What makes something “genre media”? Anything that replaces our own world with a reality and/or characters of pure imagination, whether it’s the future, the past, or a present where the rules are slightly different than our own…

What I’ve listed below are what I think were the biggest franchises of the last decade in terms of both impact, and how the defined the model for a success in the last decade.

In the 2000s the idea of the genre “machine” has become streamlined. The potential for fantasy, sci-fi, or comics to become mega-hits is no longer in doubt, leading to new juggernauts that were far more quirky and interesting than what we’d seen previously, while some old Stalwarts struggled to re-invent themselves the 21st Century.

As for the choices I made: There were some obvious runner-ups that I considered putting on the list, but they either petered out instead of ending with a bang, or (like Star Trek) seemed to be on the right path, but haven’t fully finished redefining themselves yet.

This list isn’t ordered by profit, but by impact as judged by me.  If you agree, disagree, or want to ask any questions, please leave a comment.

You can find the rest of the list here.

11. Firefly

firefly_front_cover[1]For a series that managed only to produce 12 episodes, Firefly was phenomenon that first revealed the power of internet fandom in the early part of the 21St century.

Poorly understood by the network that aired it, the show was bounced around between numerous time-slots, with episodes aired out of order. After no amount of executive meddling seemed to “help”, the series closed up shop and faded away. But when it reappeared on DVD something amazing happened: Finally able to watch it the way it was meant to be seen, and with a small group of loyal fans behind it, the show began to attract the wider audience it never found during broadcast.

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, managed to use his clout and the success of the DVDs to convince Universal to fund a film. The fans went crazy, hoping that they could prove their righteous power to Hollywood. But no amount of enthusiasm could make up for a poor marketing campaign for a complicated movie, and it failed to do big box-office numbers. What it ultimately proved is that Sci-Fi fandom can draw online attention, but it can’t necessarily bring in the numbers needed to actually make something a hit. (See Snakes On a Plane for more proof.)

Although people are still discovering the magic of the show, it seems that its best days may be behind it. Even the comics and novels are locked into the main series continuity, telling “side-stories” that cannot touch the characters in any significant way.  (Although a new collection of short-stories promises some tales that take place after the movie.)

But without anything major to drive the franchise forward except for diminishing fan love, it may be that this beloved series is finally running out of gas.

Theatrical Movie:                   Yes
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    Yes
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          No
Roleplaying Games:                Yes
Collectable Card Games:        No
Toys:                                        Yes

10. Stargate

stargate05_3[1]Spun off from a semi-successful mid-90s movie as a syndicated TV series starring the man who played MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson), in the last 15 years Stargate has managed to overcome its humble roots and become a hit franchise, while still maintaining an “under the radar” reputation. A little more modern and militaristic than Star Trek, it has also managed to keep going boldly forward with a smaller, but far more loyal audience.

The first series, Stargate SG-1, was basically a sequel to the film After a season on Showtime (with the requisite bare-breasts) the show spent the next few years in syndication before ending up on the Sci-fi channel, where it has become an important part of the network’s brand.

In 2001, looking to increase the show’s mainstream appeal, there was a disastrous attempt to kill off Daniel, one of the most popular characters on the show. Facing the backlash, the producers of the show seemed to have had a moment of clarity, and started pushing the stories so that it spoke more directly toward the fanbase. The nerds seem to have rewarded them in kind, keeping the love alive while so many other series have fallen by the wayside. In many ways Stargate shows what a healthy relationship with fandom is all about.

By the middle of the decade, the original series was getting a little long in the tooth, and spinoffs started to show up. These seem to all get at least a five year run, with the completed shows getting occasional follow ups as direct-to-DVD films.

Never a critical success, Stargate has always managed to maintain decent ratings, and enters the new millennium with a new series called “Universe” that has managed to simultaneously honor the show’s history while breaking new ground dramatically.

Sixteen years since the movie, Stargate may finally have the potential to reach a bigger audience. The new Universe series is definitely more accessible, and with the end of Battlestar, and Star Trek’s jump to features for the foreseeable future, the way is clear for Stargate to take its place as a venerable pillar of televised science fiction media.

Theatrical Movie:                   Yes
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    Yes
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          Yes
Roleplaying Games:                Yes
Collectable Card Games:        Yes
Toys:                                        Yes

9. Naruto

naruto[1]As the decade began, Anime was dominated by a show called “Dragon Ball Z”. Silly, over the top, and insanely repetitive, its massive success series proved that there was an audience hungry for cartoon action in the US. It was also a show that had started in Japan in the 80s, and as it wound down at left the door open for a new franchise to take its place.

Many shows tried for the crown, but fans can be fickle, and falling in love takes time. But over the last decade it’s become clear that the next “big thing” is a series about young Ninjas in training called Naruto.

A slow-burning phenomenon, based on a manga comic that is still being produced, the show has managed to pump out hundreds of episodes, growing slowly but steadily the entire time until it now seems to have firmly taken the crown for most popular anime.

Its success has also has benefitted from the coming of age of entire generation of kids that were weaned on Pokemon, and have no problems understanding the unique shorthand of Japanese animation.

Things seem to have recently kicked up to the next level, and the series has become of the most popular shows available on Hulu, regularly beating out high-quality network programming. Like DragonBall, it seems to connect with the tastes and viewing habits of a younger, more technically aware, audience.

Theatrical Movie:                   No
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    No
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          Yes
Roleplaying Games:                No
Collectable Card Games:        Yes
Toys:                                        Yes

8. Star Wars

ln0001-star-wars[1]Even as the brand raked in more money than ever before, at the turn of the century the future of the Star Wars franchise seemed to be disintegrating from blowback of three ponderously effects-heavy prequels that had managed to suck most of the joy and flash out of the original license.

But the Death Star kept moving forward, its unstoppable marketing machine pushing out product at a constant pace. Sheer momentum and a torrent of merchandise managing to keep Star Wars alive and growing, in spite of a growing fan dissatisfaction that sometimes bordered on hatred.

Over the last few years it’s clear that Star Wars is retooling itself to get ready for the next generation. Rather than relying on tent-pole films the series is becoming about smaller events, including  Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic videogame.

The “Clone Wars” animated series launched around the time of the final prequel, and has stayed on the air in one form or another ever since. And rumors of a new live-action TV series keep appearing.

Love it or hate it, Star Wars keeps moving forward.

Theatrical Movie:                   Yes
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    Yes
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          Yes
Roleplaying Games:                Yes
Collectable Card Games:        Yes
Toys:                                        Yes

7. Battlestar Galactica

battlestar-galactica[1]Back in the 1970s this show was born as a way to try and capture some of the truly phenomenal success of Star Wars and bring it to television. More Science Fiction than the fantasy mash-up of Star Wars, it came complete with a semi-biblical storyline by way of the disco era and UFO mania.

But despite the sheer seventies of it all, it did have some good episodes, and clearly created a new high-water mark for the limits of special effects for television until Star Trek: The Next Generation got boldly going a decade later.

After several false starts at a revival in the beginning of the decade, including a story continuation proposed by original cast member Richard Hatch, the show that finally made it onto the Sci-Fi channel as a mini-series in 2003. The new show managed to take the basic elements of the original series and remix them into a darker, grittier world that seemed to delight in abusing the audience almost as much as it did its own characters.

Over the next five years the show went through some interesting twists and turns, heading toward what should have been a grand ending, but one that was ultimately let down by weak symbolism and some ham-handed preaching that had many people longing for the ambiguity of the Sopranos.

But even if the finale was a bit of a disappointment, over the course of its run the show managed to break new ground, and proved that in the right hands no license too old or silly to become compelling drama.

Rumors abound that there may yet still be another reboot of the series as a theatrical franchise in the next decade, but it’s hard to believe we’ll see the Cylons rise up for a third time. Meanwhile, the prequel, Caprica, has just started its run, so perhaps the story isn’t over yet.

Theatrical Movie:                   Yes (In the 80s)
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    Yes
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          Yes
Roleplaying Games:                Yes
Collectable Card Games:        Yes
Toys:                                        Yes

6. Doctor Who

doctor-who-tardis[1]After too many attempts to “fix” the show, the original Doctor Who was cancelled by the BBC in the late 80s, after more than 20 years on television. For the next 15 years the show continued to officially exist mostly in the form of novels and audio dramas, with a failed television reboot in the mid-90s only managing to put more dirt on its grave.

But in the last five years Doctor Who has gone from being a lost property, to once again becoming a world-wide phenomenon.

When Russel T. Davies took the reigns of a re-launch he decided to honor the show’s 25 year history, and keep the original continuity intact. It was a risky choice that ended up paying off handsomely, giving the show a sense of history, while allowing it to embrace modern storytelling and technology.

Besides being so long-lasting, Doctor Who is also completely unique in the sense that it is the only ongoing series that has entirely non-human character as its protagonist, a conceit so difficult swallow that the 1996 movie attempted (unsuccessfully) to retcon a human parent into the storyline.

But the character has another unique element that has added to the show’s ability to survive where so many others had failed; the Doctor’s ability to “regenerate” into a new actor when facing death. It’s a tidy plot-trick that has already allowed eleven actors to slip into the title role without breaking continuity, making it evergreen in a way that no other series has ever been before or since.

Finally, the show’s innate narrative of travel across time and space means that the series has a strongly episodic feel, but could still indulge in long meta-arcs without alienating the core audience.

In 2010 the series will have a both new showrunner and a new lead actor. This is definitely a cross-roads for the show, but there is no reason to believe that it won’t continue to be a smash success going forward.

Theatrical Movie:                   Yes (In the 60s)
TV Series:                               Yes
Novels:                                    Yes
Comics:                                   Yes
Video Games:                          No
Roleplaying Games:                Yes
Collectable Card Games:        Yes
Toys:                                        Yes

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