Fantasy has always been a go to for Hollywood, and with good reason. Creating interesting worlds and fantastical characters has a ton of appeal, thanks in no small part to the heightened level of escapism it provides audiences. With the release this week of Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, we thought we would take a look back at the best fantasy films that cinema has to offer.
To make it onto this list, there has to be some sort of magical element added to the story, or an entirely new world created just for the film. It can’t just be an alternate version of our reality. Think more sword and sorcerer, as opposed to different dimension. If there are trolls, dragons, or nasty witches involved — or even all three — then all the better.
Here is Screen Rant’s take on the 15 Best Fantasy Movies Of All Time:
This 2007 film is adapted from the Neil Gaiman novel of the same name and was directed by Matthew Vaughn. The film co-stars Sienna Miller, Marc Strong, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Robert DeNiro and tells the story of Tristan (Daredevil‘s Charlie Cox), who crosses the magical wall to find a fallen star and instead meets and falls in love with Yvaine (Claire Daines). Unbeknownst to him, she is the fallen star.
Although this film isn’t truly high fantasy, there are enough fantastical elements in the story to garner its inclusion on this list. The world is fleshed out well enough, but in this case it’s the characters that really make it stand out. Besides the fact that it introduced mainstream audiences to the Man Without Fear, the chemistry between Cox and Danes is one of the things that really holds the film together. But, no matter how you slice it, fallen stars, evil witches, dead brothers, and a crossdressing pirate make for a wickedly good time.
14. Monty Python And The Holy Grail
Arthurian legend got a hilarious makeover with the release of this 1975 film helmed by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. The Monty Python comedy troupe, comprised of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, turned fantasy on its head with their ridiculous yet oddly charming take on the genre.
This film is special for many reasons, not in the least is the over the top and incredibly charming take on well-known, and frequently adapted, source material. It’s not often that a parody is considered one of the best in the genre, but it’s the Pythons’ ability to take the absurd and run with it that put this one at or near the top of every best comedy list around. There have been plenty of adaptations of the story of Arthur and his knights of the Round Table, but none are quite as absurd, or fun, as this one.
13. Clash Of The Titans
This 1981 tale, starring Harry Hamlin, Burgess Meredith, Ursula Andress, Maggie Smith and Laurence Olivier, was directed by Desmond Davis. It follows the story of the demigod Perseus on a quest to save the beautiful Andromeda from the Kraken.
Greek mythology has a way of making it to the big screen often, but given its inherent drama, that’s not really a surprise. The majority of the myths are filled with tension and angst, making it ripe for adaptation. Although this film can feel dated — largely due to the stop motion technology used for the mythical creatures and their action sequences — it is for this very reason that it should actually be celebrated. This was the final feature film for master stop-motion artist Ray Harryhausen, and although special effects had moved beyond stop motion by the time the film was released, his work on this film is still pretty spectacular. That and an entire generation knows the story of Perseus and his quest mainly because of this film (and it’s 2010 remake). A footprint like that cannot be ignored.
12. The NeverEnding Story
This 1984 film holds a special place in many hearts. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen and starring Noah Hathaway, Barrett Oliver and Tami Stronach, the film tells a story within a story, as twelve year old Bastian reads about the adventures of Atreyu, who is on a quest to stop the Nothing from taking over Fantasia. But nothing is as it seems, and Bastian finds himself an integral piece of the puzzle.
For any kid who grew up in the ’80s (or those whose parents did) this film is probably their first introduction into high fantasy. Although it deviates from the rules set out at the beginning of the post, it belongs on this list for one simple reason: it has a dragon in it. Falkor,] the luckdragon is one of the most iconic fantasy characters there is, but there is more to the film than just him. The film builds a pretty interesting fantasy world, but it’s the characters and the message about the power of imagination that make this one so special.
11. La Belle et la Bête
Also known as Beauty And The Beast in English, this 1946 adaptation of the famous fairy tale was directed by Jean Cocteau. It stars Josette Day, Jean Marais and Marcel Andre, and tells the tale as old as time of Belle, a young woman who agrees to take her father’s place in the home of the Beast, and slowly falls in love with him.
There have been many adaptations of the classic story over the years, and many of them are stunning. Although the 1991 Disney animated version comes close, nothing can quite compare to Cocteau’s vision. It’s full of gorgeous images and dream-like sequences that make it a visual masterpiece. While there is no singing crockery, the heart and soul of the original story shine through loud and clear. This is a must watch for film lovers, and we can only hope the upcoming remake is half as good.
10. The Wizard Of Oz
This classic film from 1939 is based on the book by L. Frank Baum. Directed by Victor Fleming, the film stars Judy Garland, Margaret Hamilton, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr and Jack Haley. It tells the fantastical story of Dorothy Gale and her trip to the Emerald City, in the hopes that the wizard will send her home.
This film is considered a classic for a reason. It was one of the first films to use technicolor in Hollywood, and it did it in spectacular fashion. There’s nothing quite so breathtaking as when Dorothy steps out of her sepia-toned world and into the land of Oz. The film deals with magic and a quest of sorts, but its indelible effect on popular culture that puts it on the list. A film with a dancing Scarecrow, a crying Tin-Man, and a talking Lion that all happens in a little girl’s head? How could it not be on the list?
9. The Princess Bride
This 1987 Rob Reiner-directed masterpiece stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre The Giant, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon and Peter Falk. It tells the story of Buttercup and her adventures to be reunited with her one true love.
This movie is pretty much perfect, the epitome of everything great about ’80s cinema. Although there are no trolls, elves or orcs in the film, it contains plenty of other engaging ideas: epic sword fights, giants, true love, and a revenge tale for the ages. While not exactly what you’d call high fantasy, the film still has enough magic in it to be placed on the list. It’s humorous and quotable and and all around great time. Besides, you can’t leave off a film that features a battle between the hero and a human sized rat, now, can you?
The 1986 film is a collaboration between Henson Associates and Lucasfilm, and was directed by Muppets legend Jim Henson — his final film before his untimely death in 1990. It stars Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie, as well as a host of characters from Henson’s Creature Creation shop. The film follows the story of Sarah Williams, as she ventures into the Labyrinth to rescue her baby brother from the clutches of the evil goblin king, Jareth.
The film — which blends live-action and puppetry — was a commercial flop, although over the years it has managed to gain a large cult following and a greater appreciation from critics. Much like Henson’s other works, it’s the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the puppets and the way they’re handled by the puppeteers that make this film truly special.
7. How To Train Your Dragon
This 2010 computer animated gem was directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois and starred the voice talents of Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera and Jonah Hill. It follows the story of Hiccup and what happens when he discovers an injured dragon in the wood, sworn enemy of the Vikings.
While there are plenty of animated films that could have made this list, there are three reasons why this one was chosen: the stunning visuals, the heart-warming story, and the absolutely killer score by John Powell. These three things combined to make one of the most immersive and sensational fantasy worlds around. The fact that the film (and its sequel) actually revolves around a dragon is just icing on the cake.
This 1988 Ron Howard film stars Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley and Billy Barty. George Lucas has story credit for the Bob Dolman-penned screenplay, an idea that he came up with in the early 1970s. The story follows the Nelwyn, Willow Ufgood, as he sets out on a quest to help fulfill the prophecy of Elora Danan, the baby who will bring down the evil Queen Bavmorda.
Filled with sorcery, fairies, trolls and epic sword battles, the film holds a special place in the heart of those who grew up in the ’80s. It’s the quintessential tale of the little guy (in this case, literally) defeating the big bad by using his wits — and a little luck. What sets it apart is the beautifully crafted world and the interesting, and sometimes infuriating, cast of characters that call it home. It’s a must see for lovers of high fantasy that doesn’t often get the love that it deserves.
The legend of the sword in the stone got a dark and gritty adaptation with the release of John Boorman’s 1981 film. Starring Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren, Nicol Williamson, Patrick Stewart, Cherie Lunghi and Liam Neeson, the film tells the story of King Arthur and his life as ruler of the kingdom once he pulls Excalibur from the stone.
There have been many adaptations of Arthurian legend over the years, but this one is included on this list mainly because of its stunning visuals. Although the story sometimes gets lost in the pomp and circumstance surrounding it, there is no doubt that visually speaking, the film is majestic. It’s haunting and dark, as well as extremely violent, making it easily one of the most realistic takes on the legend. It’s easy to get lost in the spectacle, even if the story gets a little lost in the translation.
4. The Dark Crystal
This 1982 film by Henson Associates, directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz, tells the story of the gelfling, Jen, and his quest to restore balance to his fractured world by replacing the missing shard in the Dark Crystal. The film has no people in it (with the exception of stand-ins), and is instead comprised completely of puppets and animatronics, the latter of which was considered groundbreaking for its time.
This film is considered one of the darkest things to come out of the Henson studio, the tone and majority of visuals in the film striking and stark in contrast to their other works. What makes this film so special and unique is the rich, immersive world that they were able to create, and the fact that you care about what happens to these characters. It doesn’t matter that they’re puppets and the world is make-believe and almost dream-like.
3. Pan’s Labyrinth
This 2006 Spanish-Mexican film was directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu and Doug Jones. It tells the story of Ofelia, a little girl who must complete three magical quests in order to regain her immortality and once again become Princess Moanna, ruler of the underworld.
No one can deny that del Toro is a visual master when it comes to filmmaking, and this film is one of the reasons why. Lush and bursting, the film uses very little CGI, instead relying on animatronics and makeup. This gives it a grim yet spell-binding feel, sucking the viewer into the world along with Ofelia. Unlike a lot of fantasy worlds on this list, the one depicted here isn’t necessarily all sunshine and rainbows. But it’s that darkness that makes it that much more memorable.
2. Harry Potter Film Series
The story of the boy who lived is one that just about everyone knows. Based on the books by J.K. Rowling, the film series follows the life and times of Harry Potter — the only person who ever survived an encounter with the evil wizard Voldemort — as he tries to navigate not only a new school but also the newly magical world he’s thrust into on his eleventh birthday. The films star newcomers Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint amongst a litany of talented character actors.
Okay, so this one’s cheating a bit, as we’re including the entire film line-up in this entry. It’s not that we all don’t have our favorite Harry Potter film (results may vary, depending on who you ask), it’s just that it feels wrong to not count the entire story arc as whole. The films seamlessly blended a mundane reality with J.K. Rowling’s magical one, creating one of the most beautiful and well fleshed out fantasy worlds ever. The people, the places, the things all feel like they’re just around the corner, if only you just opened your eyes to them. This world is so incredibly immersive that they’ve built theme parks based on it, and there are plenty of people around the world who are still waiting for their Hogwarts letter to arrive.
1. Lord Of The Rings
Many said that J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterful work could never be adapted for the screen. It was just too big, and too unwieldy, for anyone to really capture the essence of the story in the form of a film. A few tried, but without any real success. Of course, everything changed when Peter Jackson decided to tackle the project, choosing to make three films, each roughly encompassing one of the three volumes in the original book. Filmed over 438 days in New Zealand, the saga stars Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, Karl Urban, Andy Serkis, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving and Ian McKellan.
Like J.R.R. Tolkien, we’re counting this as a single film which contains three separate volumes, each on building on the last. The Lord Of The Rings is the pinnacle of the fantasy genre for a reason, as it encompassed everything required; an epic quest, a magical sword, beastly foes, magic, betrayal, and redemption. But it’s so much more than that. It’s also interesting, fallible characters, lush scenery, and a story full of heart. There’s a reason that it tallied 17 Academy Awards in all, and it’s going to take something truly special to knock it out of the number one spot anytime soon.
So, how did we do? And more importantly, how do you think Warcraft is going to stack up in relation to these films when all is said and done? These lists are always highly subjective, as films resonate with different people in different ways. That doesn’t mean that anyone is wrong if you don’t agree or your list isn’t exactly the same as this one. What are some of your favorite fantasy films? What did we miss? Let us know in the comments!