I’m calling it now: vampires are on their way out.
Okay, let’s be real. Vampires will never really die (pun intended). They’ve been enjoying a slow, steady burn of popularity for the last 30 years at least. The combination of sheer horror and a monster who looks normal – or attractive – has ignited our imaginations for years. The vampire mythology is loose enough that you can make nearly any kind of vampire you like (as evidenced by Whitewolf’s Vampire: the Masquerade series). Vampires will always be around, either in classic or reinvented form.
That being said, we’ve certainly been saturated with vampires for the last ten years. You see, even though I can point to blips of vampire popularity in the past – The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anne Rice novels that get discovered by every generation and made into movies once a decade or so – it’s only in the past ten years that the waves have begun to pile up on one another. Buffy and Angel ran into Blade and Underworld. The inclusion of werewolves in Underworld was right in tune with the Laurel K. Hamilton books that were taking the beach fiction world by storm. Then came Twilight, which drove the meter past “popular” into “fad.”
HBO adapted the Sookie Stackhouse books into True Blood, the cooler older sibling of Twilight. Meanwhile, the market was scrambling through its archives, searching for more to feed ravenous teens. Enter the re-release and TV adaptation of The Vampire Diaries. Enter two sequels to The Lost Boys. Enter a remake of Fright Night (which, admittedly, I found surprisingly entertaining).
The problem with fads – with over-saturation – is that people get tired of them, at least in the short term. Eventually, you find yourself comparing vamp faces against each other instead of allowing yourself to be immersed in a story. The latest Underworld installment is perhaps the most obvious attempt to keep the fad alive, and it’s not doing well. I think people will still remain loyal to their current favorites, whether it’s True Blood or The Vampire Diaries, but I don’t think they’re aching for any more.
So the question becomes: what will be the next big thing?
Well, zombies have certainly enjoyed a parallel surge in popularity over the last decade, one even easier to track than vampires (Hint: 28 Days Later). Still, I don’t see them getting quite as big, ultimately. Simply put, zombies are just too horrifying. Or gross. Or irredeemable. They make for perfect, chilling horror stories, but lack broader appeal. Maybe I’m biased, because zombies actually freak me out a fair amount (unless we’re talking Plants v. Zombies, which is adorable and hilarious). But I’d really be surprised if vampires actually scare, well, anyone.
How about werewolves? Sadly, I think their time has passed in the short-term, because they’ve been lumped together with vampires so frequently. Plus, I’m not sure they really make for interesting long-term stories. They can’t really control themselves (unless you’re in Twilight, where everyone is repressively in control of everything), but they can be dispatched fairly easily. Anything interesting can be better covered in a more traditional super-power-based storyline.
Well, maybe. Little green (or gray) men had a surge of popularity in the mid-90s (as my high school bedroom can attest) but they faded out in the new century. Could the world be ready for a resurgence of flying saucers and abductions? Possibly, but something novel will have to light that fire, rather like Alien Nation and The X-FIles did in the early 90s. It’s also possible that it’s just too soon.
Uhoh, we’re treading into that category I know very little about. I know urban fantasy, as well as urban paranormal thrillers, have been growing in popularity over time. Grimm and Once Upon a Time are both rooted in modern times. Even The Secret Circle has ditched the 90′s New Age elements of the books. Slightly different, but still related, is the gritty world of Game of Thrones – no elves or unicorns here, but it’s undoubtedly fantasy. Speaking of elves, we haven’t seen much of that lately, but The Hobbit is coming out in the next year, so we’ll see what that stirs up. Whatever winds up at the top of the fad heap, we seem to be pulling away from horror in general.
If there’s anything the last decade has made clear, it’s that genres like sci-fi, fantasy, and horror are no longer the sole territory of the geek – instead, they’re a rich mine of material for the mainstream. Your favorite property might well be the next blockbuster.
What about you? What do you think will be the Next Big Thing? What would you like to see grow in popularity?