Many fairy tales have existed for well over 100 years, and their stories of magic and morality have continued to fill movie screens for an almost equal amount of time. Walt Disney has always been the primary industry in fairy tale films, as they’ve produced animated features for many popular fairy tales.
Though Disney is the cinematic leader, they don’t deserve all the credit. Many fairy tale films have been taken on by other studios, as well. These stories that most read as children have been adapted to the screens countless times, likely due to their important messages typically associated with the genre. Though some adaptations, naturally, are better than others.
10 ‘Bluebeard’ (1697)
Bluebeard may be a fairy tale that you haven’t heard of before. That’s probably because Disney hasn’t tackled it and most of the films made about it are in French. Regardless, there are still eleven movies about it. There’s even a full-length opera, too. So why hasn’t Disney touched this fairy tale? Probably because it’s so grim.
The macabre tale is about a young woman who marries a reclusive lord named Bluebeard, who, as his name suggests, has a blue beard. While staying in his castle, the woman discovers that her husband is a serial killer, and has murdered his previous wives. Honestly, this title would probably work really well as a horror movie, but filmmakers haven’t laid hands on it in a while now, despite the interesting premise. Perhaps it’s time for a fresh revival.
9 ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’ (1704)
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves is an Arabic folktale which coined the popular phrase “open sesame.” The story is of a man named Ali Baba who discovers a hidden den of thieves. Though the movie hasn’t seen a full adaptation in Hollywood for decades, it can also be found in many other forms, often interwoven with other stories.
In fact, Disney did produce a direct-to-video adaptation of the story, choosing to mix it with their popular Aladdin series. The animated musical film is entitled Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996). The story can also be found in live-action films as well, such as the 1952 film Son of Ali Baba. It can also be found in numerous foreign-language films. What makes the story unique is that it’s not about princesses, which sets it apart from many other fairy tales.
8 ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1697)
Sleeping Beauty is a fairy tale about Princess Aurora, who is despised by an evil queen named Maleficent. The queen sets a trap for the princess by leaving a cursed spinning loom in Aurora’s castle. Aurora pricks her finger on it and falls into a deep sleep, lasting years and years. She is only woken up by a prince’s kiss.
It has been made into a classic Disney film, though there have been several other adaptations as well. Interestingly, Disney’s live-action version of this film, entitled Maleficent (2014) showed the story from the perspective of the villain, and added a modern spin to a classic story.
7 ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ (1890)
Jack and the Beanstalk is an tale of a poor boy named Jack who acquires some magic beans. He plants them in his garden and an enormous beanstalk grows, which grows higher than anything else on Earth. Climbing it, Jack discovers a hidden kingdom in the clouds, which is run by giants.
This story has seen dozens of adaptations, many of them animated, but also having a few live-action titles as well. The most recent of these is the 2013 film Jack the Giant Slayer, which expands upon the story and makes it more of an epic fantasy. Its fantastical elements is what makes it so popular, and one of the most recurring tales in cinema and animation alike.
6 ‘Hansel and Gretel’ (1812)
Hansel and Gretel is the story of two German children who go for a walk in the woods and are captured by a witch, who intends to bake and eat them. Luckily, the children are much smarter than the witch, and are able to easily outwit her, bring her down, and save their own skins.
It’s a fairly innocuoustale of childhood innocence and how using your wits is oftentimes better than using violence. There’s also the moral that you should never enter the woods alone. Despite its childhood themes, it has been adapted for horror several times, most recently in 2020. Surprisingly, the horror concept works pretty well.
5 ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ (1812)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was one of the first animated princess musicals Disney ever produced, coming out way back in 1937. The story is familiar to many: a beautiful princess named Snow White is targeted by a jealous witch after the witch’s mirror informs her that Snow White is the most beautiful woman in the land, not the witch. While Snow White makes friends with seven dwarves, the witch schemes to kill Snow White, which eventually, she does. Though, Snow White comes back to life when she is kissed by a prince.
This tale, like Hansel and Gretel has been adapted into a multitude of different genres, including the epic fantasy film Snow White and the Huntsmen (2012), which earned satisfactory reviews from critics. The film’s adaptation range from innocent and kid-friendly to violent and mature, making it able to be enjoyed by people of all ages. A Disney-produced live-action version of this film is coming in the future, too.
4 ‘Beauty and the Beast’ (1740)
Beauty and the Beast is a French folktale which despite its age, has a very heartfelt and true-to-life message. The story concerns a young woman named Belle, who is forced to stay in the castle of a reclusive prince. She discovers that the Prince is a monster due to a curse that has been placed on him. Despite his grotesque appearance, Belle falls in love with him, which allows the Prince to return to his human form.
The message is that appearances don’t always matter in love, and that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. It’s a truly beautiful moral that is adored by many, which is why there have been so many adaptations, and why it is such a popular fairy tale even now.
3 ‘The Little Mermaid’ (1836)
The Little Mermaid is so timeless because of its messages about true love and sacrifice. The tale concerns a young mermaid named Ariel who wants nothing more than to be human. She rescues a prince from a shipwreck and falls in love with him. Sadly, Ariel being confined to the sea and the prince being a land-dweller makes their love impossible. So, Ariel goes to the witch Ursula, who turns Ariel into a human in exchange for Ariel’s heavenly singing voice.
The excitement about the Disney film has hardly simmered down since the time of its release, and it is set to be remade in live-action, coming later in May of 2023. Of course, the Disney movies aren’t the only adaptations, and there are plenty of other (mostly foreign) retellings out there.
2 ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ (1697)
Little Red Riding Hood is such a popular folktale amongst children due to its cautionary message. The story of a young girl who goes to visit her sick grandmother, she is warned not to stray off the path. She does anyway, and encounters a wolf, whom she tells of her grandmother. The wolf promptly reaches the grandmother’s house ahead of time, hoping to lure Red Riding Hood there in order to eat her and her grandmother.
The moral is of course to not stray from the established path, especially in the woods, and to be wary of strangers. The tale, naturally, has been adapted several times, but what makes it different is how many unique adaptations there are. Some have even been horror films, which offer a fresh spin on the story. Despite its numerous incarnations, the message is still relevant to all audiences, which is what makes it so popular.
1 ‘Cinderella’ (1697)
Cinderella was one of the original Disney princess movies, and one that children continue to watch and recognize to this day. It’s been remade countless times. Disney still uses the character as a popular mascot, and as the face of their princess movie legacy. Why? Simple: it’s a rags-to-riches story. Cinephiles love stories of the underprivileged and underappreciated rising up to become better than their powerful peers, and really showing them how wrong they were.
It’s a common trope that can be found in countless films, whether they’re related to Cinderella or not. In fact, it is the most remade story in film history. It is for this reason that Cinderella is the number one most recognizable and most beloved fairy tale, both in print, and in cinema.
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