Fantasy Movies: Then & Now

The 80’s have long been deemed the highpoint of fantasy perfection, and with good reason. There were countless lower-level, flawed but enjoyable entries such as Krull, Beastmaster, Return to Oz, Conan, Barbarian Queen, Legend, and The Last Unicorn.

And then you get to the true classics: Dragonslayer, Labyrinth, Excalibur, Princess Bride, Willow, The Neverending Story, Clash of the Titans, Dark Crystal, Baron Munchausen, and Time Bandits.

Do those movies hold up now? It’s a difficult question–further complicated by the fact that most of us saw these movies at an impressionable, not-exactly-discerning age. But new people continue to come to these movies–Labyrinth, for example, is more popular than ever.

Initially, things looked bleak for fantasy. The 90’s really didn’t do much of anything. Dragonheart was not a good movie. The 10th Kingdom was a nice effort for an NBC mini-series. There were Hercules and Xena. If there are any more, I’m not sure what they are.

The 2000’s have to begin with Lord of the Rings. Love or hate them, they were hard to ignore. Along the lines of the Rings movies are the Pirates of the Caribbean, equally big-budget pleb pleasers that are at least quasi-fantasy. My feelings on the LOTR movies are complex, but I’m glad they were made.

Like the 80’s, the 2000’s have their share of flawed but enjoyable flicks.

Reign of Fire was a new kind dragon movie. It was not very good, but if you ever wanted to see Matthew McConaughey drive a tank against powerful dragons, this is the flick for you. The first D&D movie was awful, but the second, less well-known, was surprisingly not bad; a story of a lich and a band of adventures was at least well-meaning. The Brothers Grimm was flawed but entertaining. Mirrormask was slow of pace but visually stunning.

Then you have the successes.

The Narnia movies have been, in my opinion, fantastic. Some of the best book-to-film adaptation I’ve ever seen. To me, these movies are actually preferable to the Lord of the Rings films, but I know that I’m in a minority too. They’ve taken the good elements from the books and enhanced them.

The Golden Compass was a commercial failure but to me another amazing movie. Sure, it’s little childish, but the effects and the story were top-notch. Good acting too.

Stardust, based on the Neil Gaiman novel, was equally terrific. Maybe the best fantasy of the 2000’s–but I really like Matthew Vaughn’s direction, so I might be biased.

Hellboy II, whilst nominally a superhero movie, is really a fantasy movie in disguise and some incredible characters and settings. 

Another lesser known movie is The Fall, which is sort of Wizard of Oz meets Pan’s Labyrinth, with the visuals of the Cell. It’s really good.

Finally, the critically acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth and Coraline have really redefined what we expect from a fantasy movie. Particularly the former, which unlike many of the 80’s films had a real edge; it was both meaningful and entertaining.

What do you think? Did the Aught’s have already established themselves as peers with the almighty 80’s? Or is it enough to think of this as a lesser, silver age?


2 thoughts on “Fantasy Movies: Then & Now

  1. I’m always a bad judge when it comes to comparing decades, mostly because anything beyond last week is a blur for me (I still think of Pearl Jam as a new, up and coming band, for example). In any case, I’d say the 2000’s have more than held their own. I guess the advancements in special effects are the main reason. I agree the Narnia movies are fantastic adaptations. Is Gladiator considered a fantasy flick? I’m sort of partial to that one as well. I’m sure there are others I can’t think of as well… Great post.

  2. That’s a good point–special effects have come a long way. I do kind of miss the muppets (and, to a lesser extent, the stop-motion) of yore however.
    I don’t know what Gladiator is, to be honest. It’s far from historically accurate, but it still must be an “epic,” right? There’s really not too much supernatural going on.
    By the way, who is this Pearl Jam you speak of? Someone I should check out?

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