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Sci-Fi / Fantasy

In theory fantasy films are films with fantastic themes, usually involving magic or exotic fantasy worlds, as distinct from science fiction films or horror films. more...

Art FilmsArt Films
Movie PropsMovie Props
Sci-Fi / FantasySci-Fi / Fantasy
2001: A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey
A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange
Back to the FutureBack to the Future
Blade RunnerBlade Runner
Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko
Eternal Sunshine of the...Eternal Sunshine of the...
Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke
Raiders of the Lost ArkRaiders of the Lost Ark
Return of the JediReturn of the Jedi
Spirited AwaySpirited Away
Star WarsStar Wars
The Empire Strikes BackThe Empire Strikes Back
The Fellowship of the RingThe Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the RingsThe Lord of the Rings
The MatrixThe Matrix
The Return of the KingThe Return of the King
The Two TowersThe Two Towers

The category has as much to do with approach as with context and there is often a good deal of overlap between the genres. For example, much about the Star Wars saga suggests fantasy, yet it feels like science fiction, while much about Time Bandits suggests science fiction, yet it feels like fantasy.

Superhero films also seem to fufil the requirements of the fantasy or science fiction genres, but they are usually considered to be a genre all their own.

Animated films are not always classified as fantasy, nor are talking non-human animals. Bambi, for example, is not fantasy, nor is Toy Story, though the latter is closer to fantasy than the former. The Secret of NIMH, however, is a fantasy film, not because it features talking non-human animals, but because there is actual magic involved.

Surrealist film also describes the fantastic, but it dispenses with genre narrative conventions, and commercial and financial aims, and is usually considered a separate category.

Most fantasy movies are released during the winter season, particularly in November and December, in stark contrast with the summer, which releases mostly action and sci-fi movies.


There are many sub-categories of fantasy films that can be identified. The most prevalent of these are High Fantasy and Sword and sorcery. These are films with quasi-medieval settings, wizards, magical creatures and the like. High Fantasy tends to have a complex fantasy world and hero of humble origins, while Sword and sorcery tends to pit a barbarian against a wizard. High Fantasy is indebted to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings books, while sword and sorcery is equally indebted to the work of Robert E. Howard and his Conan the Barbarian.

Another important sub-genre of fantasy films, more popular in recent years, is Contemporary fantasy. Such films feature magic (often figured as the supernatural) in the real world. The most prominent example in the early Twenty-first Century is the Harry Potter series while most superhero films are a form of science fantasy typically set in contemporary times.

Finally, we have the fairy tale genre, which many people consider separate from the rest of fantasy. We leave consideration of such major films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to the fairy tale genre.


Fantasy as a genre in film has existed since the beginning of films, although the offerings were sporadic until the 1980's, which saw a flourishing of the genre. In the era of silent film the outstanding fantasy films were Douglas Fairbanks' The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungin (1925). In 1939, audiences embraced what is surely the best loved fantasy film of all time, The Wizard of Oz. The 1940s saw the full color fantasy films produced by Alexander Korda, The Thief of Bagdad and Jungle Book (1942). Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in Sinbad the Sailor feels like a fantasy film, though it does not actually have any fantastic elements. In the 1950's there were only two major fantasy films, The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. There were also several low budget fantasies, based on Greek or Arabian legend, by Ray Harryhausen. The only true fantasy film in the 1970s was The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. With Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fantasy explosion began which continues into the Twenty-first Century.

  • 1980s: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Dragonslayer, Poltergeist, The Dark Crystal, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Legend, Highlander, Labyrinth, Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, The Princess Bride, Willow, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  • 1990s: Ghost, Groundhog Day, The Indian in the Cupbord, Jumanji, The X-Files, Meet Joe Black, The Green Mile, and The Sixth Sense.
  • 2000s: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Unbreakable, Holes, Pirates of the Caribbean and, in a class by themselves, The Lord of the Rings films and the Harry Potter films. The final Lord of the Rings film, The Return of the King, was the first sci-fi, fantasy, or horror film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

There is also at least one fantasy film that would be spoiled if you knew it was fantasy before you saw it.

Additional examples

  • Ancanar
  • Excalibur
  • Heavy Metal
  • Hexer (Wiedźmin)
  • Jason & the Argonauts
  • Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime)
  • The Company of Wolves
  • The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad
  • The Witches
  • Alice in Wonderland (1933 film) - with Charlotte Henry, W.C. Fields, Cary Grant
  • Alice in Wonderland (1951 film) - Disney animated film
  • Ladyhawke
  • The Last Unicorn
  • The Neverending Story
  • Clash of the Titans (1981)
  • Dark Crystal (1982)
  • The Secret of NIMH (1982)
  • Legend (1985)
  • Labyrinth (1986)
  • Willow (1988)
  • Photographing Fairies (1997)


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