The realm of fantasy. Wizards, swords buried in the stones, talking animals, sword fights, magic, true love, all spectacular! Fantasy is the realm of the epic, with dramas that span across planes of existence. But more importantly, they are an amazing journey of fun.
Presented here are fantasy films that you don’t watch just once. They’re also not the ones that you need to watch immediately or someone is going to spoil the ending on Facebook or Twitter, those monsters! These are the flicks you turn on Saturday afternoon to get through that pile of laundry, Tuesday evening to de-stress with a much deserved bowl of ice cream, and are just as amazing to watch that hundredth time over!
The criterion is simple. No animation, as that is plentiful enough to deserve its own list. Only one per series, so Harry Potter or the Chronicles are not going to just be the only ones on this list. A happy ending, though that term can be nebulous. And it has to be re-watchable. Other than that, let’s enjoy and wish for our very own happily ever after!
Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
This? This is how you start off the list? How is this Feel-Good? How does any of this feel good? Do we need to go over the desire to eat crawly things spell again? To many this isn’t feel good, it is feel squeamish and want to vomit.
I will admit, this is close to my heart. Fresh off of his Avengers role as Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner stars alongside Gemma Atherton as the titular characters grown up and out for bounties. They find witches, kill witches, and get paid. No matter how many there might be.
This starts off the list because of all the good emotions it brings to bear. There are real levels of friendship, especially from Edward the Troll and Arterton’s Gretel. Fight scenes that are both over-the-top in a way that excites the blood rather than Zack Snyder-esque droll. The choreography for the final battle between Hansel and Gretel against all evil witches was sublime.
But more than all of this is the difficult proposition of the sibling relationship between Hansel and Gretel. Two hot lead actors, both sexualized (Renner in a healing pool), and yet Renner and Arterton are able to walk the line of familial love rather than sexual. It is a refreshing take on romantic leads.
For this, I recommend Friday night gore fests for this one, a compromise between romantic comedy and Raimi’s Evil Dead series.
One thing is certain. Dwayne Johnson is definitely a more accurate coloring of the legendary Greek demigod.
I remember going into this film with very low expectations. There was the Legend of Hercules movie the same year with lightning powers, and all the TV movies. And while the camp of Kevin Sorbo’s series was amazing, this seemed to deny that camp in an attempt to be serious. I was wrong on just about every account.
A fantasy of sorts in that it challenges the idea of whether magic or the gods even exist, Hercles is what happens when A-list actors (Johnson, Rufus Sewell, Ian MacShane, John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes to name a few) decide to do an action movie. The dialogue has elements of LOTR-style epic, combined with a tongue-in-cheek wit that is self-deprecating and gorgeous to hear.
Do I even need to mention the fight scenes that Johnson can pull off after decades as a pro wrestler?
Hercules wins. He gets solace, if not the girl. It is tale both on the military might of a supposed demigod, and conquering inner demons and the personal trials of war. A must have for either workout days, or those hot days you’re crashed in front of the air conditioner and want to decompress with some great dialogue.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Of all of Captain Depp’s exploits throughout the Caribbean, there truly was no contest. The original took the idea of a Disney park lazy ride and developed a series that survived In Stranger Tides. It has everything someone wants to relax to on a Saturday afternoon. Sword fights, high sea naval battles, cursed gold. Pirates! Skeletons! Orlando Bloom! For those of that persuasion who may think he is so much better looking with that perfectly-trimmed goatee…and being a brunette truly shows off those deep eyes…where was I?
Right, Johnny Depp. (Captain) Jack Sparrow’s performance is one that can be quoted for almost every occasion, as well as inspire imitators for the trademark grin and swagger. Depp made this character his own, and fell into the hearts of would-be pirates everywhere.
This film is best taken after a satisfying dinner, and right before that bottle of Captain Morgan’s is about to run dry.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
It is debatable as to whether this is a fantasy movie. It can be taken as an epic conclusion to the THREE-movie adventure franchise, or even a character study on the nature and power of faith. But given that it truly concludes on the actual powers of the Holy Grail, I claim Indiana Jones for fantasy (and never science fiction. No, never.)
While Raiders of the Lost Ark has fantastic moments, including the standard-setting, trap-laden opening temple raid, the Last Crusade triumphed over its predecessor in almost every other respect. The Nazis were more chilling and diabolical, the villains were more compelling and mysterious, and the questions raised actually had some worth. Indiana even got an autograph from Hitler!
But the best part truly had to be the interaction between father and son. Connery and Ford’s on-screen chemistry as estranged family members shone through as each tried to outdo the other in every aspect. The academic believer of Connery being offset by the skeptic adventurer in Ford collided to bring some of the best scenes that are remembered to this day. I still get chills watching the two tied up in a Nazi castle. Definitely an evening affair, best enjoyed in a room surrounded by old books and older friends.
The Librarian: Quest for the Spear
Let’s have Indiana Jones, but what if he were a nerdy student? Not just nerdy, I mean has not left his mother’s place because he’s too busy studying the world from his bedroom. Meet Flynn Carsen, the Librarian. TNT’s made-for-TV series starts off with the bumbling academic crossing the globe in search of the Spear of Destiny, the second most-famous relic of Christian lore.
This movie capitalizes on areas that Indiana Jones never truly explored. Where Indiana would fight, Flynn would run. Jones rescues the damsel in distress, or maneuvers around the femme fatale. Flynn has Nicole Noone, and she is happy to rescue him from that weirdly attracted villainess and all manner of Snake Cult members. More than anything Carsen seems to think through the problems more than his buff counterpart. For everyone who likes to check the math, watch this when you’re bored and laugh as Bob Newhart kicks butt in this film more than his entire career combined.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
The closest we get to the superhero genre is the paranormal investigator known simply as Hellboy. The original tale brought more darkness, and certainly more John Hurt. But The Golden Army brought as much promise as it did bring questions. The effect of humanity, especially on those nonhumans with the ability and willingness to change the world.
In a visual masterpiece that we’ve grown accustomed to with Guillermo del Toro, everything draws the viewer in. The fight scenes between Hellboy and Nuada, the golden army, and the plethora of monsters, demigods and demons that make up the fantastic underworld of modern Earth.
But what makes this a movie to watch again and again are the characters. Perlman once again takes center stage with a nonchalant attitude and a vicious right hook. But he is joined by a compelling and empathetic villain in Prince Nuada, a more pronounced role for Abe Sapien, and an even not-bad performance by Seth MacFarlane as Johann Krauss.
Hellboy 2 is where you turn for colder nights, to warm up with chocolate and good movies.
The Forbidden Kingdom
You know what this list has been missing? Kung Fu! A referendum on all mystical Eastern, Forbidden Kingdom takes the model of Bruce Lee films and asks what would happen if Jet Li and Jackie Chan were in it?
While the protagonist is a young white guy in medieval Asia, the rest of the film seems to be a study on the genre that is mystical kung fu films. Chan returns to his celebrated role of drunken master and comedic relief. Li is the stoic monk, interspersed with moments of hilarity that are both confusing and jaw-dropping. The fight scene between the two is something fans and non-fans have desired for decades, and it does not disappoint.
This is a film that requires your undivided attention, so Saturday nights alone it stands. Forget the parties, forget everything else, and just examine a favorite in the genre.
The Mummy Returns
It is a strange, fine line between gore-tacular and squeamish inside-sliding films. The Mummy falls into the former, an action-like horror retelling of the 30s monster. The Mummy Returns takes the same hero and villain, and turns away from horror to true action fantasy.
What makes this film better and more palatable is the fact that it is a sequel. The barest reference to backstory, a new villain (that admittedly is terrible CGI even for 2001), and it is time to turn up the fun. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah play off each other as a three-person troupe of comedy, drama and action tropes that fit seamlessly. Arnold Vosloo’s Imhotep has turned up the campy nature of evil villain to make him all the more lovable. And this film has one of my favorite scenes of all time: a horde of tiny jungle mummies fighting over the right to hold the stick of dynamite as they cross a newly made log to their doom. Watch this with an open mind and an empty stomach.
The romance flick of this list, and yes, even above the next film (feel free to skewer me for it in the comments). This is the film you curl up with your significant other to watch over a bottle of wine. Based off of Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, it is a romantic comedy entwined in a fantasy epic, and touches all the buttons that make the heartstrings go a flutter.
For fantasy epic, the tale is heartwarming and by the numbers. A lost heir to a missing inheritance. Evil witches, wicked uncle desiring the throne. And then there are the new elements. Sky pirates chasing down lightning. Seven brothers having to deal with an afterlife with their murderous siblings until the heir becomes apparent. And everything about Claire Danes’ star.
More importantly, this film is uproarious. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Lamia is deliciously evil, with Mark Strong’s Septimus a strangely ethical second antagonist. The chemistry between Cox and Danes is heartwarming. And I dare you to watch Captain Shakespeare without laughing.
A tale that ends with the man finally being smart enough to choose the right girl instead of just the pretty one, the ending will get you every single time, and hope your star might come along and find you.
The Princess Bride
Truly the best of them all, the classic from Rob Reiner and William Goldman continues to stand the test of time. The epic with everything, “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…”
Almost all of this film is quotable. Wesley’s fights with Inigo, Fezzik and Vizzini, the Fire Swamp, the assault on Prince Humperdinck’s castle, “Mawage,” and what’s your name again, Montoya?
If there is one fatal flaw to this film, it is in fact the Princess Bride. Robin Wright’s Buttercup does not actually do anything of note or repute besides not die. It is truly the dark mark on an otherwise magnificent film. Personally, I think Valerie is a redeeming quality, and could only hope to have a relationship like that between her and Miracle Max. Oh, the wonderful arguments.
Truly, the best time to watch this movie is now. Anytime, every time, go enjoy Westley and Buttercup…mostly Westley, as they struggle against all odds to find true love. And in your life, look for the person that will simply say “As you wish,” to every question.
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