September 2017 is SYFY's 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.
Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.
What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!
The realms and worlds of fantasy can be incredible places full of magic and wonder, but they can also be horrific places where outrageous dangers lie around every single corner. To put it plainly: For every Narnia, there's a Westeros. So go and fall down the rabbit hole, ride across the rainbow bridge, or take the Hogwarts Express to take a look at our list of the 25 greatest fantasy worlds that we have visited in the last 25 years! Wands out, everyone.
Albion – Fable
The setting for all of the games in this Xbox exclusive series, Albion is a lush, green land, and is perfect for adventuring. It has mountains, seas, cities, and ruins from the Old Kingdom scattered all about, hinting at a history that is long past. If the player wants to advance the story, they can travel to the aptly named Heroes Guild, located in the heart of the realm. If you prefer side quests, the land is full of characters who offer you exactly that—they even let you brag about it afterwards. If wandering around aimlessly is more your style, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect place to do it.
Tourists should bring: a game walkthrough.
Asgard – Thor
The first Thor film's depiction of this mighty world, the fabled home of the Norse gods of old, was a fantastic mix of fantasy and science. The blend of the two proves that Thor does, indeed, come from a place where magic and science are one and the same, from the splendor of Odin’s throne room to the Bifrost gate itself. As director of the first film, Kenneth Branagh brings a Shakespearean opulence to every corner of this world. Guarded by the mighty Heimdall (who sees all), the high seat of the gods was revisited again in Thor: The Dark World, and looks like it’s about to take a Cate Blanchett-sized pounding in Thor: Ragnarok.
Tourists should bring: a video camera, because you’re gonna want proof.
Azeroth – World of Warcraft
The fantasy hub world of this monstrously popular MMO, Azeroth has had a rough history. It started out by being blessed by the Titans, but soon enough, the Burning Legion came forth and shattered everyone’s peace and wellbeing. Some destructive races were brought there by force (orcs, mostly), while others evolved over time. The inhabitants of Azeroth have had to fight against them ever since, and though they have survived the wickedness of the Burning Legion four times now, the world is still plagued by conflict. Bad for Azeroth, but good for players of this game! Full of adventure and madness at every turn, Azeroth is anything but dull.
Tourists should bring: Help from more advanced players.
City of Light – MirrorMask
The world of this fantasy film is split into two parts—the city of light, and the land of shadow, which is constantly trying to overtake the former. The film visits both locales, but it is the beautiful City of Light that is the most amazing part of the film. Originally developed by the Jim Henson Company, the design of this city has much in common with their other fantasy efforts (Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal) and the result is a practical wonder that feels as real for the viewer as it is for the characters.
Tourists should bring: Flying books.
Dinotopia – James Gurney Novels
Put simply, the world of James Gurney’s books is set on an isolated island. Doesn’t sound so great? Well then, that might be because we forgot to mention that the island is inhabited by a peaceful society of sentient dinosaurs, as well as humans. The humans got there by way of shipwreck, and the dinosaurs have evolved to the point of being able to speak. They were smart enough to seek shelter during the event that wiped out the rest of their kind, and they survived. The artwork that accompanies these books depicts a beautiful place where humans and dinosaurs have created a world that exists in total harmony.
Tourists should bring: Whatever they'll need for the rest of their lives, because if you manage to get there, it’s almost impossible to leave.
The Enchanted Forest – Once Upon a Time
This is the place where fairy tale characters go to mingle with each other. Everyone is here: Snow White, Aurora, Belle, even Robin Hood. As the show from ABC intertwines all of their stories, the one common factor in all of them is this forest (also called Misthaven), and it manages to survive, even after several eras of various curses. Unfortunately, the denizens of this forest don't sing Sondheim, but they're still fun. Not only are the characters here, but most of their respective kingdoms are here as well.
Tourists should bring: Recordings of Into the Woods.
Fabletown - Fables
Another haven of secretly real characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes, this fantasy community is conveniently located right in New York City! Using our world as a sanctuary, the hunted inhabitants and refugees settled there in the 1600s and New York grew around them. Beautifully depicted in comics written by Bill Willingham, Fabletown is the perfect sanctuary for many legends in exile.
Tourists should bring: Subway fare.
Fillory – The Magicians
Kind of like a Narnia-meets-Wonderland type world that can be entered via multiple different ways, Fillory was thought to exist only in fantasy books. When Fillory is discovered to be real (and the source of all magic), our dysfunctional band of students take a trip there, and some of them become kings and queens. As such, they inherit a realm that contains a horrible, eyeball popping monster magician known as 'The Beast,' a comically ineffectual royal court, and a riverside con artist who will sell you awful replacement hands if you try to sass him. Other highlights include: trees with clocks in them, a variety of sarcastic mythical creatures, and gods who solve their problems by defecating into sacred areas. This fantasy realm is definitely not the paradise Elliot and Julia always dreamed of visiting, but at least they are able to leave. Poor King Eliot does not get the same deal, but he does get to live in the castle.
Tourists should bring: Several little cakes.
The Forgotten Realms – Dungeons & Dragons
Originally created by Ed Greenwood in 1967, The Forgotten Realms (or just 'The Realms') were eventually brought to Dungeons & Dragons as a setting for its games. It's a classic fantasy backdrop, described as "a world of strange lands, dangerous creatures, and mighty deities, where magic and supernatural phenomena are quite real." Sounds good to us! At one time in our history, our world and this one were connected, but over time this magical realm was, well, forgotten. It is an ideal place for any D&D adventure, inspiring limitless possibilities for any smirking dungeon master.
Tourists should bring: a twenty-sided die.
Hogwarts – The Harry Potter Series
We're still waiting for our letters! From the moment young Harry first took the little boat across the water to the battle that closes out the series, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was a truly magical place. Not just a castle where magic is taught, the structure itself is so imbued with magic that is practically sentient. With its moving staircases, hidden passageways, and statues that can come to life, we'd bet that even the great Albus Dumbledore himself didn't know all of the great school's secrets.
It's not all wonderful, though. Sure, there's the Gryffindor common room, but there's also the not-so-great Chamber of Secrets. There's a glorious great hall with a moving enchantment of the night sky in the ceiling, but there's also a forest full of murderous centaurs a short walk away. Hogwarts could be a place of comfort, it could be a place of danger (Fluffy, Dementors, Unfair Tournaments, Death Eater Invasions, most things Hagrid related), but it was always a place of magic. We're sure that it's better than Durmstrang in every possible way.
Tourists should bring: a wand.
Hyrule – The Legend of Zelda
At this point, we've seen the world where every Zelda game has taken place in various states all across its mythic history. Whether it's the beautiful plains of Twilight Princess, the creepy Dark World of A Link to the Past, or the waterlogged endless sailing of Wind Waker, Hyrule is always amazing. No matter what game it is, some things are always the same: the land is full of crazy creatures, someone named Zelda is of some importance, and Ganon is always up to something awful. The newest game in the series, Breath of the Wild, makes this land feel even more real than ever before, as you can now (among other things) set parts of the wilderness on fire. It is the biggest map of Hyrule we've ever been granted, and most players have yet to uncover all of it.
Tourists should bring: Heart containers and fairies in jars.
The Island – Lost
At first, you think that the poor souls of that crashed Oceanic flight have been stranded on a deserted island. Oh, if only that were so. Bad for them, but good for the show. As it turns out, the island is not deserted at all! Features include but are not limited to: smoke monsters, polar bears, a lying group of kidnap-happy fake hillbillies, mysterious hatches, giant stone feet, and a cure for paralysis of the legs. Every time a group of survivors grabbed their packs and took a trek across the island, we knew we were gonna see something weird and something that would get all of us talking. Some mysteries were explained; some were left as loose ends. What's in that hatch? What's the deal with the Others? Wait, the island can move? There's a frozen donkey wheel? There seemed to be no limit to the strange imagination of this place ... that is, until you visit the cave with the cork that holds all the evil in the world at bay. Or something? We're still figuring that one out, but at least we got an answer about the polar bears.
Tourists should bring: Patience.
London Below – Neverwhere
A secret world underneath London where knights, demons, and all kinds of magical characters live and work their daily lives, this Neil Gaiman fantasy realm first came to us through the BBC TV show. It was a low budget affair, but that only added to the grittiness and fun of the place. Our heroes end up traveling almost the entirety of this underground wonderland in order to escape the sinister plot they're caught up in. A place of angels, tube cars flying by every moment (sending overhead chandeliers spiraling) and a pair of very unpleasant, smock-wearing sadists-for-hire, it would be revisited again when Gaiman presented this early classic in book form.
Lyra's World – His Dark Materials
It's close to our world, but Lyra's alternate realm in Phillip Pullman's classic series has a number of distinct differences. For one thing, the power sources are radically different, so methods of travel vary greatly. Balloon aeronautics are popular, and how can that be a bad thing? Lyra's world also consists of talking polar bears who wear big, hulking armor, and they can be a good friend when times are tough.
The best part by far: Part of everyone' spirit walks (and talks) beside them in animal form. Called 'daemons,' these creatures are like an extension of the person and can take any animal shape, from prairie hare to golden monkey. The daemons of children can constantly change their shape, but once the child enters into adulthood it settles on one. Unfortunately, a church even more overzealous than ours pulls the strings in this world, so it’s not all balloons and daemons.
Tourists should bring: Advance copies of The Book of Dust.
Middle-earth – The Lord of the Rings
Previously only existing in the minds of book readers (and in animated form), J.R.R. Tolkien's massive fantasy world was brought to life in Peter Jackson's epic film trilogy in a manner that took our breath away. From the lush greens and round doors of The Shire, to the spiral staircases and majesty of Lothlorien, to the seven-tiered city of Minas Tirith, to the dark tower of Barad-Dur itself, Middle-earth is alive. Most of the gorgeous vistas and landscapes that the Fellowship (and a company of dwarves in The Hobbit trilogy) traverses feel real, and that's because they ARE real. It was shot on location in the real-life wonder that is New Zealand, and one of the many upsides to that is that if you want to visit the places seen in this film, most of the time you can. For those of us who can't afford the trip, however, watching Jackson and company's classic films are always an incredible gateway to the mother of all fantasy worlds.
Tourists should bring: Gandalf.
Mid-World – The Dark Tower
One of the many worlds contained in the epic, 7-part Dark Tower series, Mid-World is the only one in which it is possible to enter the Tower itself. It is the world inhabited by the Gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and when he relentlessly pursues the Man in Black across the desert, this is the world where that takes place. It's rarely pleasant and it's tough to survive there, but the lore and history of Mid-World is incredibly layered. As the titular Dark Tower proves very important to not only this fantasy world, but to ALL fantasy worlds, this Stephen King creation earns a place on this list.
Tourists should bring: Water, bullets, and plenty of both.
The Mirror Dimension – Doctor Strange
How many times have you needed to use magic to fight off another wizard, but there are just too many people around? How does one keep such magical battles a secret? Doctor Strange and the Ancient One have the answer. Whenever they need to fight off their foes using their variety of spells and cool hand gestures, they enter the Mirror Dimension, which is exactly what it sounds like. It looks like the place you just left, but it's private. Not only that, but it can be magically manipulated, Inception-style, based on the magician's needs. You can cause whatever chaos you like there and it won't affect the real world at all.
Tourists should bring: a sling ring, because without one you'll be stranded there permanently.
Narnia – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Lucy Pevensie steps through the back of a wardrobe and enters a world of always winter and never Christmas. Soon enough, her three siblings are brought along, and we are set on a journey across a winter wonderland that is starting to warm up, thanks to the presence of the children. Because of these sons of Adam and daughter of Eve, a massive thaw is on, and the talking animals of Narnia are thrilled. That’s right, the animals talk! Not only that, but centaurs, fauns, and one truly magnificent lion exist here, too.
The dark side of things has a presence here as well, unfortunately, with wicked dwarves, hags, and minotaurs serving the White Witch, who is the reason the whole place was engulfed by winter in the first place. Whether we were inside the darkness of the White Witch's castle or the shining grandeur of Cair Paravel, the Narnia depicted in Andrew Adamson's film brought us right back to how we felt while reading the book.
Tourists should bring: a winter coat, as well as breezy summer wear.
Nimona's World – Nimona
If you were really crazy with your toys as a child, sometimes you would mix your space LEGOs and your castle LEGOs together. The result was like something out of Krull, perhaps, or, more aptly, it was something like the world from this web comic by Noelle Stevenson. In this world that smashes sci-fi and fantasy together, you get mad scientists who might also be knights and law enforcement agencies that also include a division for heroics. Eventually published as a graphic novel in 2015, the world of Nimona and company is set to be adapted into an animated film, coming in 2020.
Tourists should bring: a need for fun.
Silent Hill – Silent Hill
Depicted first in video games, the world of Silent Hill is a nightmare. The game proved successful and earned raves mostly thanks to its extreme psychological horror elements. It's one of the best survival games out there, because what with the general creepiness and fog and mist and the cult you stumble upon, it's not a place you want to stay in for any length of time. The game's true horror is the atmosphere, and that make this world pretty fantastically rendered.
Tourists should bring: Nothing, do not go here.
Spirit Realm – Spirited Away
The inhabitants of this realm generally function at night. It is linked to the human world, but the spirits do not enjoy us very much. They manage to function with a lot less technology, and far less pollution. The primary location is, of course, Yubaba's Bathhouse — a multi-storied luxury den for every kind of spirit you could possibly imagine. If you are a visiting human, it is recommended you get a job as a soon as possible, and this Bathhouse of the truly magical and bizarre would not be a bad place to work.
Tourists should bring: Their own food.
Tamriel – The Elder Scrolls
We used to be able to write about Tamriel, but then we took an arrow in the knee. (Not exactly fresh material here, but we couldn't resist.) If you're talking about games that take place in fantasy worlds, this is one of the best ones in which to aimlessly wander. Skyrim especially (the most recent entry in this series) features an HD world of incredible sunlit beauty. Whether you're trekking up a mountain to visit some mystics, riding across a valley on a magical horse, or trying to slaughter every last guard in one of its cities, Skyrim (and the rest of Tamriel) is absolutely addictive. Soon enough, you'll be clearing some gorgeously macabre dungeons of their inhabitants, but if you're really unlucky, someone will send you to visit the kingdoms of the ancient Dwemmer. This lost civilization left behind some incredibly thought out works of clockwork wonder, and in visiting them you may be inspired to leave pieces of your controller on the floor, because the places are so frustrating that you will soon be smashing your controller to pieces. Not to worry! If you can find your way out (good luck), you can vent your anger by taking a job for the Dark Brotherhood. If you're tired of that, well, just go run amok. We'll pay your bounty.
Tourists should bring: Anything daedric.
Thedas – Dragon Age
This twin-mooned setting for all of the games in the Dragon Age series is full of characters that believe that there is no world beyond their own. Pretty narrow-minded, but what can you do? It's a sprawling fantasy environment, and as the name implies, it involves dragons. Also expanded upon in books and comics, the world of Thedas contains multiple nations and cities. Many different ages and time periods are referred to, but mostly the series fittingly takes place in "the Age of the Dragon." The latest entry, Dragon Age: Inquisition, provided gamers with the largest game map this fantasy world had yet seen.
Tourists should bring: a watch, because they don't really tell time there.
Westeros – Game of Thrones
Great? Yes. Beautiful? Yes. Do I want to go there? Um… well… which part? Look, if I can travel with, let's say, Arya Stark, The Hound, and Drogon at my side, sure. From Dorne in the south, to the Wall (and beyond) in the north, Westeros makes Richard III’s Britain look like Epcot Center. You have enormous cities, castles, a magical ice wall, and beautiful vistas every which way — but you also have winters that can last up to seven years (or longer), streets flooded with thieves and rapists, marching armies going in every direction, hordes of ice zombies, and the most slippery bunch of liars this side of Washington. It's an incredible place to visit behind the comfort of a TV screen or pages of a book, but some of us wouldn't last ten seconds if we were ever there for real. Even behind the occasionally safe walls of Winterfell, with all of the companions I named above… the odds aren't great.
Tourists should bring: All of the gold you can possibly manage to hide on you, and a dragon, if you have one.
Wonderland – Alice in Wonderland
When it was announced that Tim Burton would be adapting this Lewis Carroll classic, many people were expecting to see a Wonderland bursting with color and weirdness such as they had never seen. That is not exactly what they got. Burton's Wonderland (or "Underland" as it is called by its inhabitants) does have some wonder left in it, but it is mostly a dreary place that is somewhat past its prime. The Tea Party is still going, but the windmill that proudly stands behind it is broken down and falling apart. The Queen of Hearts' palace is beautifully maintained (and the White Queen's castle is looking pretty good), but the rest of the realm is a great example of what may happen when the dreamer abandons the dream. It's very good for Wonderland that Alice finally returned to it.
Tourists should bring: Their "muchness."
Those were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which of the fantasy worlds either created or visited by large audiences over the last 25 years you'd put on your list?