Beauty and the Beast (1946)
Though it has long since been eclipsed in the public imagination by the 1991 Disney animated adaptation of this classic French fairy tale (itself since supplanted in the minds of younger viewers by a 2017 live-action version), Jean Cocteau’s wondrous, passionate La Belle et la Bete remains one of the most visually inventive and vibrant films in the history of fantasy cinema. The classic story elements are there – a beautiful young woman takes her father’s place as a captive in the palace of a Beast, who falls in love with her – but this is not the children’s fairy tale you recognize. Cocteau’s use of visual metaphor and haunting imagery drives the film, making it equal parts spellbinding and haunting, and the various seamless visual effects employed add a timeless quality that belies the film’s true age. No one who’s ever seen this film has forgotten the moment Belle enters the Beast’s palace and is greeted by a corridor of candelabra held by human arms.
Excalibur (6/10) Movie CLIP - Where Hides Evil? (1981) HD
The legend of King Arthur has been adapted for the screen numerous times and everyone has their own favorite version, from Disney’s The Sword in the Stone to Monty Python’s take on the Grail quest. Excalibur, director John Boorman’s epic take on Arthurian lore, might not fit in every beloved detail love, but it certainly tries. Though it may be a bit slow for modern audiences, the film is absolutely packed with hallmarks of the legend: the Lady of the Lake, Merlin, and of course, the titular sword in the stone. Nearly four decades after its release, it remains an essential depiction of Arthur on film, and is memorable for its “Charm of Making” that’s a favorite fan recitation and Helen Mirren’s dazzling performance as Morgana Le Fay.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2 (Protecting Hogwarts Scene - HD)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2
There are several installments of the eight-film Harry Potter series that are arguably worthy of inclusion on this list, especially the fresh energy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. As an achievement in fantasy storytelling, though, it’s hard for any of those films to top what Deathly Hallows – Part 2 did with the series’ curtain call. Director David Yates and company had to pick up where they left off with the last film, set up a colossal final battle at Hogwarts, move Harry and Voldemort into the right places for their final showdown, deliver hero moments for almost every supporting character, and manage the sheer number of emotional highs and lows that the story demanded - all in the length of one feature film. That they fit all of it in is an achievement. That the film is so brilliant feels like magic.
Time Bandits - Trailer
In his best work, Terry Gilliam gives you all of the trappings of the genre you’re expecting to see in all of their imaginative glory while completely subverting them at the same time. The result is a series of films that are both satisfying in their delivery and maddening in their refusal to play by the rules. Brazil did this with dystopian science fiction and Time Bandits did this with gleeful fantasy. The very premise – that time travel is not achieved through technology, but merely via stumbling through holes in the universe left by a hasty creator – offers a new take on time travel tales, transporting them into the realm of fantasy. What follows is two hours of dwarves, floating heads with booming voices, ogres with bad backs, giants with boat hats, and one of the most imaginative final battles you’ll ever see. The visuals alone are enough to keep you glued, but the film also has the added bonus of being hilarious and poignant.
Spirited Away - Official Trailer
Hayao Miyazaki is not only one of the greatest living luminaries of traditional animation, but also one of the greatest fantasy storytellers of his age. That means several of his major works could make this list, but Spirited Away feels like the right choice. One can imagine dozens of different visionary filmmakers exploring the “girl accidentally finds herself in the spirit world” scenario at the heart of this film, and all would come up with a different version of it. Miyazaki’s, rich in visual splendor and gorgeous Studio Ghibli animation, probably tops them all. Spirited Away is endlessly, almost impossibly imaginative. Every time you think you’ve seen the last piece of storytelling inventiveness, Miyazaki adds another layer, and weaves it all together with a tremendous heart. The result is a film so dense and full of life that you feel compelled to watch it again and again.
Pan's Labyrinth clip
Guillermo del Toro may very well go down in history as the greatest fantasy filmmaker of his generation, and while he might have won his first Academy Awards for The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth is his masterpiece. Del Toro has spoken time and time again about not just being fascinated by monsters and creatures throughout fairy tales and folklore, but about being saved by them. He views all of these interactions, even the horrific ones, as an interaction full of love and curiosity. Pan’s Labyrinth is a personal, beautiful, and powerful examination of those themes, told through the eyes of a child in a way that only Del Toro could tell. By the end, you’re not only convinced of traces of magic even amid human suffering, but you’re convinced you can find it in your own life.
The Princess Bride (5/12) Movie CLIP - The Battle of Wits (1987) HD
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride is one of those films you can show to even the most skeptical viewer – much like the grandson in the movie’s frame story – then sit back and watch as they fall under its unbreakable spell. If you’re a diehard fantasy and fairy tale fan, it has absolutely everything you could possibly want, from a princess to a dashing hero to a giant. If you’re a viewer who doesn’t care much for fantasy, it will still draw you in with its knowing winks, meta commentary, and continuous stream of hilarious and charming dialogue. It’s a film that’s able to deconstruct and sometimes even critique the genre it’s portraying while also never growing cynical about it, embracing the fantasy even as it picks it apart. And it does all of that while also being one of the most quotable films of all time.
Heigh Ho - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
They called it “Disney’s Folly,” a project that was supposed to leave Walt Disney broke and embarrassed for ever having thought he could produce a successful feature-length animated film. Instead it became one of the most influential and culturally significant films of the 20th century, helped launch one of the largest media empires in history, and changed the way moviegoers viewed both animation and fairy tales. The film’s influence alone is enough to include it among the greatest fantasy works in the history of cinema, but it’s more than just a cultural touchstone. It’s far from Disney’s most popular film today, but even more than 80 years after its release it remains a stunning work of art.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2/8) Movie CLIP - The Black Rider (2001) HD
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
There are fans who will argue that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy should be considered as a single work, just as J.R.R. Tolkien intended his original story to be one very long novel. There are also those who will argue that The Return of the King is the bigger cinematic achievement, as it depicts both the biggest battle sequences of the series and its numerous emotional endings with a deftness that earned it 11 Academy Awards. As a work of fantasy storytelling, though, Fellowship is the biggest achievement in the series. Jackson and company had to construct and introduce us to this world and its complex, massive mythology. So much has to be explained for viewers to understand the stakes of The Lord of the Rings. Fellowship does much of that heavy lifting, while also remaining an engaging, thrilling piece of cinema.
Dorothy entering Technicolor
The Wizard of Oz
There is no image in cinema quite like the moment when Dorothy Gale opens the door to her sepia-toned Kansas farmhouse and steps out into the Technicolor wonderland of Oz. It is an unforgettable, chill-inducing, timeless image that remains one of the most important moments in the history of genre cinema. Few films can ever hope to stir wonder in the eyes of children more than seven decades after their release. Few films can ever hope to produce one unforgettable moment, let alone dozens: The Yellow Brick Road stretching out into the far distance as Dorothy skips along, the grumpy trees throwing their own apples, the Wicked Witch of the West riding her broom, the Tin Man sliding from side to side mid-song, and Emerald City gleaming majestically. The Wizard of Oz is a towering achievement of imagination and one of the most influential movies in the history of the medium.