10 best fantasy movies ever, ranked

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The greatest fantasy movies have always pushed the limits of what had been possible to depict on the big screen. Often innovative and magical works, these films transport viewers to extraordinary worlds where the impossible becomes possible. Mythical creatures, important quests, and imaginative landscapes rule these cinematic masterpieces that can inspire anyone to rediscover a love for imagination and epic tales.

From the influential classic The Wizard of Oz to the renowned adaptation, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the best fantasy movies should be considered essential viewing for cinephiles. These visual marvels are windows into fantastical realities that have captivated fans over the years, setting the standard for every new entry in the genre.

Need more recommendations? Check out the best fantasy movies on Netflix, the best fantasy movies on Prime Video, and the best fantasy movies on Hulu.

10. Mary Poppins (1964)

Julie Andrews slightly smiling in Mary Poppins.
Buena Vista Distribution Company, Inc.

Mary Poppins is an award-winning classic that took the world by storm when it first premiered in 1964. The musical fantasy film is still widely considered to be Walt Disney’s most astounding accomplishment. Directed by Robert Stevenson, the movie follows the Banks family, made up of Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson), Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns), and his children, Jane (Karen Dotrice) and Michael (Matthew Garber). Right when they need her the most, the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) descends from the skies to bring order and joy to their household.

The film depicts the children’s whimsical adventures with Mary Poppins, as they soon learn that she has some magical abilities. Its blending of live-action and animation was groundbreaking for its time. It’s also just as well-known for its many iconic songs like Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and Chim Chim Cher-ee. Julie Andrews won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as the titular nanny, which is still among her very best performances.

9. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Gene Wilder standing and tilting his head slightly in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Paramount Pictures

Despite recent attempts at retelling the beloved tale like 2023’s Wonka, director Mel Stuart’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is still the best. The 1971 musical fantasy film revolves around the story of Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum) and four other children as they win golden tickets to tour Willy Wonka’s (Gene Wilder) magical chocolate factory. Their tour is both whimsical and disastrous as Wonka’s inventions turn out to be tests for the misbehaving guests.

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory brought its source material to life, with the titular location being a highlight thanks to vibrant set pieces and convincing design that makes the film still worth watching today. Wilder is also perfectly cast as the eccentric Willy Wonka, with the actor infusing the character with quirkiness, charm, and in the end, empathy.

8. Wings of Desire (1987)

An angel on the edge of a building looking down in Wings of Desire.
Basis-Film-Verleih GmbH

Director Wim Wenders played a crucial part in shaping New German Cinema, and Wings of Desire, or Der Himmel über Berlin, is his crowning achievement. The 1987 film is set in a divided Berlin where two celestial beings, Damiel (Bruno Ganz) and Cassiel (Otto Sander), silently observe the lives of humans. Eventually, Damiel falls for a trapeze artist, whose life motivates him to make the difficult choice to become mortal.

From the perspective of two immortal angels, even the smallest things about being human seem fascinating. From the taste of food to the feeling of unconditional love, Wings of Desire contemplates both the grand and tiny important details of life. Wenders’ movie is a true standout in the fantasy genre, combining supernatural elements with philosophical musings delivered through dialogue that almost sounds like poetry.

7. La Belle et La Bête (1946)

Beauty and the Beast in a dining room in La Belle et La Bête.

Though most people would likely be more familiar with the animated Disney version of the “tale as old as time,” La Belle et la Bête is just as deserving of attention and praise for its depiction of the story of Beauty and the Beast. Directed by Jean Cocteau, the movie tells the familiar narrative of Belle (Josette Day), a kind and selfless young woman who sacrifices herself to save her father, which leads to her stay in an enchanted castle ruled by the Beast (Jean Marais).

Considered a classic of French cinema, some of its practical effects are dated today, but the enchanting way La Belle et la Bête delivers its enchanting story makes it a timeless film. Day and Marais play their roles to perfection, with their chemistry anchoring the emotional events to the very end. The 1946 movie set a new standard for how fairy tale films should look and feel, with many modern favorites owing their success to this now often overlooked movie.

6. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Johnny Depp and Dianne Wiest in Edward Scissorhands.
20th Century Fox

Director Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is among the defining movies of the 1990s, with the film’s gothic romance turning it into a smash hit around the globe. The movie is centered on Edward (Johnny Depp), a man with scissors for hands, who was created by an inventor who passed away before completing him. When caring suburban woman Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward living alone, she takes him into her family.

Edward’s scissor hands are both a blessing and a curse, as he struggles to fit into the pastel-tinged suburbia he wakes up to every day. He finds some solace in the company of Peg’s teen daughter (Winona Ryder), but is ultimately still an outcast. The protagonist’s tale is told through Burton’s distinct directorial style, making Edward Scissorhands a strikingly beautiful story about being different.

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

Harry holds Hermione in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), directed by Alfonso Cuarón.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is considered by many as the best entry in the Harry Potter saga. Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, the 2004 film sees Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) returning to Hogwarts for his third year, where he discovers that Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), a dangerous prisoner, has escaped Azkaban and may be after him.

Cuarón’s masterful direction helped make Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban a pivotal movie in the series, as it marked an important departure from the lighthearted and whimsical wizarding world by portraying a darker and more mature story. It focuses on Harry, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), and Ron Weasley’s (Rupert Grint) growth, with the weight of the narrative hinting at the trio’s challenging path ahead. Harry’s storyline is particularly highlighted here, as his transformative arc is bolstered by details about his past and how it influences the hero he must become in the future.

4. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Doug Jones and Ivana Baquero in Pan's Labyrinth.
Warner Bros. Pictures

Guillermo del Toro‘s best movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, is a dark fantasy film oozing with the director’s style and trademarks. Set in 1944, the movie follows Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl who, along with her pregnant mother, moves to a rural military outpost led by her brutal stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López). There, as her mother grows ill, Ofelia meets magical creatures who lead her on a mystical and dangerous quest to prove she’s the princess they’re looking for.

Pan’s Labyrinth is rich with symbolism and political commentary, combining the harsh realities of post-Civil War Spain with its enchanting fairy tale. Ofelia’s story is a testament to the power of fantasy and imagination as a way to escape the tragic and dangerous things humans can do to each other, which is something audiences are reminded of in the 2006 film’s unforgettable and shocking ending.

3. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The characters from The Wizard of Oz holding each other close and looking at something off-screen.
Loew's, Inc.

The Wizard of Oz is a celebrated classic that tells the familiar tale of Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), a young girl from Kansas who, after being swept away to the magical land of Oz in a tornado, embarks on a journey to find the Wizard and return home. Along the way, she meets new friends like a Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) without a brain, a Tin Man (Jack Haley) without a heart, and a Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr).

The gorgeous fictional world of Oz is now legendary, as Dorothy’s misadventures there helped bring Technicolor to the mainstream. The groundbreaking scene where Dorothy opens a door and walks out into a colorful Oz marked an important turning point in cinema. Of course, the 1939 film is also fondly remembered for Garland’s incredible performance as the young Dorothy, whose award-winning song, Over the Rainbow, is still referenced and discussed as part of pop culture today.

2. Spirited Away (2001)

Chihiro sitting with No-Face in Spirited Away.

Several Studio Ghibli movies have become fan favorites throughout the years, but none have managed to surpass Spirited Away, which is still director Hayao Miyazaki’s magnum opus. The Japanese animated film tells the story of Chihiro (voiced by Rumi Hiiragi), a young girl who becomes trapped in a mysterious and magical reality where she must rescue her parents. The only way to do that is to boldly face strange creatures and spirits, including the powerful witch Yubaba (Mari Natsuki) and the terrifying No-Face (Akio Nakamura).

Spirited Away genuinely feels like a wild and visually stunning ride into an otherworldly realm that’s both spectacular and frightening. Its worldbuilding and animation style are hard to beat even today, especially since they’re paired with what is essentially a profound coming-of-age story that shows a little girl’s journey to finding her immense bravery.

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

The Fellowship of the Ring in a hazy ocher.
New Line Cinema

An argument could be made on behalf of any entry in director Peter Jackson’s renowned The Lord of the Rings trilogy that it’s the best of the bunch, but there’s an undeniable timeless and nostalgic quality about The Fellowship of the Ring that makes it deserving of that spot. As the film that started it all, the 2001 masterpiece introduced viewers to Middle-earth and, more specifically, the Shire, which the hobbit Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) is about to depart to go on a critical quest.

Jackson’s masterful direction brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth to life, and became a benchmark for epic storytelling in the fantasy genre in the process. The ambitious and successful film was praised for its faithfulness to the source material and technical achievements, which helped it quickly become a global phenomenon. The Fellowship of the Ring also has the added charm of focusing on character and worldbuilding before its impressive sequels would bring in the big battles. Fellowship‘s numerous memorable moments and lines make it the ideal choice for a rewatch.