Some of us gave up wearing our Spiderman costumes when we were five, while some of us still wear our wunderpants to keep things SUPER on a daily basis. But all of us can find an escape in the fantasy worlds created on the big screen, whether we’re after a gnarly blue-screen adventure or a magic and riddle-fiddled tour of adolescence—is it a coincidence that so many fantasy films are about growing up, and set heroes out on a quest to save the world right as they’re having the worst hair day of their LIFE? We think not. That said, here’s the five hottest fantasy films ever made:
The Neverending Story
A young boy, tired of being bullied, discovers a mysterious book called the Neverending Story and begins reading, only to find he is literally drawn into the story. Meta alert! The book concerns the world of Fantasia, which is being dissolved by the Nothing. A young Indian boy, Atreyu, rides semi-shirtless across the plains on his horse Artax in search of a cure for the Childlike Empress, who is dying along with her land. What is eating Fantasia? How can the world be saved? Why does Atreyu only have a skint vest for riding cross-country? These are questions that are and are not resolved as the film takes you on a journey to the Southern Oracle and Ivory Tower. Protected by the AURYN necklace, Atreyu meets friends along the way, including, YES, a giant flying dog/dragon thing, called Falcor. If you’ve a soft spot for flying sequences created before blue screen technology was invented, this is the fantasy movie for you. The last time we saw it, we thought good and hard about getting a bowl haircut so we could be like Bastian.
See it because the theme song makes you want to FLY.
Before Jennifer Connelly was a hot older lady of Hollywood, she was Sarah, a teenager who accidentally wishes her baby brother off into the hands of the goblin king, aka David Bowie, after one too many nights babysitting. David Bowie—a mulleted “Jareth under the spell of Jim Henson’s team—hides her brother at the center of his riddling labyrinth, giving Sarah until 13 o’clock to find him. SPOILER ALERT: No matter the time on the clock, it is always 1986 where Bowie’s eye makeup and hair are concerned. The Thin White Duke wrote the songs for the film himself, which are half the reason to see it in the first place. “Dance, magic dance "provides a showcase for Jareth’s famed codpiece, while “As the world falls down” provides a fantastical look at what '80s brides had going on in their heads (hint: puffy sleeves). Each character and quirk within the labyrinth corresponds to an element of Sarah’s life, with cherished childhood toys popping up as muppet friends on her journey, though again, her bedroom provides very little explanation for Bowie’s codpiece and lilac tights.
See it because you think magic is best performed in a mullet.
Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban
Harry, Ron, and Hermione return to Hogwarts right as a manhunt is on for an escaped felon, a man called Black, from the famed Azkaban prison. Patronus charms, quidditch games and the sentencing of Hagrid’s dear Buckbeak provide intrigue, while dementors enter the fray, threatening to suck the life out of Harry, much like a good old fashioned teen crush will suck the air out of your gut. Emma Watson’s knit jumpers do the most of her acting—I forgive her because she’s so adorable—but the real treat comes in the form of Gary Oldman, who turns out to be a different person than Harry expected, while Snape hovers on the edge of the frame with his diabolical black bob hairdo. Prisoner of Azkaban sets up a number of important threads for the subsequent Harry Potter films, but also captures the evolving friendships of the trio at a particularly vulnerable juncture. Let’s not forget ADOLESCENCE is going on along with all this dark magic, yo (represent to Ron’s awkward ginge phase from someone who has BEEN THERE). For heartwarming magic, this episode gets a solid vote from me.
See it because you love to yell "EXPECTO PATRONUM!"
Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s expansive Middle Earth provides an epic battleground for the future of men, led by four hairy-footed hobbits. While, broadly speaking, the film explores conflict between good and evil, the camaraderie of different races and the responsibility that comes with power, it’s as much a film about friendship, in that there’s no single hero. The tight emotional knots in the story—between Frodo, Sam and Gollum; Legolas and Gimli; Merry, Pippin and Treebeard; Aragorn and Arwen; Gandalf and the hobbits, etc.—ultimately build the courage each character needs to deploy as darkness closes in. Tolkien wrote the books largely during World War II, and so the risk of annihilation looms larger in print; as filmed by Peter Jackson, the movies offer a more thrilling look at the journey toward Mordor to destroy the one ring of power. Is this the greatest fantasy trilogy ever made? Manufacturers of prosthetic elf ears would have you believe it. We will say this: We still shiver when the beacons get lit. As a bonus, Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Concords plays a footman to Arwen and council member in a couple of brief, forgettable scenes.
See it because you believe in the courage of men!
Bridge to Terabithia
And you thought we were going to round out with Tuck Everlasting...KIDDING! We all know there is no comparison with this beautiful movie about a shy guy who befriends the new girl at school. If you read the book, you probably can vaguely recall a time when you used your IMAGINATION instead of watching Penguin Cam all day (confession), and that’s what Leslie and Jess do together in the woods outside a school where neither fits in. In the film, the world that the two create, Terabithia, comes to life within a parallel fantasy, but the friendship remains as brilliantly simple and honest as in the book. And don’t forget about Jess’s cutesy little sister. If you’re all grown up and forget what it was like to play and have fun, you can BE A KID AGAIN!
See it for the early Zooey Deschanel turn as teacher.
What genius fantasy film did we leave out, and did the hero have the worst hair day of their life in it?