There are a lot of movies with really underappreciated worldbuilding. I could probably write an essay about the topic. Sometimes, the projects that have been crafted with the most care just don’t see the success they deserve. But I’m going to shine the spotlight on five of my favourites today, and do it with no spoilers.
The 2002 Dinotopia movie (or mini-series, depending how it was sold where you live) can’t take all the credit. Dinotopia is a fantastic book series in its own right. But I fell right into love with this movie as a kid, and have rewatched it at least a dozen times since. The movie brought the fantastical world to life in an incredible way.
Waterfall City is spectacular, and I was always smitten with the way that the movies creators created its really unique look. There were lots of ways they could have skimped, but they didn’t, and Waterfall City looks incredible as a result. Dinotopia’s costume department should also be credited for putting together a distinctive fusion of fashion styles that looks unique. Dinotopia is a hidden island where people from many cultures find themselves thrust together, and the worldbuilding really reflected that.
Brave isn’t the least famous movie on this list. But among the Disney greats, it has always been a bit overshadowed. The blend of Celtic mythology and worldbuilding that Brave brings us, not to mention a strong female lead and superb animation create one of my favourite movies.
We actually get a surprising amount of worldbuilding out of a children’s Disney movie. I’m going to keep this article spoiler free as promised, but suffice to say the folklore that is setup for the plot upon really helps brings the highlands to life. The environment design is also so beautiful.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis is probably the most impressive example on this list. Not only did the creators of the movie build a stunning culture, they had an entire language created for the Atlanteans! You may not have known but when the Atlantean’s speak their lines, that isn’t gibberish, but a constructed language made for the movie.
I am a big fan of Atlantis for the culture, architecture and society it sets up. The writers went into this project with the intention of creating a setting that could be explored in great detail. There was an entire planned TV series for us to explore more of this world, but following the movies failure to turn a profit it was scrapped. However, the attention to detail really shows in every frame.
Add in some great voice acting, strong female characters and plenty of diversity in its cast, and I would rate Atlantis one of my favourite movies ever.
Not too many movies can be blamed for shutting down an entire studio. Titan A.E has those dubious honours. However, its commercial success (or lack thereof) is what that makes Titan A.E a great movie with some really underappreciated worldbuilding.
Titan A.E takes place after Earth (hence the A.E), and takes place a universe where humans are the scrappy underdogs without a home. I love this premise, because humans are conquering warlords in space operas a bit too regularly. There are a host of interesting locations and species, and the whole movie really shines. It creates a really interesting setting super quickly and with no boring info-dumps. I also love the alien designs, and along with environmental design they do a lot of the talking in Titan A.E.
You can also check this great video by Space Dock that discusses the Valkyrie spaceship from Titan A.E.
Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
I am a total sucker for classical mythology. Sinbad is one of my favourite adaptions of Greek gods on screen. Probably a close second to Xena: Warrior Princess. Sinbad sets up a really interesting premise and world. A semi-mythological version of the ancient Mediterranean where gods are real and magic protects the cities along its coast. I think this almost sandal-punk version of the ancient world is fascinating, and makes for some severely underappreciated worldbuilding.
The movie itself is pretty good, and well worth a watch if you are a mythology geek. Eris is a lot of fun to watch, and the world is magnificently animated. Sadly, Sinbad was a box office flop, probably because they spent so much on the animation budget. Luckily for us, we can enjoy that animation over and over.