Getting Your Fantasy Film Fix
If you’ve been obsessively watching Amazon’s The Rings of Power, you’re going to be disappointed when the season wraps up. Never fear – there are plenty of movies to fill the fantasy void until Season 2 rolls around.
The Rings of Power is a “high fantasy” series, meaning that it has epic characters, settings, plots and themes. We’ve tried to find more high fantasy films for you – not all of these qualify but we’ve tried to stick to movies that take place in a magical world or have other enchanted elements. (Please note that most of these are unsuitable for young children although we have found some you can share with elementary-school-aged kids.)
If you haven’t already watched Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, start now. This masterful adaptation of Tolkien’s beloved novel opens with Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13, Grade: B) and goes on to The Two Towers (PG-13, Grade: B) and The Return of the King (PG-13, Grade: A-). With immersive, jaw-dropping sets and a rock solid cast, this tale of a Hobbit’s quest to destroy a ring that grants unlimited evil power is as exciting as it was 20 years ago.
Jackson also revisits Tolkien’s work in his much less successful adaptation of The Hobbit. Unfortunately lengthened to fill three films, this cinematic series feels bloated. It begins with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13, Grade: B) and goes on to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (PG-13, Grade: B+) before concluding with The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies (PG-13, Grade: B). These movies are a prequel to The Lord of the Rings and show a hobbit named Bilbo finding the perilous ring while becoming acquainted with wizards, dwarves and elves.
If you’re looking for something less intense than the Middle Earth fantasy films, you should seriously consider the Narnia movies. Based on the children’s books by C.S. Lewis, these movies provide a rich fantasy world, solid child characters (well-acted to boot) and great positive messaging. The series begins with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (PG, Grade: A+)in which the four Pevensie siblings fall through an enchanted wardrobe and wind up in the magical land of Narnia, which they are destined to save with the help of a powerful lion. They return in Prince Caspian (PG, Grade: A,) only to discover that hundreds of years have passed and the realm is being ruled by a despotic, usurping king. Edmund and Lucy Pevensie make a third journey to the magical land in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (PG, Grade: A-).
A magical book sweeps a boy named Bastian into the endangered world of Fantasia in The Neverending Story (PG, Grade: B-). While there, Bastian embarks on a perilous quest that resonates in his own world. Peopled with elves, a luck dragon, and a rock biter, the movie takes its viewers to a convincing magical land.
A dragon is also critical to the storyline of Eragon (PG, Grade:B+). The titular hero lives in the fictional world of Alagaesia which is ruled by a cruel king. When Eragon makes a psychic bond with a dragon, the king hunts them down, terrified that the pair could bring down his throne.
There are dragons (and comedy and action) galore in the How to Train Your Dragon animated series. Set in a fictional Viking community, the first film of the same name (PG, Grade: A-) focuses on Hiccup, the disappointingly mild son of the village’s fierce chief. But when Hiccup bonds with an injured dragon he names Toothless, he proves that Viking prejudice against dragons is unjustified. In How to Train Your Dragon 2 (PG, Grade: A-), Hiccup and his villagers work with the dragons to save them from an evil dragon hunter named Drago. And in How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PG, Grade: A-),Hiccup and Toothless lead the way in finding a fabled hidden dragon kingdom where the dragons can be safe forever. These films successfully create a fantasy world for kids that is still tied closely enough to our world to feel familiar. They are also full of positive messages and, despite scenes of fantasy violence, remain a great choice for kids who want lots of imagination in their stories.
A scary dragon-like creature is only one of the fantastical elements in Kubo and the Two Strings (PG, Grade: B). This stunning stop-motion animated film sees Kubo on a quest to find three pieces of armor that can protect him from his evil grandfather, the Moon King, who wants to steal his only remaining eye. Brilliantly original, this is a film that will intrigue older children - and adults.
Raya and the Last Dragon (PG, Grade: A-)features another young person on a quest. This time, Raya must find a magical dragon with the power to release her kingdom and all the neighboring realms from a terrifying curse. The story is well told but the real star is the movie’s visual design which renders each realm in exquisite anthropological detail.
A heroic quest, a cursed romance, and a despicable villain come together in the romantic fantasy, Ladyhawke (PG-13, Grade: B). With Matthew Broderick providing comic relief, this is a fun choice for lighthearted fantasy viewing.
Romance and comedy are a natural pair as is demonstrated in the cult classic, The Princess Bride (PG, Grade: B). Full of unforgettable lines, this film is guaranteed to provide quotes for your kids for years. Another comic fantasy, Stardust (PG-13, Grade: B-),brings a Monty-Python-esque sensibility to its story of a fallen star, a besotted swain, witches, and murderous princes.
For most of us, the original fantasies were fairytales and Hollywood is mining the genre for movies. Fairytales go dark fantasy in Snow White and the Huntsman (PG-13, Grade: C) and The Huntsman: Winter’s War (PG-13, Grade: C+). The familiar tale is also retold in the somewhat uneven Mirror Mirror (PG, Grade: B), starring Julia Roberts and Lily Collins. And, of course, there’s the unforgettable Disney animated version Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (G, Grade: A).
A reimagined flip on the familiar fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, Maleficenttells the tale from the villain’s perspective. Set in the magical world of the Moors, it features a young fairy whose betrayal at the hands of a human boy triggers the vengeance that later curses Aurora. There is also a sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (PG, Grade: B+) that is less dark but still magical.
The magical world of Oz gets a visit from Dorothy, who arrives when a tornado sweeps her away from her Kansas home. The Wizard of Oz (G, Grade: A-) is a film classic and Oz, the Great and Powerful (PG, Grade: B+) provides a backstory for the title character.
Wonderland is another magical world that receives a surprise visit from a little girl. Alice in Wonderland is Disney’s classic animated adaptation (G, Grade: B-) of the classic novel. It gets a live action re-interpretation (PG, Grade: B) and a sequel in Alice Through the Looking Glass (PG, Grade: B-).
Even young viewers can be engrossed in fantasy worlds with a movie like Adventures of Rufus: The Fantastic Pet (PG: Grade: A-). This production has fairly primitive CGI but it has a pretty decent fantasy plot involving a magical creature named Rufus, a wizard, a witch, and a magical spell book.