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The 50 best fantasy movies

From Middle Earth to Manhattan, we've chosen 50 of the best fantasy films

By Time Out Film

Cinema is often seen as the ultimate form of escapism. If that's the case then fantasy movies are surely the medium's purest and most pertinent forms of transportation, grabbing the viewer and plunging them into distant lands and magical concepts that question our own relationship with the world.

Much like it's cousin science-fiction, fantasy, which was once a genre dismissed as nerdish, has grown and is headed into the mainstream, thanks in part to Peter Jackson's ‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘Harry Potter’ and a certain HBO vehicle called ‘Game of Thrones’. However, as our list proves, not all fantasy movies are filled with wizards, dragons and epic battles. Here we've included body-swap films, superhero extravaganzas, as well as a healthy dose of sword and sorcery. Here is our selection of the 50 best fantasy movies.

Recommended: 50 amazing comic book movies

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The best fantasy movies 50-1

Thor, best fantasy movies

Thor (2011)

Film Action and adventure

The Marvel Cinematic Universe boldly straddles sci-fi, comic-book action and fantasy – never more so than in the ‘Thor’ movies, with their Tolkein-influenced take on Norse mythology and outrageous ‘Flash Gordon’-style fetish costumes. ‘Thor’ is essentially a reboot of ‘Masters of the Universe’ – bulging hero heads to Earth to battle skeletal psychopath – but with better special effects and more nod-wink humour.

Magic moment: The glistening CG cityscape of Asgard could’ve come straight from a mid-70s Rick Wakeman LP cover.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Thor’

Time Bandits, best fantasy movies

Time Bandits (1981)

Film Fantasy

Terry Gilliam gave his imagination full reign in this wild, woolly and weird time-hopping comedy for smarter kids. Packed with historical heroes, diminutive hustlers, post-Python humour, loopy cameos and bizarre fantastical asides – not to mention the bleakest, strangest ending imaginable – the film was an unlikely transatlantic smash hit.

Magic moment: David Warner’s petrifying Evil transforms into the universe’s creepiest fairground ride.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Time Bandits’

Lost Horizon, best fantasy movies

Lost Horizon (1937)


Shangri-La is the ultimate earthbound fantasy – an ancient magical kingdom buried deep in the Himalayas, ruled by peaceful Tibetan philosophers who have discovered the secret of eternal youth. Frank Capra’s adaptation of James Hilton’s hugely successful, Hitler-inspiring novel is a glorious, naïve fantasy adventure, the most expensive movie ever made at the time.

Magic moment: Ronald Colman’s climactic realisation that it was all real – and he has to get back there! – is pure, giddy wish-fulfilment.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Lost Horizon’

The Thief of Baghdad, best fantasy movies

The Thief of Baghdad (1940)

Film Fantasy

Begun in Britain but completed in California following the outbreak of war, this spectacular adventure based on tales from ‘1001 Nights’ may have had a piecemeal production – and no less than six directors, including the mighty Michael Powell – but you wouldn’t guess it from the result. Crammed with magical horses, terrifying transformations and gigantic genies, ‘The Thief of Baghdad’ made an international star of low-born Indian actor Sabu, aka the Elephant Boy.

Magic moment: We all dream of having three wishes – but how many of us would ask for sausages?

Tom Huddleston

Black Panther, la película de Marvel

Black Panther (2018)

Film Action and adventure

Now one of the highest-grossing films of all time, ‘Black Panther’ is not just an important movie, it’s also a great movie. With an almost entirely black cast, a black director and black writers, the film is a thrilling exploration of afro-futurism, cultural oppression and revolution. Its story is magnificent, too, proving it to be one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best standalone outing, and the acting feels electric, with the performances by Boseman, Jordan and Wright really standing out. It’s that rare breed of superhero movie that’s worthy of repeated viewings.

Magic Moment: Without a doubt, our first glimpse of Wakanda.

Alim Kheraj

Buy, rent or watch ‘Black Panther’

The Goonies
Photograph: Warner Bros

The Goonies (1985)

Film Family and kids

Dreamed up in a story by Steven Spielberg, the goonies are seven restless kids in a coastal town who, deserted by parents fighting a local real estate takeover bid, discover an old treasure map pointing to famed pirate One-Eyed Willie's galleon. Unfortunately, a family of incompetent thieves are also after the loot, and are not above shoving the hand of one of the little mites into a liquidiser to extort information. And while the pre-pubescents continually scream, their doting parents prove equally odious in a finale of astounding sentimentality.

Magic moment: One-Eyed Willie's galleon, the Inferno, is revealed in the grotto... and it's filled with treasure.

Pan’s Labyrinth, best fantasy movies

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Film Drama

Writer-director Guillermo del Toro is the most original and uncompromising cinema fantasist of the modern era, and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is his most striking statement. This gruesome, disquieting coming-of-age story draws on ancient influences – the central thread of a young woman drawn into terrible, otherworldly danger goes right back to ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and beyond – and adds an unflinching depiction of the brutality of war.

Magic moment: Does any single image better encapsulate the darker side of fantasy than the hideous Pale Man, with eyes in the palms of his hands?

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Pan's Labyrinth’

The Purple Rose of Cairo, best fantasy movies

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Film Comedy

Not the first name you associate with fantasy, but Woody Allen pulled off one of his more out-there conceits with this tribute to the transportive power of the movies. It tells of a housewife (Mia Farrow) who, during the Depression, is swept off her feet by her favourite movie character (Jeff Daniels), who steps down from the screen and sweeps her into a heady romance. It gives a whole new meaning to the idea of the fantasy movie.

Magic moment: The ‘left behind’ characters in the movie, who sit bickering after their hero has departed for the ‘real world’.

Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’

The Life Aquatic, best fantasy movies

The Life Aquatic (2004)

Film Action and adventure

All of Wes Anderson’s ornate, painstakingly precious films take place in a world just removed from our own, where anything seems possible. But he pushed that fantasy element to its extreme in ‘The Life Aquatic’, in which Bill Murray plays a globetrotting marine biologist exploring a bizarre, dayglo undersea world.

Magic moment: Whenever Seu Jorge’s plaintive, Bowie-obsessed ship’s minstrel strikes up, the film enters a whole new mystical realm.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Life Aquatic’

Orlando, best fantasy movies

Orlando (1992)

Film Fantasy

Featuring a career-defining performance from Tilda Swinton, this Virginia Woolf adaptation from Sally Potter is a magical affair. Swinton plays Orlando, in turns a man and a woman, as s/he travels in half-century leaps from the Elizabethan court to the twentieth century, via the Civil War, early colonialism and more. It’s a sly, wise comment on things such as English history, sexuality and class, all of it wrapped in a beautiful, transporting fantasy.

Magic moment: When Orlando transforms again... and again... and again.

Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch ‘Orlando’

The Neverending Story, best fantasy movies

The Neverending Story (1984)

Film Family and kids

One of a number of classic fantasy movies based around the contradictory idea that the purest imaginative worlds can only be found in books (see also ‘The Princess Bride’), ‘The NeverEnding Story’ draws on the entire pantheon of fantastical fiction – from Norse and Egyptian folklore to Wagnerian excess to post-Tolkein adventure stories – and creates a uniquely dreamlike world of wonder and wish-fulfilment. The theme tune’s terrific, too.

Magic moment: The first flight of the luck dragon Falkor is a scene of pure, soaring joy.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Neverending Story’

The Avengers
Zade Rosenthal © 2011 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2011 Marvel.

The Avengers

Film Action and adventure

Talk about a vindication. By the time of ‘The Avengers’, director Joss Whedon had been through the grinder of cancelled TV shows, mangled scripts and failed directorial attempts. So it was pretty big of Marvel to hand him the reins to the most anticipated comic-book movie of all time. It’s now the third highest grossing movie of all time. Despite cramming together the leads from a decade’s worth of superhero blockbusters, ‘The Avengers’ is so much more than just a wisecracking love-in between a bunch of guys in tights. As with much of Whedon’s work, it’s the sheer generosity that wins out, both to the characters and the audience. This is an overflowing goody-bag of a film, crammed with bar-raising action set-pieces, wonderfully sketched characters and just enough old-school Whedon wit to reward those who’d stuck with him all along. TH

Magic Moment: The first time the Avengers assemble on screen.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Avengers’

Who Framed Roger Rabbit, best fantasy movies

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Film Comedy

It was author Gary K Wolf who had the masterstroke realisation that Hollywood’s brooding, self-reflexive 1940s film noir period happened to coincide with the golden age of studio cartoons, and decided to smash the two of them together. Robert Zemeckis’s adaptation of his novel takes this idea and runs with it, creating a through-the-looking-glass LA where technicolour mayhem and monochrome angst go hand-in-hand, and you’re just as likely to star-spot Bugs Bunny as Humphrey Bogart.

Magic moment: The moment where the ‘supporting’ cartoon collapses to the sound of a director yelling ‘cut!’ is a paradigm-splattering eye-opener.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’

Princess Mononoke, best fantasy movies

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Film Animation

‘My Neighbor Totoro’ is beloved of kids around the world, but it was ‘Princess Mononoke’ more than a decade later that truly brought the films of Hayao Miyazaki to the Western world. An environmentalist epic about giant forest gods, the blind greed of human industry and a warrior princess raised by wolves, this grand fantasy story is animation on a scale unlike anything Disney has ever tried.

Magic Moment: The title character is introduced sucking poison out of a wound, blood smeared across her mouth. This isn’t your traditional princess.

David Ehrlich

Portrait of Jennie, best fantasy movies

Portrait of Jennie (1948)


William Dieterle’s supernatural monochrome melodrama has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance since Martin Scorsese echoed the film’s bright green lightning bolt in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. Following the not not-creepy inter-dimensional love affair between a poor painter and a girl named Jennie who seems to be from the past and aging rapidly, the film is a lot to swallow, but the squall it builds to is a perfect storm of truly impossible romance.

This Magic Moment: Scorsese got it right: that first flash of colour still sends a chill up your spine.

David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch ‘Portrait of Jennie’

Jason and the Argonauts, best fantasy movies

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Film Action and adventure

CGI never created anything quite so unique as special effects master Ray Harryhausen’s model figures. He considered this tale from Greek mythology to be his best film. Certainly it has some of his finest creations: towering bronze giant Talos looming out of the ocean, the winged harpies and the seven headed Hydra.

Magic moment: The still-iconic fight between muscle-men and a sword-wielding skeleton army.

Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch ‘Jason and the Argonauts’

Highlander, best fantasy movies

Highlander (1986)

Film Fantasy

Swiss-cheese plotting, dodgy accents, even dodgier kilts and Queen on the soundtrack: what’s not to love about ‘Highlander’? Why director Russell Mulcahy cast a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert) as a Scottish clansman and a Scotsman (Sean Connery) as a Spanish noble is anyone’s guess, but when the plot’s this crazed, the direction’s this MTV-tight and the villains are this insanely badass, we’re really not about to argue.

Magic moment: Lambert and Connery practice their swordplay on a mountain-top while Freddie Mercury bellows ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ – pure, cheeseball glory.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Highlander’

Conan the Barbarian, best fantasy movies

Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Film Fantasy

The pinnacle of Wagnerian fantasy on screen, this adaptation of Robert E Howard’s crypto-fascist pulp stories is so much more than just a goofy sword ‘n’ sandal throwback. The Spanish desert backdrops are stunning, the production design is spectacular and Arnold Schwarzenegger punches a camel.

Magic moment: Cannibal cultist Thulsa Doom’s transformation into a giant serpent is a classic of pre-digital effects technology.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Conan the Barbarian’

The Princess Bride, best fantasy movies

The Princess Bride (1987)


Blending fantasy and comedy is a tricky task – just ask David Gordon Green and the guys behind 2011’s woeful stoner spoof ‘Your Highness’ – but director Rob Reiner and author-screenwriter William Goldman made it look effortless with this feisty, fast-paced and genuinely funny fairytale. Their genius is to treat the fantastical elements completely seriously – the costumes are ornate, the special effects never look goofy and the world of the film is totally convincing, allowing the humour to shine through.

Magic moment: ‘My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!’ Enough said.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Princess Bride’

The Secret of NIMH, best fantasy movies

The Secret of NIMH (1982)

Film Animation

An animated version of the book ‘Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh’, this is a kids’ fantasy with a big soppy heart. It tells of Mrs Frisby, a fieldmouse, widow and mother trying to look after her young brood, one of whom is very ill, in the face of threats from humans and a race of souped-up, intelligent rats. Its sense of magic and danger is heightened by the story sitting on a base of grief. It also features the least cuddly, most terrifying wise old owl you could imagine.

Magic moment: When we learn how the skulking, super-smart rats gained their powers.

Dave Calhoun

The Holy Mountain, best fantasy movies

The Holy Mountain (1973)


Drawing on Sufi teachings, religious tracts and surrealist art rather than the traditional Northern European folk tales, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s experimental, psychedelic fantasy stands completely alone on this list. Obscure, artful and gleefully avant-garde, the film follows an acid-fried modern Jesus as he meets an alchemist and transcends through the seven levels of enlightenment.

Magic moment: It’s hardly RSPCA-approved, but the re-enactment of the Spanish conquest of South America using frogs and toads is one of the most remarkable scenes in cinema.

Tom Huddleston


The Fall (2006)


Ultrastylish commercials director Tarsem Singh spent millions of his own dollars collecting footage over several years for this entrancingly exotic fantasy, rooted in the medicated ramblings of a wounded stuntman (Lee Pace) who charms a little girl in the hospital with his outlandish tales. The dreamlike story he cooks up is tinged with traumatic catastrophe, but also one of the most glorious adventures ever captured on film.

Magic moment: A breathtaking opening credits sequence, shot in slo-mo and black and white, shows a train-track stunt gone wrong.

Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Fall’

Pleasantville, best fantasy movies

Pleasantville (1998)


Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon were plucky up-and-comers when they played a pair of siblings who are magically transported through the TV screen and into the monochrome world of Pleasantville, a happy 1950s town where everyone’s polite, prim and happy – on the surface. ‘Hunger Games’ director Gary Ross’s pin-sharp satire brilliantly undercuts the American Dream, and the visual trick of gradually shifting the film from black and white to colour to reflect the characters’ cultural awakening is masterful.

Magic moment: Repressed suburban Mom Joan Allen tries her hand at a little sexual self-fulfilment, and a tree outside the window explodes into glorious colour.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Pleasantville’

Die Nibelungen, best fantasy movies

Die Nibelungen (1924)

Film Fantasy

From its very beginning, cinema was indebted to fantasy, with Georges Méliès leading the way. The ambition of today’s multi-feature sagas can be traced back to Fritz Lang’s two-part 1924 silent based on the mythic German poem ‘Nibelungenlied’ and lavished with groundbreaking special effects, comely princesses and tons of swordplay.

Magic moment: The first instalment, ‘Siegfried’, features a giant, drooling dragon – a fully functioning puppet that’s the grandfather of Jabba the Hutt.

Joshua Rothkopf

Labyrinth, best fantasy movies

Labyrinth (1986)


If all you remember from ‘Muppet’ creator Jim Henson’s cult magical fantasy is Goblin King David Bowie and his terrifying codpiece, look again. This is a film bursting with ideas – philosophical, literary, mathematical, even spiritual – and the ornate, crumbling Labyrinth is a wholly unique imaginative landscape.

Magic moment: The mournfully psychedelic junkyard sequence strikes a jarring but memorable tone of doom amid all the furry, freaky goings-on.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Labyrinth’

Celine & Julie Go Boating, best fantasy movies

Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974)


Move over, ‘Mulholland Drive’: Jacques Rivette’s enchanting meta-fantasy begins with a distracted young woman stumbling through a Parisian park. She loses her scarf and when a curious onlooker retrieves it, the chase is on, one that plunges into exchanged female identities, interdimensional time travel and a mysterious house where nothing is set in stone.

Magic moment: The whole movie is a spell, but how can we not single out the bizarre coda of a boating scene? Reality merges with fantasy, not unpleasantly.

Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch ‘Céline and Julie Go Boating’

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, best fantasy movies

Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

Film Comedy

For the follow-up to their loopy time-travel pastiche ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’, writers Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson turned to the maddest, baddest fantasy novel of them all: The Bible. This time around, our doofus heroes from San Dimas, California are killed, condemned to hell, escape Satan, play Twister with Death, strike a bargain with God and end up saving the world through a combination of screeching guitars and extreme party vibes. Amen.

Magic moment: Bill and Ted convince St Peter to open the pearly gates by quoting Poison lyrics at him.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey’

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, best fantasy movies

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)

Film Fantasy

If Terry Gilliam thought he’d been dragged through the ringer by the studios following his brutalist sci-fi comedy ‘Brazil’, he hadn’t seen nothin’ yet. ‘Baron Munchausen’ became a byword for mega-budget disasters: the budget spiraled, the special effects collapsed and audiences stayed away in droves. But the film remains a wounded wonder, crammed with wild ideas, bizarre costumes, berserk characters and a unique sense of giddy, anything-goes experimentation.

Magic moment: The Baron and his sidekick Sally travel to the moon and find a Lumiere-inspired madhouse peopled with giant schizophrenics.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, best fantasy movies

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)


The dream sequences of master director Luis Buñuel are always charged with a sociopolitical dimension, and this satire – one of his finest and most concentrated efforts – is no exception. A group of mildly haughty, self-entitled friends attempt to sit down to dinner together. All they want is to be served, but Buñuel has other plans for them.

Magic moment: Delighting at a menu of multiple fish options and a deep wine list, the party hears weeping: behind a curtain, the restaurant’s manager lies dead.

Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie’

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, best fantasy movies

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Film Action and adventure

Ang Lee’s high-flying melodrama, a vivid reinvention of the wu-xia genre and one of only nine foreign-language movies to ever be nominated for Best Picture, is still an unimpeachably perfect combination of physical and emotional combat. The fight choreography has yet to be topped, and every balletic moment of soaring wire-fu reveals something about the character who’s swooping through the air.

This Magic Moment: The first fight scene along the rooftops in the middle of the night, as the drums pound away on Tan Dun’s score. Holy hell.

David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Photograph: Rex USA

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Film Family and kids

Johnny Depp and Tim Burton did an okay job years later with Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, but their version is not a patch on the 1971 original. Partly that’s because this adaptation feels much more suited to the down-to-earth, less polished feel of Dahl’s book, while Gene Wilder nails the role of the reclusive confectionary magnate who lets a small group of children into his factory, switching brilliantly between avuncular, withering and creepy.

Magic moment: When Gene Wilder throws away his walking stick.

Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, best fantasy movies

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

Film Drama

A boatload of Oscars would arrive with the next film, ‘The Return of the King’, but here’s where Peter Jackson’s trilogy cohered as a triumph of cutting-edge technology and emotional impact. Andy Serkis’s Gollum – a fully fleshed digital creation – stole the show, yet this film also digs deep to depict the rallying redemption of King Théoden, from weeping at the grave of his son to leading the armies of Rohan into battle.

Magic moment: Gollum and Sméagol have a psychotic conversation and never once do you think about CGI.

Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’

Wings of Desire, best fantasy movies

Wings of Desire (1987)


An astonishingly poetic movie about the reunification of Germany and what it means to be human, Wim Wenders’s masterful Biblical fantasy uses the gothic landscapes of divided Berlin – shot in sparkling monochrome – as a backdrop for a vivid exploration of the dreamlife of angels.

Magic Moment: Nothing can top that dizzying opening sequence, as two angels eavesdrop on the scattered thoughts of Berlin’s residents.

David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch ‘Wings of Desire’

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, best fantasy movies

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Film Drama

Bewitching and mesmerising, ‘Uncle Boonmee’ is a perfect film to lose yourself in. Directed by Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul (his Western friends call him Joe) it unfolds in a reverie as Uncle Boonmee, a dying farmer, is visited in his final days by friends and family – his nephew and sister, but also the ghost of his dead wife and a red-eyed monkey-man who says he’s Boonmee’s son. Experimental and eccentric, it’s unforgettable.

Magic moment: The beautiful moment Uncle Boonmee visits a cave filled with sparkling lights, and his life slips away.

Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch ‘Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives’

hellboy 2

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

Film Fantasy

‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ may have won over the highbrow critics, but ‘Hellboy II’ is fantasy master Guillermo del Toro’s masterpiece. Adapted from Mike Mignola’s comic books, this sequel to the patchily brilliant superhero adventure ‘Hellboy’ crams in all the psychotic fairies, marauding elves, fantastical landscapes and berserk action set-pieces you could possibly ask for, and adds a rich seam of hearty, self-satirising humour.

Magic moment: The hidden ‘troll market’ beneath the Brooklyn Bridge rivals the ‘Star Wars’ cantina in the monster-riot stakes.

Tom Huddleston

Buym rent or watch ‘Hell Boy II: The Golden Army’

Edward Scissorhands, best fantasy movies

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Film Fantasy

In retelling Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ story with Johnny Depp as the unfinished creation with scissors for hands, Tim Burton created a modern day classic. It could all have turned out so differently if he’d gone with the studio’s choice of lead actor, Tom Cruise – who wanted the story to have a ‘happier ending’. Pah.

Magic moment: From his castle hideaway, Edward creates a Christmas snowstorm.

Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch ‘Edward Scissorhands’

Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Film Family and kids

A tornado blowing in over the Kansas plains, the tap-tap-tap of the ruby slippers, the yellow brick road in glorious Technicolor and a witch the colour of alien snot. The best moments of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ are woozily eerie, like memories of a dream. The staying power of the film might have something to do with the very real emotions underpinning the fantasy: the pull for a child between home and the terrors and thrill of the big world outside.

Magic moment: The winged monkeys take flight under orders from the Wicked Witch of the West. ‘Fly my pretties!’

Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’

Excalibur, best fantasy movies

Excalibur (1981)

Film Action and adventure

It’s the wellspring of modern fantasy, but cinema’s track record when it comes to the King Arthur legend is pitiful, whether it’s the dippy musical fantasia of ‘Camelot’ or the dour, would-be-realism of the Clive Owen ‘King Arthur’ (and don’t even get us started on Guy Ritchie’s impending reboot). The only film that truly captures the grandeur of Arthurian myth is John Boorman’s intermittently ridiculous but cumulatively breathtaking ‘Excalibur’, the grittiest, mistiest, earthiest British fantasy movie of them all.

Magic moment: Nicol Williamson’s bizarre, theatrical Merlin weaves a transformation spell. Altogether now: ‘anal nathrach… orth’ bhais’s bethad… do che’l de’nmha.’

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘Excalibur’

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, best fantasy movies

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Film Family and kids

Alfonso Cuaron's take on the ‘Harry Potter’ movies was when the franchise proved it was more than just a lifeless, slavish recreation of J.K. Rowling's immeasurably popular fantasy novels. Somehow, Cuaron took what is one of the series' more muted novels and adapted it into a visually sumptuous, only-just-family-friendly and truly magical film. The meditations on aging, the literal and metaphorical passing of time and our experience with youth are deftly handled, as the fat of the novel is trimmed expertly to propel both plot and characterisation. Could it be the best kids' movie of the 21st century? Possibly.

Magic moment: The film’s quietest scene is also its most magical, as the kids hang out in the dorm room passing a bag of Bertie Bott’s beans and shooting the supernatural breeze.

Alim Kheraj

Buy, rent or watch ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’

The Red Shoes, best fantasy movies

The Red Shoes (1948)

Film Drama

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s second film on this list isn’t fantasy in the strictest sense. The story of a prima ballerina (Moira Shearer) and the power-mad Svengali (Anton Walbrook) who loves and exploits her, it takes place, for the most part, in the ‘real’ world. But when the curtains go up and the ballet begins, the film spirals off into a world of dizzying make-believe, with Powell at the peak of his powers as he combines cinema, music, performance, art, costume and animation into a breathless whirl of sound and colour.

Magic moment: The heartbreaking ending, as the performers recreate the titular ballet without their star dancer, just an empty space where she should have been.

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Red Shoes’

Groundhog Day, best fantasy movies

Groundhog Day (1993)


A beautiful example of fantasy redeemed by deep philosophical underpinnings, Harold Ramis’s comic masterpiece follows a sour, cynical weatherman (who else but Bill Murray?) doomed to repeat the same day over and over again. After reaching the end of his patience, he slowly finds the will to better himself.

Magic moment: Our hero’s ‘perfect’ day involves anticipating every stranger’s need, saving a life, wooing a woman and rhapsodising the annual Groundhog Day celebration by quoting Anton Chekhov.

Joshua Rothkopf

Buy, rent or watch ‘Groundhog Day’

My Neighbour Totoro, best fantasy movies

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

Film Animation

A smash-hit in Japan, Hayao Miyazaki’s family fantasy is hands-down one of the most charming films ever made. It’s the story of two sisters who move with their dad to the sticks to be close to their sick mum, and there meet a big-bummed snuggly monster with a goofy toothpaste grin and a twelve-legged cat bus.

Magic moment: All aboard the feline express.

Cath Clarke

A Matter of Life and Death, best fantasy movies

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)


At first Powell & Pressburger’s towering film looks like a wartime romance, which partly it is. But once David Niven’s doomed RAF pilot crashes while talking to an American radio operator (June Carter), he finds himself at the pearly gates, so introducing the film’s dual locations, earth and heaven. In the latter, a celestial court must decide if Niven’s pilot will be spared or not, and the film’s fantastical conceit taps into a postwar spirit of inquiry into how best to run our lives.

Magic moment: When we see the shimmering stairs that rise up to the heavens.

Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch ‘A Matter of Life and Death’

The Dark Crystal, best fantasy movies

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Film Fantasy

Haunting and inventive, this showed us the dark side of ‘The Muppets’ ringmaster Jim Henson, who offered up a gothic world of magic and danger partly inspired by the darkness of the Grimm fairytales. It’s a classic quest story: Jen, a Gelfling, must fulfil a prophecy and defeat the ageing, decaying race of Skeksis in favour of the gentler, wiser Mystics. The film’s character design is as remarkable as its faith in the imagination of children.

Magic moment: When the Mystics and the Skeksis merge in a cosmic, psychedelic transformational orgy.

Dave Calhoun

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Dark Crystal’

La Belle et la Bête, best fantasy movies

La Belle et la Bête (1946)

Film Fantasy

Nearly 70 years after its release, the magic of ‘La Belle et la Bête’ still casts a spell. Poet-turned-director Jean Cocteau created hallucinatory reveries in his adaptation of the fairytale – most memorably the disembodied arms appearing through the walls of the Beast’s castle to hoist the candelabras lighting Belle’s path.

Magic moment: Belle cries tears of sparkling diamonds.

Cath Clarke

Buy, rent or watch ‘La Belle et la Bête’

Spirited Away, best fantasy movies

Spirited Away (2001)

Film Animation

A high point not only of the consistently excellent output of Japan’s Studio Ghibli but of animation as a whole, this magical adventure turns the wanderings of a lonely ten-year-old girl into an updated ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, complete with nods to ancient folklore and modern ecological anxieties. It’s still the highest-grossing movie in Japanese history.

Magic moment: Parents are transformed into pigs, and our heroine is truly on her own.

Joshua Rothkopf

Ugetsu Monogatari, best fantasy movies

Ugetsu Monogatari (1953)


The greatest ghost story ever told on film, Kenji Mizoguchi’s masterfully macabre fable about two greedy peasants who try to profit from the civil war raging through their country gets more powerful as it slowly bleeds into the supernatural. A sense of the beyond creeps over the movie, as one of the men becomes enchanted with a mysterious noblewoman, taking leave of both his senses and his family in one fell swoop.

Magic Moment: A lakeside picnic with a woman as eerie as the mist that creeps over the water.

David Ehrlich

Photograph: Disney/Pixar

Onward (2020)

Film Animation

A pair of grieving elf brothers turn to magic to reanimate, for 24 emotional hours, the dad they never really knew. But the spell is broken halfway through, leaving them with, well, half a dad. With only the legs operational and the missing top half flopping around under layers of clothes, the three bluff their way through a quest to find a magical gem and finish the job. Set in a fantastical land populated by evolved cyclops, fauns, mages and all manner of mythical fauna who have switched from magic to mod cons, ‘Onward’ is a cometh-of-age tale that makes playful capital from our habit of turning the past into touristy kitsch. 

Magic moment: When Ian listens to a tape of the dad he never knew and you wish you'd remember to bulk-buy tissues.

King Kong, best fantasy movies

King Kong (1933)

Film Animation

What’s left to say about ‘King Kong’? As Peter Jackson proved a few years back: not very much. Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack’s colonialist creature feature is still a stirring and tragic story about why the Empire State Building is such a terrible tourist trap.

Magic Moment: The tragic finale: ‘Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.’

David Ehrlich

Buy, rent or watch ‘King Kong’

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, best fantasy movies

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Film Drama

With his grand, globe-conquering adaptation of JRR Tolkein’s genre-defining trilogy, Peter Jackson dragged fantasy into the digital age, managing beyond all the odds to make it at least semi-cool in the process.

It may lack the blood and thunder of later instalments, but for us the first ‘Rings’ film remains the best: it has the most direct narrative – a road movie, essentially, from the rustic middle-English hush of the Shire to the forbidding shores of the Anduin – and the sweetest character moments, from Bilbo’s sad departure to Boromir’s sacrificial end. And that’s the reason why Jackson’s ‘Rings’ movies work, and will continue to thrill moviegoers for generations to come: the characters are as important as the special effects. A simple tactic, perhaps, but a blindingly effective one.

Magic moment: The series’s greatest showdown, as Gandalf faces the fiery Balrog on the bridge of Khazad-Dum. ‘You! Shall! Not! Pass!’

Tom Huddleston

Buy, rent or watch ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’


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