Encountering the Impossible

The Fantastic in Hollywood Fantasy Cinema

By Alexander Sergeant

Subjects: Film Studies, Philosophy, Psychology
Series: SUNY series, Horizons of Cinema
Hardcover : 9781438484594, 268 pages, August 2021
Paperback : 9781438484587, 268 pages, January 2022

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on Terminology


1. What is The Fantastic?

2. Continuity and Cathexis: Character, Space, and Time in the Classical Hollywood Fantasy Film, 1930–1945

3. The Wonder Film: Postclassical Fantasy Cinema and Phantasies of Introjection, 1946–1975

4. High Fantasy Blockbusters: Alternative Worlds and Phantasies of Projection, 1976–1991

5. Interpreting the Fantastic: Contemporary Fantasy Cinema and Symbol Formation, 1992–2018

Conclusion: The Fantastic Beyond Hollywood Fantasy Cinema?


The first academic explanation for how spectators use their imaginations as part of the experience and appreciation of popular fantasy filmmaking.


2022 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title

Shortlisted for the 2022 Best First Monograph Award presented by the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies

Hollywood fantasy cinema is responsible for some of the most lucrative franchises produced over the past two decades, yet it remains difficult to find popular or critical consensus on what the experience of watching fantasy cinema actually entails. What makes something a fantasy film, and what unique pleasures does the genre offer? In Encountering the Impossible, Alexander Sergeant solves the riddle of the fantasy film by theorizing the underlying experience of imagination alluded to in scholarly discussions of the genre. Drawing principally on the psychoanalysis of Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott, Sergeant considers the way in which fantasy cinema rejects Hollywood's typically naturalistic mode of address to generate an alternative experience that Sergeant refers to as the fantastic, a way of approaching cinema that embraces the illusory nature of the medium as part of the pleasure of the experience. Analyzing such canonical Hollywood fantasy films as The Wizard of Oz, It's a Wonderful Life, Mary Poppins, Conan the Barbarian, and The Lord of the Rings movies, Sergeant theorizes how fantasy cinema provides a unique film experience throughout its ubiquitous presence in the history of Hollywood film production.

Alexander Sergeant is Lecturer in Film and Media Studies at the University of Portsmouth. He is the coeditor (with Christopher Holliday) of Fantasy/Animation: Connections Between Media, Mediums and Genres, which was Runner Up for Best Collection at the 2019 BAFTSS (British Association for Television & Screen Studies) awards. He is the founder of Fantasy-Animation.org and co-host of the Fantasy/Animation podcast.