching an entire season of something? BECAUSE IT’S THERE. These season drops often result in storytelling that is way more serialized, so you’re really watching one long story, told in 12 installments. If you’re loving the story, you’re not going to want to stop.
Ed Skrein steps down from Hellboy reboot
This happened fairly recently, and it was huge. Actor Ed Skrein (the British villain in Deadpool) was cast in the Hellboy reboot as a character from the comics who was Asian. It was yet another instance of whitewashing in Hollywood, and the outcry was loud, but, this time, the actor actually STEPPED DOWN. He was replaced by the much more appropriate Daniel Dae Kim, (Lost) and a blow for representation was struck. We’re not saying Ed Skrein deserves a statue erected in his honor, but he did the right thing, and the film will be better because of it. We hope that he has set an example, and if studios won’t stop whitewashing their movies (Ghost in the Shell, and many more), then the miscast actors can stop it themselves.
A turning point, yes, but a turning point right into an abyss full of knives. This event is nothing to celebrate, but it did shine a light on the systemic misogyny that has plagued the gaming world for a very long time. Three female members of the gaming community were bullied and doxed, and received threats of rape as well as death, and all in the name of “ethics in game journalism.” Internet trolls rallied like never before, very unhappy that women were voicing their opinions in their sacred boy’s club. The lives of the three women were changed forever, and if there is anything at all to celebrate here, it is the strength that they all demonstrated in standing up to the digital masses, and taking their lives back. Standing tall in the face of an avalanche of threats, these women are shining examples of power in the face of outrageously unwarranted hatred. One can only hope that the real turning point here is that the inherent sexism in the gaming industry will no longer be tolerated.
Game of Thrones sets the standard for cinematic TV
Fantasy had shown up on our televisions before, but never like this. A sprawling fantasy story with a billion characters, this series also had the added pressure of being fully set in a fantasy world—there was no part of it that was related to our regular lives on Earth at all, as with Neverwhere or The Magicians. With moderate budgets at first, the show did a lot with a little, focusing on character beats and smaller battles to tell its epic story. It was the second season episode “Blackwater” that really upped this game, however, depicting the massive Battle of Blackwater Bay on a scale that would be huge for most fantasy films. As the seasons have gone on, the battles have only gotten bigger, the cinematography much richer, and we still haven’t lost the magic of the wonderful character moments that made us love the show in the first place. A landmark achievement for any medium, Game of Thrones proves that fantasy on a truly cinematic level (and beyond) not only can happen on television, it can conquer.
Harry Potter’s debut
Who could have predicted the meteoric rise of this humble boy wizard, whose first adventure was published in 1997? Each book saw surges in popularity, and children were clamoring for the books like they would usually clamor for new video games. We’d never seen anything like it. The summer that the fourth book in the series was released, children in camps across the nation just wanted to be left alone…so that they could read. Adults, for the most part, wanted to do the same thing. JK Rowling’s masterpiece Potter series made children fall in love with reading in a whole new way, and the great thing was that when the Potter books were over, their love of reading continued. Children brought up on Potter went on to devour all kinds of other books, and the YA genre took an enormous leap forward. Aside from getting kids excited beyond belief to go home and READ, the Potter series also gave us: Eight wonderful fantasy films, one great Potter spin-off film (with more on the way), a slew of complimentary companion books, a few new theme parks, and Albus Dumbledore.
Heath Ledger wins an Academy Award for the Joker
Aside from occasional honors in the special effects and makeup categories, the Academy rarely awards any kind of comic book film, and certainly not in the acting categories. All of this changed in 2009, when they awarded Heath Ledger a posthumous Best Featured Actor Oscar for his perfect performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight. It was surely bittersweet, due the actor passing away a few months earlier, but his performance was of such quality that it could not be ignored. The Academy was able to look past the makeup and the batarangs, and see the revelatory performance for what it was—utter genius.
The Hunger Games becomes the first female-led #1 movie (annually) of the blockbuster era
Topping the box office for four straight weeks, The Hunger Games became the first female-led movie to accomplish that since The Hand that Rocks the Cradle in 1992. Women had performed central roles in some films that had achieved the four-peat, but none of them had a female in the lead role. Thankfully, this was a wake-up call for Hollywood, letting them know that it was okay to have a woman lead your genre film. Scarlett Johansson proved this with the success of Lucy, and there’s little doubt that DC’s gamble with having a female lead in Wonder Woman paid off. The notion that Wonder Woman was considered a gamble because it was female led (and female directed), and not because it was another DCEU film, shows that we’ve inched forward, but still have a long way to go.
Image Comics debuts
Created in 1992 by seven of the best-selling artists in the medium, Image Comics has risen to become one of the largest comic publishers in the world. Available at your LCS as well as a digital app, their comics are driven by the people that create them, and not the characters that star in them. To put it a different way, you buy an Image Comics title because Matt Fraction wrote it, not because Batman is in it. They proved that you don’t need a famous hero to sell comics, and the result is a catalog containing all kinds of zany titles from all corners of the genre. We are most thankful to Image Comics for publishing the best title in the game right now—Kelly Sue DeConnick and company’s extraordinary Bitch Planet. If you haven’t checked that one out yet, don’t wait another second. Also recommended: Descender, ODY-C, and Snotgirl.
Iron Man is a hit and the MCU is born
Iron Man is a great movie in and of itself, but when Nick Fury pops up after the credits, he lets you know that you’ve merely scratched the surface. He mentions the Avengers Initiative, and many of us were excited, but doubted that it could ever be done. How thankful we are to be wrong, because what we were witnessing was the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a place where comic characters could pop in and out of each other’s movies, just like they pop in and out of each other’s comics. Just seeing the Stark name on a crate in a movie that doesn’t even feature him reminds you of the larger world these characters inhabit, whether you’re in New York City or Asgard. This first “shared cinematic universe” was (and still is) so successful, that many other attempts have been made by other studios to duplicate the formula. The DCEU has trudged along, providing three very divisive films and one dynamo classic, while other attempts like Universal's “Dark Universe” have arrived DOA.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sweeps the Academy Awards
The previous two films in this series had been nominated for best picture, and even won some awards for editing and music, but it wasn’t until this trilogy capper swept the board, winning all 11 awards it was up for, that we felt like the Academy was truly recognizing the landmark accomplishment of this series. It was a cinematic undertaking such as had never been attempted, and the resulting beauty and artistry on display was too huge for the Academy to ignore. As Peter Jackson said in his Best Picture speech, “I’m so honored, touched, and relieved, that the Academy and the members of the Academy have supported us and seen past the trolls and the wizards and the hobbits in recognizing fantasy this year.” The massive haul of awards (tying Titanic and Ben-Hur) proved that fantasy could be just as prestigious as any other genre, if done well. Game of Thrones continuing to dominate the Emmys (when it is eligible) continues to prove that point.
Massively multiplayer gaming is born
The birth of the modern MMO (or MMORPG) occurred in 1997, with Ultima Online. An extension of the popular Ultima games, this title was the first that included player vs player combat using an online connection. It was the first MMORPG to reach 100,000 players, and it was also one of the first games that let you play however you wanted to, as evidenced by the now-famous incident in which the in-game avatar of Ultima’s creator, Richard Garriott, was killed. This freedom of choice, as well as cooperative gameplay, eventually gave rise to other MMORPG’s, most notably the incredibly popular World of Warcraft. The world of online gaming has grown so much that most regular titles these days have an online component, so if you want to try and break into the Los Santos army base with a kid from St. Louis, Grand Theft Auto Online lets you do it. The downside to this—games like Star Wars: Battlefront, in which some players (who will go unnamed) get shot in the back every six seconds.
Rise of the post-credits scene
Once again, thank you Nick Fury! Though sometimes there would be a little Easter egg after the credits rolled, (Pirates of the Caribbean has them) it was Marvel that really made the post-credit tag almost standard fare. Not just a cute little postscript, Nick Fury’s appearance after the credits of Iron Man was a full on character introduction, and (as stated above) was the birth of the MCU. These days most genre viewers always stay and watch the credits, even if it’s already been confirmed that there’s nothing after them. Why stay, then? Because you never know. Is it all just a clever way to keep audiences in their seats, looking at the names of the hardworking people who made the movie happen? Perhaps, but there are worse ways to spend three minutes than listening to snippets of a film’s score.
Rotten Tomatoes launches
Don’t feel like reading a slew of reviews to decide whether or not you want to see a certain film? Thanks to this aggregate site, you don’t have to. Continuing with the “thumbs up, thumbs down” model, the site takes every review of a film and decides whether the review is fresh (positive) or rotten (negative). It then adds up all of the fresh/rotten numbers and produces a percentage. If a movie is ranked as 90% fresh, then chances are most critics love it. If it is 14% rotten, it’s the opposite. Producers have claimed that the site causes some of their films to fail, but a film’s performance on the “tomato-meter” is no guarantee of success or failure. Any movie with “Batman” in the title is going to make money, no matter what the percentages are. What can be troubling, though, is a site boiling a nuanced review of a film into a simple yea or nay, and who is to really say if that’s accurate? We don’t know, but this site certainly helped give rise to a new age of criticism that is dominated by letter grades and cinemascores.
San Diego Comic-Con attendance reaches 167,000 in 2015
What once began as a humble convention that was almost entirely about comic books has grown into a juggernaut beast of an event that keeps getting bigger every year. It’s still a home for comic books and their creators, but now it’s also home to game launches, TV panels, and hall-packing new-footage-debuting mega events. Anything remotely genre related will find a place there, and studios routinely send their directors and casts to San Diego to get their respective hype machines rolling. Even if they already have tickets, most fans have to camp out for days in order to get to the biggest panels. At times raising questions about capacity (accidents happen often), San Diego recently struck a deal to host this event up and through 2021.
Fans can make a difference! The TV show Firefly, cut off before it ever had a chance to bloom, gained an army of fans during (and after) its run. Calling themselves the Browncoats (based off of a resistance group featured on the show), they campaigned endlessly for some kind of continuation of their beloved space western. Their prayers were miraculously answered with the release of this film, set in that universe. It more or less ties up the biggest plot threads that were left dangling, and gave fans of the show some closure. The movie was not a hit at the box office, but the fact that it was made at all proved that the voice of the fans matter, and that Malcolm Reynolds was right when he said that the Browncoats “would rise again.”
Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace debuts
A massive box office hit, a long awaited film, and a much anticipated return to George Lucas’ world of space opera, some people think that this movie made so much money because fans kept going back, trying their best to like it. Expectations for this film were through the roof, and whatever fans were expecting, it most likely didn’t involve a bumbling CGI caricature that quoted catchphrases from Full House. The film has its fans for sure (some in this office, some writing this article), but this movie that set off the incredibly divisive prequel era stands as a lesson against letting a film gain too much hype. Film fans (and especially Star Wars fans) have been quite wary to get this over-excited over anything ever since, give or take the occasional “Chewie, we’re home.”
These were OUR choices of the moments that turned everything around from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which you’d put on your list! And check out the rest of our "25 Greatest" lists here.