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The top 5 standalone stories in fandom
Even with a sequel or franchise, these stories keep managing to inspire all kinds of new fan tributes.
In honor of Skyfall’s recent release, we here at the Dot took the time to contemplate where it fit on the scale of epic film franchises that cultivate recurring fanwork-based fandoms, or standalone entities that usually die out over time. The answer seems to be that it’s somewhere in the middle.
Even though the Bond fandom is a perennial favorite with fans the world over, because it continually reboots and recasts the characters, Skyfall itself is functioning more like a standalone story, as fans dive into the fandom without ever having seen the previous films, read the books, and so on.
It’s pretty unusual for a standalone story to generate a powerful fanbase, especially one that lasts for years—if only because the commercialization of the work usually creates a demand for a sequel. Most successful fanbases arise around literary, television, or film series, as well as the many writers and directors whose fanbases are directed at them. Even entities like Disney can have their own fanbase.
But a single story? That’s rare. Let’s take a look at the stories that have managed to create thriving and creative fanwork-producing fandoms over the years, all on the strength of one well-spun original tale.
Is there a recurring theme among this list? Surprisingly, yes—and it’s one you’d never expect.
1) Pride and Prejudice
“She is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”
More famous last words were never spoken, quite literally in this case. The direct precursor of thousands upon thousands of romantic comedy and love/hate tropes, Jane Austen’s social satire had an unexpected side effect in launching two centuries full of fanwork written either in direct homage to it or as direct sequels and expansions of it.
Currently, there are certain small presses devoted entirely to the production of Pride and Prejudice sequels, and Jane Austen fanfic is so popular it even has its own acronym: JAFF. The famous, feisty love story of Elizabeth and Darcy turns 200 next year and shows no sign of letting up: The recent appearance of Darcy on the modern webseries remake The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has racked up 280,000 views in the last two weeks alone.
Illustration by loopydave/Deviantart
2) House of Leaves
Though it’s hardly ever considered along with other fanwork-based fandom, the fans of House of Leaves have been just as busy churning out inspired creations in response to Mark Danielewski’s sprawling postmodern masterpiece of metafiction and horror. Fans of the epic novel within a novel about a film about a terrifying house have produced endless theory and analysis about the work and all its hidden codes and allegories, along with movie trailers, fanart, mind maps, animations, labyrinths, fanvids, audio recordings, endless amounts of body art, and arguably an entire genre of Internet horror—creepypasta—which often functions as a direct homage to the endless creepiness of the house itself.
The House of Leaves forum has over 36,000 members, who still actively post every day, 12 years after the book’s publication, trying to decipher its endless maze of words.
Photo via jonasvansteenkiste/Blogspot
This fandom surprised everyone with its longevity and the passion and productivity levels of its fans. Standalone films don’t normally do well or cull loyalty from fans, many of whom are always on the lookout for new things, but Inception is one of few notable exceptions. Pinboard’s “Inception” tag contains nearly 60,000 links—the vast majority of them fanfic.
As a bonus brain-breaker, the fandom has also produced some excellent Inception / House of Leaves crossover fanfic. When you consider the labyrinth mythos that both the film and the novel have in common, it makes a terrifying amount of sense.
Illustration by コガシロウ / Pixiv
4) Phantom of the Opera
Boosted by the popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1988 Broadway blockbuster Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux’s novel about a hideously disfigured sociopath who builds an elaborate maze full of death traps beneath the Paris Opera House is the eighth most popular literary work on Fanfiction.net. With over 10,000 fics on FF.net alone, it’s also the most popular standalone, non-serial work on the archive. Not bad for a story that languished for years until Lon Chaney’s famous silent film adaptation gave it a popularity surge that has yet to wane.
Photo via yukilefay/DeviantArt
Nothing says timeless like David Bowie, and Jim Henson’s fantasy about a girl who travels to another world to rescue her brother from an elaborate maze has become a cult classic. Fans, drawn to the coming-of-age overtones between Bowie’s Goblin King and Jennifer Connolly’s Sarah, have churned out almost 8,000 fics at FF.net and AO3.
Illustration by hollytheterrible/Deviantart
From this list, it seems clear that the question we should be asking about the success of standalone stories within fandom is not, “does it have strong characters and plot,” but rather:
Does it have a maze?
Photo by janey-jane/Deviantart
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.