Gather 'round, one and all, for I am undertaking a daunting task: Ranking the 31 greatest fantasy movies of all time. I have scoured the lands far and wide in search of worthy competitors, and after a grueling battle of wits and strength, a clear winner has risen from the ashes. These movies have come from all times and places, ranging from the mythical land of Oz to galaxies far, far away. Our champions have earned their rightful places upon this list and will be remembered for a long time to come. In order for a challenger to be considered they had to follow a couple rules:
- No more than one installment of a series
- No more than one animated movie from the same company
- Anything that says "Fantasy" when you Google it is allowed
Once those three conditions were met, we were able to rank them accordingly. Without further ado, let's take a look at the definitive ranking of the 31 best fantasy movies of all time!
31. Legend (1985)
- Director: Ridley Scott
- Release date: April 18, 1986 (USA)
- Why it will be remembered: Tim Curry's Darkness
Starting off our countdown of the greatest fantasy films of all time is this little gem from the '80s. Directed by the legendary Ridley Scott and starring Tom Cruise and Tim Curry, Legend has everything a good fantasy film needs. It's full of unicorns, magic swamps, sword fights, elves, fairies, dwarves, and Tim Curry as a big, red demon named Darkness.
The film definitely has its downsides, which is why it isn't ranked higher on the list, but at the end of the day it's still an enjoyable movie.
30. Willow (1988)
- Director: Ron Howard
- Release date: May 20, 1988
- Why it will be remembered: Special Effects (for which it was nominated for two Oscars)
Another film from the '80s, Willow stars Warwick Davis as the titular character. The basic premise of the movie is that Willow, a reluctant farmer, is tasked with safeguarding an infant from the evil queen.
One of the most notable aspects of the film is its visual effects. George Lucas (who also came up with the story) tasked his visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic with creating the special effects and the results were incredible. In fact, the movie's effects are regarded as an important breakthrough moment for the technique of digital morphing.
29. Jumanji (1995)
- Director: Joe Johnston
- Release date: December 15, 1995
- Why it will be remembered: Robin Williams
This was one of my favorite movies growing up. Robin Williams shines in the leading role as always. Jumanji, in case somehow you've never seen it, is about a magical board game that sucks Robin Williams' character Allan into itself while he's a child, and years later when the game is found by a two siblings they unknowingly unleash a whole jungle of craziness into their world.
This classic is set to have a (rather controversial) remake starring Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.
28. Maleficent (2014)
- Director: Robert Stromberg
- Release date: May 30, 2014
- Why it will be remembered: Angelina Jolie in an increasingly rare blockbuster appearance
A more recent movie, Maleficent was Disney's second attempt (after Alice in Wonderland) at remaking one of their animated classics into a live action film. This unique re-imagining tells the story of Maleficent, the evil sorceress who curses Aurora in Sleeping Beauty, and it does a successful job in making us feel sympathetic toward one of the vilest villains in Disney history.
Angelina Jolie (RIP Brangelina) was magnificent in the titular role and Elle Fanning did a pretty nice job as Aurora. Maleficent was fresh and unique and really showed us that Disney can make live action movies out of their classics (though, I'm still worried about the Lion King remake).
27. Labyrinth (1986)
- Director: Jim Henson
- Release date: June 27, 1986
- Why it will be remembered: David Bowie's most iconic performance as Jareth, the Goblin King
I remember the first time I saw Labyrinth was in Puppetry class back in the seventh grade. Directed by Jim Henson, Labyrinth is full of unique goblin Muppets and phenomenal human actors, including the late David Bowie as the Goblin King, Jareth.
The movie is fun and weird and unique and just a wonderful experience to watch. There are also some cool musical scenes, trippy visuals (especially the stairs scene), memorably strange characters, and a wonderful plot.
26. Conan The Barbarian (1982)
- Director: John Milius
- Release date: May 14, 1982
- Why it will be remembered: Arnold Schwarzenegger's breakout role
This movie is one of my great uncle's favorite movies and it pains me to not rank it any higher than 26. However, what that means is that we have some really, really great fantasy movies out there.
Conan the Barbarian tells the story of Conan the Barbarian (Arnold Schwarzenegger), of course, as he is enslaved by an evil necromancer named Thulsa Doom (James Earl Jones). Once Conan becomes an adult, he joins forces with the beautiful warrior Valeria and the archer Subotai to find Doom and avenge his slain family.
25. The Dark Crystal (1982)
- Directors: Jim Henson & Frank Oz
- Release date: December 17, 1982
- Why it will be remembered: The stunning visuals and memorable characters
Another Jim Henson (in collaboration with Frank Oz) classic, The Dark Crystal is one of the darkest "family films" you'll ever see. The film is unique in that it uses only puppets and animatronics, it has a original story, and the characters were so new and fresh both in appearance and personality that it's still impressive to this day.
At the time, the animatronics used were considered groundbreaking and the film went on to win that year's Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film (if you're unfamiliar with the Saturn Awards, its basically the geek version of the Oscars).
24. Stardust (2007)
- Directors: Matthew Vaughn
- Release date: August 10, 2007
- Why it will be remembered: Faithfulness to source material and whimsical sense of humor
Directed by Matthew Vaughn with narration by the one and only Sir Ian McKellen, the movie follows a young man (played by Charlie Cox, who you might better know as Daredevil) as he attempts to retrieve a star to win over his beloved. However, not all goes to plan. Instead of being a space rock, the star that falls to Earth is actually in human form and she is in dire need of help.
The movie has a star-studded cast and was based on celebrated author and comic book writer Neil Gaiman's work (and he so happens to be one of my favorites).
23. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Director: Gore Verbinski
- Release date: July 9, 2003
- Why it will be remembered: Three words: Captain. Jack. Sparrow.
Remember, only one movie from a series will be included on the list and I'll choose which film of the franchise I believe is the best. In this case, it's the first installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series. The first time I watched this movie was about three(ish) years ago because it was my (at the time) girlfriend's favorite movie. If nothing else good came from that relationship, at least I was introduced to this great film. Jack Sparrow (played by the charmingly weird Johnny Depp channeling his best Mick Jagger) is simultaneously the best and worst pirate of all time.
Who would've thought that a movie based on a ride could be so enjoyable?
22. The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
- Director: Mark Waters
- Release date: February 14, 2008
- Why it will be remembered: Its treatment of the source material and fascinating characters
For some reason, when this movie came out I remember watching it like a dozen times in the first month and then at least once a month for what seemed like ages.
I know this movie like the back of my hand and something about it is just really, really good. It's kinda creepy at moments, it's fully realized in its mythical creatures, and for its time it had wonderful visual effects.
21. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
- Director: Wolfgang Petersen
- Release date: July 20, 1984
- Why it will be remembered: Falkor the Luck Dragon
When you think of a classic fantasy film, The NeverEnding Story jumps straight to mind. Although the author of the source material hated it, fans have loved the movie ever since its release and continue to today, over 30 years later. The film's charm, characters, and story line help solidify the movie's spot on my list.
A fun fact: It was the most expensive film outside of the US or USSR at time of its release.
20. Avatar (2009)
- Director: James Cameron
- Release date: December 18, 2009
- Why it will be remembered: The groundbreaking visuals
Alright, I understand this placement (if not necessarily this pick) is going to be controversial. How in the world can the highest-grossing movie of all time only be the 20th greatest fantasy movie? Simple: Money does not equal quality. The story has been called a rip-off of Pocahontas (among others) and the characters are rather one-dimensional and underexplored for the most part.
However, the movie did make money for a reason. The number one reason: It's a beautiful, magnificent visual treat. The imagery, the colors, the CGI, everything is amazingly stunning that we're willing to look past a few small mistakes like a poor plot.
19. Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)
- Director: Mel Stuart
- Release date: June 30, 1971
- Why it will be remembered: Gene Wilder's iconic portrayal of Willy Wonka
Gene Wilder is truly the man responsible for making this movie so magical, may he rest in peace. The book and this movie are a part of the childhood of almost everybody under a certain age. Wilder's eccentric, off-kilter Willy Wonka is such a memorable performance that it can't be replicated. There are also several iconic scenes in this movie: the trip down the chocolate river, the scene where Charlie and his grandpa fly around, and when Veruca Salt turns blue, among others. And most everyone has heard this song:
The film was nominated for two Oscars, one for its score and one for Gene Wilder's performance and it deserved both..
18. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
- Director: Tim Burton
- Release date: December 14, 1990
- Why it will be remembered: Johnny Depp's remarkable performance as the titular character
I really love this movie. It's so quirky, so strange, so Tim Burton. Prior to this film, Johnny Depp wasn't really a huge name in Hollywood. He had appeared in a few movies and starred in the 21 Jump Street television show, but Edward Scissorhands is what really cemented Depp's spot in Hollywood.
The film is really memorable for how intimate it feels, how personally attached you grow to the weird outcast with scissors for hands. It takes you on a roller coaster of feelings as you just watch a young man try to adapt to suburban life and find his place in the world.
17. The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)
- Director: Andrew Adamson
- Release date: December 9, 2005
- Why it will be remembered: "FOR NARNIA!" Oh, and the cast chemistry, of course.
C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors ever and this attempt at turning one of his books into a film was a success in many ways. The chemistry between the four leads was amazing, Liam Neeson and Tilda Swinton as the faces of good and evil is genius, the action sequences are solid, and the dynamic between all of the characters is intriguing. For me, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is really a character-driven movie. You care about every single character, from the young and innocent Lucy to the brave and powerful Aslan. Every character gets a chance to shine, even those who aren't in the spotlight for long (notable examples include James McAvoy's Mr. Tumnus and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver).
Personally, I'm a huge fan of Prince Caspian (and I even enjoyed Voyage of the Dawn Treader to an extent), but the first movie will always hold a special place in the hearts of many.
16. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
- Director: Frank Capra
- Release date: January 7, 1947 (USA)
- Why it will be remembered: It's become a must-see every Christmas season
The true classic Christmas movie. It's A Wonderful Life should be on everybody's winter watch list, and if it isn't already: What is wrong with you? It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute included it on its 100 Greatest American Movies ever made list.
Interestingly enough, when the film was released, it came nowhere near making enough money to break eve and many in the film industry thought it meant director Frank Capra could no longer make movies that made money.
15. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
- Director: Terry Gilliam
- Release date: March 10, 1989 (USA)
- Why it will be remembered: Its boundless imagination
Like It's A Wonderful Life, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a box office failure. Yet, also like its predecessor, it was critically acclaimed and has since found a cult following in the realm of fantasy fans. The movie is based on tall tales about an 18th-century noblemen named Baron Munchausen and his adventures against the Turks.
Fitting then that Terry Gilliam, an original member of Monty Python, would have been the director to bring the bizarre tale to life.
14. Groundhog Day (1993)
- Director: Harold Ramis
- Release date: February 12, 1993
- Why it will be remembered: Bill Murray's phenomenal comedic delivery
Arguably the greatest Bill Murray movie of all time, Groundhog Day might seem like an odd choice to include in a list of fantasy movies, but it has absolutely everything needed to be considered a fantasy movie. Magic, adventure, and events that are highly improbable in real life. Groudhog Day is the perfect movie to watch any day of the year, especially when you need a laugh.
In fact, the American Film Institute ranked it as the eighth greatest fantasy film of all time (although their definition is a little bit more limited than ours). Fans have speculated on how long Murray's character was stuck in the time loop, but estimates range anywhere from 10 to 10,000 years.
13. Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
- Director: Guillermo del Toro
- Release date: January 17, 2007 (USA)
- Why it will be remembered: The freaky eyes in the palms of his hands guy
Pan's Labyrinth was a worldwide hit when it came out in 2006. Numerous magazines around the world gave the film set during the Spanish Civil War a spot on their "10 Best Films of 2006" lists. The film won three Academy Awards, including Best Director for Guillermo del Toro. This fantasy film, based around the amazing fantasy works of the Romans, gave us some of the most amazing practical effects and makeup work in recent memory and many of the characters have become instantly recognizable.
Fun fact: Actor Doug Jones played both Fauno and the Pale Man (in the clip above). As one of the pioneering actors of mocap and prosthetic makeup, he's been the actor behind more famous characters than you realize.
12. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
- Director: Ang Lee
- Release date: January 12, 2001 (USA)
- Why it will be remembered: Incredible martial arts scenes combined with beautiful cinematography
Visionary director Ang Lee created a masterful movie full of beautiful cinematography (for which Peter Pau won an Academy Award), engrossing drama, and some of the finest martial arts scenes committed to film. The film was nominated for a total of 10 Oscars and managed to take home four of them (including Best Foreign Language Film).
Currently, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is also the highest-grossing foreign language film in American history and it doesn't appear it will give up that spot any time soon.
11. How To Train Your Dragon (2010)
- Directors: Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders
- Release date: March 26, 2010
- Why it will be remembered: Toothless, the most adorable dragon in movie history
The first of only two animated movies to make our list, How To Train Your Dragon is a DreamWorks Animation picture that really sets the bar high for animated fantasy films. When you boil the movie down to the basics, How To Train Your Dragon is a coming-of-age story focused on the importance of friendship and working with those who are different from you.
It carries a good message for children (toward whom the film is primarily marketed), but the clever dialogue, beautiful animation, and its fight sequences are sure to keep anyone entertained.
10. Pete's Dragon (2016)
- Director: David Lowery
- Release date: August 12, 2016
- Why it will be remembered: Oakes Fegley's portrayal of Pete and the amazing animation of Elliot the dragon.
Of all the movies I've watched this year, Pete's Dragon steals the top spot for my favorite. It's funny, heartwarming, the animation is stunning, and the actors (Oakes Fegley and Bryce Dallas Howard) absolutely shine. Pete's Dragon has everything you could want from a fantasy movie and that is exactly why it makes its way into my top ten.
For me, this movie should be the basis for which Disney continues their live action remakes: Instead of touching classic films like The Lion King, take some of their less successful films and remake them into films destined to be classics.
9. Mary Poppins (1964)
- Director: Robert Stevenson
- Release date: September 11, 1964
- Why it will be remembered: The unforgettable music and Julie Andrews' beloved performance
Sometimes it might be difficult to differentiate between Mary Poppins and Julie Andrews herself, as the young actress made the character iconic. Mary Poppins is a wonderful fantasy film full of great music, terrific acting, and a timeless story. The film was nominated for a total of 13 Oscars (an unsurpassed record for Disney) and won five of them.
Mary Poppins is a great film for all ages and will be enjoyed for years to come, especially with a sequel on the way starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
8. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
- Director: James Gunn
- Release date: August 1, 2014
- Why it will be remembered: The incredible soundtrack and the hilarious chemistry of the cast
Whoever said superhero space operas can't be fantasy movies? When it came to picking a single superhero movie to include on the list, I had to go with Marvel's biggest risk (and biggest pay off), Guardians of the Galaxy. The film transformed Chris Pratt from a television goofball into a Hollywood leading man and national treasure.
Guardians of the Galaxy is great for the whole family and literally has something for everybody (even those who don't like superhero films). It's funny, heartfelt, and packed with action. The ensemble cast really did a fantastic job of coming together to turn a largely unknown property into the standout star in the superhero genre.
7. Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
- Director: Alfonso Cuarón
- Release date: June 4, 2004
- Why it will be remembered: It's Harry Potter. No one will ever let you forget about Harry Potter.
If you thought Harry Potter wasn't going to make it into the top ten, you were sorely mistaken. Harry Potter is an international cultural phenomenon and picking just one movie out of the franchise was incredibly difficult. Ultimately, I had to go with the installment that garnered the greatest critical acclaim (and my personal favorite of the franchise)
The franchise as a whole has impacted so many people's lives in so many different ways and will be cemented in history forever. As for Prisoner of Azkaban itself, the film is full of suspense, riveting plot twists, a wonderful story, and terrific acting all around.
6. Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975)
- Directors: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones
- Release date: May 23, 1975
- Why it will be remembered: The ridiculous absurdity of its humor, as only Monty Python can achieve
If you've never seen Monty Python and The Holy Grail, you've at least heard your one nerdy friend reference it in multiple conversations, whether you realized it or not. Unlike many of the other movies on this list, Monty Python doesn't take itself seriously.
It's essentially a parody, and a really good one at that. The movie is so great that it even provided the basis for one of the best musicals to ever hit the stage: Spamalot.
5. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Director: Victor Fleming
- Release date: August 25, 1939
- Why it will be remembered: Everything about it
The oldest film on this list, The Wizard of Oz is a true classic in every sense of the word. Everyone knows what The Wizard of Oz is. It's had numerous remakes, spin-offs, reimaginings and more, yet nothing comes close to the pure genius that is the original.
People have sung the songs in the film since they were children, the characters are iconic, the story is memorable, and the colors are magical. It's the perfect film to take us into the Top 5!
4. Beauty And The Beast (1991)
- Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
- Release date: November 22, 1991
- Why it will be remembered: Angela Lansbury singing, "Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast..."
Do you know how extremely hard it was to pick a Disney animated movie for this list? Ultimately, I had to go with the film that felt the most fantastical and the only Disney animated film to ever be nominated for a Best Picture at the Oscars (in fact, it was the first animated film ever to be nominated in that category). Beauty and the Beast is a tale as old as time, every character is relatable, and every scene holds emotional weight. You'll laugh and you'll cry, and you'll love every minute of it.
I absolutely adore this movie and in case you live under a rock, there's a live action remake coming out soon.
3. The Princess Bride (1987)
- Director: Rob Reiner
- Release date: October 9, 1987
- Why it will be remembered: As one of the most-quoted films ever, it's inconceivable for it not to be!
Putting The Princess Bride so high on the list might be a little controversial, but I'm okay with that. I have never met anybody who doesn't love this movie. Reread that sentence. I didn't say I haven't ever met anybody who doesn't like the movie, I said love. It's a fantastic movie that absolutely deserves its high ranking. The Princess Bride has terrific characters, distinct charm, witty humor, quotable lines, and everything else you could want from a movie. Almost every single scene is memorable, including one of the most epic verbal take-downs in movie history:
Without it, we'd never have gotten so many classic lines that we still quote today...like "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
Fun fact: Chris Sarandon, who played the dastardly Prince Humperdinck, is the same actor who voiced Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
2. Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977)
- Director: George Lucas
- Release date: May 25, 1977
- Why it will be remembered: It was the movie that quite literally changed the industry forever
There's no doubt that Star Wars is perhaps the biggest and most influential cultural phenomenon of all time. Literally everybody and their dog has at least heard of Star Wars. If you're one of those people that haven't seen a single Star Wars film then you're familiar with the exasperated gasps of disbelief you get every time you mention it (and at this point you won't watch it because, admit it, you kind of like the attention it gets you).
Yes, it's science fiction, but first and foremost it's a fantasy movie that just so happens to be set in space. Almost everybody in their life has wanted to be a Jedi at some point, and no matter how much you claim to hate the prequels you've still seen them numerous times over.
1. The Lord of The Rings: Return Of The King (2003)
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Release date: December 17, 2003
- Why it will be remembered: Do I even have to give a reason?
Finally we make it to the number one fantasy movie of all time. Of course the title of the greatest fantasy movie ever belongs to Return of the King. No other movie even comes close to matching the sheer greatness that is this movie. J.R.R. Tolkien's magnum opus is the standard by which all high fantasy is based and from where modern fantasy gets its origin. Peter Jackson managed to translate those books into an incomparable movie trilogy that will always hold the top spot for the greatest fantasy movie of all time (at least in my heart).
Why did I choose Return of The King as the number one movie? Three simple words: Eleven. Oscar. Wins. It is the only fantasy movie ever to win Best Picture, it holds the record for the largest sweep in Oscar history (winning the award for every category it was nominated), and it is tied for most nominations by a single film. The awards by themselves are impressive, but it's truly the fan base that keeps this film alive and revered.
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After a grueling process, we finally come to the end of this list. Many films were judged and given a rank today. All of these films are wonderful watches and deserve a place on the list of the 31 greatest fantasy movies of all time. Do you disagree with my rankings? Is there a movie I forgot? Let me know in the comments below!