Wizards, dragons, goblin kings, magical gemstones, yellow brick roads...there’s nothing better than a good fantasy film, is there? With their sweeping landscapes and wonderful costumes, fantasy movies are a real feast for the eyes and for the soul! They’re a chance to get lost in another world for a little while, and to get swept up in the danger and adventure alongside our favourite heroes and heroines.
While there are so many amazing fantasy films to choose from out there, we’ve picked five of our Dragonspace favourites to shine a spotlight on this week:
#1 THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001 - 2003)
It’s always hard to adapt a beloved book series onto the screen, but Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy did Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece undeniable justice. The film trilogy isn’t just adored by fantasy fans—it’s a true legend of the film world in general. The third installment in the series, The Return of the King, was the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and it currently holds the record for the highest Oscars sweep. So who says that fantasy films are niche?
There’s so much about The Lord of the Rings trilogy to love. The films are visually stunning, thanks to the epic New Zealand landscapes that were used to bring Middle-earth to life. The superstar cast—including Sir Ian McKellan, Viggo Mortensen, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis and Cate Blanchett—deliver stellar performances. And the visual effects of the films still manage to hold up, even decades later. Yep, as fantasy movies go, The Lord of the Rings is as good as they come, and is yet to be de-throned in our opinion!
(If you're a fan of Tolkien and Middle-earth, check out our range of Tolkien books here!)
#2 LABYRINTH (1986)
Fantasies and musicals are two film genres that aren’t often combined, but if anyone’s going to pull such a trick off, of course it would be Jim Henson, George Lucas, Brian Froud and David Bowie! Joined by Jennifer Connelly as the film’s heroic lead, this team created Labyrinth, the 1986 musical-fantasy classic. With Henson as director, Lucas as exec-producer, Froud as costume designer, and Bowie playing the Goblin King, Labyrinth brought us a world like no other. Goblins dance and sing, monsters become friends, and staircases turn upside-down in this wild adventure, in which protagonist Sarah must navigate a mystical labyrinth to rescue her baby brother from the dark Goblin King.
The thing that makes this film so unique is its fantastical puppetry. With the exception of Connelly and Bowie’s characters, the rest of the characters in the film are puppets created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop (best known for The Muppets). The distinctive puppetry of Labyrinth gives the film an eerie surreal aesthetic, which still stands out in an age when most fantasy is heavy CGI. And of course, Labyrinth delivers some great singalongs, courtesy of the late great Bowie. A lot of fantasy films tend to be quite serious, so Labyrinth is a refreshingly quirky and comical addition to the genre.
#3 THE DARK CRYSTAL (1982)
But before there was Labyrinth, there was The Dark Crystal. This 1982 fantasy adventure classic is also the creation of Jim Henson and Brian Froud, along with famous puppeteer Frank Oz. Like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, relies heavily on puppetry and animatronics to bring the fantasy characters of the film to life. As Jen, the ‘Gelfling’ hero of the story, undertakes a quest to restore a powerful gemstone, he traverses a weird and wonderful world that’s now become iconic.
The Dark Crystal was actually the first live-action film without any human beings on screen. Perhaps due to its ground-breaking and unprecedented nature, the film received mixed reviews when it was first released. It was much darker than Jim Henson’s Muppet work, so people didn’t quite know what to think. Now, however, The Dark Crystal is a firm fantasy favourite! And good news for all fans of the movie—there’s actually going to be a prequel produced in association with Netflix, so we all get to explore the surreal world of The Dark Crystal even further.
(If you're a fan of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal, check out our full range of Brian Froud books here, featuring his distinctive and imaginative artwork.)
#4 THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
Technicolor musical The Wizard of Oz isn’t just one of the greatest fantasy films of all time—it’s one of the greatest films of all time in general. Released in 1939, The Wizard of Oz was one of the first examples of a film shot in colour, and it definitely used vivid Technicolor to its advantage, from the bright Yellow Brick Road to the glittering Emerald City.
Based on the children’s classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, the film follows the adventures of Dorothy (played by Judy Garland) and her little dog Toto as they enter an incredible fantasyland via a tornado. The friends Dorothy makes along the way—the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion—are iconic, as are the dazzling show-tunes that pepper the story. The Wizard of Oz won Academy Awards for Best Music - Original Score, and Original Song for Over The Rainbow, which is now a classic. From the munchkins to the Wicked Witch of the West to Dorothy’s ruby slippers, The Wizard of Oz made a lasting legacy that hasn’t faded even eighty years later!
#5 THE HARRY POTTER SERIES (2001 - 2011)
J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise created a world-wide fantasy mania that had never been seen before. And it wasn’t just the books that had fans lining up for midnight releases—the movies caused just as much of a stir! The film series ended up stretching over ten years, and viewers saw the young cast—with British actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint at the helm—literally grow up on screen.
Including film legends like Dame Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Kenneth Branagh and dozens of others, the cast of the Harry Potter films are one of its main strengths. But they’re also very visually impressive, with incredible set design, costuming, props and visual effects. When you watch these films, you truly feel like you’re inhabiting the wizarding world and joining in the adventures and trials of Harry and his comrades. Which is what all good fantasy films should make you feel!
(If you love Harry Potter, check out our new range of Harry Potter & Fantastic Beasts mini activity kits here!)