The 35 greatest fantasy movies

Frodo grabs hold of the One Ring in Lord of the Rings
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Swords and sorcery, monsters and dragons – few genres capture the imagination like fantasy can. Before superheroes got bit by radioactive spiders and science fiction’s spaceships took to the stars, humans gathered around fires and spun tales of heroes and villains immersed in a world of magic. 

Since the advent of cinema just under a hundred years ago, countless filmmakers have tapped into this ancient genre for inspiration. While plenty is owed to playwrights like Shakespeare and novelists like J.R.R. Tolkien, it’s still up to those behind and in front of the camera to execute on a vision that, for an audience, can impress over a lifetime. With that in mind, here are 35 of the greatest fantasy movies of all time.

35. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023)

Chris Prine, Sophia Lillis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Justice Smith in a cave in Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves

(Image credit: Paramount)

When Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, directors of the sublime Game Night, took on the famous tabletop role-playing game, they rolled a natural 20. Wiping away the bad taste of previous D&D films, Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves impressively splits the difference between old school fantasy heroics and Marvel-style self-aware humor. An exciting cast of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Hugh Grant, and Sophia Lillis use their +5 charisma to elevate the material to the next level.

34. Stardust (2007)

Claire Danes and Charlie Cox in a castle in Stardust

(Image credit: Paramount)

Before Matthew Vaughn eclipsed Hollywood with his Kingsman series, he helmed this charming gem of a romantic fantasy. An adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel, a young English man (Charlie Cox) seeks to collect a falling star as a gift to his true love, only to find out the star is a beautiful woman (Claire Danes). Tonally reminiscent of The Princess Bride and its own darling story about love in unlikely places, Stardust flopped at the box office but found a dedicated audience on DVD and cable TV.

33. Dragonheart (1996)

Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery's dragon in Dragonheart

(Image credit: Universal)

We could just say "Sean Connery voices a wisecracking dragon" and move on. But this fantasy-adventure from Rob Cohen, starring Dennis Quaid, is more than meets the eye in its abundance of laughter and thrills. And for being as old as it is, the CGI dragon effects ain’t half bad. Like the cover of a paperback novel come to life, Dragonheart is often overlooked but deserves more than a passing glance.

32. The Green Knight (2021)

The Green Knight rides a horse in King Arthur's court in The Green Knight

(Image credit: A24)

An adaptation of sorts of the 14th century English poem featuring Sir Gawain, a knight in King Arthur’s Round Table who accepts a mysterious challenge on Christmas, director David Lowery avoids typical storybook formalism with a spellbinding meditation on masculinity, bravery, and temptation. It isn’t escapist popcorn fare, but The Green Knight, starring Dev Patel as Sir Gawain, is mesmerizing adult fantasy at its finest.

31. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Hiccup rides Toothless the Night Fury dragon in How to Train Your Dragon

(Image credit: Paramount)

Nearly 10 years after Shrek gave the fantasy genre a swirly in the swamp, How to Train Your Dragon embraced it back in this adaptation of Cressida Cowell’s 2003 book. In a realm where Vikings war with dragons, awkward teenager Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) impossibly befriends a rare and dangerous type of dragon. The first movie launched yet another franchise for DreamWorks, but the first film by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois is worth saddling up for.

30. Willow (1988)

Warwick Davis holds a baby in Disney's Willow

(Image credit: Disney)

Directed by Ron Howard and produced by George Lucas, Willow is a nostalgic favorite that takes a literal interpretation of the universal metaphor of “the little guy” pitted against an overwhelming evil. Warwick Davis stars as Willow, an aspiring sorcerer, who must safeguard a baby princess from an evil witch-queen (Jean Marsh). Great not because it reinvents the fantasy wheel, but casts it in fine silver.

29. The Forbidden Kingdom (2008)

Jet Li and Jackie Chan stand in a forest in The Forbidden Kingdom

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

For action movie purists, the pairing of Hong Kong superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li in a Hollywood family adventure feels like a regrettable misstep. (Especially with its plot centering on a displaced 21st century American teenager.) But The Forbidden Kingdom, directed by Rob Minkoff, cements in iron Chan and Li’s status as cinema’s greatest kung fu heroes in this rousing retelling of the Chinese tale Journey to the West.

28. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci on a horse in the forest in Sleepy Hollow

(Image credit: Paramount)

While Washington Irving penned his story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 1820, it still feels like he was writing spec for Tim Burton. In 1999, the Edward Scissorhands director expanded Irving’s tale and imbued it with more moody romance and gothic ambience that have made it a perennial autumn favorite. Christopher Walken and Star Wars’ Ray Park share double duty as the Headless Horseman – looking like he stepped out of an Iron Maiden album cover – in a star-studded cast including Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon, and Christopher Lee.

27. Aquaman (2018)

Jason Momoa stands in his Aquaman armor in a waterfall in Aquaman

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

An underwater fantasy in the armor of a superhero blockbuster, Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, and Patrick Wilson anchor James Wan’s lively epic from the DC Comics universe. The fate of Atlantis and the surface world hangs in the balance when reluctant Atlantean king Arthur (Momoa) battles his overlyambitious brother, Prince Orm (Wilson). At times colorful as a Saturday cartoon and as dark as the Mariana Trench, Aquaman proves the Justice League’s corniest member is actually the coolest dude. 

26. Dragonslayer (1981)

Peter MacNicol holds a magic necklace in Dragonslayer

(Image credit: Paramount)

A co-production between Paramount and Disney, this classic ‘80s title skews older than the family-friendly fare Disney was and still is known for. In a kingdom where young women are randomly selected for sacrifice to a dragon, a sorcerer’s apprentice (Peter MacNicol) seeks to slay both the dragon and the tyrannical rule that leverages fear for power. When both Guillermo del Toro and George R.R. Martin says this one is a favorite of theirs, you know you’re dealing with a beast of a movie.

25. Highlander (1986)

Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert stand on a beach in Highlander

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

From 16th century Scottish highlands to 1980s New York City, this centuries-spanning cult classic sees Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown clash as immortal warriors engulfed in a blood feud for the ages. Created by Gregory Widen, directed by Rob Minkoff, and immortalized by Queen with their anthem “Princes of the Universe,” Highlander proves that even when you spawn a franchise, there can still only be one.

24. Legend (1985)

Tom Cruise and Mia Sara in a garden in Legend

(Image credit: Universal)

Conceived by Ridley Scott in between work on his sci-fi classics Alien and Blade Runner, Scott teamed with novelist William Hjortsberg and together delivered this beautiful-if-mystifying movie that feels like an old storybook you’ve never read. Starring Tom Cruise, Legend tells of a humble hero who must stop the devilish Darkness (Tim Curry) from freezing the world into an eternal winter.

23. A Monster Calls (2016)

Lewis MacDougall yells at the monster at a graveyard in A Monster Calls

(Image credit: Focus Features)

A moving portrait of adolescent grief, J.A. Bayona’s third movie follows a boy, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who copes with the coming death of his mother (Felicity Jones) by befriending in his dreams a giant tree monster, voiced by Liam Neeson. Gorgeous animated segments and dazzling visual effects empower a beautifully melancholic movie that appeals to cinema lovers who find their tastes in the Venn diagram of Steven Spielberg, Hayao Miyazaki, and Guillermo del Toro.

22. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005)

Lucy meets the Faun, played by James McAvoy, in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

(Image credit: Disney)

While some made-for-TV versions may be more beloved, the 2005 Disney blockbuster from director Andrew Adamson is undeniably a crowd-pleaser that gives C.S. Lewis’ influential novel the majestic scope it deserves. Beautiful and polished, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe stands on its own feet even if the series as a whole didn’t fulfill Disney’s wishes for it to rival Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

21. Conan the Barbarian (1982)

Conan the Barbarian sits on his throne at the end of his movie

(Image credit: A24)

Helmed by John Milius, this epitome of 1980s Dungeons & Dragons-like cheese not only catapulted Arnold Schwarzenegger to stardom but proved comic books could make for some good movies. Conan the Barbarian is arguably the definitive version of Robert E. Howard’s sword-wielding brute, with Schwarzenegger and his mile-wide biceps filling the frame with maximal ferocity. All hail the king, baby.

20. Enchanted (2007)

Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey in Central Park in Enchanted

(Image credit: Disney)

Before Disney embarked on remaking its animated musicals, the studio affectionately parodied itself in Kevin Lima’s mid-aughts live-action hit. Starring Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey at the height of Grey’s Anatomy fame, Enchanted follows an animated princess cursed by a witch to survive in the capital-R real world, where she falls in love with a Manhattan divorce attorney. How do you know… that this is a classic? Because everything about it is simply enchanting.

19. The Holy Mountain (1973)

A dark priest blesses two women dressed in white in The Holy Mountain

(Image credit: ABKCO Films)

After Alejandro Jodorowsky earned underground fame with his surrealist Western El Topo, The Beatles’ John Lennon, his wife Yoko Ono, and band manager Allen Klein fronted his next baffling masterpiece: The Holy Mountain, a sacrilegious satire about the perversion of faith. Jodorowsky stars as a cult leader who challenges his followers over rituals – and shake them of their possessions – to become the new gods of the universe. The Holy Mountain defies description entirely on purpose; in the trailer, the narrator boasts it exists “outside the tradition of modern theater.” They are not kidding.

18. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

King Arthur and his knights gallop in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

(Image credit: Trafalgar Releasing)

It was the source of memes before there even was an internet. The most popular and influential film from British comedy troupe Monty Python lampoons King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, with stubborn Black Knights, rabid rabbits, and obnoxious French soldiers (who fart in their general direction) standing in their way. If you want to know what everyone at the Renaissance Faire is laughing themselves silly over, look no further than this classic from director Terry Gilliam.

17. The Dark Crystal (1982)

A Skeksis bird meets two creatures in The Dark Crystal

(Image credit: Universal)

Skewing darker than anything Jim Henson made before it, this epic fantasy co-directed by Henson and Star Wars’ Frank Oz – set in an original universe of bird-like creatures, brought to life by Henson’s trademark puppetry – bombed at the box office over critics and audiences’ shared confusion regarding its intended audience. But time has been kind to The Dark Crystal, with modern reassessment deeming it a classic. When today’s blockbusters look more artificial than ever, The Dark Crystal’s tactile quality has made it even more beautiful to gawk at decadess later.

16. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)

Sinbad meets a shrunken princess in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad

(Image credit: Columbia)

Nathan Juran’s seminal epic forever raised the bar for cinematic escapism with its then-innovative and still jaw-dropping stop motion animated creatures. Behold a cyclops wrestle a dragon and a skeleton taking up arms with a sword and shield, and ask yourself why today’s super fancy CGI still can’t match up to what the likes of Ray Harryhausen made with clay over half a century ago. 

15. The Northman (2022)

Amleth goes into berserker rage in The Northman

(Image credit: Focus Features)

After reshaping modern horror with The Witch and The Lighthouse, Robert Eggers focused his camera on Nordic folklore in his telling of the legend of Amleth – the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In this feral Viking fantasy, Alexander Skarsgård dominates the screen like a berserker as his Amleth seeks revenge for his fallen father. Fans of video games like God of War, Hellblade, and Dark Souls will find a lot to love here, but so will anyone else who digs pictures with ferocious vigor.

14. Spirited Away (2001)

A girl sits down with spirits for dinner in Spirited Away

(Image credit: Studio Ghibli)

While many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films belong on this list, Spirited Away stands tall as an all-encompassing representative for Miyazaki’s singular artistry and Studio Ghibli as a respected studio. A young girl, Chihiro (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi in the original Japanese language track and Daveigh Chase in the English dub) takes a job at a bathhouse run by a witch to turn her parents back after they’ve been transformed into pigs. An elaborate coming-of-age tale about lonesomeness and the sudden end of childhood upon entering the workforce, it’s no wonder why millennials relate to Spirited Away.

13. Labyrinth (1986)

David Bowie holds a crystal ball in Labyrinth

(Image credit: TriStar Pictures)

“You remind me of the babe.” In Jim Henson’s final directorial effort, Jennifer Connelly and the unmatched David Bowie co-star in a total heavyweight of an ‘80s flick. Connelly stars as Sarah, a teen obsessed with fairytales who inadvertently wishes for goblins to kidnap her baby brother. She embarks on an adventure of her own to rescue him before time runs out. From adorable puppets of all shapes and sizes to Bowie’s sinister sensuality, Labyrinth makes it very easy to get lost in its dizzying world.

12. Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

A boy walks with a wild thing in the desert in Where the Wild Things Are

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Maurice Sendack’s formative book Where the Wild Things Are is just 10 sentences long, but Spike Jonze unearthed all the heart and soul contained in them in his poignant 2009 film version. A portrait of loneliness and the power in imagination, Where the Wild Things Are celebrates the fleeing nature of childhood, even if the movie isn’t necessarily for children. 

11. Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Aurora and Prince Charming dance in the forest in Sleeping Beauty

(Image credit: Disney)

Disney was already a powerhouse when Sleeping Beauty opened in 1959, with hits like Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, and Alice in Wonderland paving its path. But the studio’s destiny to rule was crystallized in Sleeping Beauty, based on the classic tale. All the recognizable tropes of Disney are present and perfected to its very specific wavelengths, from wicked witches to beautiful princesses to the handsome princes who rescue them. When Prince Phillips’ lips touched slumbering Aurora’s, the sleeping giant that was Walt Disney Productions truly woke up.

10. Mary Poppins (1964)

Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sing together in Mary Poppins

(Image credit: Disney)

Another Disney behemoth, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke sing and dance their way to immortality in this endearing tale about a London family swept off their feet (and off their roofs) by an enigmatic nanny from the skies. A stone cold classic with 13 Oscar nominations to its name (with Andrews winning Best Actress), Mary Poppins has for generations made everyone sing out, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!”

9. The Seventh Seal (1957)

A knight and Death play chess on the beach in The Seventh Seal

(Image credit: SF Films)

Ingmar Bergman’s memorable scenes of a knight (Max von Sydow) playing chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot) has been parodied to, ahem, death since the release of The Seventh Seal in 1957. But watching it today is still a chilling experience. It’s a haunting reminder about the futility of faith, and that life and death is simply a game of chance. There may not be bloodshed or monsters slain, but The Seventh Seal still ranks as among the greatest dark fantasies ever imagined.

8. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

A motherly mouse confronts an enemy in The Seventh Seal

(Image credit: MGM)

Challenging notions that movies “for children” are thoughtless, The Secret of NIMH from renowned animator Don Bluth is an elegant adventure about the strength of motherhood and fear of the unknown. An adaptation of Robert C. O’Brien’s children’s novel, The Secret of NIMH immerses audiences into a kingdom of intelligent rats. Its hero isn’t a wisecracking Han Solo type, but a terrified mother (voiced by Elizabeth Hartman, in her final role) trying to save her son’s life. Acclaimed upon release, The Secret of NIMH was Bluth’s first project after leaving Disney, and sparked a red-hot run of hits that forced his former employer to up its game. 

7. The Princess Bride (1987)

Cary Elwes and Robin Wright embrace in the garden in The Princess Bride

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

It’s impossible – nay, inconceivable! – to imagine a world without Rob Reiner’s The Princess Bride. Ignored at the box office, this witty rom-com in the disguise of a storybook fantasy found staying power on home video, where audiences sunk their teeth into its quotable script. Framed by a grandfather (Peter Falk) telling a bedtime story to his grandson (Fred Savage), The Princess Bride proves old fashioned romance never goes out of style, though it helps to have chemistry like Cary Elwes and Robin Wright.

6. Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Jack Sparrow holds Elizabeth hostage in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

(Image credit: Disney)

A movie “based off” one of Disneyland’s oldest rides did not make studio executives sing “Yo, ho!” at first. But Disney struck gold with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, a complete package of popcorn movie perfection made possible by the maximalist vision of Gore Verbinski and stars Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and an enthralling Johnny Depp. Before IP became king and zombies the dominant story genre of the 2000s, Curse of the Black Pearl proved Disney could compete in a new age ruled by Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man. 

5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Harry Potter holds a wand in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Maybe the whole Harry Potter saga belongs on this list. But if we had to pick one, it must be Prisoner of Azkaban, a sequel helmed by decorated auteur Alfonso Cuarón. In Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts, the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) confronts escaped prisoner Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has some untold connection to his parents.  A turning point for the series where the Wizarding World felt darker and more unknowable – subtly underscored by the new wispy sounds of wands – Prisoner of Azkaban proved Harry Potter was ready to grow alongside its rapidly maturing audience.

4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

A young girl meets the Pale Man in Pan's Labyrinth

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

In his sixth film, Gullermo del Toro earned auteur status in a modern classic that eloquently summarized the totality of his artistic vision and anti-fascist politics. In Pan’s Labyrinth, fairy tales and 1940s Francoist Spain collide when a young girl, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) meets a faun (played by Doug Jones) who tells her she may be the reincarnated princess of the underworld. Gorgeous, haunting, and teeming with metaphor – look up what del Toro meant the Pale Man to symbolize – Pan’s Labyrinth is a visual and artistic triumph that defies categorization.

3. Excalibur (1981)

King Arthur stands in armor beside Guenevere in Exclaibur

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The legend of King Arthur, arguably the granddaddy of all medieval tales, gets the dark fantasy treatment in John Boorman’s astonishing epic. Basically a supernatural biopic, Excalibur traces the entirety of Arthur’s life — from his unholy conception to his death in battle — as it is shaped by the magical sword Excalibur. With a haunting score by Trevor Jones, Boorman’s film inspired generations of Dungeon Masters (including the creators of Dark Souls) and launched the careers of illustrious actors like Liam Nelson, Patrick Stewart, Gabriel Byrne, and Ciaran Hinds in his first film role. King Arthur’s story has been told a million times, but still Excalibur is worthy to pull the sword from the stone.

2. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Dorothy and the Lion meet the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz

(Image credit: Loew's)

Technically monumental and artistically resplendent, The Wizard of Oz is one of those rare movies that lives up to its legendary reputation. The second film version of L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, Victor Fleming’s movie musical made Judy Garland an icon and “Over the Rainbow” the theme song for those who dare to dream of a better future. As a fantasy movie, it’s unmatched as the ultimate fish-out-of-water story; young Kansas farm girl Dorothy (Garland) is whisked to an impossible world and must find her way back home with the aid of new friends. Truly, there is no place like home, and there is no movie like The Wizard of Oz. 

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Frodo confides in Gandalf in a cave in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Yes, the entirety of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy deserves a place on this list. But while Return of the King boasts the Oscar for Best Picture and The Two Towers has the Battle of Helm’s Deep, The Fellowship of the Ring is its own stunning achievement. It doesn’t just tonally set the table for the whole series, but tells its own transporting adventure from start to finish with all of Middle-earth stretching far beyond what even the cameras can capture. Wide-eyed Elijah Wood, surrounded by a stacked ensemble cast, stars as the humble but brave Frodo Baggins who embarks on a quest to destroy the One Ring in the dark heart of Mordor. Hear those first notes of Howard Shore’s immortal score and you just know exactly what kind of adventure awaits.

Eric Francisco

Eric Francisco is a freelance entertainment journalist and graduate of Rutgers University. If a movie or TV show has superheroes, spaceships, kung fu, or John Cena, he's your guy to make sense of it. A former senior writer at Inverse, his byline has also appeared at Vulture, The Daily Beast, Observer, and The Mary Sue. You can find him screaming at Devils hockey games or dodging enemy fire in Call of Duty: Warzone.