The history of fantasy is older than writing itself – the earliest myths and fables arguably date back to cave paintings from the Paleolithic era. The genre then developed through oral tradition, before finding a place in the literature of virtually every culture.
Fantasy films are relatively recent, starting with The Infernal Cauldron, a 1903 silent short featuring green-hued demons and wispy white ghosts. The genre has come a long way since then and currently includes some of the best films ever made. Many fantastic films have left their mark on cinema, but only a select few have succeeded in redefining the genre.
ten Genre Reinvented: Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is a masterclass in cinema
Guillermo Del Toro’s storytelling insight is evident in most of his work, but especially in the Oscar-winning film Pan’s Labyrinth. This film is a vibrant web of folk myth and post-Spanish Civil War militarism.
Pan’s Labyrinth works simultaneously on both levels, while addressing a series of deeply emotional and philosophical questions. Pan’s Labyrinth was widely acclaimed as a masterclass in cinema, particularly for the “poetic vision in which the dark realities of war are matched and mirrored” by the film’s fantastical components.
9 Didn’t reinvent the genre: Mary Poppins (1964) was technically groundbreaking, but its plot was corny
Adapted from the iconic novel series by PL Travers, Mary Poppins is an early example of Disney’s attempt to mix animation with live action. It was nominated for thirteen Oscars, a record still unmatched for a Disney film.
Julie Andrews picked up the Best Actress Oscar for playing the sugary-perfect lead character, and Mary Poppins‘ is among the most memorable in music history. While the film was technically groundbreaking, its plot can be described as “elementary, even mundane”.
8 The genre reinvented: Groundhog Day (1993) influenced everyone from casual viewers to professional writers
groundhog day harnesses the power of science fiction to generate a positively magical narrative. It was an instant success, in terms of critical appreciation and audience enjoyment, not to mention a resounding box office triumph.
groundhog dayThe impact of , seen through the prism of pop culture over the past three decades, is crystal clear. Even a cursory analysis of the film reveals the depth of its allegorical wisdom. groundhog day has influenced everyone who watches it, from casual viewers to professional writers and everyone in between.
7 Did not reinvent the genre: Sleepy Hollow (1999) received both praise and complaints from critics
Tim Burton’s cinematic style borrows significantly from Expressionism, a modernist avant-garde movement that articulates the emotions of its subjects using extreme degrees of visual distortion. Burton adds a healthy dose of gothic horror to the mix, crafting classics like Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Corpse Bride (2005).
Burton’s sleepy hollow tailors The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a short story by Washington Irving, to his oddly light-hearted outlook. Unfortunately, reviews were split between compliment and censure – some called sleepy hollow “Burton is the richest, prettiest, weirdest”, while others felt the film was “a jerkily plotted crowd pleaser”.
6 The genre reinvented: Spirited Away (2001) left behind a legacy that few films can surpass
Most Studio Ghibli productions fall into the category of masterpieces. The undoubted genius of director Hayao Miyazaki is largely responsible for the kaleidoscopic brilliance of films like My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Howl’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004).
However, no Ghibli film has achieved as much recognition as Taken away as if by magic. Every accolade and award this universally wonderful film has received is fully justified. Taken away as if by magic left a legacy so warm and electric that most fantasy films can’t even hope to top it.
5 Didn’t reinvent the genre: Life Of Pi (2012) was a vibrant adaptation limited by its ambiguous ending
Arguably director Ang Lee’s most visually stunning achievement, Pi’s life was originally pitched to directors Alfonso Cuarón, M. Night Shyamalan and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. With Lee at the helm, however, the film went on to become a worldwide box office grand slam. Critics admired Lee’s “delicacy and lyricism”, referring to Pi’s life as a work of pure poetry.
Even the titular novel’s author, Yann Martel, acknowledged that the film adaptation “raises the same important questions about truth, perception, and belief.” On the other hand, Pi’s lifeThe vibrant scope of was severely limited by its overly ambiguous conclusion.
4 Reinventing the Genre: The Princess Bride (1987) Flipping the damsel in distress trope
The princess to be married was adapted for the big screen by William Goldman, also known for writing the book it is based on. The film is a “postmodern fairy tale – it revitalized the overused damsel in distress narrative device by weaving elements of comedy and melodrama into an eloquent tapestry.
The princess to be married is packed with countless quotes that are as fresh today as they were when the film was released. In honor of his enduring legacy, The princess to be married earned a spot on several “best-of” lists, most notably for its dazzling screenplay.
3 Did not reinvent the genre: Stardust (2007) failed to capture the magical life force of the original novel
Neil Gaiman has a flair for fantasy that few other genre writers are capable of. Several of his books — Coraline, Good Omens and the American Gods — have been adapted for television and film.
His Stardust was turned into a romantic adventure film at the hands of director/screenwriter Matthew Vaughn, and stars the incomparable Claire Danes in the lead role. Stardust “juggles multiple genres and tones to create a fantastical experience”, but ultimately fails to manifest the magical life force of the original novel.
2 The genre reinvented: The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains a great cinematic success even today
The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien is undoubtedly the source from which modern fantasy is distilled. Director Peter Jackson took on the task of turning this great epic into a movie, creating a trilogy that won 17 Oscars and generated nearly $3 billion in revenue.
All three films helped reshape the fantasy genre in their image, just as the books did in the 1950s. The Lord of the Rings trilogy remains incredibly popular with audiences – the next Amazon series, subtitled power ringsis due out in September 2022.
1 Didn’t reinvent the genre: The Hobbit trilogy has far too much superfluous padding
contrary to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit trilogy stretches the story of the novel to the breaking point. Many critics have pointed out that the series could just as well have been condensed into a single movie. All three films contain so much superfluous padding that they barely resemble the world Tolkien created.
That being said, The Hobbit TrilogyThe digital effects and distinguished cast of managed to hold their audience’s attention. Interesting way, The desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) fared much better than their predecessor, An Unexpected Journey (2012).
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