We’re living in a time when fandom is arguably more universal than religion or politics. Studios have made enormously profitable franchises out of what used to be niche, nerdy source material, be it about elves, dinosaurs, or superheroes. If you’ve ever felt left out of a pop culture conversation, now is the time to catch up. Or, maybe you want to revisit an old favorite? These are the best film franchises to marathon, based on how you’re feeling as you hunker down indefinitely.
If you’re taking social distancing with the deadly seriousness it requires, and you want someone to feel your pain and still need to know there’s good in the world, try Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien’s trilogy, skillfully adapted by Peter Jackson, boasts breathtaking landscapes, iconic battles and the kind-hearted stoicism we could all use right now. Don’t postpone a trip to Middle Earth because you assume the mythology is too dense. The onscreen version manages to satisfy book readers while remaining extremely accessible to broader audiences. It might be a tad too earnest and self-serious for some, as neither Tolkien nor Jackson are known for their sense of humor. But, The Lord of the Rings gives its fans hope while acknowledging the hardship its characters experience.
Harry Potter is a feel-good film franchise, especially if you or your kids are really missing the routine of daily life. Tales of whimsical witchcraft have been done before, but J.K. Rowling did something truly magical with her take on fantasy. She gave the world wizard school, and who doesn’t want to go to wizard school? The eight Harry Potter films might not be masterpieces, but they’re fine, fun and faithful to the spirit of the immensely popular novels. The movies really shine when it comes to replicating Harry’s year-after-year-after-year at Hogwarts. Watching them back-to-back will make you feel like meaningful time has passed, and you’ve accomplished something worthwhile. They conjure nostalgia, in a good way, even to the uninitiated who don’t know Ravenclaw from Slytherin.
Have you gone from panic to morbid curiosity about what a near-future post-apocalypse might look like?The Hunger Games takes what should be an R-rated concept (children fighting to the death), dials it down to PG-13, then adds some convincing dystopian lore. Taking place 74 years after the fall of America as we knew it, the four-part film series (based on a trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins) follows sad sack archer Katniss Everdeen as she tries to provide for her family in a callously reorganized society. The clever (or maybe lazy?) thing about The Hunger Games is that viewers can see whatever heroes and villains they want in it. Is the state to blame? Is capitalism? Like a Rorschach test for your politics, it’s up to you. At least the outcome The Hunger Games presents is both simpler and worse, which will make you feel smart and better.
For those who would like to be distracted by over-the-top action but would also prefer that action to have nothing to do with disease or social unrest, you can’t do better than Jurassic Park, especially if you (or your kids) love dinosaurs and the museum’s closed. The trick is to appreciate them for what they are. The original, directed by Steven Spielberg, remains one of the most highly regarded and rewatchable movies all of time. The rest are camp, including Spielberg’s The Lost World and especially Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. But, something as bananas as a haunted house movie starring a militarized, hybridized raptor who’s been trained with a laser pointer is exactly the thing to distract you from the very real, very scary threats we now collectively face.
Star Wars is just the thing for people who’d love to escape to a different time and place but don’t want to have to think too hard about it. A sweeping space opera with beautiful music, classic characters and impressive special effects, Star Wars is definitely epic. But, the rarely-spoken truth about Star Wars is that, for a franchise the size of a galaxy that gave us what amounts to a new religion, it’s not very complicated. Kids can easily understand the worldbuilding, and it holds up as long as you don’t pause to think about things like climate or atmosphere. But, that’s okay because the appeal is in that epic nature, and not in the science. A Star Wars marathon will transport you (literally, from planet to planet, in a single swipe of the screen) and convince you that good fairly easily triumphs over evil.
Did you just find out that your shelter-in-place order is going to last a lot longer than anticipated? It’s time to turn to the franchise to end all franchises. The MCU made over 22 billion dollars worldwide, so chances are you’ve seen a Marvel movie. New installments will come out eventually, but for now, the 22 films that function as Phases 1-3 tell a pretty neat and complete, albeit gargantuan, episodic story. The MCU is so enormous and spectacular that even the kind of devoted fans that never missed an opening night probably haven’t attempted a full rewatch.
For a different perspective, consider tackling them according to the in-world timeline. That’s Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
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Use this guide to choose, or revisit, a fandom based on how you're feeling while hunkered down at home.