The fantasy genre has given us some of the best films of all time. Where would we be without Lord of the Rings or The Wizard of Oz? Those are merely scratching the surface. There are hundreds of brilliant films from every decade within the genre, but sometimes the real gems get overlooked.
The 1980s was a particularly ripe time for fantasy. In those ten years, The Neverending Story and Labyrinth were both made. But what about all the fantasy films that went overlooked? We're taking a look at ten you shouldn't miss.
10 Willow (1988)
Considering Willow is based on a story by the legendary George Lucas (Star Wars) you would expect it to get more attention. it is also boosted by being directed by Ron Howard. However, Willow has mostly flown under the radar.
The film is a high fantasy epic feature about the magical world of Willow. Warwick Davis stars in the leading role as a farmer who must protect an infant from an evil queen. Despite its age, the film is also known for having special effects that still retain their charm all these years later.
9 The Dark Crystal (1982)
If you pay attention to Netflix offerings, then you might have seen the new prequel series. Jim Henson, who directed the original Dark Crystal film in 1982, returned for the prequel series too, instilling it with its classic charm. But if you haven't seen the first movie, it's worth checking out.
The Dark Crystal is known for its ability to add dark fantasy elements to a film for children. It has gained quite the cult following over the years but is still mostly unknown to the general public. If you enjoy dark fantasy and movies, including puppet animation, then you should check this one out.
8 The Black Cauldron (1985)
Despite being a Disney film, The Black Cauldron never received the proper acclaim and attention from the public that other Disney features did. It was created at an awkward period of Disney's existence. It is also one of the darkest films in Disney's animated repertoire.
The movie follows a young farmer named Taran, who is tasked with looking after a magical pig with a supposed sixth sense. But when the pig is kidnapped by the Horned King, Taran must unite with his sidekick Gurgi to save him and defeat the monstrous man.
7 Time Bandits (1981)
Terry Gillian directed this well-reviewed film from 1981. It focuses on the story of a young man who is shocked to discover dwarves living in his closet. These dwarves have access to a map that allows them to enter through different rips in the fabric of space and time.
They’re using their gift to steal priceless treasures and artifacts. While Time Bandits received an approval percentage of 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, it has all but vanished from the pop culture conversation. The movie stars John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Ian Holm, and Sean Connery.
6 The Last Unicorn (1982)
The Last Unicorn is based on the novel of the same name by Peter S. Beagle. The story follows a lonely unicorn who realizes she could be the last of her kind and embarks on a mission to discover if that’s the truth or if more like her exist somewhere. The film is a Japanese-American animated feature that was released in 1982.
It has a star-studded cast with actors like Mia Farrow, Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, and Robert Klein all involves. The film stands out for being untraditional, unique, and yet entirely enthralling and magical. If you missed out on it while growing up, it’s still enjoyable as an adult.
5 Dragonslayer (1981)
Directed by Matthew Robbins, Dragonslayer is an excellent fantasy movie starring Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, and Peter MacNicol. Dragonslayer is another forgotten Disney gem. Perhaps with the introduction of Disney+ some of their lesser-known fantasy titles might be introduced to the mainstream once more.
Dragonslayer, like The Black Cauldron, was more mature than many other Disney films at the time. It followed the story of a kingdom called Urland. For centuries, Urland was terrorized by a dragon. The duty to slay the creature falls to a wizard's apprentice.
4 Ladyhawke (1985)
Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Broderick, and Rutger Hauer lead the cast of this imaginative medieval fantasy from 1985. Broderick plays Phillipe Gaston, a thief who is enlisted to assist a captain and his lady after discovering they have fallen victim to a demonic curse.
Ladyhawke failed to make waves at the box office, but it did alright with critics. Over time, fans have come to appreciate its visual effects and unique story. Broderick is considered a cast standout. Not only does the film create rich mythology of its own, but it also contains plenty of humor.
3 Return To Oz (1985)
Return to Oz is the "unofficial" sequel to the classic Wizard of Oz. While most people have heard of the original movie following Dorothy and her friends to the magical land of Oz, many have never seen this follow-up.
Like we mentioned previously regarding Disney's other lesser-known films, Return to Oz is darker than many of their other films. It follows Dorothy on a mission to save her old pals tin man, the lion, and the scarecrow after the yellow brick road is destroyed, and the world she once knew has fallen into chaos.
2 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
This excellent and hilarious fantasy film is all about the adventures and exploits of Baron Münchhausen, a German aristocrat. The movie begins with an elaborate production of his life. But then the real Baron Münchhausen shows up and claims that the play is full of lies and inaccuracies.
He promises to fill them in on the truth. Despite being a box office bomb, the movie went on to earn several Academy Award nominations. It also has a great cast with actors like Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, and Jonathan Pryce all starring.
1 Splash (1984)
Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah lead the cast of this romantic fantasy film about a man who falls in love with a mermaid. Unfortunately, their road to paradise is interrupted by a scientist who plans on capturing the beautiful mermaid, Madison (Hannah), and experimenting on her. Splash also stars Eugene Levy and John Candy.
It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and received a Certified Fresh score from Rotten Tomatoes at the time of its release. All that said, it hasn't stopped the film from being regrettably forgotten. Surprisingly, Hollywood hasn't even tried to remake it, although other mermaid-centric films have certainly taken inspiration from Splash.