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The 25 most magical moments in film and TV from the last 25 years

Contributed by
Jun 11, 2019

Here at SYFY WIRE, it’s no secret that we enjoy celebrating the things that we love. Sometimes that takes the form of unranked lists. To us, that’s love.

Join us as our entire staff celebrates anything and everything in genre through our series of “25 Greatest from the last 25 years” lists. They are all unranked, because all of the people, movies, shows, comics, props (and so on) have equal standing for us.

When you look through 25 years of fantasy and other genre fare, there are a lot of "magical" moments to choose from — moments that made us feel, exclaim in wonder, or feel like kids again. But, in this case, we're specifically looking at moments since 1992 where magic — the non-science art of altering reality — is front and center.

Once More With Feeling - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

While there was a temptation to compose this blurb entirely of song lyrics, we'd really just be going through the motions (sorry) and trying to find something to sing about (whoops). But, in all seriousness, this episode, in which a demon magics everyone in Sunnydale into singing until they burn, stands as one of the best episodes of Buffy ever and has a special place in every Scooby’s heart. Even if we have to walk through fire to watch it (We had to).

Dark Willow - Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Ah, Dark Willow. She was an immediate choice for this list, but there are so many fantastic moments in the Dark Willow arc. So, while we picked this scene, there are more, from Willow killing Warrenbot to Xander saving Willow. Willow’s magic and Willow herself are a top magical moment as far as we’re concerned.

Calling the Corners - The Craft

There’s no way we could make a list of 25 magical moments and not include this seminal scene from The Craft. No matter how many times we watch Nancy, Sarah, Bonnie, and Rochelle invoke Manon, it’s still scary because we know what’s going to happen. A quick search on Google shows how many people are still dissecting this scene all these years later.

Reversing Time - Doctor Strange

Whether you’ve seen the scene one time or twenty, watching Dr. Stephen Strange magically reverse time to fight Kaecilius and save Hong Kong from utter destruction is mind-blowing. There are so many different things happening at once that it’s easy to miss something, but the more you watch, the more you realize how intricate the sequence truly is. Can you imagine choreographing this? We’re tired just thinking about it!

Bargaining with Dormmamu - Doctor Strange

How can we not include a scene in which Dr. Stephen Strange basically annoys a powerful entity into complete submission with the cosmic equivalent of a Rick Roll? Add the fact that this is probably the most unselfish thing Strange has done in his entire life, and it becomes something altogether magical. OK, OK, watching him die over and over is kind of fun, too. It reminds us a little of Supernatural’s Mystery Spot and, of course, Groundhog Day.

Elsa building her ice castle ("Let It Go") - Frozen

Yes, we just gave you an earworm. Sorry, not sorry. Why? Because Elsa building an amazing ice castle while singing is a show of magic far beyond what we see elsewhere in the movie. Sweeping vocals and soaring towers come together in a girl power ballad that’s both artistic and architectural, with stunningly evocative animation bringing Elsa’s creation to vibrant life.

Melisandre resurrecting Jon Snow - Game of Thrones

Talk about a cliffhanger! We watched Jon Snow die, and then we had to wait (and wait, and wait) to see what would happen next. Next thing we know, the woman who killed Renly Baratheon and talked Stannis Baratheon into killing his own daughter is restoring life. The really interesting part of all of this is the doubt Melisandre, herself, feels about her own god and magic. Oh, and Ghost just being there by Jon’s side the whole time. Can we say “warg”?

The Night King at Hardhome - Game of Thrones

You’re Jon Snow. You’ve just survived an all-out battle at Hardhome, watched many of your compatriots die, and escaped an attack by the Others by the very skin of your teeth. Whew, what a relief … except, oops, you now get to watch the Night King resurrect every dead person on the battlefield by just lifting his arms (and, of course, staring you down with his best, “Come at me, bro” expression). We’d seen the power of the army of the dead before but never expressed this boldly.

Harry casts his Patronus - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

So many emotions come up when we watch this! While we know what’s happening as the scene unfolds, watching Harry cast his first Patronus (even if it’s the second time we see it) is a magical moment, indeed. Harry sees himself kneeling over Sirius and he keeps waiting for his father to come and “save” him, but we realize Harry saved himself, and it’s so powerful to watch.

Harry's first visit to Diagon Alley - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

If one moment captures the real wonder of the Harry Potter universe, this is one of the best. This scene is for every kid who wanted to live in or visit a magical world. Tap a few stones and, voilà, we’re introduced to Diagon Alley right along with Harry. It’s Harry’s first foray into the full wizarding world and, for many of us, this is the moment we fell in love with all things Potter.

The first time we saw the Pensieve - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

The Pensieve features in multiple scenes over the course of the films, but our very first introduction to this memory-holding marvel is key in setting up what it actually does. We also wish we had one. Imagine being able to keep all of your memories somewhere and being able to revisit the ones you choose at will. Of course, it does mean that certain students might stick their face in your business …

Killing the Forest God - Hellboy II: The Golden Army

A world-saving demon superhero facing off against a tree god is already magic personified, but the real magic in this scene is how Guillermo del Toro elevates what could be a standard CGI giant monster battle into something more lyrical. It’s sad seeing what, in the end, is a majestic magical creature fall … but the real draw here is how good Hellboy is with the baby. Big guns, big monsters, humor, action, and a baby? Pure magic.

The White Council in Dol Guldur - The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Here is why you include the White Council subplot in your movies. Tolkien wrote about Galadriel throwing down the walls of Dol Guldur, and though it took place at a different time in his writings, we’re just glad we get to see it at all. Elrond, Saruman, and Galadriel arrive at Sauron’s vacation home to rescue Gandalf, and finally they all realize that Sauron has indeed returned. While Saruman and Elrond magically battle the Nazgul (why would you not want to see that?) Galadriel tends to Gandalf, before using her considerable power to temporarily banish Sauron. It’s rare to see the magical characters of these movies actually exhibit their powers, so when they finally do so in this sequence it has us all on our feet.

Mr. Norrell brings the Yorkshire Cathedral to life - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

What better way to prove you’re the only practicing magician left in all of England than bringing an entire cathedral to life? Well, not the whole cathedral, but Mr. Norrell brings the gargoyles and statues inside York Cathedral to life and, boy, do they have a few things to say after all of these years spent in silence. It’s a stunning reminder of the power of magic in a world that had pretty much forgotten it. We’d like to see David Blaine do that!

Aslan Resurrected - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Fans of both C.S. Lewis’ book and the movie adaptations all over the world have found themselves heartbroken at the loss of Narnia’s majestic lion, king Aslan (and one or two of us may have thrown the book across the room at that point), but the heartbreak gives way to relief and joy as Aslan is resurrected and we learn how he tricked the White Witch. Aslan’s sacrifice and his love for Narnia restore him to his former glory, complete with that magnificent mane.

Arwen summoning the river - The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Liv Tyler's ethereal nature is a perfect fit for Arwen, but it’s her fierce determination that wins out in this scene. Arwen not only outruns and outrides the Nazgul, but she leads them to the river knowing they dislike crossing water. When they push through, Arwen’s magic conjures a wave of white horses that wash the wraiths away in one of the most amazing visual adaptations of Tolkien’s prose from a movie trilogy full of them.

"Under Pressure" musical number - The Magicians

It’s not the first (or last) musical moment that this show's given us, but it’s our favorite. All of our main characters are separated, but they are united here thanks to the power of a key. Even Penny, who really doesn’t want to join in, eventually does. The moments of the song perfectly sync with what happens on screen, especially when Elliot’s glorious high note comes almost at the same time that the Muntjac magically takes flight. A truly magical moment in a season that was full of them. 

Alice Niffins Out - The Magicians

We knew the risks, and so did Alice, but The Beast needed to be dealt with, and Alice was one of the strongest magicians at Brakebills. Watching her come so close to beating The Beast and then turning into a Niffin is one of those moments that leaves you both amazed and horrified, every time you watch it.

Moana restores Te Fiti's heart - Moana

What’s more magical than a young girl chosen by the sea restoring the heart of a goddess to return her to her former self and balance the forces of nature? Not much, based on our experience of this scene. Seeing the seething, burning volcano demon Te Ka transform into a symbol of life and fertility is mesmerizing and a truly heroic moment for the ocean’s chosen princess.

The encounter with the Pale Man - Pan's Labyrinth

Ofelia’s quest into the Pale Man’s lair for a dagger both fascinates and terrifies us. Temptation is everywhere, and Ofelia can’t resist, which almost costs her her life. As a creature, the Pale Man is a cut above the rest. You can’t help but be mesmerized and grossed out at the same time –– this is the beauty of Guillermo del Toro.

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Phonogram by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Music and magic have been used hand in hand throughout the years, but deities that use pop music to gain adulation and adorations get special attention around here, especially with stellar art and a well placed social commentary. Gillen and McKelvie bedazzled armies of readers and that’s no small feat.

Skeletal Pirates at midnight - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

It was a toss-up between this scene and the skeletal pirate water walk, but we went with this one because there’s a lot more action and a lot more chewy, geeky, piratey goodness. Plus, you can’t beat the skeleton monkey and a wine-drinking skeleton gag that’s pulled right out of the original Disney ride. Top that off with Barbossa going from 'living' to dead and this one wins the coin toss.

Exorcising Jimmy - Practical Magic

Sally and Gillian Owens used magic to bring Jimmy Angelov back, and now it’s going to take their magic and the combined power of their aunts and the local witches (and hopefuls) to exorcise him for good, since he's possessed Gillian. This scene has everything: suspense, drama, love, humor and, most of all, real magic. Hand us the tissues.

The final twist of The Prestige

The sheer amount of discussion and dissection about the ending of this film earns it a spot on this list. While there’s no real magic per se, the real trick is the one Christopher Nolan pulls off by giving us an ending that answers our questions but opens up many more things for us to ponder. We have so many questions even now. Nolan certainly likes playing with our minds, doesn’t he?

The ending of The Witch

We don’t know quite how a moment can be quiet, terrifying, enthralling, and peaceful all at the same time, but the ending of The Witch manages to be all that and more. Writer/director Robert Eggers leaves us practically petrified the entire movie ... and then, this scene -where Black Phillip the goat (aka Satan) finally speaks just freaked us the hell out. 

Those were OUR choices? What are yours? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments your favorite magical moments that were big in the last 25 years. And check out the rest of the 25 Greatest lists here.

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