The 80s were undoubtedly the best decade for fantasy film. I’m not sure if it was due to the over abundance of fantasy titles during that time period, but it seemed like a classic was being cranked out almost every year. We’re going to attempt to list some of our favorites that we think are the best of the genre.
List Criteria: Must take place in a fantasy world. Must be fantasy first, if it leans more towards sci-fi or action, it probably won’t make the cut. Must contain one (or all) of the following: Magic, swords, crystals, a warrior, a unicorn, a demon, and a fairy.
LEGEND (Ridley Scott, 1985)
What’s it about?: Tom Cruise, with the help of some friends, sets off to rescue the woman he loves from Darkness, one of the coolest devils ever portrayed in film.
Why should I watch it?: Start with the director’s cut and see some true artistry. Ridley Scott knows how to bring fantasy to the big screen in a way that’s submersive and enchanting. Plus it has almost everything from the criteria list.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE (Rob Reiner, 1987)
What’s it about?: A young woman and her lover must reunite and do battle against Prince Humperdinck and the evil kingdom of Florin.
Why should I watch it?: Once you get past the mildly annoying framing device and get into the fairytale, the film is actually fantastic and littered with memorable characters. Plus with a cast like Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Robin Wright, Chris Sarandon and Christopher Guest… you can’t go wrong.
KRULL (Peter Yates, 1983)
What’s it about?: A monster from space comes to Krull and steals a princess. Her prince gets a glaive and with a group of ruffians, he sets out to rescue her.
Why should I watch it?: I will admit there’s a bit of nostalgia at play here with my love for this movie. Imagine taking Star Wars or Dune and mashing them up with the other films on this list, you’d be close to something like Krull. The cyclops, the quicksand, the giant ass spider, and the glaive are all things you’ll love (or maybe you won’t), but there’s no denying the James Horner score is a thing of beauty.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (John Milius, 1982)
What’s it about?: A warrior sets out to avenge the death of his family and tribe who had their lives cut short by an evil sorcerer.
Why should I watch it?: Arnold Schwarzenegger, that’s why. He’s like the perfect warrior. Plus, James Earl Jones is a great bad guy, then you throw in some Max von Sydow for good measure and you got yourself a real crowd pleaser.
THE BEASTMASTER (Don Coscarelli, 1982)
What’s it about?: Marc Singer (AKA the poor man’s Mark Hamill) is a warrior who can communicate with animals. When his village is destroyed he seeks to enact revenge on the guilty.
Why should I watch it?: Chances are if you grew up in the 80’s and had HBO, you probably saw The Beastmaster at one point or another. I thought back then that it was one of the scariest films ever made. You got little kids being thrown into fire pits, creepy witch ladies with butter faces, weird bird people who turned you into human soup, and the green earwigs which turned you into a raging S&M monster… to a six year old… that’s some terrifying shit.
CLASH OF THE TITANS (Desmond Davis, 1981)
What’s it about?: Follow the epic tale of Perseus as he fights Medusa and the Kraken to save the Princess Andromeda.
Why should I watch it?: Like The Beastmaster, Clash of the Titans was pretty scary as a kid. Now, it’s dated, but still fun in a quasi-cheesy way. Plus the practical effects and stop motion really capture the essence of early 80s fantasy films.
DARK CRYSTAL (Jim Henson & Frank Oz, 1982)
What’s it about?: A Gelfling and his crew head out to find a missing shard from a crystal that will help restore order to their universe.
Why should I watch it?: Jim Henson’s puppet work in this film is a marvel and must be seen by any real fan of fantasy. The world he creates on screen is truly incredible and if there’s one thing you can say about this film, there’s nothing else like it.
THE NEVERENDING STORY (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984)
What’s it about?: A fantasy world called Fantasia is being overtaken by The Nothing, a dark power that engulfs everything in its path. A young warrior named Atreyu and his Luck Dragon set out to try and stop it.
Why should I watch it?: Like The Princess Bride, there’s an annoying framing device that weaves itself through the movie and its name is Bastian…. a young child who reads the story as it unfolds. However, the fantasy world created within that story is awesome, and in my youth, I was a massive fan of The NeverEnding Story. Nowadays, it’s still worth checking out, minus Bastian, he still sucks. Sorry fans of Bastian.
LABYRINTH (Jim Henson, 1986)
What’s it about?: A young girl must travel into a magical Labyrinth in order to save her baby brother from David Bowie and his massive bulge.
Why should I watch it?: In the same vein as The Dark Crystal, but visually much different, Henson again creates something to behold. The creatures and effects are top notch and still look otherworldly. David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly are unforgettable, and “Dance Magic Dance” will get stuck in your head for days.
WILLOW (Ron Howard, 1988)
What’s it about?: A dwarf teams up with a master swordsman to help save a young baby from an evil queen.
Why should I watch it?: Willow is one of the greatest fantasy films ever made and probably holds up the best out of any film on the list. Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis bring their characters to life in a way that you couldn’t see anyone else being able to do. Plus the baby is one of the best movie babies ever, the range of emotions they coerced from him are amazing.