This fall, Benedict Cumberbatch will put on a red cape and take the MCU into a realm of magic and mysticism with Doctor Strange. Strange isn’t the first magician to appear in a Marvel film – Avengers: Age of Ultron featured Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch – but this film will certainly delve deeper into the mythology of the occult, as evident in the recently released trailer.
For those who need their fix of magic before Marvel’s Doctor Strange on November 4th, check out the following flicks. Note that these are not simply films that include magic, but those whose premise revolves around illusion, witchcraft, or even wizardry. Apologies to every animated Disney film, ever.
Here are the 12 Best Movies About Magic Ever Made.
12. Now You See Me
Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson reunited after Zombieland to star in one of the most confusing movies in recent memory. Now You See Me revolves around four magicians who pull off elaborate heists as the Four Horsemen, in the hopes of getting into an order of “actual magicians” called The Eye. The film features many great sleight-of-hand tricks and blink-or-you’ll-miss-it moments.
The supporting cast features Mark Ruffalo as the FBI agent tracking the Robin-Hood-inspired Four Horsemen, and Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman in roles that surely made them a nice paycheck. While the performances are functional and the magical elements inspired, the script is inane and silly at best. Now You See Me is excellent popcorn entertainment, but signs of anything below the flashy surface are merely an illusion. We’ll probably be able to say the same thing about the sequel fairly soon.
Though it is unfortunately not a film based on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Wiccan, Ron Howard’s Willow certainly has its merits. The fantasy film stars Warwick Davis as a farmer named Willow who must babysit a child destined to defeat the evil Queen Bavmorda. On his journey, Willow masters his powers of sorcery, helped by brownies, fairies, and Val Kilmer as the swordsman Madmartigan. The newly confident Willow defeats Bavmorda and learns that good triumphs over evil, because this is a fantasy film after all.
10. Practical Magic
Let’s take a minute to forget that Nicole Kidman starred in that awful Bewitched adaptation from Nora Ephron. There was a time when she played a witch with a fresh-off of Speed 2: Cruise Control Sandra Bullock, in the rom-com Practical Magic.
Based on a novel of the same name, Practical Magic is the story of two sisters with magical powers that come with a curse: any man who falls in love with them dies. There are plenty of spells and hexes to entertain the most hardened cynic. While the film isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch, it uses magical elements to successfully tell a potent and enjoyable love story.
9. Lord of Illusions
Clive Barker’s work varies from incredibly grotesque and horrific to mildly terrifying and still a little gross. His Hellraiser and Nightbreed rank among the best that the horror genre has to offer. One of his lesser known adaptations is the 1995 movie Lord of Illusions. Scott Bakula played Barker’s iconic Harry D’Amour in the film, marking the characters first appearance on the silver screen.
Barker wrote and directed the film, about a man who can use pure magic called “The Puritan.” Detective D’Amour takes a case involving a murdered psychic before realizing there’s much more to the mystery than meets the eye. The film benefits from spectacular practical make-up and effects, and magic unique to Barker’s imagination.
8. Hocus Pocus
The Sanderson Sisters are one of the most beloved trios in cult cinema. Played by the talented Sarah Jessica Parker, Bette Milder, and Kathy Najimy, the witches have one goal: to be young and pretty again.
Hocus Pocus is a great Halloween movie for kids of mostly all ages. Filled to the brim with extravagant costumes, silly spells, and buck teeth, it’s hard not to smile while watching the film. The performances are perfectly campy, though they work better for those with a bit of nostalgia. Fans of Sabrina the Teenage Witch or Halloweentown won’t be disappointed. Viewers are also treated to Bette Milder performing “I Put a Spell on You” as an added bonus.
Stardust isn’t just another film about a trio of witches that want to stay beautiful. In Matthew Vaughn’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, there are also a pirate (Robert de Niro), unicorns, and a star personified as a woman (Claire Danes). The story involves a man named Tristan Thorn, played by Charlie Cox of Daredevil fame, who falls in love with the star and becomes master of his own destiny.
Stardust’s supporting cast is spectacular, including Michelle Pfieffer, Mark Strong, Peter O’Toole, Ricky Gervais, Ian McKellen, and Henry Cavill. The magic on display from Gaiman is colorful and imaginative, with strong world-building and cute characters. It’s largely unfocused, but for a family-friendly magical experience, Stardust is ideal.
6. The Craft
One of the most popular movies about witches since the 80s (there were a surprising amount), The Craft is notable for its realistic portrayal of the consequences of spell-casting. While any made-for-Disney-channel movie about witches makes room for a morality tale, The Craft is not afraid to get dark, and stay there.
Following the story of four high school girls with incredible powers, the movie features curses, spells, and more than one murder. This teenage coven is not to be messed with.
5. The Illusionist
Edward Norton and Jessica Biel couldn’t save this movie from being overshadowed by a superior 2006 film about magicians. But that doesn’t mean The Illusionist is a bad film; in fact, it’s quite good.
Set in 19th century Vienna, the film tells the story of the illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) and the means in which he will go to be with his true love, Sophie (Biel). Because Sophie is a duchess, and Eisenheim a peasant, their love is forbidden and Sophie is set to marry the despicable Prince Leopold. The lovers hatch a plan to use the powers of illusion to free Sophie from her arranged engagement and the city of Vienna of Leopold’s reign.
The Illusionist features excellent scenes of magic that range from typical stage acts to summoning dead spirits. The CW planned to adapt a TV show based on the film, but there have been no updates since 2014.
An undeniable fantasy classic, Labyrinth combines the best that the 1980s had to offer. David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, fantastical puppets from Jim Henson Creature Shop, beautiful sets: the film is a sight to behold.
The magic in Labyrinth could only come from the mind of Jim Henson. Character like Hoggle and Sir Didymus (the adorable fox-knight) are both incredible memorable and entirely practical puppets. In fact the only human actors in the fantasy world are Bowie and Jennifer Connelly as Sarah.
The story, which follows Sarah on a coming-of-age quest to rescue her infant brother Toby from the evil Goblin King that capture him, is filled with magical beasts and wears its heart on its sleeve. It goes without saying that David Bowie is stellar; the film would be nowhere without him. If you haven’t seen it, check out a midnight screening ASAP.
3. Spirited Away
Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is the tale of Chihiro, a young girl trapped in the spirit world. After her parents are transformed into pigs – a terrifying scene – by the witch Yubaba, Chihiro must work in her bathhouse to free her family and return to the human realm.
The English-language version on the film was spearheaded by John Lasseter of Pixar fame. In Japan, it became the highest-grossing movie of all time, beating Titanic, and later won the Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Chihiro’s liminal journey through the spirit world is populated by shikigami (ghosts), dragons, witches, and No-Face, a creature the eats people. The stunning animation elevates the simple Alice-in-Wonderland story above other similar re-treads. The film is truly a magical work of art, and one of Studio Ghibli’s best.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
The only Harry Potter film and book not to feature Lord Voldemort is oft-considered the strongest. From director Alfonso Cuaron, Prisoner of Azkaban was the first of the 8 films to feature the students of Hogwarts in clothes other than their robes. It also truly raised the stakes for the characters, crafting a much darker world than before.
The dementors and their deadly kiss, the peaceful giant Hippogriff, and a professor with a full-moon problem expand on Rowling’s already huge magical mythology. The casting of Gary Oldman as Sirius Black was an excellent decision, and the young Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint all see steady improvements in their performances.
1. The Prestige
Though the film features no real magic at all, The Prestige is far and away the most awe-inspiring film about the craft. Christopher Nolan followed up his intro to Batman in Batman Begins by collaborating with Christian Bale once again in this 2006 film.
Superior to The Illusionist is nearly every way, The Prestige tells the story of rival magicians and their quest to pull of the greatest trick. Starring Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, and featuring David Bowie, there are truly dramatic and highly intelligent moments in the film.
The twists and turns of the narrative are some of Nolan’s greatest and the many scenes of magic with sleight-of-hand and escape artistry rank far above most films with magicians. Caine’s speech about how magic works to trick the audience is still the best example of the art. Before checking out Doctor Strange, make sure to give this film a re-watch, or if you are seeing it for the first time, don’t look up the ending.
What other magic movies should have been on this list? Let us know in the comments!