No question that the Star Wars films, especially the cliff-hanging climax of The Empire Strikes Back, made possible the two major organic movie epics of this millennium: the eight-film Harry Potter cycle and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both based on touchstone fiction franchises written for kids, and both launching in late 2001, the two series required vision and daring not just from their creators but also from their sponsors. Warner Bros. (Potter) and New Line (Rings) committed to the full run of films, each episode costing well over $100 million, before knowing if anyone would go to them. Another challenge: these were long movies, some of them in excess of three hours. Live-action or animated films aimed at the young had taken into account the supposed limitation of children’s attention spans (and their bladders) and usually ran 90 minutes or less. But kids and their parents stayed glued to their seats as the great sagas spun out; the two series were among the most successful and beloved of all time. Addressing their stories with an anachronistic seriousness and employing the full range of British acting royalty, they established an impressive standard of popular art. Peter Jackson’s effort was a bit higher and more cohesive (as The Lord of the Rings’ inclusion on the All-TIME 100 list indicates), but both are among the most satisfying achievements of the new millennium.
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