Sometimes, you just want to settle in front of the screen and be taken to a faraway place where anything is possible. That's where the best fantasy movies come into play.

I love the fantasy genre. When those movies hit the big screen, I'm there. I say the first Lord of the Rings seven times at the AMC Painter's Crossing. And I even saw the Seventh Son there. That's called dedication, folks.

Fantasy stories have been around since the dawn of time, and when we started making movies, they followed quickly thereafter.

They are some of the best ways for writers and directors to showcase worldbuilding, characterization, and conflict.

Today, we're going to suss out the best films in the genre, and looks at the history and tropes as well.

Let's dive in.

What is Fantasy?

The entire team in 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring''The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'

New Line Cinema

Fantasy, as a genre, centers on the impossible made believable. It incorporates elements that defy the laws of our reality—talking animals, magical spells, supernatural beings, and realms hidden from our everyday world.

Fantasy movies often build rich mythologies with unique rules and histories.

The History of Fantasy Movies

Like I said up top, fantasy movies came into existence moments after actual movies came into existence.

Early fantasy films drew inspiration from fairy tales, fables, and mythology. Pioneers like Georges Méliès brought magic to the screen with silent films like Cinderella (1899 ) and A Trip to the Moon (1902). As special effects evolved, so did the ambition of fantasy movies. Technicolor gems like The Wizard of Oz (1939) enchanted audiences and set new standards of visual wonder attainable within the genre.

Pioneering Years: The Magic of Silent Film (1890s - 1920s)

  • Georges Méliès: The French filmmaker is considered the father of fantasy cinema. Short films like A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904) used trick photography, sets, and costumes to craft fantastical spectacles.
  • Early Adaptations: Fairy tales were a prime source, with films like Cinderella (1899) and Alice in Wonderland (1903).
  • Myth and Spectacle: Films like Dante's Inferno (1911) and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) leaned on mythologies and expressionist styles to create otherworldly visions.
  • Douglas Fairbanks and the Swashbuckler: Fairbanks starred in adventure films with fantastical elements, like The Thief of Bagdad (1924), popularizing a heroic archetype.

The Rise of Sound and Special Effects (1930s - 1950s)

  • Technicolor and a Touch of Whimsy:The Wizard of Oz (1939) set a benchmark, its vibrant colors bringing a fairy tale world to life. Other playful films like The Thief of Bagdad (1940) continued this trend.
  • Monsters Unleashed: Universal's iconic monster movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.) blended horror and fantasy, introducing enduring creatures to the screen.
  • Early Animation: Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and later films proved the power of animation to bring fairy tales and talking animals to vivid life.
  • Ray Harryhausen and Stop-Motion: The master of stop-motion animation brought clashing titans, skeletons, and dragons to life in films like Jason and the Argonauts (1963).

A New Era: Swords, Sorcery, and Expanding Ambition (1960s - 1980s)

  • High Fantasy and Adaptation:Lord of the Rings attempts emerged, along with films like Conan the Barbarian (1982) popularizing heroic battles.
  • Practical Effects Dominate: Movies like Labyrinth (1986) and The Dark Crystal (1982) showcased puppets, creatures, and elaborate sets for a tactile fantastical feel.
  • Quirky Fantasy-Comedies:Time Bandits (1981) The Princess Bride (1987), and others played with history and humor within the genre.
  • Growing Influence of Anime: Japanese animation began reaching a wider audience, with Hayao Miyazaki's films starting to garner critical acclaim

Technological Leaps and Blockbusters (1990s - 2000s)

  • The Rise of CGI:Jurassic Park (1993) ushered in a new era of believable computer-generated creatures and effects.
  • Epics Find a Footing:Lord of the Rings became a reality. Peter Jackson's trilogy proved high-fantasy could be both a box-office phenomenon and a critical darling.
  • Superhero Boom: Comic book universes like Marvel and DC began to dominate, often incorporating fantastical elements.
  • Animation Soars: Pixar and Dreamworks pushed the limits of CGI, with films like Shrek (2001) also upending traditional fairy tale tropes.

The Modern Age: Diversity and Global Influences (2010s - Present)

  • Reimagined Fairy Tales: Darker twists on familiar stories, like Maleficent (2014) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).
  • Worldwide Impact: International hits like Pan's Labyrinth (2006) from Mexico, and China's expanding Wuxia genre gained recognition.
  • Animation as Art: Studio Ghibli continued to garner acclaim while studios like Laika pushed the boundaries of stop-motion with films like Kubo and the Two Strings (2016).

Tropes of Fantasy Movies

Alan Rickman's feelings on Severus Snape from 'Harry Potter'

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Warner Bros.

Certain tropes are deeply woven into the fabric of fantasy filmmaking:

  • The Chosen One: A seemingly ordinary individual destined for greatness.
  • The Hero's Journey: A protagonist's adventure, facing trials and ultimately triumphing.
  • Good vs. Evil: Classic battles against dark forces or monstrous villains.
  • Magical Objects: Enchanted items like swords, rings, or amulets with extraordinary powers.
  • Mythical Creatures: Dragons, elves, fairies, goblins, and other fantastical beings.

Global Fantasy Films

A still from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Sony Pictures Classics

New and exciting fantasy films are emerging all the time from across the globe. And they're really scratching the itch for those of us who want to explore these worlds.

Now, this is just a starting point. Each country has diverse cinematic traditions beyond what's listed.

But let's check out a few.


  • Studio Ghibli: The powerhouse studio of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Their films often blend gentle wonder in everyday settings with vast mythologies:
    • Spirited Away (2001): A girl trapped in a spirit bathhouse.
    • Princess Mononoke (1997): A clash between nature and industry with spirits and gods.
    • My Neighbor Totoro (1988): Whimsical forest spirits befriend two sisters.
  • Beyond Ghibli:
    • Your Name (2016): A body-swapping fantasy steeped in themes of memory and connection.
    • Akira (1988): A cyberpunk landmark with mind-bending action and psychic powers.


  • Wuxia:Martial arts blended with fantasy elements, often focusing on chivalry and honor:
    • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Ang Lee's poetic masterpiece with gravity-defying fights.
    • Hero (2002): A visually stunning exploration of one story told from multiple perspectives.
  • Xianxia: A subgenre inspired by Chinese mythology and Taoism, often featuring immortals, magic swords, and quests for enlightenment.
    • Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983): A Hong Kong classic with dazzling special effects for its time.
    • A Chinese Ghost Story (1987): Ghosts, romance, and comedic action.


  • Bollywood Epics: Fantastical dramas drawing on myth and legend:
    • Baahubali: The Beginning (2015) & Baahubali: The Conclusion (2017): A sweeping tale of warring brothers and hidden kingdoms.
    • RRR (2022): Historical figures infused with superhuman strength in this action-packed sensation.
  • Regional Cinema:
    • Mayabazar (1957, Telugu): A pioneering film adapting stories from the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
    • Eega (2012, Telugu): A man reincarnated as a fly seeks revenge, in a wild special effects spectacle.

Beyond the Big Three

  • Europe:
    • Pan's Labyrinth (2006, Spain/Mexico): A dark fable set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.
    • The City of Lost Children (1995, France): A visually stunning and grotesque film about a scientist stealing dreams.
    • Trollhunter (2010, Norway): A mockumentary style film about giant trolls that turns delightfully absurd.
  • Nigeria (Nollywood): A growing industry with unique fantasy often intertwined with spirituality and folklore.
  • Mexico: Guillermo del Toro's films are notable, but Mexico has a rich tradition of horror merging with the fantastical.

The Best Fantasy Movies of All Time

This is a list I made that does not encompass every fantasy movie, just the ones I know and love. It's subjective, so don't take offense if I missed a few.

My hope is that these give you the proper jumping off point.

  1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 – 2003): Peter Jackson's cinematic triumph brings Tolkien's Middle-earth to life in unparalleled detail.
  2. Pan's Labyrinth (2006): Guillermo del Toro's dark fairy tale masterpiece set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War.
  3. Harry Potter Series (2001 – 2011): Immerse yourself in the magic of Hogwarts and the epic battle against Voldemort.
  4. Spirited Away (2001): Hayao Miyazaki's animated wonder about a girl spirited away to a world of spirits and magic.
  5. The Princess Bride (1987): A cult classic offering a witty and charming blend of romance, adventure, and humor.
  6. How to Train Your Dragon (2010): A heartwarming tale of friendship between a Viking boy and a dragon.
  7. Labyrinth (1986): David Bowie stars as the Goblin King in this fantastical musical adventure.
  8. The NeverEnding Story (1984): A timeless classic about the power of imagination and stories.
  9. Excalibur (1981): John Boorman's retelling of the King Arthur legend, brimming with power and magic.
  10. The Wizard of Oz (1939): A groundbreaking masterpiece that forever changed cinema and the fantasy genre.
  11. Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton's unique blend of gothic fantasy and heartfelt romance.
  12. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005): Step through the wardrobe into the magical realm of Narnia.
  13. Big Fish (2003): Tim Burton weaves a tapestry of tall tales filled with giants, witches, and fantastical adventures.
  14. The Shape of Water (2017) Guillermo del Toro's Oscar-winning love story between a woman and an amphibious creature.
  15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975): An absurdly hilarious romp through Arthurian legend.
  16. Groundhog Day (1993): A weatherman relives the same day in a loop, offering a humorous twist on the fantasy genre.
  17. The Dark Crystal (1982): Jim Henson and Frank Oz's stunning puppet-filled adventure set in a world of Gelflings and Skeksis.
  18. Jason and the Argonauts (1963): A heroic quest brimming with iconic stop-motion monsters created by special effects legend, Ray Harryhausen.
  19. Stardust (2007): A charming fairy tale romance with witches, pirates, and a fallen star.
  20. The City of Lost Children (1995): A visually striking French dark fantasy about a scientist who steals children's dreams.
  21. Coraline (2009): A stop-motion masterpiece where a young girl discovers a sinister parallel world.
  22. Willow (1988): Ron Howard directs this classic story of a small hero protecting a baby destined to topple an evil sorceress.
  23. The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008): A family discovers a hidden world of fairies right in their own backyard.
  24. Jumanji (1995): An enchanted board game comes to life, unleashing jungle creatures into the real world.
  25. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016): A breathtaking stop-motion adventure from Laika studios, following a young boy's quest in a mythical Japan.
  26. Mary Poppins (1964): Julie Andrews brings magic and music into the lives of the Banks family.
  27. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Tim Burton's stop-motion classic where Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, tries his hand at Christmas.
  28. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988): Terry Gilliam's outlandish and visually stunning depiction of a fantastical storyteller.
  29. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000): Ang Lee's Wuxia masterpiece blending graceful martial arts with a mythic love story.
  30. The Seventh Seal (1957): A knight plays chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman's iconic exploration of mortality and faith.
  31. Time Bandits (1981): Terry Gilliam takes us on a time-hopping adventure packed with historical figures and mythical oddities.
  32. Ponyo (2008): Another enchanting Studio Ghibli tale about a goldfish princess who yearns to be human.
  33. Mirrormask (2005): Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's visually dazzling story of a girl lost in a world of shadows and masks.
  34. The Fall (2006): A visually breathtaking journey into the world of a bedridden stuntman's fantastical stories.
  35. Pete's Dragon (1977): A heartwarming Disney classic about a boy and his invisible dragon friend.
  36. Legend (1985): Ridley Scott's dark fantasy with a young Tom Cruise facing off against the Lord of Darkness.
  37. Clash of the Titans (1981): Ray Harryhausen's special effects bring the heroes and monsters of Greek myth to life.
  38. The Thief of Bagdad (1940): A lavish Technicolor adventure filled with flying carpets, genies, and magic.
  39. The Secret of Kells (2009): A visually stunning animated film steeped in Celtic mythology.
  40. My Neighbor Totoro (1988): A heartwarming Studio Ghibli gem about two sisters discovering friendly forest spirits.
  41. Hugo (2011): Martin Scorsese's love letter to cinema and the magic of early filmmaker Georges Méliès.
  42. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009): Terry Gilliam's final film starring Heath Ledger is a wildly imaginative tale about a traveling theatre troupe with a magical mirror.
  43. Beauty and the Beast (1991): Disney's animated masterpiece that proves love can see beyond appearances.
  44. The Princess Mononoke (1997): A landmark anime from Hayao Miyazaki exploring the clash between nature and industry.
  45. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982): Steven Spielberg's classic about a heartwarming friendship between a young boy and an alien.
  46. Paddington (2014): A delightfully charming film about a marmalade-loving bear finding a home in London.
  47. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): A beloved adaptation of the Dickens classic with Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the whole Muppet gang.
  48. Babe (1995): A talking pig defies expectations in this heartwarming Australian classic.
  49. Kiki's Delivery Service (1989): A Studio Ghibli coming-of-age story about a young witch perfecting her craft.
  50. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005): Aardman Animation's hilarious claymation adventure where the cheese-loving duo takes on a giant rabbit threat.

Let me know what you think in the comments.