Hollywood picked the right decade to go over the rainbow.

In an era that brought harsh reality home with the war on terror and an economy gone bust, Hollywood became more of a dream factory than ever – embracing fantastic escapism at a time when audiences needed it most.

Though key fantasy franchises such The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter were in the works in the late 1990s, the films began arriving just months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The respite they offered lasted just a few hours. But who wouldn’t want to take a detour to Middle Earth or Hogwarts and forget about the messy state of our own world for that brief time?

Fantasy, science fiction and superhero sagas have been around since the early years of film, with BATMAN, SUPERMAN and FLASH GORDON serials, as well as such classics as THE WIZARD OF OZ.

But escapism during the Depression and Second World War mostly came in the form of breezy comedies or glossy musical romances.

The past decade solidified the fanboys and girls as Hollywood’s key audience, with the final installments of GEORGE LUCAS’ STAR WARS chronicle joining comic book heroes (BATMAN, SPIDERMAN, THE X MEN), toy stories (Transformers) and revived franchises (INDIANA JONES and Star Trek) to produce a succession of colossal opening weekends.

The supernatural romance Twilight and its sequel New Moon made pretty boys out of traditionally monstrous vampires and werewolves.

Computer animation, pioneered in the 80s and 90s, reached new heights with such cartoon smashes as DreamWorks’ Shrek flicks and Pixar Animation’s stream of critical and commercial favourites, among them Finding Nemo, Up, Wall-E and Ratatouille.

Live action filmmakers reinvented visual effects with dazzling digital worlds, from Peter Jackson’s ACADEMY AWARD winning finale The Return Of The King to James Cameron’s Avatar.

Actors reinvented themselves, too, among them JOHNNY DEPP, who went from that box office poison dude who makes weird little arthouse films to one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars with his Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

After her divorce from TOM CRUISE, NICOLE KIDMAN broke out of his shadow with the supernatural sensation THE OTHERS, the musical MOULIN ROUGE and an ACADEMY AWARD winning performance in THE HOURS.

HEATH LEDGER, a BEST ACTOR nominee for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, was the subject of high drama at the OSCARS as his parents and sister accepted his SUPPORTING ACTOR trophy for The Dark Knight last February, just over a year after his death. It was only the second time an actor won an OSCAR posthumously.

HEATH’S frenzied performance as the JOKER in the BATMAN tale left fans pondering what else he might have accomplished – both for the franchise and a career tragically cut short.

Diversity finally came to the OSCARS, which was practically an exclusively caucasian affair the previous 70 plus years. In the last decade, six black actors – including HALLE BERRY for MONSTER’S BALL and WHOOPI GOLDBERG in GHOST – received gold statuettes, matching the number who had won from 1927 to 1999.

Hispanics also made progress. JAVIER BARDEM (among others) won for No Country for Old Men.

ANG LEE pushed the awards envelope for Asians, winning the BEST DIRECTOR prize for the gay cowboy romance BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN lost BEST PICTURE to the ensemble drama Crash in one of the biggest upsets in OSCAR history. Gay drama did score a victory, however, with last year’s MILK, earning SEAN PENN his second BEST ACTOR honour for the title role as gay rights pioneer HARVEY MILK.

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