When thinking about the best fantasy films around, people throw out the same few movies. Lord of the Rings. Pan's Labyrinth. Maybe a few old-school fantasy fans might bring up Conan the Barbarian, but that's typically where someone's recollection of fantasy movies end. Which is a shame because there are several overlooked fantasy films that are painfully neglected by society as a whole.
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When, for example, was the last time someone talked seriously about Highlander? When have you talked to someone about Ladyhawke? These might be well-known films to fantasy enthusiasts, but the average viewer has never seen them -- and there are other films that are pretty much neglected. Though a few, to be fair, are neglected for good reason. Which forgotten fantasy films deserve a re-evaluation, and which ones should be left buried on the VHS shelf?
10 (Bad) Fire and Ice
Ralph Bakshi is regarded as one of the most unusual animation directors of all time. While many people regard his film Wizards as a classic, the rest of his filmography is more inconsistent. Cool World has attained cult status for being frankly so unusual and bizarre it isn't worth watching.
But Fire and Ice? It's a Conan the Barbarian inspired mess of a movie. Its plot is at times incoherent. Its rotoscoped animation looks unappealing to the eyes. It never comes alive. It feels derivative in a bad way. And it's sort of hard to watch.
9 (Great) The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
Ray Harryhausen pioneered the field of stop-motion animation. His monster effects influenced the medium of film forever. Many of his films are fantasy classics. Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, in particular, are beloved.
But Harryhausen's Sinbad trilogy is often overlooked, beyond people vaguely remembering the Cyclops from the first film. Which is a shame, because the whole trilogy ranks among Harryhausen's greatest. Of all of them, the most unfairly overlooked is The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the second in the trilogy, which features some of the coolest things Harryhausen ever did -- including an awe-inspiring four-armed titan fighting Sinbad to a sword fight.
8 (Great) The Beastmaster
Fans remember Don Coscarelli as the mastermind behind Phantasm, the longest-running cinematic horror saga. However, few people remember that Coscarelli also created this cult-classic fantasy film. If you remember this film at all, it's probably because HBO played it all the time in its early years.
The Beastmaster is a sword-and-sorcery film done right. It never feels derivative of Conan or Red Sonja, has incredibly memorable performances, and quite a lot of fantasy action -- most of which involving animals mauling people.
7 (Great) The Valley of Gwangi
When you look at it without the dinosaurs, The Valley of Gwangi is just a really good western about cowboys and ranchers in need of income, only to find it when they find a big ol' dinosaur in an uncharted region of the world. There are many "lost world" fantasy films, but this might be one of the most unique.
Another Harryhausen film, The Valley of Gwangi features stop motion at its finest, integrating the ranchers with a big dinosaur seamlessly. It's at once a Western, while also being a really cool dinosaur film.
6 (Bad) Krull
Krull has a cult-classic status. People often overlook its faults to look at the magical atmosphere and feeling. And yeah, Krull can be fun in that cheesy sort of way. It can feel like a Dungeons and Dragons film done relatively well.
It also makes no sense. Fantasy ideas are introduced without context. Long stretches of the film are uneventful. The action sequences can be hard to follow. It is memorable for its imagination, yet you get the sense when people talk about Krull that they imagined an entirely different movie.
5 (Great) Ladyhawke
Ladyhawke was a huge hit, but modern audiences really haven't heard of it. It's directed by Richard Donner, stars Matthew Broderick, Rutger Hauer, and Michelle Pfeiffer, yet people just overlook this romantic fantasy about a man and his bird-human lover.
It's a slower-paced fantasy, more focused on drama and relationships than overt fantasy action. It gained a passionate cult audience that, lately, has cooled off to a cinder. It deserves a rediscovery since it's probably one of the best 80s fantasy films to ever come out.
4 (Great) Solomon Kane
Solomon Kane is probably the newest entry to this list. Yet it's based on a character just as old as Conan the Barbarian -- in part because they share a common creator: Robert E. Howard. Howard created several characters over the years, including Kull, who also got his film in the 90s. That film would be on this list, but we only had three slots for bad movies.
On the other hand, Solomon Kane features a redeemed privateer fighting a one-man war against sorcerers and demons. The film features some pretty spectacular action and a few atmospheric moments of light-horror.
3 (Great) Dragonheart
Dragonheart was one of the first CGI-heavy films to come out during the 90s. It has several sequels that have languished on streaming services for years, though very few people have actually seen the original film, or remember it beyond recalling Sean Connery voiced a dragon.
The film is a very clever play on the fantasy genre, with the idea of a generous, good dragon who lends a piece of his heart to save a dying prince. The idea of dragon slaying is employed in a twist reminiscent of Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, where a knight "slays" his dragon buddy for personal gain. But the story is ultimately an interesting little story featuring a dragon voiced by James Bond.
2 (Bad) Deathstalker
Deathstalker is the first of a quartet of low-budget Conan the Barbarian rip-offs produced by Roger Corman. Corman is often fondly remembered by genre fans for directing over 300 low-budget films, often recycling old sets and even shots from film to film.
Deathstalker is a garbage movie. It's full of nudity and gore and violence with the cinematic tact of an elephant. The plot lacks focus. Scenes lack conflict. Dialogue sounds stilted. The actors can't act. The make-up effects never convince the audience of anything. And, if possible, its sequels are even worse!
1 (Great) Highlander
Highlander is the most successful film on this list, yet it has been almost completely forgotten by modern film audiences -- beyond the occasions where a remake is discussed. The original film has plenty of flaws. Some of the acting is wooden and much of the lore isn't elaborated upon.
However, it makes up for that with incredible style. The film features some amazing performances by some great actors -- including, again, Sean Connery, in arguably one of his most entertaining roles. It features an amazing soundtrack entirely comprised of Queen songs. It also features one of the saddest, most depressing moments in any 80s fantasy film.
It is quite frankly a great film that only gained success on the VHS market, but failed to retain its audience thanks to its less than stellar sequels. Now, the film is largely forgotten. People remember liking it, sure, but how many of them have seen it recently? Go. Go rewatch it. Now.