There are many shades when it comes to fantasy films — works that cross genres effortlessly. Garden variety sword and sorcery movies don’t appear to have much in common with neo-noir fantasy tales like David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but there are shared mythical elements and phenomena that bond them.
The third season of HBO’s Game of Thrones is right around the corner (March 31), and we wanted to get in the mood for faraway lands, extraordinary creatures, and vivid storytelling by visiting 10 fantasy films you may have missed. There’s something for everyone here — from Amazon women, to trolls, and 20th-century Parisian adventures. Share your underseen favorites in the comments section.
The work of Romantic-era Russian poet Alexander Pushkin inspired a 1972 film adaptation, Ruslan and Ludmila, directed by the “Soviet Walt Disney,” Aleksandr Ptushko. The mythological fairy tale about an abducted princess held captive by an evil wizard is a more sumptuous Ray Harryhausen-esque spectacle. If you miss the days of practical effects, matte paintings, and imaginative settings (the crystal garden is gorgeous), this is a must see.
Luis Buñuel directed the dinner party that never ends in 1962’s The Exterminating Angel. The Spanish filmmaker reveals his familiar disdain for bourgeois society in the subversive satire by putting wealthy party guests through an existential hell. Once the niceties wear off, the facade crumbles, and weeks later — unable to bring themselves to leave the gathering — the guests succumb to hysteria, starvation, and begin tearing the walls apart for food and water in the pipes beyond.
The 1987 movie is worth a peek for fans of Twin Peaks’ Man From Another Place, Michael J. Anderson. This was his first major film role. If you can appreciate the surreality of a low-budget children’s movie about fantasy kingdoms in an alternate dimension, acrobat moms, gold dust, and hobo types hunting children in the woods, you’ll have a blast.
Luc Besson’s 2010 adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s French comic book takes audiences through 20th-century Paris and the tombs of Egypt. The magical realism of Amélie meets the intrepid spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark as a writer contends with mummies, a newly hatched Pterodactyl, and a villainous Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace). Louise Bourgoin makes a charismatic, skillful, and quick-witted heroine.
Fritz Lang’s 1921 silent film has drawn the attention of major directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel for its visual artistry and imaginative special effects. The frame tale finds a woman confronting Death personified in order to save her lover. She’s offered three chances to bring him back, and the episodes follow her to exotic lands for fantastic adventures. Lang demonstrates that love isn’t necessarily stronger than death, but even the cloaked figure can regard it with awe.
This 2010 Norwegian import saw a limited release, but found a staunch following amongst some genre audiences. The political satire and distinctly Scandinavian themes may evade North American viewers, but Trollhunter’s compelling characters — namely its grizzled hero Hans (Otto Jespersen) — and tongue-in-cheek approach are wholly entertaining. A Scooby Doo team of investigators chase after mythical giants that roam the icy landscape. Part mockumentary, part horror film, and infused with the folklore and fantasy of Norway’s pre-Christian history, Trollhunter’s outsider themes supersede its Norwegian vernacular.
A young girl dreams about a distant house occupied by a disabled boy. As her own illness worsens, she spends more time in the fantasy world with her mysterious friend, but her fever dreams take a sinister turn. Roger Ebert compared the movie’s simplicity to that of a Bergman film in his review. “This is not a movie to be measured and weighed and plumbed, but to be surrendered to,” he wrote.
Hammer Films’ She is the kind of fantasy epic most people think of when they construct a picture of the genre: lost cities, stunning beauties — a regal Ursula Andress in costumes to kill for — and tales of immortality and tragic love. James Barnard’s fantastic score sets the mood for faraway desert adventures.
Jayne Mansfield’s former husband directed a sword and sorcery film in 1983 about a warrior woman searching for a suitable husband to make babies with. How else can Hundra save the Amazons from extinction? Barbarians, magic, and skimpy fur outfits make Hundra a trademark fantasy film, but there are some interesting — albeit not completely successful — feminist threads throughout. Ennio Morricone’s score might be the best thing about this Italo-Spanish campfest, but those hungry for a female Conan character should dig it.
Best Picture producer David O. Selznick (Gone with the Wind, The Third Man, Rebecca) was inspired by a Robert Nathan novel to adapt the fantasy story for the big screen. Portrait of Jennie starred his future wife, Jennifer Jones. It always surprises us how many people haven’t seen the film, which is considered by many to be a classic in the genre, despite simultaneously having a reputation as being underrated. An otherworldly woman becomes the muse of a struggling artist in the haunting love story that transcends time.