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Dragons and ravens flew fast and free in 2022, with fantasy dominating screens both big and small. Many of these stories have little in common with the other projects that fall under the same roof, but such is the wonder of the genre. Fantasy in 2022 surprised us, elevated us, and excited us. What were 9 of our favorites? That's a great question, we'd love to tell you.
We aren’t including comic book fare, even though the year had plenty to offer and much of it was great. Some projects had fantasy elements (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder) but they leaned in to other genres as well. We are including some projects that aren’t finished yet, and at least one show (The Witcher: Blood Origin) was left out because it releases after we’ve written this list.
All of that said, it’s time to wish, dream, and soar. Forget all you know, or think you know. We're not saying these are the best of anything, we're only saying that they are our favorites.
Some of us waited a long time for this. The original 1988 fantasy film starring Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, and Jean Marsh has been an underrated favorite of ours ever since we first laid eyes on it. We never thought that we’d return to the world of Willow, but we were wrong. The bones were consulted, and a sequel series miraculously came along to close out 2022 in style.
Davis is back, as is Whalley. The story of Elora Danan continued, and a new group of heroes entered the fray. A solid ensemble contained the wonderful Erin Kellyman (Solo: A Star Wars Story, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), and Amar Chadha-Patel as the scene-stealing Thraxus Boorman. There were stakes, but the tone was not as deadly serious as other fantasy shows were this year. This show was (and is) wonderful fun.
When the dark magic kicks in, it switches to being horrifying. Jean Marsh’s Bavmorda is an all-time fantasy nightmare in the original movie, and the “Gales” that succeeded her here are worthy successors. The dearly departed James Horner couldn’t lend his magic to the series, but his classic themes were deployed when needed. The show also has a tendency of taking our emotions out for a walk behind the barn.
How will series creator Jonathan Kasdan have the season end? We don’t know yet, but we don’t care. Looking at what we have so far, we feel like quoting Fin Raziel: “Whatever happens, I shall always admire you.”
Willow is streaming on Disney+.
8. Elden Ring
Some images and moments from this game have been branded onto our souls all year long. Coming from Bandai Namco Entertainment and developed by FromSoftware (Bloodborne), the game was directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and contained some mythical worldbuilding from George R.R. Martin.
The latter name makes perfect sense, as something named “The Night of the Black Knives” is one of the first events that the player hears about when starting the story. A complicated set of myths and legends followed, and it was up to you to figure out who’s who and what’s what. If you missed something, tough. FromSoftware games are notoriously difficult, and this one was no exception. Your hand is never held. It is beaten with a hammer made of snakes.
We didn’t think that we’d make it through seven seconds of the game, but we did, and we’re glad. If we can, then anyone can, because we're awful gamesters. Discovering the tale on our own as we traveled the vast and beautiful Lands Between was a fantasy experience that we’ll always treasure. Did we use spirit summons? Absolutely, but we were having fun, so who cares.
Elden Ring is available on Playstation, Xbox, and PC.
7. His Dark Materials
The most overlooked fantasy show of the last several years returned for Season 3. If you know the original books that the show is adapted from, then you know that they saved the best for last. Philip Pullman’s incredible three volume tale (not including the two books released so far in his Book of Dust trilogy) ends with The Amber Spyglass, and the fantasy madness flows like Dust.
The armored polar bears and the witches return, but fans also get angels, the tiny Gallivespians, and the weird AF mulefa. Almost all of Pullman’s creations have made it to the screen, and the incredible Ruth Wilson (Mrs. Coulter) and James McAvoy (Lord Asriel) moved into their endgames.
The show’s emotional core is what always makes it stand out. Dafne Keen (Lyra) and Amir Wilson (Will) are the key players when it comes to this, and it is their story that will level mountains when the time comes. As of this writing, it is likely that only two episodes of the season have been released. How can we put it here? We’ve seen ahead. Trust us.
It is a faithful adaptation of a cornerstone book series that takes more than a few chances along the way. It is perfectly cast. The score from Lorne Balfe is phenomenal. HBO Max dumped every season out on Monday nights and barely anyone writes about it. That’s a shame, but fans can take comfort in the fact that the sensational tale will be complete. Get ready for the park bench.
His Dark Materials is currently streaming on HBO Max.
6. Three Thousand Years of Longing
From the most underrated television series to one of the most underrated movies of the year, buckle up, make a wish, let’s go! Directed by George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road), this gem of a motion picture must have had all of its marketing money stolen after a basement card game, because WTF? It is one of the most beautiful things we saw in 2022.
Adapted by Miller and Augusta Gore from the short story “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye” by A.S. Byatt, the movie is an unconventional tale of a professor (Tilda Swinton) being granted wishes by a Djinn (Idris Elba). He tells her his story as they get to know each other, and moments come close to evoking something out of Tarsem Singh’s The Fall crossed with early Terry Gilliam. It ended up being neither of those things; it was its own story and it weaved its own magic.
Whatever you think this is going to be, you’re wrong. We won’t ruin any of it, because honestly “George Miller, Tilda Swinton, Idris Elba” should be enough for you. Everyone slept on this, but that sleep doesn’t have to continue. Seek it out on VOD and experience one of the best fantasy experiences that 2022 gave us.
Three Thousand Years of Longing is available to view on demand on all major platforms.
5. Obi-Wan Kenobi
Star Wars is science fantasy, not science fiction. That’s how we see it, at least. Obi-Wan Kenobi definitely leaned into the fantasy aspects, while the outrageously great Andor was much more of a spy thriller. There’s very little fantasy in Andor, so that’s why it isn’t listed here. It’s the only reason.
Andor’s greatness doesn’t take away from Kenobi, which gave us some sci-fan moments that we’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. Two wizard duels between Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) and Darth Vader (Hayden Christensen) are easy highlights, especially the second one. Who doesn’t want to see McGregor effortlessly force-lift a field of boulders and pummel Vader with them?
The spiritual aspect of Star Wars was present in a big way, with Ben Kenobi having to learn to connect once more. The unexpected presence of young Leia Organa (the star-has-been-born Vivien Lyra Blair) helps him to do this. By series end, Obi-Wan is one with the force, and the force is with him. A new theme from John Williams soars, and an old friend returns for a brief but welcome moment.
Andor was our second favorite show of the year, no matter what genre we’re talking about. That doesn’t take away from the fantasy power of the show that came out a few months prior. Hello there.
Obi-Wan Kenobi is streaming on Disney+.
4. House of the Dragon
Everyone was asking (and writing) about what the “next Game of Thrones was” before Game of Thrones had even concluded. It was annoying, and wouldn’t you know it? The next Game of Thrones turned out to be… a prequel series to Game of Thrones.
In many ways, the show’s tighter focus on the outbreak of the Targaryen civil war made it stand with the best of Thrones. We didn’t think we would like it, let alone love it, but love it we did. Familiar Thrones design and attention to detail helped greatly, as did ongoing work from Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi. There were lots of dragons too, to the annoyance of no one.
When it came to the actors? Paddy Considine gave a slow-burn brilliance to the arc of King Viserys. Both Milly Alcock and Emma D’Arcy made us love Rhaenyra. We trusted nothing that came out of Rhys Ifans’ mouth, and the same went for Olivia Cooke. Fabien Frankel could be the nicest guy in the world, but Ser Criston Cole can go hang.
Our favorites? Eve Best as Princes Rhaenys, aka “The Queen Who Never Was,” who featured in our favorite moment of the season. Aside from her, there was Matt Smith as Prince Daemon. Television sets burned when the former Doctor appeared on screen.
We thought that we were done with Westeros, but there we were, week by week, cheering (or not) for incest and screaming at Team Green. We looked forward to every episode and we can't wait for Season 2.
House of the Dragon Season 1 is streaming on HBO Max.
3. God of War Ragnarök
Like Elden Ring, this was less of a game and more of an experience. It’s an interactive movie that never cuts away, and how the team at Santa Monica Studios managed to pull that off (again) was a miracle in itself. The myth-smashing joy of 2018’s God of War continued, with Kratos and Atreus once again romping through Norse mythology.
It plays great, it looks great, the story is great, and there are many (many) surprises in store. Some characters will absolutely break your heart. They’re able to do this because the performances set a new bar for video games. Christopher Judge (Kratos) doesn’t just give the best video game performance of the year, he gave one of the best performances of the year in anything.
You also got Richard Schiff (The West Wing) as Odin, a sentient sword, and a score from Bear McCreary that shoved a magic spear into your heart. Some of us may be playing it again at this very moment.
God of War Ragnarök is available for the Playstation 5 as well as the Playstation 4.
2. Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
How’s this for a bit of real magic? Master Guillermo del Toro and co-director Mark Gustafson put Mussolini in their recounting of a doll come to life. If you’ve seen Pan’s Labyrinth, then you can safely assume that it works.
This is the best version of this tale that we’ve ever seen, and there have been roughly a million versions. This isn’t even the only version to come out this year. With the magical touch of del Toro and company, it’s nigh impossible to beat. Magic bled out of every single frame.
Cate Blanchett played a monkey. Christoph Waltz sang a song. David Bradley was heartbreaking as Geppetto, and Ewan McGregor anchored everything as the whimsically fun Sebastian J. Cricket. The stop motion animation was shot like a regular movie would be shot, and the effect made everything real. You didn’t see the painstaking years of work that went into every shot, but you knew they were there.
Why would anyone care about another Pinnochio movie? Because del Toro and company flew in and gave us themes and lessons along with the fun. Pinnochio himself is hacked together during a drunken bender, but he goes on to become a symbol against fascism. How did that happen? We don't know, except to say that there's real magic in this movie.
Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is currently streaming on Netflix, and is also being shown in select movie theaters.
1. The Sandman
Fantasy loomed large particularly on television in 2022, but no series hit the heights that the long-awaited adaptation of the legendary graphic novels called The Sandman. Neil Gaiman (the writer of the comic) worked on the adaptation himself, developing the show along with David S. Goyer and Allan Heinberg.
Very quickly into the first episode of Season 1, fans may have started to tear up. It is a similar reaction that some of us had during the first five minutes of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2001. The reaction process went something like this: "not only is this not going to be bad, it is going to be great. It is going to be better than we'd ever thought possible."
Liberties were taken with the source material, but it always felt true to the original story. Gaiman was always there, and if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for us. For an unchanged look at the books, fans should seek out the audiobook adaptations from Audible.
The cast is the stuff that dreams are made on (sometimes literally), with Tom Sturridge doing the impossible in the lead role of Morpheus, aka Dream of the Endless. We never thought that any actor could capture the character, but Sturridge did it. David Thewlis gave a new depth to a character that we’d never cared much about, and Jenna Coleman instantly made us want a twenty season spin-off show about Johanna Constantine.
Four episodes stand out to us. The “bonus” episode that came after the season’s initial release include the animated “Dream of a Thousand Cats” as well as “Calliope.” The later featured note-perfect performances from Melissanthi Mahut, Arthur Darvill, and Derek Jacobi. The price of artistic ambition is painfully laid bare, and very important lore was established for the series moving forward. "Writers are liars, my dear. Surely you know that by now."
Another standout was “A Hope in Hell” where Dream plays a game with Lucifer (Gwendoline Christie). Lucifer doesn’t play the game in the books, but the show put them in the center. It made perfect sense, especially if you know where Dream and Lucifer go next. The scene leapt into our hearts in a different way than the scene on the printed page.
The notorious diner scene (“24 Hours” in the novels) makes for a memorable Thewlis-centered episode in “24/7”. The mayhem and gore were all there, but Thewlis and Sturridge grounded the aftermath and made it more tragic than gross. Our favorite episode of the series, by far, and our favorite hour of anything in 2022, won't be a huge surprise to anyone.
Gaiman and company folded two classic passages from the books (“The Sound of Her Wings” and “Men of Good Fortune”) into one episode, and they complimented each other brilliantly in “The Sound of Her Wings.” Dream’s sister, Death (the incredible Kirby Howell-Baptiste) took him on her famous walkabout, and Dream then went right into his history with the immortal Hob Gadling (Ferdinand Kingsley). The result put the ever-downcast Dream into something resembling a good mood. For the viewer, it celebrated the myriad joys of every facet of life.
The compassion of Death gave the episode (and the year) its greatest moments. Her sad visit to a baby is here (yes, that’s all you get), but it is another famous moment from Death that hit us in a whole new way. When Death greets us at the end, perhaps we all just need, as she says, “a kind word and a friendly face.” Three years of endless death and disease in the real world made these words affect us on another level.
Death continues to surround us, but this episode changed the way that we think and feel about it. That is the true magic of fantasy. It is the true magic of storytelling itself.
The Sandman is currently streaming on Netflix.
Stream lots of great fantasy movies and shows on Peacock, including all the Harry Potter films.