Fantasy films are often grouped together with science fiction, but these 10 great fantasy movies lack the blasters and spaceships of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars.” You could argue that “Star Wars” is really fantasy, too, but most fans would group those films under “science fiction.” There are enough great fantasy movies for their own list.
“The Wizard of Oz” This 1939 fantasy classic is the first “favorite movie” for a lot of kids, thanks to regular TV airings. It’s actually not the first film version of Frank Baum’s beloved children’s book; silent versions were produced in 1910 and 1925. But wisely, no one’s tried to remake this musical treasure—at least, so far.
“The Thief of Bagdad” Similarly, 1940’s “Thief of Bagdad” was a remake of a silent Douglas Fairbanks classic from 1924. The special effects may not seem so special today, but they were groundbreaking at the time, winning one of the film’s three Oscars. It was an inspiration to many future artists and filmmakers, including director Martin Scorsese and science fiction author Harlan Ellison.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” It’s usually shown at Christmas, but director Frank Capra’s 1946 masterpiece is actually a very dark story until its holiday finale. It’s also proof that you don’t need elves or wizards to make a great fantasy movie. Jimmy Stewart thinks he’s a failure and wishes he’d never been born; an angel grants his wish in one of the most beloved and imitated stories of all time.
“The Last Unicorn” Fantasy author Peter Beagle wrote the script for the 1982 animated version of his own novel. The Rankin-Bass animation studio hired Japanese artists to draw the film; many of them later went to work for Hayao Miyazaki, a master of fantasy animation in his own right. Folk-rock troubadours “America” contributed the songs for this tale of a lonely unicor fighting to free her imprisoned race.
“The Princess Bride” Writer William Goldman based this book on a bedtime story he made up for his daughters. When a film version stalled out in the 1970s, Goldman took the unusual step of buying back the adaptation rights. He waited for the right director to come along; the result was Rob Reiner’s 1987 classic, one of the most beloved film romances of all time.
“Spirited Away” Ten years after “The Last Unicorn,” Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli won an international fan following by creating beautiful animated masterpieces. Audiences around the world loved “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Princess Mononoke,” but “Spirited Away” won the 2001 Oscar for Best Animated Feature. A little girl meets dragons, witches and Japanese river spirits while visiting a wonderland-like fantasy world.
“Pan’s Labyrinth” Mexican director Guillermo del Toro found mainstream fame with his 2006 fantasy, while remaining true to his horror roots. A little girl finds escape from fascist Spain when she enters a fantasy world with its own dark side. The film won three Oscars and numerous other international awards.
“The Lord of the Rings” J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic was first published in the 1950s, but didn’t find a worldwide audience until the 1960s. Director Peter Jackson assembled an all-star cast for a series of films released from 2001 to 2003. The Oscar-winning results can be seen, like Tolkien’s books, as a single epic story, but you’ll need almost twelve hours to view it in one sitting.
“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” Eight films have been produced from J.K. Rowling’s best-selling novels, featuring nearly every British film star of the early 21st century. “The Sorcerer’s Stone” was the first, but the best is a matter of personal taste. “Goblet of Fire” offers a wide view of Harry’s world and the debut of actor Robert Pattinson, star of that other popular film series about teen vampires.
“Alice in Wonderland” Lewis Carroll’s nonsense novel has been adapted to film numerous times, including a 1952 Disney version and an Emmy-winning 1999 TV miniseries featuring Whoopi Goldberg as the Cheshire Cat. Director Tim Burton presented his own version of Wonderland in 2010, featuring Johnny Depp and an all-star cast. This version, set in Alice’s teen years, is low on nonsense but high on action and eye-popping 3D visuals.