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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Top Ten Fantasy Movies

I've been thinking about how much attention I have paid to science fiction in the last year (or more) and it dawned on me that I should really do a top ten list of what I consider to be the best fantasy movies. I've done a top ten for science fiction and for series (even splitting the latter into the best, the overrated, and the worst). So without further procrastination, here's the list (in no particular order):
  • Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson)
    This should be an automatic addition to any fantasy movies list. I'm treating the trilogy as one movie here primarily because the books were original one book and only when pressed by the publisher did Tolkien relinquish his hold on the massive single-story concept. These films were stunning not just for the computer animation or the story, but the sheer dedication of the film crew, the actors, and the creators (the costumers, the bigature folks, etc.). And then there's Peter Jackson and his writing crew, who pulled this masterpiece together.
  • Legend
    Few people know about this film and it's honestly quite astonishing that it has stayed below the radar so long. It desperately needs a cult following. This film starred a young Tom Cruise and a typically creepy Tim Curry (who played the demon). It's one of those films that was probably seen as absurdly childish and "cliché" when it first came out, but when you look back you can really see some larger things playing out. Or, at least, I think so.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
    To make it clear, I'm only talking about the first movie, not the ones following it. The first PotC film had a lot going for it: good graphics, good acting, good story, and humor. Whenever I think of PotC I think of the first scene where we meet Jack Sparrow. I laughed so hard in the theatre when his ship sank and he stepped off onto the dock. So, this is a must have on this list.
  • The Wizard of Oz
    Because it's a classic, it still holds up despite its age, and it's arguably one of the best musicals of all time. You don't even have to have seen the original Wizard of Oz to know something about it. Just like PotC and 300, it has become one of those culture-influencing films that changes the world at large, even if the world isn't aware of it. The only way you don't know something about the Wizard of Oz is if you've been living in a box or you're too young to know what the heck all the dancing, singing things on the TV are.
  • Princess Mononoke (Mononoke-hime)
    Some will probably disagree with me on this. I think this is one of Miyazaki's best films. I liked Spirited Away quite a bit, but it didn't stick with me nearly as much as Princess Mononoke. Perhaps I liked the message the film was sending because of how rooted in Japanese mythology it was, or because of how powerful the story was without having to resort to cheap tactics. It's a stunning film with a surprisingly good English-dub cast.
  • Toy Story
    The first Toy Story was mind-bogglingly amazing when I first saw it. Hilarious, poignant, and imaginative, this film set the stage for what Pixar was to do for the rest of its existence. A cute film for kids that appealed, surprisingly, to all ages. I can still watch Toy Story and enjoy it as a 25-year-old man. Why? Because it's ageless.
  • The Princess Bride
    Heading up the sadly tiny genre of comedic fantasy, The Princess Bride was and still is one of my favorite movies of all time. My sister brought it to my attention and to this day it is one of my favorites. How can you not like this movie? It puts together all the ridiculous clichés of the genre while giving you a cast containing a mixed bag of fantastic actors (who didn't love Andre the giant?). Classic, timeless, and still one of the best films of all time hands down.
  • The Neverending Story
    I'm putting this on this list not because I have watched it as much as the others, but because it did something to me as a youngling that few films meant for kids was capable of doing: it terrified the hell out of me. Literally. I could never watch it all the way through as a kid. Not only was the wolf freaking scary (even though it was just a puppet), but the Nothing freaked me out. In a way, the whole film was a dark fantasy that awoke all my childhood fears. I love the film, but it's hard for me to watch. Some of the darkness in my writing comes from this brilliant Wolfgang Peterson flick.
  • Willow
    I know I'm going to get ripped on for this, but Willow is still one of my favorite films. It's cliché, I know, and I actually have a strange phobia of little people, but something about Willow is charming. Maybe it's because Ron Howard was involved, or maybe it's just because it's a cute story. Either way, the film takes a silly cliché and twists is around to provide a fantasy adventure. True, it seems like a rip-off of LOTR, what with the main cast being little people from a faraway place where regular men (us) don't hang out, but I think what Willow did that LOTR failed to do was make a story that was more believable. After all, there are no silly moments in the end where you go "wait, couldn't they have just taken a giant eagle to the volcano instead of wasting all those months nearly dying of starvation?"
  • Alice in Wonderland
    Choosing the final item for this list was difficult. I realize that I had placed a lot of children's movies on this list, but it seems somewhat funny that the vast majority of good fantasy happens to be made for kids. In any case, Alice in Wonderland is one of those fantastic movies that deserves recognition. I loved this film as a kid and still love it today, even though it has been some time since I last saw it. The Mad Hatter is particularly entertaining!
Now, I've left quite a few titles off of this list for a specific reason: they either aren't what I consider to be the best of the best (at this moment) or they aren't fantasy enough for this list. Indiana Jones, for example, contains fantasy elements, but I think in making this list I wanted to put together movies that aren't identified almost exclusively as something else. Few people would automatically categorize Indiana Jones as a fantasy movie, but would likely place it in the action-adventure section.

In any case, feel free to disagree with me and suggest your own top ten!

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  1. I'm not entirely sure I agree that this is the top ten, but it's still a pretty good list. For instance, I wouldn't put POTC in there.

    To be completely honest, my top ten would primarily contain animated films - with a few extras. Either that or I'd be at the artsy end with Pan's Labyrinth and City of Lost Children, probably Amelie too. I may have to do two top tens - Top Ten Animated Fantasy and Top Ten Live Action Fantasy... Might have to add Top Ten Super Cheesy but Awesome Fantasy..

  2. To be honest, I had that problem when making this list. I had many animated films in my head, but thought that having a list that paid so much attention to those would not be as good as one that tried to be a little more broad. I may do the same lists as you suggest one day.

    As for Pan's Labyrinth, etc. I intentionally tried to avoid putting very recent things on the list. I thought having stuff that had enough time to influence us was best.

  3. Well, since a list of top ten fantasy is completely and utterly subjective, and others might say that.. well.. others film were more influential/better over all.. I think a broader list is a better idea. Actually, I think Akira Kurosawa's Dreams should be in the top ten. It's stunning and haunting and probably the best Fantasy Film of all time, to be honest.

  4. Oh! And Top Animated (so hard because the Anime field is so full of rich fantasy films) would have to be Grave of the Fireflies - the Japanese just do it better.

  5. Well, maybe you should split the lists into Animated English Fantasy Movies and Animated Japanese Fantasy Movies. Because both lists would certainly include some awesome titles.

  6. I'm pretty much in agreement with your list. Though I have to put in a good word for Labyrinth. I mean...David Bowie.

  7. I've never seen Labyrinth, unfortunately, so I couldn't put it on the list.

  8. Labyrinth is great... watch it. I think I actually watched it in the same marathon where I watched Willow and Legend. (I watched some of Willow on the last day of school. One of my friends decided that the manly man guy was awesome because he did a flippy sword thing at the beginning, though he did nothing so amazing in the movie...)
    I love Willow for the evil queen. She is a /good/ antagonist. She's smart. Except for when she let the woman live.

    LotR is a no-brainer. PotC and the Princess Bride are brilliant as well. And I agree with your choice of Princess Mononoke--that resonated with me more than any other Miyazaki film, as well as more than most movies. The animation and characters and story are all incredible. I really can't believe I don't own that movie.
    Strangely enough, my science teacher let my class watch it on the last day of 7th grade. (I forget what we watched in 8th grade...)

    I can't personally think of anything worthy of ousting what you've got on the list here, so I'll just clap and cheer.

  9. Thanks Spirithunter :). Glad you liked the list. I'll have to watch Labyrinth for sure.

  10. Great list. I would have put (The neverending Story) in 2nd. I would have move willow up a few spaces. And I would replace toy story with the last Unicorn. Legend is a great one. I would have found a way to slip "Warriors of Virtue" in that list too.