The Best Fantasy Movies

From 'The Wizard of Oz' to the Wizards of Middle-Earth and Harry Potter

Actor Ian McKellan as Gandalf the White in a battle scene in the 2003 film 'The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King'
Ian McKellen in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

New Line Cinema

A fantasy movie is a film that depicts characters and situations that include supernatural or magical elements similar to myths and folklore.

Did You Know?

The highest-grossing fantasy film of all time is 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, which grossed $1.342 billion worldwide.

History of Fantasy Movies

Some of the earliest film pioneers, like Georges Méliès and Walter R. Booth, utilized elements of fantasy in their movies. Méliès' 1899 adaptation of Cinderella, which is six minutes long, may be the first fantasy film. Other notable early filmmakers also created fantasy films, such as F.W. Murnau (1922's Phantom), Fritz Lang (1924's Die Nibelungen) and Raoul Walsh (1924's The Thief of Bagdad).

Despite the great commercial success of fantasy literature, fantasy remained a largely-untapped genre in film for decades. Part of the reason for that was the significant amount of visual effects that would be required to do the material justice. For example, even though author J.R.R. Tolkien sold the film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1969, it took over 30 years for the live-action adaptations of Lord of the Rings to go into production. On the other hand, author C.S. Lewis never sold the film rights to his Chronicles of Narnia series because he doubted that faithful movie adaptations could be created. It wasn't until nearly 40 years after Lewis' death that his stepson, actor Douglas Gresham, believed that technology had advanced enough to capture his stepfather's work. The first Narnia film, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was released in 2005.

In prior decades, several smaller-scale fantasy films were released and were moderately successful at the box office or later became cult classics, including Time Bandits (1981), Conan the Barbarian (1982), The Dark Crystal (1982), Legend (1986), Willow (1988), and Dragonheart (1996). With the advancements of visual effects technology, fantasy films became increasingly more commonplace in the 21st century.

Top Fantasy Movies

From the earliest fantasy movies to the more recent box-office blockbusters, these are some of the top fantasy movies.

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The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The cast of the 1939 MGM film 'The Wizard of Oz' depicted in a theatrical lobby card.
A lobby card from the film 'The Wizard Of Oz,' shows a film still of a scene in which American actress Judy Garland (1922 - 1969) (as Dorothy) wipes tears from the eyes of actor Bert Lahr (1895 - 1967) (as the Cowardly Lion), while watched by Jack Haley (1898 - 1979) (as the Tin Man) (left), and Ray Bolger (1904 - 1987) (as the Scarecrow), 1939. The film was directed by Victor Fleming.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Based on L. Frank Baum's 1900 children's novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the 1939 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musical film The Wizard of Oz has enchanted several generations of children with its charming storyline about Dorothy (Judy Garland), a young girl from Kansas who finds herself in the magical land of Oz and, with the help of some fantastic companions, seeks to return home.

The movie features landmark achievements in special effects, makeup, and costuming. Though it initially was not a box office success, esteem for the film has grown in subsequent decades (particularly after numerous airings on television beginning in the mid-1950s), the Wizard of Oz has been declared the most-viewed film in history by the Library of Congress, which added the film to its National Film Registry for preservation in the inaugural year of the program.

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The Princess Bride (1987)

Actors Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes and Andre the Giant in a scene in the 1987 fantasy film 'The Princess Bride'
Cary Elwes, André the Giant, and Mandy Patinkin in The Princess Bride (1987).

20th Century Fox

Screenwriter William Goldman adapted his own young adult fantasy novel The Princess Bride for this 1987 film. The movie tells the tale of the love between the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright) and the heroic Westley (Cary Elwes), and the challenges they face as they try to marry. The film features memorable performances from supporting actors Mandy Patinkin, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Andre the Giant. Though The Princess Bride was only a minor hit during its initial release, it became a beloved cult classic.

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The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

The Fellowship of the Ring gathers together for the first time in the 2001 film 'The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring'
Sean Astin, Sean Bean, Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, John Rhys-Davies, and Hugo Weaving in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

New Line Cinema

J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling novels ever written, and filmmakers had been trying to adapt it for decades (including a pair of animated adaptations in 1978 and 1980). It wasn't until devoted fan Peter Jackson, a New Zealand filmmaker, took on the monumental task of filming three movies simultaneously that those efforts resulted in a critically-acclaimed, award-winning trilogy of films that were blockbusters. The story depicts a small group of heroes on a quest to stop the evil Dark Lord Sauron from conquering the world when they attempt to destroy a powerful weapon possessing much of his power, the One Ring.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) became the first fantasy film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Jackson later directed three films that adapted Tolkien's Lord of the Rings prequel novel, The Hobbit.

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Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

Actress Ivana Baquero and actor Doug Jones in the 2006 film 'Pan's Labyrinth'
Doug Jones and Ivana Baquero in El laberinto del fauno (2006).

New Line Cinema

While many fantasy films (particularly those made for children) feature a lighthearted tone, others feature much darker elements. Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who utilizes elements of fantasy in most of his films, wrote and directed this film about a young girl in 1940s Spain who encounters mysterious creatures in an overgrown labyrinth. Pan's Labyrinth won three Academy Awards and three BAFTA Awards, including the BAFTA Award for the Best Film Not in the English Language.

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The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (2001-Present)

Actors Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Daniel Radcliffe in battle in the 2011 film in 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2'
Rupert Grint, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011).

Warner Bros. Entertainment 

The highest-grossing fantasy franchise of all time, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter consists of ten films that have grossed a combined $2.8 billion at the worldwide box office. The films are based on the seven books in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter young adult novel series about a school of young wizards. In addition to being bestsellers, the books were adapted into eight blockbuster films, starting with 2001's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone through 2011's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. Following that, Rowling has written the screenplays for two prequels, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016) and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018), with more sequels planned.