With the advent of super popular smash hit shows and films like Game of Thrones and of course Lord of the Rings, high fantasy has managed to transition from a genre of media that had a reputation as being cheesy and lowbrow which has transitioned into one of the most well respected corners of film and television media (and of course, it's also a cash cow). But, while Lord of the Rings managed to show what high fantasy really could be, they aren't the only high fantasy films that are worth watching.
When a series of films becomes the kind of juggernaut that Lord of the Rings became there are always dozens of works that have to pave the way before it, and this case is no exception. High fantasy has been its own niche film genre for years, and although it finally got the respect it deserved with LotR there are still a whole lot of high fantasy flicks that came before it that are more than worth their time.
10 The Dark Crystal
When most people think of movies that are unforgettable classics, their minds don't immediately go to puppets. But unsurprisingly The Dark Crystal, one of the darker and more dramatic offerings from Jim Henson (AKA the greatest puppet man of all time) manages to make the list of high fantasy films that's worth more than a few watches. In an era in which the special effects required to make a believable and visually compelling high fantasy movie was pretty much impossible, the whole puppet thing is actually a pretty brilliant way of working around it, and this movie definitely isn't just your average Muppets tale.
Willow is a movie that might sound unfamiliar to people who aren't high fantasy fans, but the on-paper credibility of the film is absolutely undeniable. The story of Willow was actually created by George Lucas and the film was directed by Ron Howard, and the special effects for the film were done by the incomparable Industrial Light and Magic.
Obviously the movie is still from 1988 so it's effects don't quite compare to something that you'd see in Lord of the Rings, but the high fantasy tale that borrows from a lot of classic stories like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and even the story of Moses, so it's pretty much guaranteed to leave viewers happy.
8 Clash Of The Titans (1981)
Most people are now familiar with Clash of the Titans because of the recently released remake of the original film, but the 1981 version is the real high fantasy classic. Just like the 2010 remake, the original film follows the Greek myth story of the demigod Perseus and his desire to save the woman he loves (a shockingly difficult task). The stop motion techniques that Clash of the Titans uses to bring it's mythological monsters to life is delightfully cheesy and definitely the most memorable part of the movie, but this high fantasy flick is sure to keep any fantasy fan entertained.
So what is the only way to one up the insanity that is pretty much any high fantasy movie ever made? Well add David Bowie to the mix. Obviously. Labyrinth is a fantastic high fantasy film in it's own right (we would expect nothing less from the likes of Jim Henson), but Bowie's legendary performance as Jareth the Goblin King is something that will entertain children and adults alike. It may come as a surprise now, but Labyrinth was actually a box office bomb, it was only as the film aged that it's audience grew and it's status as a can't miss cult film was cemented.
6 The Last Unicorn
Our titular unicorn sets off on a journey to discover what happened to the rest of her kind, and the story that follows is an adventure that understandably left children riveted but will keep adults entertained as well. The voice acting cast, which includes greats like Mia Farrow, Christopher Lee, and Angela Lansbury, might make you wish this movie was live action though!
5 Conan The Barbarian
In the early eighties Arnold Schwarzenegger was really on a roll with his genre movies, and while he will almost certainly always be best known for The Terminator (or possibly as governor of California) his foray into the high fantasy world of film is one of the best early high fantasy movies out there. Conan the Barbarian is a high fantasy classic in every sense of the word. It has become a cult classic film in it's own right and it's a movie that really offers everything that a high fantasy fan would hope for out of one of their movies.
There is a reason high fantasy is called high fantasy, because it really tries to reach for the stars. But it's that enthusiasm for creativity and imagination that also makes (or made, before the advent of CGI) high fantasy difficult to translate to screen. When it comes to high fantasy the apex predator of magical monsters has got to be the dragon, which is why Dragonslayer, one of the earlier dragon-focused high fantasy forays into film, deserves it's spot on this list. As you might imagine, the movie centers around the various attempts to slay a dragon that has been terrorizing people for years, and honestly the means by which they slay that dragon make the movie worth the watch alone.
3 Monty Python And The Holy Grail
High fantasy and the fans of high fantasy spent a lot of time trying to get the rest of the world to take the fiction they created and loved seriously, but sometimes it just doesn't need to be all that serious.
The legendary comedy troupe Monty Python decided to tackle some high fantasy and make it their own, and the result is one of the best high fantasy films and comedy films ever made. Monty Python and the Holy Grail draws most of its inspiration from Arthurian legend, but this silly send up of the classic tale is truly a can't miss film for everyone, high fantasy fan or not.
2 The Neverending Story
The Neverending Story is arguably the most well known and beloved traditional high fantasy film outside of Lord of the Rings, and it's easy to see why. This classic high fantasy tale tells the story of a fantasy land called Fantasia that is in danger because of an unknown malevolent force called "the nothing", but The Neverending Story puts a great spin on this traditional story in a few ways. The audience is introduced to this world through a boy named Bastian, who starts off reading a book called The Neverending Story but then finds himself as the hero of the story he reads. It's the wish fulfillment of every high fantasy fan, young or old.
1 The Princess Bride
When it comes to blending high fantasy with comedy it's pretty tough to beat something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but The Princess Bride somehow manages to do it. It's pretty hard to find anyone who has seen The Princess Bride and doesn't absolutely love The Princess Bride, and this cult classic film never stops being an amazing way to kill a few hours. The story of Westley and Princess Buttercup is exactly what any high fantasy fan is looking for, but the movie's ability to be tongue in cheek about it's own material and make the funnier aspects of high fantasy as funny as it can be makes it the best high fantasy film before LotR.