Best & Worst: Fantasy Films

Best: The Lord Of The Rings (2001)

Of course. The defining fantasy trilogy of the Noughties knocked everybody sideways when it took command of the Christmases of 2001, 2002 and 2003. Once considered to be completely unfilmable, Kiwi director Peter Jackson – most famous for schlocky horrors and The Frighteners – swept away any doubters with his assured adaptation of Tolkien’s tale.

Countless imitators followed, from Disney’s Chronicles Of Narnia to episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. But there’ll always be one Lord Of The Rings . A colossal achievement.

Worst: The Golden Compass (2007)

Chris Weitz attempts to kick off a movie adaptation franchise of His Dark Materials, falls flat on his face at the first hurdle. Playing down the books’ religious tones, hacking away great chunks of the darker stuff in Philip Pullman’s story, this is a twee attempt to lure in the Narnia generation.

Alright, we’ll hand you Nicole Kidman as a decent Mrs Coulter, but the rest of the film is a CGI travesty.

Best: The Dark Crystal (1982)

Scary as hell, quite frankly. A cheek-free, straight-as-an-arrow puppet nightmare, Dark Crystal features absolutely zero human actors, which lends it both a dead-eyed menace and a skin-crawlingly out-of-this-world ambience.

The Gelflings are annoying, but the Skeksis are terror embodied, while Aughra is a phenomenal female battle-axe (who – bonus – can take out her own eye). A sequel’s on the cards, but it’ll have to work overtime to match this creepy classic.

Worst: Eragon (2006)

Another franchise false start, this time visual effects man Stefen Fangmeier getting behind the camera to adapt Christopher Paolini’s novel of the same name.

Hoping to put right Dungeons And Dragons , Jeremy Irons surrenders himself to yet another medieval dragon yarn, but finds himself lumbered with similar hamfisted scripting and directing. At least Rachel Weisz gets away without showing her face in this one.

Best: Spirited Away (2001)

Pretty much responsible for Studio Ghibli’s sudden thrust into mainstream Western culture, Spirited Away proved so enchanting that the Japanese studio earned itself countless new fans on our side of the world. Meanwhile, smug existing Ghibli lovers sat back haughtily, having been watching Hayao Miyazaki’s output for years.

Detailing the trials of young Chihiro, Spirited Away follows her entrance into a strange world populated by odd creatures and gluttonous witches. It earned itself a nice, shiny Oscar.

Worst: Deathstalker (1983)

A brazen fleecing of Conan The Barbarian , which came out just a year earlier, Deathstalker puts the titular warrior on a quest to find an amulet, a sword and a chalice in order to defeat sorcerer Munkar. Much like Conan did.

Though it was a big success during the ‘80s thanks to its rinsing of the Conan formula, time has not been kind to Deathstalker , and it has fallen into the kind of cult obscurity that is a blessing to embarrassed fantasy fans.

Best: The Last Unicorn (1982)

First, what a voice cast. Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Tammy Grimes, Angela Lansbury, Jeff Bridges and Christopher Lee all lent their pipes to this spirited adaptation of Peter S. Beagle’s novel.

With visuals designed by Japanese artists, The Last Unicorn is a beauty to behold, and weaves in everything you’d expect from a fantasy film – scary battles, evil fiends and some truly breathtaking spectacle.

Worst: Dungeons And Dragons (2000)

Director Courtney Solomon hasn’t had much luck – both this (his directorial debut) and his second film An American Haunting were brutally bruised by critics and audiences alike.

Not hard to see why, with Dungeons And Dragons a stiflingly hammy adaptation of the role-playing game. That its sequel went straight to video tells you all you need to know about this movie.

Best: Labyrinth (1986)

Jennifer Connelly mopes. David Bowie flounces. And a hundred colourful puppets bounce around exuberantly, ensuring that this timeless fantasy from the same dreamshop as the Muppets remains as magical today as it ever did.

True, movie legend tends to fixate more on Bowie’s ample crotchage than anything else, but for us it’ll always be Sir Didimus, Ludo and The Worm (“’allo!”) who have a place in our hearts.

Worst: Spy Kids 3D: Game Over (2003)

Robert Rodriguez continues to make rubbish for his kids. Where’s the man who made Desperado when you need him, eh?

Proving that a Rodriguez movie without explosions, blood and foul language is a Rodriguez movie we don’t want to see, this third Spy Kids is absolutely joyless. Brace yourselves, though; there’s a fourth movie in the offing.

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.