Help me find ideas for a fantasy or sci-fi movie
November 23, 2010 4:35 PM   Subscribe

What fantasy elements would you like to see in a movie?

I'm currently working on a screenplay that takes place in the modern day but has an element of fantasy to it; think "Van Helsing" or "Bridge to Terabithia" or "Ghostbusters." There are several directions in which I can go and a number of fantasy/sci-fi ingredients I can add to it.

My first thought was to go with zombies or vampires, but those seem like the most overdone movie monsters at the moment. I've researched ghosts, fairies, and various beings from mythology, but everything seems either clichéd or boring. So I thought I'd turn to the hive mind for fantasy or sci-fi elements that they'd like to see in a movie.

Is there something from mythology that you'd always thought would make a cool movie character? Something you've read that always seemed cool to you? An alien race that's never been done?

I'm open to anything, from aliens to unicorns. And if you think, "How can a single story sustain such different pieces?" -- well, maybe I'm not a very good writer. :-) Thanks for your help.
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (37 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
An idea for settings: non-euclidean spaces, like in the novel House of Leaves, or the movie Inception, are brain-trippy and fantastic and aren't done enough.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 4:48 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Watch the film Kontroll if you want to see how to do fantasy without doing fantasy.
posted by griphus at 4:49 PM on November 23, 2010

- A small tribe of exiled time travelers, with an agenda

- Bacteria or viruses who happen to be sentient beings visiting our planet from another dimension

- Artificial intelligences posing as chatbots and twitter bots who are actually here to help us

- Sentient garden tools or other common tools

- Cats that exist in multiple dimensions where the cat you can see is only a three dimensional projection of a multi-dimensional and very evil being

- A secret society of near-immortal gourmands who will do anything for the perfect meal

- Above, related: a society of waiter sworn to oppose them
posted by digitalprimate at 4:52 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A quick search yields references to some Christian books and a movie in production about the subject but I've always thought that the concept of Nephilim would make a good story.
posted by Morrigan at 4:52 PM on November 23, 2010

I've not seen a good "dragon in human form" done yet (or at all, except in one film as a villain) outside of books.
posted by The otter lady at 4:55 PM on November 23, 2010

One thing I rarely see in fantasy movies, but which is common in fantasy fiction, is a rigorous and internally-consistent system/theory of magic.

Basically, the assumption is that if magic exists, it must follow rules. They aren't the rules of our reality, but they're rules nonetheless.
posted by Netzapper at 4:58 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is there something from mythology that you'd always thought would make a cool movie character?

Winged unicorns that are evil.

An orc who wants to be a pacifist.
posted by nomadicink at 4:58 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really like the idea of Banshees.
posted by meese at 5:07 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

- A small tribe of exiled time travelers, with an agenda

No, two big groups of time travelers with agendas. Fighting wars in the past. See Fritz Leiber's "The Big Time". Or heck, just adapt a movie version of that.
posted by GuyZero at 5:14 PM on November 23, 2010

Can I just say that I would watch the hell out of a movie based on digitalprimate's first two and last three bullets? No? Okay, sorry.

In that case... dragons. I feel like there's never been a really good movie about dragons. "How to Train Your..." wasn't bad, but it's for kids, and dragons should be like HOLY FUCK IT'S A DRAGON RUN GODDAMMIT RUN level scary.
posted by Etrigan at 5:20 PM on November 23, 2010

Jim Starlin's Breed was an underrated comic that had what I thought was a good fantasy hook: Most of our mythological stories about gods, heroes and villains are actually different cultural interpretations of the same common thread: there's a race of otherwordly, demonic aliens that keep crossing over into this dimension and wreaking havoc. Hercules? Alien. Werewolves? Aliens. Hindu gods? The same aliens, aliens, aliens.

This "they all come from the same place" idea was picked up on slightly in the Matrix sequels. "Every time you've heard someone say they saw a ghost, or an angel. Every story you've ever heard about vampires, werewolves, or aliens, is the system..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:23 PM on November 23, 2010

If there's transport of some kind, use Enkaroplans. They look freaking majestic and badass. I don't see them in fiction of any kind.
posted by hellojed at 5:26 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

A world populated by anthropomorphic wolves. And cats. And foxes. And lions. Snow Leopards. Stallions. Kangaroos! Sorry, am a hobbyist wildlife photographer.
posted by TrinsicWS at 5:28 PM on November 23, 2010

Speaking strictly for myself, western tropes (wizards, vampires, aliens, etc.) are played out. Either adapt something from another culture that hasn't been overexposed, or invent something, whole-cloth.

Alternately, the mundane-object-that-is-secretly-ominous/secret-life-of-everyday-objects trope can be used to great effect. Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman are good at this. One of my favorite examples of this is Barker's The Inhuman Condition, wherein some vagrants find a piece of string with three knots tied in it.
posted by lekvar at 5:31 PM on November 23, 2010

Cats that exist in multiple dimensions where the cat you can see is only a three dimensional projection of a multi-dimensional and very evil being

Yes higher dimensional beings, how would you depict something that existed in say 7 dimensions? Think of Flatland and how an intrusion of a 3 dimensional being was/is perceived.

have any SF authors tackled this?
posted by Max Power at 5:34 PM on November 23, 2010

Speaking strictly for myself, western tropes (wizards, vampires, aliens, etc.) are played out.

I'd argue that those aren't Western, but Anglo-American. Slavic mythology is a rich vein just waiting to be tapped.
posted by griphus at 5:34 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

have any SF authors tackled this?

William Sleator's The Boy Who Reversed Himself deals with four spatial dimensions.
posted by griphus at 5:35 PM on November 23, 2010

If it hasn't been done yet....I've always thought it would be neat to see a zombie movie where the "science" of it was more rigorously followed: eyeballs are the first things to go bad, not the last - anything with connective tissue is reanimated, meat in supermarkets wiggles, squashed insects keep moving until they dry out, -recently dead people have more of their mental faculties intact and the horror is in the continued suffering of the undead.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Playing off of BuddhaInABucket's suggestion, you could make your mystical beings denizens of a higher dimension.

Imagine encountering a two-dimensional universe, an infinite plane filled with tissue-thin creatures whose world is laid out like a simple floor plan. Inhabitants of this world can only move forward, backward, left, and right, and cannot even conceive of the concept of "up and down." It's simply outside of their reality.

Being three-dimensional, you could interact with such a world in a way that would give you godlike powers. You could see the inside and outside of everything simultaneously -- including locked rooms and the insides of bodies (and brains!). You could "teleport" objects by lifting them up into 3D space and depositing them somewhere else on the plane. You could manifest bizarre apparitions by sticking your hand into the plane, creating a mutating cross-section of your body at the point of intersection. And you would be completely invisible to them and invulnerable to any attack.

Now imagine that, like the 2-D plane, our 3-D universe is floating through a larger 4-D universe, a universe with two extra directions that we can't even imagine.

A four-dimensional being would be able to do the same stuff to our world as we could do to the plane. They could access any space, no matter how secure. They could spy on you without you being aware of them, or perhaps even read your thoughts. They could touch the inside of your stomach -- or pluck your heart from your chest. And they could create manifestations, as well -- either bizarre shifting blobs of flesh if they simply inserted a four-dimensional hand... or something that looks almost human, if they tried to craft a 4-D object whose cross-section (cross-space?) looked like a human at the point it intersected with our 3-D universe.

It's a fascinating idea, one that melds hard science with supernatural creepiness in a mind-bending way. But I've never seen it done in film before, even though it has a literary pedigree that goes all the way back to 1884.

(On preview, I see a couple of people have suggested something like this. "The Boy Who Reversed Himself" is a good treatment of the concept, if a little long. See also the short story "In Fading Suns and Dying Moons" by John Varley for one example of how you can use the existence of higher-dimensional beings to tell an interesting sci-fi/fantasy story.)
posted by Rhaomi at 5:41 PM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Gilgamesh. Not necessarily the whole thing, but perhaps the primary character(s) or the more accessible plot points. Wikipedia indicates this has pretty much never been done in film, though it has shown up in other media.
posted by Gator at 5:43 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

cool movie character: To me, cool means: 1. smarter than me 2. would kick my ass in a fight 3. really sexy. I think I feel the same about this kind of character whether its a royal elf mermaid from space or just a normal human who busted their ass through seriously challenging education.

2nding a fantasy movie where the magic system follows rules. Bonus points if the rules are really simple and make sense (so viewers can't find plot holes).

Other ideas:

-peoples' beliefs influence probability, so that everyones' expectations are met (a wizard can only do magic if nonbelievers aren't watching, and an insane person exists in his own reality).

-the XKCD action movie that's actually all action, with no boring dialogue. Maybe one character who's all action all the time, in an otherwise normal movie.

-humans that can modify/augment their brains, so they become really smart if they choose. (This doesn't have to be could have a character who downloads and absorbs all ask.mefi posts tagged "relationships"). Post-Singularity speculation gets hard to write convincingly.

-a new industrial robot replaces all minimum-wage workers, who then go on welfare. The robots work perfectly and don't rebel. People are richer than ever, and can retire. What does this mean?

Some people say that science fiction helps people explore what it means to be human, and what we could be, so it's not about the magic in itself as much as it is about what the magic reveals about our desires.
posted by sninctown at 5:50 PM on November 23, 2010

One of the great things about science fiction is that, underneath, there's a good solid story, typically about social issues. Fantasy, by comparison, is often (not always) too much in the fantasy realm and not enough in the good solid story realm.

So, what I'd like to see is this: a good, solid story, told in a fantasy environment which lends itself well to either twisting the narrative of that story in a non-standard way, or obscures the more obvious elements of the story so that a new perspective can be gained. That's what sci-fi does best, and you'd do well to be a writer who can accomplish the same thing in a fantasy realm.

case in point: do you open your fantasy book or movie with characters who have names that are impossible to pronounce? you are too much into the fantasy, because in a good story, the characters need to be memorable and recognizable right away
posted by davejay at 6:01 PM on November 23, 2010

I always thought this unique twist on time travel from Naberius was absolutely fantastic, and if I had more discipline as a writer I would have shamelessly stolen it already.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2010

(always = since July)
posted by synaesthetichaze at 6:12 PM on November 23, 2010


Check out William Gibson's latest :)
posted by digitalprimate at 6:47 PM on November 23, 2010

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters would be a much better movie than it is a book.
posted by novalis_dt at 8:25 PM on November 23, 2010

I always liked the show "Sliders" because the idea of infinite parallel realities was intriguing.

I'd like to see something along the lines of was an administrative fuckup by whatever authority presides over such things....could be both fantastical and funny.
posted by Thistledown at 9:59 PM on November 23, 2010

Too much magic could be gauche. I do like the idea of prophets who are tormented by their visions. Think of Cassandra in Troy. Mind-reading abilities are along the same lines. If you think about it, most people wouldn't want to be burdened with either of these powers. It's a nearly automatic way to add Shakespearean-style tragedy to your script.
posted by CorduroyCorset at 10:32 PM on November 23, 2010

There's a thing my favorite movies which are set in our world, but with some fantastical element share. It's hard to describe actually. I guess you might call it a backstory, a sense that the character is not the center of the world. Their actions matter, but important things have happened before them, there are factions which don't necessarily care about them and existed before them.

The Lost Room (miniseries), Intacto, The Prophecy, Push, the Phantasm series, and the Ninth Gate come to mind. It's really world building in a sense. Even the Matrix had it, to some extent.

Include that, some sort of (to steal a term) occult underground.
posted by gryftir at 12:11 AM on November 24, 2010

Actions of a non-human intelligence. Whether it's machine or alien or evolved dolphin or whatever, something that is clearly sentient, but completely other. Its understanding of the world, its motives, its values, its conclusions, are not ours, and so mystifying despite making sense by its own systems. But being intelligent like us, its actions often achieve the results it seeks, but might not be intuitive to us.

A character exhibiting the kind of alien intelligence that would make you want to devote your life to learning how to be able to think like that, just because it's so wildly different, and see the world so differently.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:57 AM on November 24, 2010

Cheap effects.

Seriously, have concepts that can be used without using effects. Look at the current Dr. Who season, monsters that only move when you don't look, time loops, doors that weren't there before and backwards re-syncing film to create spooky out of time sequences.

After the Magicians, I'm taken with the idea that magic is just hard and boring and *annoying* so that's why we have technology.

I always like stories where the modern world has to adapt to a fantastic element - True Blood - Ugly Americans - what do you do if magic is real? Sell it at WallMart?
posted by The Whelk at 9:04 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

And, yea look to Dr. Who. Time Travel will be your friend here.
posted by The Whelk at 9:06 AM on November 24, 2010

You may want to brainstrom on concepts that can use one or very few locations. I'm a huge fan of clever locked-room dramas.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on November 24, 2010

I remember reading Bangkok 8 and how one of the more interesting points was how wildly different the Thai understanding of the fundamental forces of the world was compared to the westerners... something something something a very deep and abiding belief in spirits and ghosts.

This has probably been done a millionz timez, but I think it would be an interesting premise to have a recent immigrant come to America, and experience a mysterious adventure that was utterly confounding to his* native countrymen, but made perfect sense within his* animist worldview, so that he* was uniquely equipped to navigate and solve the problems he* runs into.

And a great opportunity for a commentary on the modern immigrant experience.

*his,he... what I'm getting at is this would only be interesting if the protagonist was male.
posted by BleachBypass at 4:26 PM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

A librarian who discovers that his/her library is slowly filling with books from another world - authors who don't exist, writing histories about events that never happened, with pictures of things that never were (or, for a more disturbing turn, shouldn't be). Before long, an unusual and slightly disturbing new clientele begins checking them out.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:35 PM on November 24, 2010

(Wow, I finally thought of something I could write with Inform 7! If any of you makes a movie about a killer robot driving instructor that travels back in time for some reason...I mean, a spooky library with weird books and odd borrowers... *evil eyes*)
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:43 PM on November 24, 2010

Dr Who's sister series Torchwood also has some pretty great low-budget effects-- the aliens in Children of Earth are creepy as hell and totally low-budget.

I actually really like stories with weird cosmologies, which is sort of what the dimensional stuff is talking about. Weirdly enough the DnD sourcebook "Manual of the Planes" (I have the one from 3rd edition) is actually really good for building that kind of stuff; it has lots of diagrams and different ideas about how to build cosmologies.

Fantasy and science fiction in the category that I usually hear called "mindfuck" which Netflix calls "mind-bending" is really popular now; Inception is in that category but movies like Donnie Darko, The Butterfly Effect and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fit in there too. You can do these with or without sci-fi elements but usually they use those elements to explore the human mind in a way that's interesting.
posted by NoraReed at 2:15 AM on November 27, 2010

« Older Separated for a while, divorce on the way, and I'm...   |   You mean I can just BUY a bigger pipe? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.