“It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.” – Albus Dumbledore
One of the purposes of going to the movies is to take a break from reality. Interrupt the day-to-day mundane routine and escape. Nothing says escape like fantasy. When you hear about fantasy movies, your mind may drift toward wizards, dragons, swordplay, and goblins.
As you will soon see from this list, there can be much more to the genre. To start, let’s define fantasy movies first. These movies depict magic, supernatural events, mythology, folklore, or exotic fantasy worlds.
Fantasy is its category, but sometimes it can contain overlapping themes from the sci-fi or horror genre.
Now that you have a basic, bare-bones description, let’s review some fantasy movies everyone should see.
This list is in no particular order, but if you want to explore certain must-see fantasy movies, this list should quench your craving.
The Princess Bride (1987)
This delightful film is full of all the necessities. Pirates, sword fights, monsters, giants, and true love! What’s not to love? Another main component of this film is comedy. Ask anybody born before 1990, and they will agree that The Princess Brid is a genuinely funny film. Mix that with the fantastic cast of this movie, and you have a recipe for an instant must-see fantasy movie!
In this classic, we not only have David Bowie as the Goblin King, with big hair and all singing a song or two, but we also have a vast collection of creatures created by Jim Henson of The Muppets. And we have George Lucas of Star Wars producing. Labyrinth is a classic that should be in everyone’s mental Rolodex of films and should be watched at least once a year!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The classic movie has given us many references that people use on a daily basis, even today. Who can forget that catchy tune, ‘We’re off to see the wizard! The wonderful wizard of Oz.’ The song is about the lollipop guild and the many wonderful moments with the cowardly lion. This movie has given us many teaching moments as well. Many personal development gurus use the analogy of not paying attention to the ‘man behind the curtain.’ In this movie, we get witches, flying monkeys, and incredible singing guards marching in front of a castle! What a classic!
The Neverending Story (1984)
Another movie that always comes up in the talk about fantasy movies is the Neverending Story. After being bullied, a young man escapes to an attic to read a book and is drawn into a world of flying dragons, princesses, brave young heroes, and The Nothing. Which is precisely what it sounds like. Come to find out, the twist at the end of this movie is an important life lesson that can benefit us all.
Conan the Barbarian (1982)
Classic Arnold Schwarzenegger! He stars in a few movies that qualify for this list, but this film includes revenge, some serious sword swinging, and heads rolling! Did I mention classic Arnold? The movie starts with a young boy becoming a slave after his parents are killed and his tribe destroyed, all by the warlord and sorcerer, Thulsa Doom, played by James Earl Jones. Beautiful landscapes and some sneaky catchphrases make this movie a must-watch. Oh, and another point…classic Arnold Schwarzenegger! He punches a camel and knocks it out!
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Ang Lee’s incredible vision, mixed with some fantastic wire-work, makes all the rooftop martial arts sublime. Though mostly centered around a stolen sword, this film tackles some intense human emotions. But one look at the incredible fight scenes that include the rooftops, as mentioned earlier, but tree tops as well, and this movie is the very definition of fantasy! Beautifully filmed and inventively choreographed, this movie is sure to be a feast for the senses. Every balletic, melodramatic movement with plenty of people soaring through the air will leave you wanting more.
Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
In this movie, Gene Wilder steals the show! Who hasn’t nursed the fantasy of being a chocolate magnate and operating a factory that develops out-of-this-world candy? After being reclusive for years, Willie Wonka finally opens his chocolate factory to a few select children, and they go on a journey through the factory of ‘pure imagination’! We are introduced to candy that we still wish was in production and great music. And the concept of the golden ticket is still used by certain companies to this day. The remake years later by Tim Burton was good, but it only partially captured the magic of the original.
Maybe not the best acting but Excalibur was at the start of cheesy 1980s movies. It may be bizarre in some of its characterization. Merlin is excessively eccentric. But this movie cannot be denied as a visually impressive adaptation of Malory’s Morte d’ Arthur. We have not had many good movies about Camelot and the Knights of the Round table, and this film may not even fall into the category, but the sword fighting and the gore more than makeup for it. It is a definite suggestion for those looking to get into fantasy, albeit a somewhat painful experience.
The Harry Potter Series (2001-2011)
It is not fair to mention just one of the movies. If you watch the first installment, The Sorcerers Stone, you must watch all eight movies, culminating with the Deathly Hallows with its final explosive confrontation. The young and innocent Harry Potter versus the diabolical Lord Voldemort. This series checks all the boxes when it comes to fantasy movies. A purely magical world that runs concurrently with the ‘real world.’ This story follows a young wizard as he navigates to find out that his parents were murdered instead of dying in a car crash and going through the awkward school years. Right from the first movie, we are hit with a giant, goblins, magic collectors cards, magic wands, casting spells and charms, as well as potion brewing. How many times have you heard the saying, “it’s levi-O-sa. Not levio-SA!”
As Harry and his best friends go through their years at school, they learn new magic spells, hexes, and jinks to cast on other members while at school and defend themselves from dark forces. There are some fundamental human elements in this story as well. The Harry Potter series have done a great job of testing the discussions of nature versus nurture. They are having the blessing of having real ride-or-die friends in your times of need, dealing with love and matters of the heart and how it causes people to commit some dark acts. By the time the final movie comes around, we are dealing with some real adult issues. This movie series also did a fantastic job of keeping the prominent cast members intact and maintaining the majority of cast members who had more minor roles throughout the series. In the case of the headmaster of the magical school Hogwarts, the role of Albus Dumbledore is the most noticeable change due to the unfortunate passing of Richard Harris after the release of the 2nd movie, The Chamber of Secrets. The role was picked up by Michael Gambon for the rest of the series. Honestly, this entire series could be this whole list.
The Lord Of The Rings Series (2001-2003)
During a few of the years of the Harry Potter series, we were also given the Lord of the Rings. This was a mastermind vision of a movie series from Peter Jackson and his adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic story. Set in the fictional world of Middle Earth, this story centers around beings called Hobbits who are dragged into the fight for the world as a whole against the Evil Lord Sauron. The main character, Frodo Baggins, accompanied by his friends from their home, embarks on an incredible journey to keep Sauron from getting The One Ring that will bring him ultimate power. This series is regarded as the most remarkable fantasy series of all time. It is easy to see why. The all-star cast, along with the inclusion of epic battles. We have so many different creatures that it will boggle the mind. We have epic battles out in open fields with many sword fights. We get super archer elves with their uncanny living conditions. Tie that all in with goblins, orcs, dragons, and Golem, and you are in for an incredible, fantastical treat.
This series is split into three movies. The Fellowship of the Ring. The Two Towers. The Return of the King and each film alone deserves a spot on this list, but in the same vein as the Harry Potter series, if you watch the first one, you may get the whole story and watch all 3!
This short list of fantasy movies is sure to get your mouth watering for more. There are hundreds of fantasy movies designed to keep you out of the natural world and comfortably nestled in the worlds of monsters, dragons, magicians, and all manner of beings. I hope you now have a great foundation if you are interested in getting into fantasy movies and decide to begin your journey into the genre.