The 15 Best Fantasy Movies of All Time
It’s easy to turn on the TV or whatever streaming service you’re using most at the moment and see all the latest superhero blockbusters, horror features, or sci-fi epics that are being pushed around as the latest hit franchise and wonder… where did all the good fantasy stories go?
Although Game of Thrones has ended, Amazon has been working on a new Lord of the Rings television series, Netflix is working on new Chronicles of Narnia adaptation, and Warner Bros. is set to release a third Fantastic Beasts film next summer. But to hold you over until then, we’ve put together a list of some of the best fantasy movies out there.
1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Speaking of Lord of the Rings, why not start with Peter Jackson’s high fantasy epic which has remained one of the greatest film trilogies of all time? Although The Lord of the Rings has been featured on other lists of ours, it’s still one of the best. The trilogy is an exciting tale of heroism, loyalty, temptation, and duty that takes you through the wonderful world of Middle-Earth, to the lands of elves, hobbits, orcs, and men.
The best way to watch Jackson’s take on Tolkien’s epic is through the Extended Editions of the series, but be warned, once you watch them you won’t want to go back to the Theatrical Cuts. Join Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and the rest of The Fellowship of the Ring as they journey through Rivendell and past The Two Towers to destroy the One Ring, and bring about The Return of the King in the process.
2. Labyrinth (1986)
Ever wonder what a collaboration between the fantasy world of goblins and magic and The Muppets would look like? Well, look no further than Jim Henson’s Labyrinth! Executive produced by George Lucas (of Star Wars fame) and starring David Bowe and Jennifer Connally, Labyrinth is a musical fantasy about a young girl stuck in a maze who’s trying to save her younger brother from Jareth, the mysterious Goblin King.
Labyrinth features a wide range of twists and turns, magical creatures, and David Bowe numbers to keep everyone interested. Speaking of Bowe, he embodies the role of Jareth the Goblin King perfectly and is a large reason this film has become a cult classic in the first place.
3. The Princess Bride (1987)
One of the most hilarious takes on the fantasy genre is Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride, which begins as a simple bedtime story to The Wonder Years’ very own Fred Savage, but ends up becoming an epic story of adventure, revenge, and love. Between the medieval battle swordplay, Buttercup’s quest, and the Dread Pirate Roberts himself, there’s a lot to love.
The over-the-top deadpan humor (if you didn’t think those words could co-exist then think again) brings levity to this otherwise grim (fairy) tale and perfectly accentuates the world of Florin. The cast, which includes Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Billy Crystal, and Wallace Shawn, can do no wrong.
4. Coraline (2009)
This horror-inspired stop-motion dark fantasy story is based on a novella by famed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman (known for Sandman and Stardust) and written/directed by Henry Selick of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame. Dakota Fanning (Because of Winn-Dixie) stars as the curious titular character as she travels between the real world and the “Other World.”
Though it was marketed as a children’s movie, don’t let that fool you. This is a more mature tale than initially given credit for and left many frightened and disturbed. While the film’s tagline, “be careful what you wish for,” rings true throughout, we, like Coraline, are just curious enough to lean in for more.
5. Jumanji (1995)
Before the Rock took over the franchise, Robin Williams was once the star of the original Jumanji. A fantastical tale of two bored kids who play a board game that magically comes to life and brings Alan Parrish (Robin Williams), a crazed, kid-like grown-up, with it! Adventure, and hilarity, ensues.
The Jumanji story is a lot of fun for all ages. Filled with danger, excitement, wild animals (lots of wild animals), and even a heart-wrenching story that makes you feel pretty sad, this movie has it all. Plus, if you like it, there are two more (starring the Rock), with a third on the way, and a sci-fi spin-off called Zathura (which is also a blast).
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6. Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Like The Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series is not one film but several (eight to be exact) that usher you into the Wizarding World. Based on J.K. Rowling’s fantasy adventure novels, Harry Potter has become a cultural phenomenon, becoming just as popular as Star Wars or Scooby-Doo. Join Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they journey through their time at Hogwarts, a school for young witches and wizards, all the while battling the evil Lord Voldemort.
While eight films may feel like a lot, the story just flies by as you grow attached to these characters and their world. Learning more about Harry and Voldemort’s shared past, the rules of the Wizarding World, and what Voldemort’s evil plans truly entail will keep you engaged throughout. Also, while they’re all great in their own right, The Prisoner of Azkaban is by far the best one.
7. Big Fish (2003)
A fantasy-comedy drama based on a book, Big Fish is a story about a frustrated son who tries to distinguish fact from fiction in his dying father’s life. Directed by Tim Burton and starring Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, and Billy Crudup, Big Fish is a fantastical Southern Gothic tale that blends elements of fantasy, comedy, and romance seamlessly.
What makes Big Fish so wonderful is the combination of fact and fiction, reality and fantasy, and Will Bloom’s quest to figure out what his father, Edward, really experienced. This film has everything, from witches and giants to the Calloway Circus and Korean War, as the story of Edward’s life unfolds, we only become more immersed in his reality.
8. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth, known originally in Spanish as El laberinto del fauno (meaning “The Labyrinth of the Faun”), is a Spanish-Mexican dark fantasy film by fantasy-horror giant Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro, who’s known best for The Shape of Water and Hellboy, constructs an intricately detailed fantasy world through which young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) must travel.
The film is often a favorite among fantasy lovers and considered a parable – influenced by fairy tales – by Del Toro. Set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1940s, the film is a unique critique on fascism mixed with supernatural creatures and worlds that will keep you interested even if the background politics don’t.
9. Alice In Wonderland (1951/2010)
Based on the Alice books by Lewis Carroll, both Disney iterations of Alice In Wonderland stand tall on their own merit. The original animated classic features a young Alice as she wanders her way through an unusual world of Red Queens, White Rabbits, Mad Hatters, and much more.
The Tim Burton “remake” (which is actually a sequel in disguise) takes the story a step further as Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Wonderland as an adult with a new mission: slay the Jabberwocky, a dragon-like creature controlled by the Red Queen. Not to mention, Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter, which is the real reason to check it out.
10. Spirited Away (2001)
Legendary Studio Ghibli writer-director Hayao Miyazaki’s animated masterpiece Spirited Away is often considered one of the greatest animated films ever made. The film follows 10-year-old Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi in the Japanese version and Daveigh Chase in the English dubbed version) as she enters the world of Kami (spirits of Japanese folklore).
The film even won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, making it the only hand-drawn and non-English animated film to ever win. Spirited Away is a delightful tale that actually features some pretty messed up stuff (you know, like Chihiro’s parents being turned to pigs by a witch), but it’s all worth it by the end.
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11. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
While L. Frank Baum’s fantasy novel The Wizard of Oz has been loved for over a hundred years, MGM’s The Wizard of Oz will be loved until the end of time. Often considered the greatest film ever made (which might be a bit much), The Wizard of Oz follows four companions as they all seek to receive their wishes from the elusive Wizard (Frank Morgan), all while avoiding the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton).
The film differs quite a bit from the novel, including the iconic Ruby Slippers actually being Silver in the original story, but the music-and-dance numbers (not to mention that wonderful technicolor) make the changes more than worth it. The Wizard of Oz still stands as one of the greatest films of all time to this day.
12. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (2005)
While the films never got as popular as Tolkien’s adaptations, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia is just as beloved by children now as in its heyday. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe follows the four Pevensie children as they accidentally make their way into the magical world of Narnia. There, they discover that they’re being hunted by the evil White Witch (Tilda Swinton). Oh, and there’s a talking Jesus-lion named Aslan (voiced to perfection by Liam Neeson). How cool is that?
The Chronicles of Narnia series continued with two more underrated film adaptations (Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which are both better than given credit for) before the series was sadly, and unceremoniously, canceled. Still, this series is worth a watch, especially for those who love magical worlds.
13. The Dark Crystal (1982)
Another Jim Henson film (this time with Frank Oz in tow), The Dark Crystal is another puppet-led dark fantasy about Jen (Stephen Garlick), a Gelfling on a quest to restore balance to the planet Thra and overthrow the Skeksis (who are “part reptile, part predatory bird, and part dragon”) by restoring a magic Crystal.
The (at the time) groundbreaking animatronics, the deep score, and the darker material (compared to some of Henson’s previous works) has launched The Dark Crystal into cult-classic status, as fans young and old cling to this exciting tale. They even did an animated prequel series on Netflix entitled The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, which is a must-see for die-hard fans.
14. Shrek 2 (2004)
The one we’ve all been waiting for. While the original Shrek is a classic in its own right, Shrek 2 is the by-far superior film. Featuring Mike Meyers, Eddy Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and Antonio Banderas, this movie combines everything we love about fairy tales, while also parodying American pop culture.
Shrek 2 takes Shrek (Meyers), Fiona (Diaz), and Donkey (Murphy) to the kingdom of Far Far Away to meet Fiona’s parents, only to fall into the trap of the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders). It’s a wild ride that flips all your expectations and takes you on an adventure of a lifetime.
15. Excalibur (1982)
Probably the most underrated fantasy film out there, yet one of the best interpretations of the legend of King Arthur (played by Nigel Terry), Excalibur is a true gem. An epic medieval fantasy, the film features the origins of King Arthur, the exploits of Lancelot (Nicholas Clay), battles against Morgana Le Fey (Helen Mirren) and her son Mordred (Robert Addie), and the quest for the Holy Grail.
The immaculate set pieces, the riveting action, and the constant drama between members of the Round Table really bring the legend to life. Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart also got their start in this film, playing Sir Gawain and King Leodegrance respectively, but it’s Nicol Williamson’s Merlin who steals the show. The odd and eccentric wizard brings another level of humor to Excalibur in a way no one else can.
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