The fantasy genre is often overlooked because its elements often overlap with that of science fiction or horror. Worse, it’s often dismissed as just a subgenre of science fiction. But fantasy is a genre in its own right. Fantasy films are characterized by the presence of magic, mythology, the supernatural, speculative worlds or a mix of all of these.
To give proper tribute to this film genre, we’ve gathered 10 of the best fantasy movies of all time.
Top 10 Best Fantasy Movies of All Time
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
This classic musical fantasy movie is based on a book of the same name by American author L. Frank Baum. It stars a young Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, a girl who finds herself transported to the colorful world of Oz by a mysterious storm.
The film follows Dorothy’s adventures with fantastical characters (a Tin-Man, a talking Lion, and a dancing Scarecrow) who she meets on her trip to Oz’s Emerald City. It’s also one of the first films to use Technicolor and did so in the best way possible.
The Princess Bride (1987)
You may not find trolls, elves or fairies in this film, but it got other good things to offer from an epic story of true love, an exciting revenge tale, and some awesome sword fights.
The Princess Bride (1987) is a great piece of 90s cinema and the fantasy genre itself. It tells the story of Buttercup, a beautiful princess and her journey to be with her one true love, Westley.
The film holds a reputation for being pretty much untouchable. Although not qualifying as high fantasy, the film well-loved by its numerous fans as evident in their non-stop quoting of the film.
Seriously, is there anything that David Bowie can’t do? He’s already proven his musical abilities with multiple concept albums under his belt. He expands his unique artistic expression by starring as goblin king Jareth in Jim Henson’s fantasy film Labyrinth (1986).
The film also stars Jennifer Connelly as Sarah Williams, the teenage sister of the baby boy Jareth kidnaps, and her journey into the Labyrinth to rescue him from the evil king.
Aside from having Bowie as the film’s antagonist, Labyrinth is notable for blending live-action actors and puppetry to construct the fantastic characters that live in the titular magical place.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010) has a premise that’s basically a dream come true for most kids. Hiccup, the son of a Viking chief and the film’s protagonist, finds an injured dragon in the woods and befriends it. Sound like fun right? Problem is, Vikings (well at least in this filmic world) are known dragon slayers. Worse, it’s a rite of passage for every Viking boy to capture and kill a dragon.
While the fact that dragons are prominent features in this film is already enough to make it a great fantasy film, the combination of its heart-warming plot, beautiful visuals, and a stunning score just elevates this film to a whole new level.
Willow (1988) is your quintessential fantasy film. The film’s make-believe world is filled with trolls, fairies, sword battles and wicked queens. A supposed parody of sword and sorcery films, Willow stars Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood, a little person with a mission to protect a sacred infant from the clutches of an evil witch.
Although a financial disappointment at the box office, the film is well-loved by kids who grew up in the 80s watching the film. And it’s surprising because there’s a lot to love about the film.
Stories about England’s legendary King Arthur and his knights have often found themselves to be the subject of many best fantasy films and tv shows. But John Boorman’s gritty and dark take on the legends with Excalibur (1981) stands out from the rest because of its stunning visuals. The film in itself is a spectacle with a focus on visuals over plot development. It’s considered to be one of the most realistic adaptations of the Arthurian legends because of its extreme violence.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
It’s no doubt that the 1980s are the decade when some of the best fantasy movies of all time were released.
Further proof is Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s The Dark Crystal (1982). All of the film’s characters are played by puppets and animatronics (which was groundbreaking at the time) and tells the story, Jen, a gelling on a quest to retake the missing shard of the Dark Crystal to bring back balance in his world.
The film is notable for its excellent character-building, successfully making the audience sympathize with them even though they were entirely played by puppets.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is probably one of the best fantasy films Guillermo del Toro has ever created and directed.
Set in war-torn 1940s Spain, the film follows the story of Ofelia, a little girl who encounters a magical faun who promises to return her immortality once she completes a set of three magical tasks in order to again become the ruler of the underworld, Princess Moanna.
The film is arguably darker than most fantasy films with features children as protagonists. It’s even described by some critics as ‘Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups’.
Harry Potter film series (2001-2011)
You didn’t think we’d forget about the film series that shaped the childhood of millions of millennials (and younger generations), did you?
The magical story of the boy who lived is a story universally known, transcending many language and cultural barriers. The series follows Harry Potter and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, from their first year at Hogwarts until their entry to adulthood. We bet you know the story by heart.
You might be thinking that it’s cheating to list the entire series as one but c’mon which film would you have picked to represent the entire series’ spirit and allure?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
For a long time, people thought it was impossible to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s high fantasy novels into a film because they thought a film won’t be able to capture the novels’ essence and wide scope. To prove them wrong, Peter Jackson took on the challenge and made a film for each volume of the trilogy. And thus, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy made it into the big screen to finally be watched by millions of fans worldwide.
Both the novels and the films are considered to excellent pieces of high fantasy that best represent the fantasy genre as a whole. And we couldn’t agree more.
Discovered a new fantasy film to watch and possibly add to your own fantasy movies list? Don’t forget to share it with your friends along with this article.