The 23 Best Fantasy Movies of All Time

The films most worth watching in the genre that ignites your imagination.

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Monty Python

Obviously, we're big fans of sci-fi, but fantasy has always been science fiction's closely related cousin. In both genres, the audience needs to suspend disbelief (sometimes more than others), but beneath an seeming unbelievable premise is something intimately human that we learn about ourselves.

And these are the 23 films that do it best—in no particular order.

1 of 21
The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The transition from black-and-white to Technicolor is the simplest possible distillation of what fantasy is.

2 of 21
The Seventh Seal (1957)

The image of a man playing chess with death is so iconic now that it’s almost hard to see this movie as fantasy, as opposed to, say, mythology. (Especially since it’s been elevated to parody, most famously by another movie on this list.) But the idea that the right sequence of moves, enough wit and cunning, can hold death at bay? That is the ultimate fantasy.

3 of 21
Jason and The Argonauts (1963)

All hail Ray Harryhausen! This movie’s fight scene with stop-motion skeleton warriors is just as cool as it was 56 years ago.

4 of 21
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

If you could design a fantasy world of your very own… wouldn’t it be edible?

5 of 21
Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975)

Set aside the fact that this was co-directed by Terry Gilliam, who has perhaps the best and most peculiar eye for fantasy filmmaking of anyone alive. You’ve still got, in descending order of fantasy renown: castles, the Knights of the Round Table, witches, the Knights Who Say Ni, the Rabbit of Caerbannog, and the Trojan Rabbit.

6 of 21
The Dark Crystal (1982)

Legitimately dark, in both senses of the word.

7 of 21
The Neverending Story (1984)

Who can forget Falkor, the Luck Dragon? (You would if you could though, right? I mean he’s kind of creepy, right?!?)

8 of 21
Labyrinth (1986)

A cult classic with a remarkable pedigree: Executive produced by George Lucas. Directed by Jim Henson. Written by a Python (Terry Jones) and punched up by a comedy legend (Elaine May). And, of course, starred David Bowie.

9 of 21
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

You can’t summarize the plot of this movie without sounding like a crazy person, which is one tip-off that it’s fantasy: An American truck driver teams up with a friend in San Francisco’s Chinatown to rescue two green-eyed, kidnapped women being held captive by a Chinese street gang run by a 2,000 year old wizard who needs to use them break a curse. Also, Kurt Russell does a running John Wayne impersonation. Great flick.

10 of 21
The Princess Bride (1987)

So many reasons to watch The Princess Bride:

“I am not left handed.”

“Inconceivable!”

“They were both poisoned. I spent the last few years building up an immunity to iocane powder."


11 of 21
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

A wonderful, touching film—the best of many to have come out of Studio Ghibli.

12 of 21
Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988)

Dueling pianos are generally the fodder of dime-store noir or cheesy bars. Just imagine how elevated they could be with… a .

13 of 21
Field of Dreams (1989)

Most fantasy stories about are dragons, or knights, or elves. This one is about baseball and America.

14 of 21
Edward Scissorhands (1990)

In a career full of weird roles, Johnny Depp’s best was probably Edward.

15 of 21
Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991)

Bergman by way of San Dimas.

16 of 21
Being John Malkovich (1999)

What kind of person locates their idea of fantasy literally inside of John Malkovich’s head? Oh, right, the guy who also made a move with twin Nic Cages, a movie where Philip Seymour Hoffman , and a where everyone is voiced by that from .

17 of 21
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

The Fellowship of the Ring, the first film, is the best of the three (The Return of the King’s Best Picture Oscar was really for the set), but you have to watch all of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films—extended editions, if possible—to understand just what a towering achievement they are.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Two Towers

The Return of the King

18 of 21
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Easily the best of the Harry Potter movies, because it’s a complete film that stands on its own and doesn’t slave over following every minor detail in the book. Plus it doesn’t hurt that it was directed by the guy who would go on to make Children of Men, Gravity, and Roma.

19 of 21
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo del Toro understands that our real, physical reality is paired with a lively world of imagination, and in times of great stress—under Franco in Spain, say, or during the Cold War—the seams start to show. He’s a master of pulling the thread. The Shape of Water, which won the Oscar for Best Picture is good; Pan’s Labyrinth is better.

20 of 21
Midnight in Paris (2011)

Which is the bigger fantasy: time travel or 1920s Paris?

21 of 21
Hugo (2011)

You could argue that this movie is not itself fantasy. But it’s a wonderfully told, fictionalized account of who laid the groundwork for many of the movies on this list. So it counts.

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