After Thrones, seeking a new fantasy super hit

Game of Thrones went out on a high: the reported 19.3 million people watching its final episode was an all-time HBO record. It may be nothing like the 106 million who watched M*A*S*H’s 1983 finale in the US, but those 19.3 million paid big money over the full eight seasons. Now every studio is desperate for a long-running super hit like Game of Thrones.

It may be a vain attempt: television’s Next Big Thing is usually very different to the Last Big Thing. And yet almost every streaming platform – Netflix, Amazon, HBO, Disney, the BBC, and more – has a sweeping big-budget multi-episode fantasy show in production or headed that way.

Game of Thrones’ budget expanded beyond US$10 million a show in later years, and that has set the benchmark for spending. Of course, Netflix, which spent a reported US$13 billion last year on content, has particularly deep pockets. But Amazon, whose owner Jeff Bezos reportedly wants to repeat Thrones’ success, paid a remarkable US$250 million for the rights to Lord of the Rings.

So while they may have failed before – anyone remember Netflix’s Marco Polo? – some very expensive epics are about to try filling that little screen of yours.

Good Omens

Amazon kicks off the fantasy-fest on 31 May with a six-episode adaptation of Good Omens, a 1990 fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett – a comedy about an angel and a demon trying to prevent the arrival of the Son of Satan from disrupting their comfortable English life.

With insufficient material for multiple seasons, Good Omens won’t duplicate Game of Thrones’ success. But Gaiman and Pratchett are among the most notable – and most offbeat – fantasy writers of all time, and Gaiman served as showrunner for the series. And the cast features Michael Sheen (The Queen), David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Jon Hamm (Mad Men).

Lord of the Rings prequel series

Rather than trying to match Peter Jackson’s probably definitive movies, Amazon has writers penning a long prequel to the events of Lord of the Rings. Details aren’t clear, but the series seems likely to be based on the stories of Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. That mammoth book is respected more often than loved, but it also is full of politics, carnage and magic.

Variety reports that Game of Thrones scriptwriter and producer Bryan Cogman is consulting. The Hollywood Reporter has claimed the show could cost US$1 billion if it runs the suggested five seasons.

His Dark Materials

Already the source of 2007’s The Golden Compass, the Philip Pullman series of three novels, is being given an extended treatment by the BBC. The books contain parallel universes, witches, armoured bears and criticism of religion. Dafne Keen, James McAvoy (X-Men) and Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda lead the cast; HBO expects to premiere the show in the US in late 2019.

The Witcher

Before it was a noted video game, The Witcher was a series of stories from Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski; rich in female characters and warring kingdoms. Netflix has lured Henry Cavill (Superman) to play monster hunter and central character Geralt of Rivia, and has put him in an odd Youtube teaser trailer; the show is expected in late 2019.

The Mandalorian

This Disney series will star Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones) as a lone gunman in the Star Wars universe sometime after Return of the Jedi.

Game of Thrones spin-off

Like Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones has a rich prehistory, and HBO is mining it in a prequel which is slated to star Naomi Watts. The series reportedly takes place thousands of years before Thrones; audiences should not expect familiar characters, but those impressive dragon models may get another outing.

The Chronicles of Narnia

Yes, again: after a BBC television series and three movies, Netflix is now readapting CS Lewis’s books once more for the screen. By Thrones’ standards this material is not all that epic, but it is a fantasy favourite and its Christian allegory appeals to many.

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