What are the best fantasy movies? Noble elves, mighty wizards, and dark lords too terrible to name, the fantasy genre is a favourite for cinema lovers everywhere and has been a staple of the big screen for decades. But, the genre can be hard to define.
For a movie to truly be a fantasy film, it has to have an almost indefinable magic to it, a certain special quality that separates it from science fiction movies and horror movies. It’s probably best defined as having an essence of the fairy tale about it, as unhelpful as that is. So here are the best fantasy movies: speak ‘friend’ and enter.
What are the best fantasy movies of all time?
- Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
- Time Bandits
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
- The Green Knight
- Edward Scissorhands
- The Dark Crystal
- The Princess Bride
- Spirited Away
- Pan’s Labyrinth
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Lord of the Rings
14. Highlander (1986)
Over the top and unapologetically bombastic Highlander is about immortal warriors with dodgy accents trying to behead each other. What more could you want from a fantasy movie? Just skip the sequels because this is one franchise that didn’t deserve to live forever.
13. Onward (2020)
The first animated movie (and the only Pixar) to feature on the list, but by no means the last, Onward is an archetypical fantasy film about two brothers on a noble quest to spend one last day with their late father. While on their journey, the pair come to appreciate each other in ways they never expected and grow closer than ever before – classic heroes’ journey stuff.
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What makes Onward particularly notable, though, is the strange world it builds – an odd blend of the modern and the fantastical, its heartbreaking story about the unique bond shared by siblings, and the breathtakingly quirky and creative visuals.
12. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a modern-day masterpiece that completely eschews the Disneyfied version of Pinocchio that’s become the archetypical living puppet in many a film fan’s mind. It’s dark, moody, and totally enchanting. Check out our full Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio review here.
11. Time Bandits (1981)
A self-indulgent choice perhaps, Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits was a video shop staple when I was growing up. A strange little film about time travel, family, and robbing historical figures, Time Bandits is a marvellously chaotic movie full of Monty Python-style gags that captures the spirit of being a child. It also features one of the bleakest endings of any film on this list, but that’s another story…
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter had to make an appearance on this list, and it was an easy choice. While all the Harry Potter films have something special about them, Prisoner of Azkaban is clearly the best of the movies. Which other Harry Potter movie has singing frogs?
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Director Alfonso Cuarón manages to tell a dark, emotionally complex, and satisfying story that maintains the magic established in the first two films while also pushing the series in a far more adult direction. Combine Cuarón’s technical wizardry with the all-star cast put together by his predecessor Chris Colombus (as well as the new and, let’s be honest, superior Dumbledore), and you end up with something rather enchanting. Plus, it gave us the best Harry Potter character, Sirius Black…
9. The Green Knight (2021)
The first A24 movie to dip its toes into the enchanted lake of fantasy movies, The Green Knight, is an exciting and beautifully presented film, but that’s not why we like it. No, The Green Knight earns its place on this list for having the temerity to be weird, like really weird.
It’s a strange fact that, despite the fantasy genre allowing basically anything to happen, so many films stick to the same tired tropes and slices. The Green Knight, though, eschews the standard trappings of the genre and embraces the uncanny.
8. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
A suburban fairy tale wrapped in black leather but with a sugary sweet centre, Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s best movie. Basically, a romantic retelling of Frankenstein, this saccharine story of a man with scissors where his hands should be (rendering him incapable of touch) lovingly blends the macabre and melancholy through Burton’s unique gothic lens to haunting effect.
Factor in Danny Elfman’s bewitching score and a Johnny Depp performance from when he actually cared, and you end up with something extraordinary.
7. The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Dark Crystal is on this list for its unrivalled visual splendour. Just like any creation from Jim Henson, there’s awe-inspiring puppetry on display which does a lot to mask some of the cracks in the movie’s plot. The movie got a Netflix follow up decades later, which adds even more to the lore and world of The Dark Crystal.
6. Labyrinth (1986)
Jim Henson’s famed for the way he brought fantastical creatures to life, be they a frog named Kermit or whatever the hell the Skeksis, but the nadir of his career had to be Labyrinth. Officially a box-office bomb, Labyrinth has gone on to become a cult classic and is widely recognised these days as one of the best fantasy films ever made.
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Like the best fairy tales, there’s an air of menace to the film, presumably because of all the puppets, and writer Terry Jones of Monty Python fame lends the film a cheeky sense of humour. Labyrinth is perhaps best known these days, though, for David Bowie’s memetic and magnetic portrayal of Jared, The Goblin King. He enchanted us all with his pelvic sorcery.
5. The Princess Bride (1987)
Not putting The Princess Bride on the list was inconceivable! A post-modern classic, The Princess Bride is a fun, stylish, swashbuckling adventure that also happens to be one of the most quotable movies ever made.
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Adapted by William Goldman from his 1973 novel of the same name, director Rob Reiner managed to make of the most madcap fantasy films of all time that is both fantastically funny and remarkably romantic at the same time.
4. Spirited Away (2001)
The story of Chihiro Ogino, a young girl who’s spirited away into the fantastical world of the Kami and ends up working in a bathhouse, has gone down in cinematic history as one of the most beautiful films ever. With its awe-inspiring animation, Hayao Miyazaki’s magical story, and the absorbing world-building, it’s probably the best Studio Ghibli movie.
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We also happen to think it’s one of the best animated movies as well. And remember, once you’ve met someone, you never really forget them…
3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A dark fairytale set during the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth is a hauntingly beautiful and spell-binding movie that contrasts the human horrors of war with the literal monsters of the underworld.
Written and directed by the monster movie master Guillermo del Toro, the film’s memorable use of prosthetics and animatronics for the bizarre fairies, fawns, and fey creatures makes this film about the ethereal feel incredibly tangible.
2. The Wizard of Oz (1934)
There’s no place like home, and there are few movies as iconic as The Wizard of Oz. A technicolour masterpiece, the film is a pop-culture juggernaut packed with memorable characters, excellent dialogue, and the catchiest songs on this side of the yellow brick road.
The Wizard of Oz remains as watchable today as it was in 1934, thanks to an impeccable script that manages to be funny, scary, and full of wonder all at once, not to mention an astounding lead performance from Judy Garland, who was just 16 when she played Dorothy.
1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Let’s address the oliphaunt in the room: yes, we lumped all three Lord of the Rings movies into one entry. It’s greedy, we know, but honestly, we couldn’t decide which one to feature on this list, so we decided to have our Lembas bread and eat it too by putting in the whole trilogy.
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Can you blame us, though? Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy books ranks among the most ambitious, successful, and influential films ever made. With an all-star cast, exquisite production values, and that epic score, it all combines to bring Middle-Earth to life in a way previously thought impossible. Let’s just not talk about The Hobbit…
If you prefer your films a little more ‘explodey’ and a little less fantastical, why not check out our list of the best horror movies? Or if you prefer your magic on the small screen, we have a list of the best fantasy series. We’ve also got a list of all the new movies coming out in 2023 for you to enjoy.