The Best Fantasy Movies of All Time

The genre of fantasy movies was born as a variant of cinematic fantasy in the 1980s. At its core was an attempt to break with the science version of the world view and focus not on the future, but on the mythical past.

Fantasy films as a cinematic convention are divided into two main varieties. The first is heroic fantasy (“heroic fantasy”), while the second type is magic fantasy (“sword and sorcery”). In both cases, there are elements of wonder in the depicted world, and the main theme is the struggle between good and evil.

The story is set in the past, although the exact time of the story is not specified. It is left, as it were, suspended on the border between prehistory and fairy tales. It is worth noting that we can observe here a special approach to the miraculous. This is because these are films in which the magical elements of reality are part of the real for the characters and do not arouse wonder. Magic is located within the natural order.

The best fantasy movies

1. “The Wizard of Oz”, 1939

fantasy movies of all time - the wizard of oz

One of the best fantasy movies in the history of cinema is “The Wizard of Oz”. It is a famous screen adaptation of Lyman Frank Baum’s popular 1900 fairy tale, starring a young Judy Garland. The actress played the role of Dorothy, a girl who finds herself far from home due to a tornado and is looking for a way back. To do this, she must go to the all-powerful magician from Oz. Along the way she meets some friends with whom she makes a journey together and has many interesting adventures. These include the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion.

The film is a genre hybrid – for in addition to a fantasy story, it is also a musical. “The Wizard of Oz” was awarded two Oscars in music categories. The statuette went to the composer of the soundtrack Herbert Stothart, and the second trophy was presented for the best song. It was the famous song Over the Rainbow performed by Judy Garland.

2. “The Neverending Story”, 1984

the best fantasy movies of all time - the neverending story

“The Neverending Story”, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, is a fascinating fantasy story about a boy named Bastian (Barret Oliver) who, after discovering a mysterious book, travels to a fairy tale land where he has an important mission – to save the Empress (Tami Stronach) and her subjects. Both the fairy tale itself and Limahl’s memorable song “Neverending Story” from the film have become a permanent part of the canon of fantasy cinema.

3. “The Lord of the Rings”

the best fantasy films of all time - the lord of the rings

“The Lord of the Rings” is a trilogy directed by Peter Jackson based on the novel by John R. R. Tolkien. It consists of: “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001), “The Two Towers” (2002) and “The Return of the King” (2003). The theme of all parts is the battle for the magic ring, and the main character of the series is the hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood), whose team can save the world from destruction.

“The Lord of the Rings” won the hearts of fans around the world – the eternal clash between good and evil in this case represents a variation of fantasy cinema – “sword and sorcery”. In Peter Jackson’s films you can find not only elements of fairy tales, but also horror aesthetics. Among those playing leading roles were: Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn or Liv Tyler as Arwena.

4. “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)

best fantasy movies - Conan the barbarian

“Conan the Barbarian” (1982), a fantasy movie directed by John Miluis, is one of the precursors of cinematic fantasy. The work belongs to the so-called heroic variety of the genre (“heroic fantasy”). The main character of the film is the titular Conan (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), a warrior who takes bloody revenge for the murder of his family. The action takes place in an unspecified prehistoric era, a time of cruelty, but also of magic and great deeds. The work was based on Robert E. Howard’s short stories, and was followed by Conan the Destroyer (1984).

5. “The Hobbit”

the best fantasy films - the hobbit

“The Hobbit” is another adaptation of John R. R. Tolkien’s novel after The Lord of the Rings, directed by Peter Jackson. The film trilogy consists of: “An Unexpected Journey” (2012), “The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) and “The Battle of the Five Armies” (2014). Martin Freeman was cast in the role of the titular hobbit Bilbo Baggins. The movies also starred, for example, Ian McKelen as Gandalf the Grey, Orlando Bloom as Legolas and Evangelline Lilly as Tauriel. The plot of the film centers around an expedition of a hobbit and dwarves to the cavern of the terrible dragon Smaug in order to take back the riches guarded by him.

6. “Excalibur”, 1981

the 15 best fantasy films - excalibur

“Excalibur” (1981) is a fantasy movie directed by John Boorman. The picture is based on the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The role of Arthur was played by Nigel Terry, and his demonic sister Morgana was played by Helen Mirren. The wizard Merlin (Nicol Williamson) was also not to be missed. The film tells the mythical history of the ruler of Britain and his fantastic adventures. One of the key roles is played by the title Excalibur, a sword that also acts as a magical insignia of royal power.

7. “Harry Potter”

the 15 best fantasy movies - harry potter

“Harry Potter” is a cult series of eight films belonging to the youth fantasy genre, based on the bestselling novels by J. K. Rowling. They are: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2002), “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2003), “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004), “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005), “Harry Potter and the Order of Felix” (2007), “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009), “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I” (2010) and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II” (2011). The series tells the story of the coming of age of a unique boy who learns magic at school and gradually learns the truth about himself and the world around him. The role of Harry Potter was played by Daniel Radcliffe, while his companion Hermione was played by Emma Watson.

8. “The Dark Crystal”, 1982

top 15 fantasy movies - the dark crystal

“The Dark Crystal” (1982) is a fantasy movie made by Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Gary Kurtz. The story is set on the planet Thra, where a thousand years ago the people of Urskeks destroyed the dark crystal, which caused the coming of great chaos. The only chance to be saved from the evil Skeksis is for Yen of the Guelphin tribe to find a lost piece of the crystal. The work won several awards in the 1980s, including Best Fantasy Film (Saturn Award).

9. “Ladyhawke”, 1985

top 15 fantasy films - Ladyhawke

“Ladyhawke”, a fantasy film directed by Richard Donner, is a story wrapped around the love between Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Captain Navarre (Rutger Hauer), which the vengeful Bishop Aquilli (John Wood) tries to destroy. The magnate, in retaliation for the beautiful girl’s rejection of his affections, turns her into a falcon. In turn, he casts a spell on his beloved Isabeau, causing him to turn into a wolf at night when she assumes human form. The main qualities of the film are the ingenuity of the plot, picturesque cinematography and a great cast of actors.

10. “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, 2005

high fantasy movies - the chronicles of narnia

Andrew Adamson’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” is a fantasy film based on the novel by C. S. Lewis. During World War II, four siblings are sent to a remote province. In an old closet, the children unexpectedly discover the gateway to an alternative fairy tale world – the kingdom of Narnia, where the evil queen, the White Witch (Tilda Swinton), has caused an eternal winter. However, the children can help organize the army of the Lion Aslan to defeat the forces of evil. The film has clear parabolic features – the story of Narnia is an allegorical version of the story of Christ, who overcomes Satan by making a voluntary sacrifice of his life.

11. “Legend”, 1985

iconic fantasy movies - legend

“Legend”, a fantasy movie directed by Ridley Scott, tells the story of the threat to the world by the Lord of Darkness (Tim Curry). The final victory of evil is to be achieved when the last two unicorns die. The mission to save the world falls to the fearless Jack (played by Tom Cruise). In the process, the hero rescues the beautiful princess Lilly (Mia Sara).

12. “Willow”, 1988

iconic fantasy films - Willow

Ron Howard’s fantasy movie “Willow” is an interesting tale of a brave dwarf who saves a helpless infant from the wrath of the evil Queen Bavmorda. Willow Ufgood (played by Warwick Davis) one day finds a baby girl, saved by her mother from death and carried away – in a basket floating downstream. The hero decides to find Elora’s parent. It turns out that the child’s life is lurking in the hands of the queen, who expects that, according to the prophecy, the girl with a birthmark on her body will take away her power. On the way Willow meets the brave knight Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), offering the dwarf his help in exchange for his release from prison.

“Willow” earned two Oscar nominations in the categories of best special effects and best sound editing, and was awarded a Saturn statuette for best costumes. Willow is certainly a worthwhile film that is worth watching for its interesting plot and the picture’s profound message.

13. “The Colour of Magic”, 2008

fantasy movies top 15 - the colour of magic

Vadim Jean’s TV movie, “The Colour of Magic”, is a screen adaptation of two books by famed fantasy writer Terry Pratchett: “The Colour of Magic” and “The Light Fantastic”. The story is set in the Discworld, located on four elephants, which in turn are on the shell of a huge turtle. One day, a mysterious tourist arrives in the largest city of Ankh-Morpork – the first man in the history of Disk to engage in travel. Two-Flower (Sean Astin) shows up with a magical Luggage. His guide becomes Rincewind (David Jason), an inept wizard. This launches a series of interesting and exciting adventures of the characters.

Terry Pratchett’s novels, which formed the basis of the screenplay, are part of the writer’s famous Discworld series. The works of the British author conquered not only the domestic, but also the world market in the 1990s, taking the loyal readership by storm. Their most distinctive feature is the humor beloved by fans.

14. Meleficent, 2014

the absolute best fantasy movies - Meleficent

The unique and original adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty tale, directed by Robert Stromberg, is a film that reinterprets the traditional tale. This is because it makes the main character not a beautiful princess about to fall into a hundred-year sleep at the age of 16, but the perpetrator of the charm – an evil fairy uninvited by the royal parents to their daughter’s christening. As it turns out, the girl’s father had his own reasons for not pursuing a meeting with Meleficent. Years ago, he had stolen and then failed her affections, and also deprived the sorceress of something most precious to her.

The role of the Sorceress was played by the phenomenal Angelina Jolie, who perfectly conveyed the ambivalence of the character she performed. Stromberg’s film is distinguished by its feminist perspective of reading traditions and myths, in which certain cultural messages about gender and ascribed characteristics are encoded. In the world of The Witch, it is not brave men who save the royals from evil. The greatest strength here lies in women’s solidarity and the immense power of their feelings.

15. “Snow White and the Huntsman”, 2012

epic fantasy movies - snow white and huntsman

“Snow White and the Huntsman” is another contemporary reinterpretation of the old fairy tale, directed by Rupert Sanders. A fascinating tale of power, jealousy and the power of collective resistance to evil unfolds before the viewer’s eyes. The evil Queen Ravenna (played by the magnificent Charlize Theron) orders the Hunter (Chris Hemsworth) to exterminate the Snow White (Kristen Stewart) who threatens her. However, the man changes his mind just before the execution and helps his would-be victim escape.

The film adaptation of the well-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm is extremely dark and is transformed into a story or perhaps a parable for adults. It is a story about the ruthless rivalry of women who, because of the injustices they have suffered, come to the realization that their only tool to preserve their dignity is to fight. And in defiance of the male order, they are the ones who want to wield power.

Fantasy series – two special titles

“Game of Thrones”, TV series 2011 – 2019

fantasy series - game of thrones

HBO’s hugely popular series is undoubtedly a great fantasy series and one of the platform’s most watched in recent years. “Game of Thrones” is an episodic adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s bestselling novel series The Saga of Ice and Fire. In the kingdom of Westeros there is a brutal struggle for power. It involves the queen herself (Lena Headey) of House Lannister, King Robert Baratheonie (Mark Addy) and several families of magnates. Unexpectedly, the Stark clan is drawn into the conflict against its own will. Indeed, Lord Stark (Sean Bean) gains an appointment as chief advisor to the King of the Seven Kingdoms. At the same time, extremely dangerous enemies are coming from the North.

In 2012, Peter Dinklage, who plays the role of Tyrion Lannister, was awarded a Golden Globe. In addition, “Game of Thrones” has earned nominations for this statuette over the years, and in 2019 alone it has earned 12 Emmy awards. It is certainly one of the most important series of the decade. The compelling title “game” is also a seasoned play with the viewer himself, the most important feature of which is the element of surprise. The viewer can never be sure what the next move will be – as it happens that a character who almost seems to be the main protagonist dies just after the action starts.

“The Witcher”, 2019

fantasy movies and series - the witcher

Netflix’s “The Witcher” series is also an important entry in the fantasy genre, and importantly, one that is particularly close to Polish viewers. This is because the episodes of the film are based on short stories and a five-book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, presenting the story of the White Wolf – “The Witcher” and his amazing adventures. Here we can find not only a large dose of special effects loved by fans of the genre depicting the events, but also the story of Gerald of Rivia’s (Henry Cavill) love for the beautiful Yennefer or the story of the sorcerer’s friendship with the funny poet Yasker.

“The Witcher” as a series exposes the feminist themes of Sapkowski’s prose in an extremely interesting way. The characters of brave, brave women, such as Queen Calanthe (Jodhi May) and her granddaughter Cirilla (Freya Allan), play an important role. Just as important as Gerald’s story here is the dramatic past of Yennefer (Anya Chalotra), whose tragic experiences leave a mark on her personality and actions.

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