When creating a new show or movie, it is important for the writers and directors to consider how much of the storyline is believable. Will an audience be able to relate to the characters? Do the interactions, relationships, and emotions feel authentic? This is a daunting task even for those who work on pieces that focus on regular, everyday life. Now imagine what those same professions have to ask when creating a fantasy film.
Audiences are asked to suspend their belief in everything they know to be true about magic, supernatural creatures, and much more when it comes to the fantasy genre. People who are already fascinated by the supernatural and fantastic worlds often want the temporary escape from our own reality. Then there are skeptics who need the extra push to invest in the films. With CGI evolving and new techniques coming out to ensure real actors and green screens seamlessly look like completely different things, many of those critics are starting to come around.
Here are the 20 best fantasy movies of all time.
20 The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz, the adventurous tale of Dorothy and Toto ending up far away from Kansas, is a true classic. Judy Garland plays Dorothy Gale who finds herself and her rascally dog, Toto, in the land of Oz after a tornado tears through their property. She meets some interesting characters that remind her a lot of the guys back home. While Dorothy professes that she just wants to go back home, her new friends all admit that they too want something. The Scarecrow wants a brain, Tin Man wants a heart, and the Cowardly Lion longs for some courage. Together, the three setoff on down the yellow brick road in search of a great wizard that can grant their wishes.
19 Mary Poppins (1964)
Mary Poppins (originally played by Julie Andrews) is one of the most iconic and magical individuals in the history of film. She arrives at the porch of the Banks’ residence after “finding” an ad for a sweet and kind nanny for two children. After she meets Jane and Michael, harmless chaos ensues as she transports them through pictures and introduces them to an imaginative world that mixes live-action and animation. The children, along with Mary Poppins and her friends, sing and dance their way through their problems and curiosities. With Mary Poppins around, there is never a dull moment.
18 The Princess Bride (1987)
In The Princess Bride, while a young boy is sick, his grandfather pulls out a novel and begins to read aloud. The narrative then takes over the screen. The tale is one of long ago when evil princes, mythical creatures, and damsels in distress were around. Buttercup loses the love of her life, Westley, and ends up betrothed to the rude and cruel Prince Humperdinck. She is later kidnapped by three men, but a masked savior swoops in and reveals himself to be her true love from years ago. The two must fend off the kidnappers and the prince to be together, but hilarity and hardships ensue which slow down their mission.
17 Matilda (1996)
When a young girl is surrounded by bullies, it is only natural for magical powers to find her. In Matilda, the titular girl grows up in an unloving household with her mentally and emotionally absent parents and slob of a brother. Once she starts school, she discovers that the principal, Miss Trunchbull, is the biggest bully of all who takes pleasure in tormenting children. With the help of some heightened emotions, Matilda discovers she can move things with her mind. This begins her plan to get justice for herself as well as her favorite teacher, Miss Honey. From innocent and bright child to classroom hero, Matilda learns that good people deserve better than obeying mean individuals.
16 The Green Mile (1999)
The late Michael Clarke Duncan had his breakout role as the larger-than-life but sweeter-than-pie John Coffey in The Green Mile. Set during the Great Depression, John was accused of a horrible crime he did not commit, and he was sentenced to jail. Given his size and the color of his skin, John knew fighting the false allegations was a dead end. Instead of shutting down and accepting his fate, John chose to help those around him. Using his supernatural abilities, John cured people’s illnesses, and he even brought a beloved mouse back to life. While the setting may not be of the fantastic nature, John’s special powers still make for an incredible fantasy tale.
15 Peter Pan (2003)
When children first hear the story of Peter Pan, they instantly want to go to the faraway land where they never have to grow up. From pirates and Indians to mermaids and magic, who would not want to be is such a fanciful place? While there are many variations of the story, P. J. Hogan’s adaptation of the screenplay and novel is nothing short of brilliant. Neverland is captivating with its wooded forests, blue waters, and magical presence. When Wendy, John, and Michael first arrive, they, much like the audience, are in awe. Peter proudly shows off his home while he hopes to make it seem appealing enough for them to stay.
14 Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
After following Frodo, Gandalf, Sam, Aragorn, and many more through two Lord of the Rings movies, The Return of the King perfectly wraps up everyone’s character quests. Audiences have grown to love Middle-earth just as much as the hobbits, so watching the final battle to defend the sacred land had everyone on the edge of their seats. Characters are challenged both mentally and physically to grow and rely on only their own decisions. The world J. R. R. Tolkien created more than 50 years before it became a visual work of art is nothing short of magical.
13 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
The entire Harry Potter franchise does an incredible job at creating the wizard world with Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, and other noteworthy locations. However, The Goblet of Fire steps it up with the fantasy element, and it further introduces different mythical creatures like dragons and merpeople. Much like a muggle, Harry is awe-struck by these beasts. By now, Harry should know that everything he ever read about in storybooks is likely to be real in the wizard world, but it is refreshing to see that he still finds magical things new and interesting.
12 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
While Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory deserves its much earned credit, Tim Burton’s creation of the world inside the Wonka Factory, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, goes unmatched. From Johnny Depp starring as the mastermind behind the most delicious chocolate and candy creations to the entire room sparking with bright colors of edible sweets, the fantasy land is every child’s dream. Charlie and four other children tour the different rooms and realize that reality is not as it seems inside the factory. Wonka, on the other hand, believes his creation to be the norm until Charlie teaches him otherwise.
11 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
To walk through a wardrobe and enter a snowy, magical land would be a dream come true. When Lucy first discovers Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it seems like a mystical place where nothing could go wrong. Then, when Susan, Edmund, and Peter joined her, they quickly learn otherwise. The four siblings discover that a wicked woman who calls herself a queen has taken over the kingdom. With the help of some talking creatures and a God-like lion named Aslan, they battle to the death to restore the magical world back to how it should be.
10 Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
When kids are little, it is common for them to have imaginary friends and play pretend; their imaginations have not yet been limited or stunted by the harsh realities of the world. For Jess and Leslie, in Bridge to Terabithia, they are able to create a whole world in the woods near their houses. Squirrels become “squogres” that try to bombard them with pinecone grenades. Shadows in the distance transform into terrifying creatures that chase after the children. Terabithia becomes a sanctuary for Jess and Leslie to escape the troubles they have at school and home. In the end, even after a terrible tragedy, Jess shares the kingdom with his little sister, May Belle.
9 The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Moving is rarely ever fun for children aside from choosing new rooms and getting to redecorate. However, for Jared, Simon, and Mallory in The Spiderwick Chronicles, they realize that their new house has more secrets than they or their mother could have ever imagined. Jared discovers a book in the basement that explains the existence of magical creatures, but his family does not believe him. It is not until lives are at stake that the humans and creatures come together as one to defeat some cruel and manipulative creatures who try to harm the new residents.
8 Where the Wild Things Are (2009)
Where the Wild Things Are seems like something straight out of a child’s imaginative dreams. After Max, a nine-year-old boy, finds himself in trouble with his mother, he decides to run away from home. He takes a boat across a nearby pond and ends up on an island full of giants. At first Max is able to convince them that he is a great king, so silliness easily takes place on his command. However, after finding out that there are problems within the group, Max reflects on his own situation at home and how he has not made things so easy for his own family.
7 Alice in Wonderland (2010)
After the passing of her father and an untimely marriage proposal, Alice may consider herself lucky for escaping into the wonderful world that is Wonderland, even if it was unintentional. While in the magical world, where rules don’t make sense and words are more complicated than anything, Alice remains calm and accepting of the reality before her. When she discovers that almost everything can talk, Alice does not hesitate much to respond. The longer Alice stays in Wonderland, the more she trusts her companions, which is a good thing since, towards the end of Alice in Wonderland, she must learn how to fight a Jabberwocky.
6 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Created as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings series, the very first movie in The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, has a more refreshing take with Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo Baggins, writing the great story from his younger days. He thinks back to the days when Gandalf tricked him into hosting dwarves, how he was hesitant to go on what turned out to be the adventure of a lifetime, and all the interesting beings he met outside of the Shire. Bilbo’s journey to the Misty Mountains is one filled with beautiful scenery and unique creatures, but nothing beats Bilbo’s reality checks and questions.
5 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)
While the Harry Potter series had the expected magical creatures like dragons and unicorns and even some unexpected beasts like hippogriffs and thestrals, the first prequel of the series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, explores even more critters. Newt Scamander finds himself in a pickle when his suitcase filled with magical creatures is accidentally swapped out with a muggle’s suitcase containing baked goods. Both individuals, while apart, open their cases, and mayhem begins for both. With the help of some new friends, Newt desperately tries to track and recover all of his creatures, but they each have a mind of their own in the muggle world.
4 The Age of Adaline (2015)
In the beginning of The Age of Adaline, Adaline is a regular woman in the early-20th Century. She gets married, has a baby, and unfortunately, loses her husband in an accident. On a drive one night, Adaline crashes her car and dies. However, a single strike of lightening makes it to where Adaline cheats death. From then on, she does not physically age. She watches her daughter grow into a lovely young woman who eventually gets to the point where she needs to be cared for. Adaline falls in love, runs from love, and eventually remeets an old love. The tale is sorrowful with its feelings of isolation, but it is also beautiful because of how much Adaline learns to appreciate her time with others.
3 Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Jake Portman’s world turns upside down after his grandfather passes away in an unusual fashion in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. To learn more about his grandfather and cope with his passing, Jake decides to take a trip to a small island off the coast of Wales that his grandfather always talked about. Jake ends up getting more than he ever bargained for. He meets peculiar children with extraordinary powers in a time-traveling loop. Jake learns about his grandfather’s true past, and he discovers that he is extraordinary as well. With his new friends and powers, Jake takes it upon himself to help them stay safe from the Hollows that are after them.
2 The Shape of Water (2017)
Love comes in all shapes, sizes, and apparently species as proven by The Shape of Water. While working in a top secret government laboratory as a custodian, Elisa becomes curious about a new man-like amphibious creature that was brought in by Colonel Strickland. Elisa herself is mute, but she does not need a defined language to understand that the creature is scared of his situation. Feeling his pain and knowing what will happen to him if he remains in the lab, Elisa devises a plan with her friend to free the man-creature. Between running from the government and expressing her feelings for the mysterious man, this romantic fantasy has many interesting twists.
1 Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)
In 2009, audiences fell in love with the native Na’vis of Pandora, but in 2022, fans wished they could jump into the screen and be a part of the most magically enriching world. Avatar: The Way of Water explores the beautiful blue ocean and all the fascinating creatures that lie below. While Neteyam tries his best to keep his younger brother, Lo’ak, out of trouble, Kiri, Jake and Neytiri’s adopted daughter, shows us what it is like to truly be one with nature. From the sea creatures to the plant life, there is no doubt every audience member was captivated by the world in this fantasy film.