Fantasy has been around since the dawn of cinema. As one of the most enduring and beloved genres, fantasy has enthralled and enchanted audiences for decades, delivering some of cinema’s most iconic films, many of which came out during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
From sweet and wholesome films like Mary Poppins to introspective and striking pictures like The Seventh Seal, these fantasy movies have stood the test of time. Thanks to their handsome visuals, thought-provoking themes, adventurous spirit, and timeless quality, these films are cinematic barometers against which to measure all fantasy movies to come.
10 ‘The Adventures Of Robin Hood’ (1938)
Errol Flynn‘s name has become synonymous with the Swashbuckler genre, thanks to his many performances in the once-iconic genre. However, few are as memorable as his take on the Prince of Thieves in 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood. The film centers on the title character’s fight against the despotic Prince John, ruling England by oppressing the Saxon commoners in Richard the Lionheart’s absence.
Aided by a lovely Olivia de Haviland as Maid Marion, Flynn delivers a spectacular performance that cemented him as the defining version of Robin Hood. The Adventures of Robin Hood would become a milestone in the Swashbuckler and fantasy genres, inspiring many imitations and evocations that tried, and mostly failed, to recapture the film’s now-legendary sense of adventure.
9 ‘Jason And The Argonauts’ (1963)
Jason and the Argonauts draws inspiration from Greek mythology while changing major aspects compared to the legendary tales. The plot centers on Jason, a hero who inadvertently saves his father’s murderer’s life and gets sent by him to recover the legendary Golden Fleece accompanied by the demigod Hercules.
A technical wonder at the time, Jason and the Argonauts is well-remembered for the now-iconic battle where Jason fights against an army of skeletons. Beyond this classic scene, the film is a suitably epic adaptation of Greek myth strengthened by a commanding performance from Todd Armstrong. What Jason and the Argonauts lacks in faithfulness, it more than makes up in bombast.
8 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1959)
Adapted from Charles Perrault’s eponymous fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty tells the story of the young princess Aurora. Cursed at birth by the evil sorceress Maleficent, the princess falls to an eternal sleep from which she can only be awakened through true love’s kiss.
Sleeping Beauty marked the end of an era for Disney. The film was the last in the studio’s Golden Age, ending two decades of magic. Still, Sleeping Beauty is arguably Disney’s greatest artistic triumph of the classic age and a now-legendary entry into the Mouse House’s revered vault. Exciting, beautifully animated, and with one of Disney’s best and most evil villains, Sleeping Beauty is a near-perfect fairy tale adaptation.
7 ‘The Thief Of Bagdad’ (1924)
The legendary Douglas Fairbanks stars in the 1924 silent classic The Thief of Bagdad. A loose adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights, the film centers on a thief who pretends to be a prince and secure the love of Baghdad’s princess. Ridden by guilt, he sets on a dangerous journey to recover a magic chest and save Baghdad from an evil force.
The Thief of Bagdad birthed the Swashbuckler genre, turning Fairbanks into a legend. Ranking as one of the most innovative and technically triumphant films of the silent era, The Thief of Bagdad is an influential precursor of every fantasy film, a larger-than-life adventure that introduced many elements that would define fantasy for years to come.
6 ‘Pinocchio’ (1940)
Disney’s adaptation of Carlo Collodi‘s 1883 classic Pinocchio was the studio’s second animated feature and remains one of its most celebrated triumphs today. The film tells the story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet brought to life by the Blue Fairy and his quest to become a real boy.
Pinocchio continued Disney’s legacy with rich animation and a surprisingly complex story that embraced the source material’s darkness while imbuing it with the studio’s trademark magic. The result is an ageless depiction of childhood and innocence, representing one of the Mouse House’s crowning achievements. Pinocchio arguably includes Disney’s most iconic song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” a tune so remarkable and uplifting that it became the studio’s official theme.
5 ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’ (1937)
Walt Disney‘s first animated feature film remains one of the studio’s best. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs follows the beautiful and innocent titular princess, who finds refuge in the house of seven kindly dwarfs after escaping her evil stepmother’s plans to take her heart out.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs created Disney’s trademark sense of wonder and awe. Elegantly animated and charming to a fault, the film isn’t afraid to go dark, mainly through its macabre depiction of the Evil Queen, one of cinema’s best and most enduring fantasy villains. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs would pave the way for every animated film to come, setting the bar extremely high and single-handedly carving a new cinematic genre that would stand the test of time.
4 ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ (1946)
Frank Capra‘s 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life stars James Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore. The film follows George Bailey, a disheartened man contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. However, a visit from his guardian angel shows him the impact he’s had on his community and the many lives he has changed.
Loosely based on Charles Dickens‘ seminal novella A Christmas Carol,It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the best films from the 40s and a bonafide classic today. Shamelessly uplighting but undeniably effective, the film is a joyous celebration of life and the bonds that tie people together, enhanced by one of Jimmy Stewart’s most delightful performances. It’s a Wonderful Life embraces darkness to tell a tale of positivity and kindness that has become a must-see during the season of giving.
3 ‘Mary Poppins’ (1964)
Mary Poppins, arguably Walt Disney’s magnum opus, stars Julie Andrews in the role that made her a star and, most importantly, a cinematic icon. The film tells the story of the Banks children, who receive the visit of the magical nanny Mary Poppins to help mend their relationship with their work-obsessed father.
Extraordinary in the best sense, Mary Poppins might be the most Disney film in the Disney vault. Blending animation with live-action, featuring some of the Mouse House’s most unforgettable songs, and with a winning performance by Andrews, the film is a moving and emotional reflection on love and family that perfectly encapsulates the magic of cinema.
2 ‘The Seventh Seal’ (1957)
Ingmar Bergman‘s sublime historical fantasy The Seventh Seal is among the few films in history that can be described as a genuine cinematic experience. Max von Sydow stars as Antonius Block, a disillusioned knight returning from the Crusades to find his country succumbing to the Black Death. Enraged, he challenges a personification of Death to a chess match, setting off on a journey of discovery to discover the nature of God.
Handling weighty and potentially thorny themes with masterful dexterity, The Seventh Seal is a thought-provoking picture of epic proportions. Few films are as instantly-recognizable or deeply influential, and the questions The Seventh Seal poses remain fascinating and unanswered today, a testament to its enduring and timeless quality.
1 ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ (1939)
There’s no place like home, and there’s no movie like The Wizard of Oz. The iconic Judy Garland stars as Dorothy, a Kansas girl transported to the magical land of Oz via tornado. Looking to return home, she begins a journey to the Emerald City to seek the help of the powerful Wizard of Oz while being tracked by the vengeful Wicked Witch of the West.
Adapted from the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming‘s timeless masterpiece ranks as arguably the best fantasy movie ever made. Thanks to Garland’s winsome performance, some genuinely impressive visuals, and a heartwarming, whimsical story, The Wizard of Oz remains a touching and crowd-pleasing classic about family, identity, and the true meaning of the word “home.”
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