With the release of Now You See Me 2, the sequel to 2013's surprise hit that was a combination of magic and heist - a sort of Ocean's Eleven, but with magicians - magic is back in the discussion buzz in Hollywood. In the fantasy genre, magic is pretty much a staple, with wizards and goblins and fairies populating the landscape that fills in Lord Of The Rings or the Harry Potter movies. Incidentally, most movies made on magic seem to have been adapted from books and while they have had mixed success, I have picked three of my personal favorites that I enjoyed watching and specifically dealt with magicians and the practice of their craft.
(I am leaving out Harry Potter because it is a universal and obvious choice; its omission from my list in no way diminishes the terrific achievement in cinema that it is.)
So, here is my personal list:
1. The Prestige (2005)
For a wonderfully entertaining and typically Christopher Nolan-esque exploration of the dark underbelly of magicians' trade secrets and the lengths they will go to attain and/or protect them, The Prestige is a great go to movie. Its stellar cast and majestic set up aside, what really crackles is the tension as two rival magicians try to outdo each other, in the process paying very heavy prices. The eponymous book by Christopher Priest from which the film is adapted dwelled quite a bit on what happens when Robert Angier acquires the machine for his Transported Man trick, but in the movie Nolan, as is his wont, skimps on that and uses the mystery to build up to his final reveal and kicker.
2. Practical Magic (1998)
If Now You See Me was Oceans Eleven, but with magic, Practical Magic, which featured permanent rom com fixture Sandra Bullock along with Nicole Kidman was basically the standard rom com, sprinkled with magic dust. Adapted from Alice Hoffman's novel, it tells the story of the Owens sisters - Sally (Bullock) and Gillian (Kidman) - who are witches with the gift for practical magic but their gift is also a curse that dooms them in love. The movie is for the most parts great fun even if anchored in the usual rom com cliches and Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman share rather good chemistry as the introvert and the extrovert respectively who try to make sense of the world at large, and love in particular.
3. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2015) [TV Mini Series - 7 episodes]
In the tradition of The Prestige this great adaptation by the BBC of Susanna Clarke's award winning book also has two magicians pitted against each other - Mr. Norrell, the senior magician who wants to bring magic back to Victorian England where it has become a long lost art and the young upstart Jonathan Strange who has similar ambitions. But the ambit of the story goes much beyond just the shock and awe of magic tricks (there is even a Melissandre style Jon Snow-esque resurrection of a government minister's fiancee after she dies) and it explores the dynamics of power, celebrity and social order. That makes it supremely compelling and a must watch whether you're a huge fan of magic or not.
Bonus picks: Apart from those three that I personally enjoyed the most, there are a couple of others I can suggest:
The Illusionist (2006), set in Vienna where a magician tries to win the love of someone who is, well, way out his league.
The Magicians (2015) [TV Series] which is a clever and fun, sort of college version of Harry Potter, dealing with young magicians recruited for studying at an elite and secretive academy.
Can't see your favorite here? Add them in the comments.