2014: THE YEAR IN REVIEW
The week of December 28, 2014

The 10 most influential fandoms of 2014

By Aja Romano & Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

The personal may not be political, but don’t tell that to fans. From Rick Grimes’ dystopic Georgia in The Walking Dead to Adnan Syed’s real-life Baltimore prison, 2014 was the year politics exploded into our fandom landscape.

If last year was the year of the fangirl, 2014 was a year of celebrating diversity. Sure, we still don’t have a Black Widow movie, but DC finally announced that Wonder Woman will be coming to the big screen in her own solo film. Comics fans fell in love with Kamala Khan, Marvel’s first Muslim female superhero. Geek girls, especially members of Marvel’s Carol Corps, were thrilled by the surprise announcement of a Captain Marvel movie. Annalise Keating has given fans of color a fantastic heroine in How to Get Away With Murder. We can also celebrate Jason Momoa as Aquaman, a new Black Panther movie, and Lupita Nyong’o’s Oscar win. And as proof that miracles can happen and even the stodgiest old codgers can evolve, we even finally got a female writer on the staff of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who.

Amid the many political battles being fought this year, from Gamergate to Ferguson, we saw real-life protestors around the world using the three-fingered sign of passive resistance from The Hunger Games. Politics and the media we consumed seemed to overlap constantly—and in the process, it felt as though Hollywood finally stopped trying to prop up the false belief that majority audiences don’t want to watch minority characters. After all, if that were true, why were so many straight white men and women joining the rest of us to support hashtag campaigns like #BlackLivesMatter, #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #StopGamergate2014, and #HeforShe?

Ultimately, the fandoms that captured our collective cultural attention this year were ones that reflected the ongoing evolution of the conversation around all of these issues. In 2014, we went crazy for fandoms with queer and genderqueer characters like Dragon Age: Inquisition, Orange Is the New Black, and a revitalized Sailor Moon. Heroines of color reigned over Nielsen and over our hearts. In the year we lost Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Hunger Games was dearer to us than ever for its themes of loss, endurance, and change. And even though it made our list two years ago, it was hard to let go of the groundbreaking and excellent Legend of Korra, with its complex themes of privilege and the struggle to break out of centuries-old cycles of oppression.

If last year was the year of the fangirl, 2014 was a year of celebrating diversity.

And then there was Taylor Swift, the girl next door—you know, the one who spent years being the brunt of a dumb blonde joke. In 2014, she grew into an outspoken, clear-sighted feminist with the biggest album of the year.

In a way, Taylor’s evolution is all of fandom’s: While on the outside of mainstream culture, fandom was thought of as frivolous, embarrassing, and shameful. But now that geek culture and fandom are undeniably mainstream, fans are not only indispensable—they are shaping the conversation about what they want the media of the future to look like and represent. For an increasing number of fans, that means acknowledging that stories are for everyone, and everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in the stories we tell.

So with that in mind, here are the most influential fandoms of 2014.

10) Star Wars

Like an ancient leviathan emerging from the murky depths, Star Wars fandom awakened from a decade-long slumber this year. The franchise announced a new cast and filmed a new movie, released a trailer that got everyone genuinely excited, and generally managed to prove that everyone—everyone—is a Star Wars fan if you dig down deep enough. The release date for Star Wars: The Force Awakens can’t come quickly enough.

Also, people are going to be arguing about that new lightsaber until the end of time. Thanks a lot, J.J. Abrams.

9) Sailor Moon

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GIF via the-haiiro-neko/Tumblr

Whether you are a fan of the original series, the reboot, or the manga, it was a great year to be a Sailor Moon fan. For the first time since its 1992 release, the original series found its way to U.S. audiences, complete with an all-new translation on Blu-ray and streamed on Hulu and Neon Alley. This time around, the confusing and censorship-laden edits of the original Japanese version were gone: We wanted lesbian sailor scouts, and we got them as they were originally intended.

Amid the many political battles being fought this year, from Gamergate to Ferguson, we saw real-life protestors around the world using the three-fingered sign of passive resistance from The Hunger Games.

Meanwhile, Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, a reboot that returned to the original manga but kept the iconic style of the original anime, lit up our Crunchyroll queues for most of the summer. The subsequent explosion of Sailor Moon fanworks all over Tumblr and deviantART, as well as the concurrent explosion of Sailor Moon geek fashion, has left us very happy sailors.

8) Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Photo courtesy of Electronic Arts

Dragon Age: Inquisition proves that just because a game is designed for commercial success that doesn’t mean it has to play to the lowest common denominator. It shows the way character development, an epic narrative, and good old-fashioned swinging swords and smiting dragons can be balanced within a single game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition embodies those values and sets new standards for the way fantasy adventure may be experienced on today’s powerful gaming hardware.

Inquisition speaks equally to a plethora of different audiences, and that probably has everything to do with how much developer BioWare cares about its diverse fanbase. This is the studio whose developers champion the cause of fighting misogyny, racism, and homophobia in character depictions, and who make us aware of how privilege—thinking a problem isn’t a problem because it doesn’t affect you personally—needs to be challenged when it comes to depictions of sex and sexuality. And they do so without patting themselves on the back for it, because they believe this is how it should be, always.

Inquisition embodies those values and sets new standards for the way fantasy adventure may be experienced on today’s powerful gaming hardware. It has vistas so beautiful they are worth stopping and admiring. It presents a huge world with tremendously varied environments. It shows how many disparate personalities can exist within parties of characters, mirroring the best fantasy novels and films. Games like Dragon Age: Inquisition are a gateway into video game fandom, because it demonstrates the best of what gaming has to offer, not only to the traditional video game audience, but to everyone.

That’s probably why the night Inquisition launched in late November, you knew it even if you weren’t a gamer. On Twitter, it trended worldwide for hours; on Tumblr and Reddit, ecstatic fans GIFed every instance of their game play. The collective enthusiasm of the fandom, which was counting down the days until its release, made the launch the biggest game release of the year. And in the wake of Gamergate, the fact that it was actually an awesome, progressive game designed with the knowledge that gaming was for everyone just made it that much better.

7) Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift was KILLING IT this year. Her new album 1989 outsold Beyoncé, and while the video for “Shake It Off” was embarrassing to some, it still inspired about a zillion fanmade remixes and parody videos. Then Blank Space proved that she is way more self-aware of her public image than many people seem to think, and gave us an interesting glimpse into an alternate world where she starred in Gone Girl. “Darling, I’m a nightmare dressed like a daydream,” indeed.

In 2014, Taylor Swift grew into an outspoken, clear-sighted feminist with the biggest album of the year.

Outside of her musical output, this was also a year for Swift to win over a ton of new fans, partly thanks to her newfound self-identification as a feminist. She began using social media more and more to connect with her followers (seriously, if you think it would be cool to get an Instagram comment from Taylor Swift, just imagine having her show up at your bridal shower), and set up an agonizingly sincere Tumblr blog for her cat photos and pumpkin spice recipes. Basic? Perhaps. But as all Swifties know, Swift is the queen of basic.

6) Shonda Rhimes

In 2014, we lost one of the greatest characters on television—Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, the series that set its creator, Shonda Rhimes, on the path to becoming a household name. When Cristina left the series after 10 seasons in May, the send-off was lackluster and ill-befitting her legacy. Outside of the show’s deeply loyal fandom, few media outlets appreciated the character and what her stalwart, messy, abiding presence on our screens over the past decade had meant for the progress of women on television. Cosmopolitan, of all places, got it right: “In a world where women are often encouraged to smile, be nice, and keep their feelings to themselves, Cristina does, feels, and says what she wants — and she’s not painted as a bad person, or even an unhappy one, for it. That makes her a downright revolutionary character.”

If Cristina had been the only revolutionary character on Grey’s over the years, perhaps the noise surrounding her exit would have been louder. In Grey’s we have been blessed with riches we almost don’t know how to appreciate: a strong, diverse cast of deeply flawed characters, particularly women. Like Rhimes’ massively popular Scandal, which combines an ongoing commitment to diversity with ruthless dissection of social issues and a dollop of political sociopathy, Grey’s adult relationships may yield metric tons of melodrama, but the complexity of her characters consistently combats attempts at stereotyping or pigeonholing.

That hasn’t, of course, stopped people from trying, most notably Alessandra Stanley in the universally reviled New York Times writeup in which she calls Rhimes and all of her beloved black heroines angry black women. The piece is riddled with errors, including mistakenly calling Rhimes the creator of ABC’s new hit How to Get Away With Murder. As Rhimes herself scathingly pointed out on Twitter, she is the executive producer. That Stanley’s piece, with its hyperbole, inaccuracies, and generalizations, managed to temporarily upstage the many accomplishments of Rhimes herself says more about the rest of us than Rhimes. But if anything, it solidified her position as someone who’s earned her place at the table. As she noted in her acceptance speech at the Hollywood Reporter Women in Entertainment event earlier this month, she didn’t do it alone. But like Cristina and Scandal’s Olivia Pope, now that she’s in, she’s maintaining her ground alongside the best Hollywood heavyweights. We’re lucky we get to watch the results.

5) The Walking Dead

During the Season 4 finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, protagonist Rick Grimes is momentarily caught unarmed and unable to help the band of comrades who’ve managed to battle their way through an endless nightmare of zombies, too. As always, Rick does whatever he must to protect his family, which in this instance involves ripping his captor’s throat out.

With his teeth.

Sunday Night Zombie Football has proven more irresistible to Walking Dead fans than its NFL counterpart.

You might not think the combination of unabashed gore, political allegory, and survivalism would make for ratings magic, but The Walking Dead has it in spades. Based off the popular comic series of the same name, the Dead has not only achieved what few shows can attest in this day of dying cable networks—a ratings increase—it’s also continued to smashed its own ratings records in its fifth season to become the highest-rated basic cable show in television history. Sunday Night Zombie Football has proven more irresistible to Walking Dead fans than its NFL counterpart, beating it in five of six matchups this season and maintaining its soaring viewership to the tune of 15 million viewers for the mid-season finale. That sounds like magic to us. Grizzly, dystopic, flesh-eating magic.

4) Marvel

Though Marvel has long been a fandom darling, 2014 was even more monumental on all fronts than even the release of The Avengers in 2012. Other superhero franchises are starting to catch up, but for now at least, Marvel Studios still reigns supreme. It turned the previously unknown Guardians of the Galaxy into the biggest box office hit of the year, and drummed up a ferociously enthusiastic fandom for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Seriously, Winter Soldier came out in April, and Tumblr is still working overtime to analyse every single frame of the movie.

Elsewhere in Marvel’s media empire, Kamala Khan burst onto the comics scene. The new Ms. Marvel became one of the bestselling new titles this year, an unlikely superhero hit in the form of a socially awkward Muslim teen from New Jersey. The Kamala Korps fandom quickly joined Captain Marvel’s Carol Corps, and then Marvel dropped a giant cherry on on top by announcing that Carol Danvers was getting her own movie at last. Oh, and lest we forget, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. went from bland to badass, transforming over the course of its first season to become the best comic book show on TV.

Marvel had a lot going on this year, and it’s going to launch straight into 2015 with Agent Carter next month. We just hope it can keep the momentum going until Ant-Man, whose various behind-the-scenes mishaps have been less than encouraging.

3) Frozen

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Photo via Disney

This time last year, no one yet understood the impact of Frozen, which had only opened a month before and had grossed a respectable but-not-revolutionary $93 million during its U.S. opening weekend. Yet in the weeks and months to come, Frozen not only persisted to reign at the box office—it was in the top 10 for 16 weeks straight—but to earworm its way into every corner of our lives, from endless covers of “Let It Go” to countless “Do you wanna {insert x}?” jokes to constant rumors that finding Frozen merchandise was like battling a Black Friday mall spree. And just when we’d wrapped our brains around the fact that Frozen was an actual phenomenon, just when critics who’d written it off in November were revising their opinions in January, Disney unleashed the Frozen singalong upon the world, and we all headed back to the theater.

By the time July rolled around, the media was still deciphering why we loved Frozen: Was it down to the catchy tunes? Was it the unusually long winter? (Yes, that was a real reason some critics gave for the narrative’s popularity.) Or was it the combination of heartwarming musical, gorgeous animation, and a tale focused around two sisters on their own narrative journeys, together and apart? Fans, which include everyone from preteen princesses to adult dudes who briefly tried to make “Brozen” happen, seem united in the assertion that it’s the latter.

To date, Frozen has grossed more than $1.25 billion at the box office. It’s become the fifth-highest-grossing film in movie history and the highest-grossing animated film ever made. The soundtrack is the best-selling album of 2014, nearly doubling sales of Taylor Swift’s 1989. And the Frozen phenomenon hasn’t really slowed down. The national tour of Frozen on Ice is selling out across the country, rumors of a sequel and a Broadway musical adaptation swirl constantly, and the fandom is still shipping ice queen Elsa with Jack Frost. Meanwhile, the movie’s massive fandom and its endless fanworks may have finally turned the tide on the way Disney views its copyrighted property. That’s something we can all celebrate, any season of the year.

2) True Detective and Serial

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Photo via BoingBoing

2014 was the year in which Eric Garner’s unprosecuted death was captured on camera and Mike Brown’s unprosecuted death occurred in front of dozens of witnesses. It’s fitting that it was also the year in which our collective consciousness was gripped tight by two series that captured our struggle to grapple with the reality of unattainable truth and even more unattainable justice.

True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto’s critically acclaimed HBO series, turned us into sleuths, and fans’ collective theorizing was as much a part of the narrative as the mystery itself. At the end of the year, Serial tugged on those same strings, applying them to the real-life murder of Hae Min Lee, a teen girl killed in Baltimore. If True Detective changed the way we watched TV, then Serial utterly revolutionized the way we thought about podcasts, turning them into a viable marketing arena for the first time ever, catapulting their status as a genre into the national conversation. The last three months of the year saw us questing for crowdsourced justice while listening to that Serial/Miley mashup on loop and practicing the correct pronunciation of “MailChimp.”

Both True Detective and Serial deal with old murder cases that took place 17 and 15 years prior to their respective re-considerations, respectively. Both have settings that seem inextricably tied to our crumbling illusion of America as a protector of its own people. The real-life unsolved murders of eight women in a rural Louisiana parish loom large over its oil-drained fields and shipyards, and perhaps even larger over Rust Cohle’s fictional Louisiana, with its Eldritch horrors and hints of Chainsaw Massacre-tinged anarchy. Serial narrator Sarah Koenig’s Baltimore is less The Wire than an uneasy meeting of cultures in the city F. Scott Fitzgerald once described as “civilized and gay and rotted and polite.” At the heart of both narratives are the bodies of dead women whose stories we barely know. Ultimately, the two “true detectives” in the HBO series walk away with more questions than answers but feeling profoundly transformed nonetheless—a luxury the victims never had. Meanwhile, everyone including her possible killer tells Hae’s story in Serial—everyone except Hae herself. Serial offers us no answers but seems to offer its quest for the truth as a surrogate for the truth itself. This is the best we can do, Koenig’s measured voice seems to tell us each week: to use our collective agency to tell Hae’s story. And Eric Garner’s. And Mike Brown’s.

Time is a flat circle. We have been here before.

1) Feminism

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Screengrab via IndyMusic/Twitter

Can a word have a fandom? In 2014, this one did. And just look at all the people who were in it: There was Beyoncé’s iconic VMA awards appearance. Emma Watson’s moving U.N. speech and the subsequent response from male celebrities trending #HeForShe. There was #WeNeedFeminism, the “this is what a feminist looks like” meme, and lastly Shonda Rhimes’ takedown of glass ceilings as she accepted a leadership award at Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment breakfast earlier this month.

Like all the biggest fandoms, this one has had its share of backlash. 2014 saw the rise of anti-fandom communities like Reddit’s TumblrinAction and KotakuinAction, and of course Gamergate. The men’s rights community likewise seems to have worked hard to establish itself to be less about men’s rights and more about being an anti-fandom. Even women hopped on feminism’s anti-fandom bandwagon this year. And the less said about Time’s poll to ban the word altogether, with its predictable 4chan invasion, the better.

Fans are not only indispensable—they are shaping the conversation about what they want the media of the future to look like and represent.

But 2014 was also a year in which icons like Beyoncé, Daniel Radcliffe, and Taylor Swift realized they’d been in the fandom all along, and started saying as much. For all the backlash against it, feminism’s fanbase steadily grew in all directions, merging with the Internet’s much-maligned “social justice warriors,” marshaling hashtags, and giving feminism its highest profile in decades. Will the feminism fad last? We think so. After all, equality movements may not have the cultural clout of a Star Wars or a Sherlock Holmes, but they’ve been around longer, and they never seem to die off. And like any long-lasting fandom, this one’s already got a whole new generation of fans waiting in the wings.

Dennis Scimeca contributed to this article.

Photo via JD Hancock/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)