From childhood fantasies of dragons and witches, to adult epics of unimaginable worlds, movie adaptations of fantasy stories have proven to be one of the longest running and most popular genres in cinema. Whether it is for stimulating escapism or just pure entertainment, movies set in fantastical realms have something for everyone. An overview of some of the best fantasy movies out there is presented here.
The Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson, is perhaps the most successful adaptation of a fantasy novel to date. Starring Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Astin and Ian McKellen, it follows Frodo (Wood) on his quest to save the kingdom of Middle Earth from the dark lord Sauron. The trilogy of movies was filmed by Jackson back-to-back, with all three released in the space of one year. Featuring sweeping landscapes and elaborate special effects, they were rewarded with seventeen Academy Awards combined.
For a more family-friendly fantasy movie, there is How To Train Your Dragon. Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the movie features a young Viking boy living on a remote island whose sole mission is to prove himself to his village by becoming the first ever dragon-slayer. However, instead of killing the dragon he discovers, the boy befriends the creature and helps it to learn the ways of the Vikings. The film was both a critical and commercial success, grossing more than $500 million worldwide and receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.
Another notable movie adaptation of a fantasy novel is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Directed by Chris Columbus and based on the best-selling novel by J.K. Rowling, it stars Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as they take on their roles as the three young wizards. The film follows their journey as they enroll in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and attempt to uncover the truth behind the mysterious Sorceror’s Stone. Released in 2001, it went on to become the highest-grossing film of that year and was later followed by six sequels, turning the franchise into one of the most profitable in cinema history.
For those looking for a more modern take on the genre, there is the fantasy drama The Shape of Water. Directed by Guillermo del Toro and starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon and Octavia Spencer, it tells the story of a mute woman (Hawkins) who discovers a mysterious creature living in a top-secret laboratory. As she befriends the creature, she finds herself teaming up with her co-workers to save it from the facility. The Shape of Water has been met with critical and commercial success, receiving seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Finally, for fans of sci-fi and fantasy, there is the popular Star Wars series. All nine films in the main saga follow protagonists Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) as they navigate their ways through their own journeys and adventures throughout the Star Wars galaxy. With grand battles, legendary characters and incredible special effects, the series has become one of the most beloved franchises of all time.
Elf is a 2003 fantasy comedy starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a friendly four-foot-tall elf who discovers he was accidently adopted by a human family as a child. After finding out about his heritage, he embarks on a quest to New York City in order to meet his real father and find his place in the world. Elf is an enjoyable movie for viewers of all ages, with hilarious moments and a heartwarming story.
The Princess Bride
Based on William Goldman’s 1973 novel of the same name, The Princess Bride follows the hero Westley (Cary Elwes) as he embarks on a quest to save his beloved Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright) from the evil Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). The movie is full of playful humor, endearing characters and magical moments, making it an excellent choice for a fairy tale-like fantasy movie.
The Neverending Story
The Neverending Story, based on the novel by Michael Ende, follows Bastian Bux (Barret Oliver) as he reads a mysterious book that transports him to a fantastical world in need of a hero. As he is drawn deeper into the story, he discovers an intriguing world full of monsters and dragons that is in need of his help. It is a classic movie for all ages, exploring the theme of hope, friendship and courage.
Spirited Away is a 2002 fantasy-adventure film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It follows Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi), a young girl who enters the world of the spirits after her parents are transformed into pigs. As she embarks on a strange and wonderful journey, she meets an array of fascinating characters and must find a way to save her parents and return to the human world. With its beautiful animation and unforgettable characters, it is one of the most successful films of all time.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Released in 2003, The Return of the King is the third installment of the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy. It follows Frodo (Elijah Wood), Sam (Sean Astin) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) as they make their final stand against the dark lord Sauron in an epic battle for the fate of Middle Earth. Featuring stunning visuals, a suspenseful soundtrack and an emotional ending, The Return of the King is a must-see fantasy movie.
Brave is a 2012 animated movie by Pixar that tells the story of an independent young Scottish princess, Merida (Kelly Macdonald), who defies an age-old custom, unknowingly unleashing a beastly curse on the kingdom. With its beautiful animation, stunning landscapes, and fierce female protagonist, Brave is an excellent choice for a fantasy movie.
Pan’s Labyrinth is a 2006 dark fantasy movie directed by Guillermo del Toro. Set in 1944 Spain, it follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl who discovers a fantastical world full of monsters and creatures from mythical folklore, as she attempts to save her family from the tyranny of a cruel fascist military official. The movie has received critical and commercial success, earning six Academy Award nominations and more than $83 million worldwide.