What Turns a Film Into a Fandom?

A lot of the best geeky film/television/book franchises have launched massive fan communities, some of which have endured for decades: Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, to name a few. And of course there are huge followings for specific animes as well, and many, many more. But when something new comes on the scene, what is it that makes it go beyond mere consumption to fan creation? Is there some X factor about a piece of media that inspires fan fiction, fan art, conventions, cosplay, etc., sometimes with startling speed? We know that it isn’t necessarily proportional to the amount of time a franchise sticks around – Firefly is proof enough of that, among others. And even single films can spark a massive community, whether mainstream or a cult following.

I was thinking about this largely because of the explosion of love for Inception I’ve seen in my online social circles – and not just discussion of the movie (what does it all mean!), but also fan fiction, world building, roleplaying, and the like. It might not be the kind of film to inspire tons of cosplay (I think that takes a special sort of aesthetic), but if the enthusiasm to send fan fiction writers immediately scribbling is any indication, this fandom might have legs. Seeing how many fan communities pop up on Livejournal is usually a pretty good metric. So what was it about Inception that really worked in this regard?

My theory is that the X factor has something to do with world building. If fans are going to be inspired to really play in someone else’s sandbox, then it has to be an awfully big sandbox. I think Inception is successful in this regard largely because of unanswered questions and the opportunity to really dig in and figure out how things work. The ensemble of characters probably doesn’t hurt either – and maybe it’s because we don’t know a whole lot about all of them that makes people want to fill in the blanks. And of course, it’s also true that having a lot of pretty people probably helps.

So what do you think? Any ideas about what might make a film a fandom? And do you think Inception will stick around, or is the enthusiasm just a flash in the pan? Though if you ever want proof that there is fan fiction for pretty much anything you can think of, just have a look around Yuletide.

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