With Rise of Skywalker only a mere few days away, I have got to say that I am getting pretty giddy with excitement. It’s made me gone back and rewatch every film of the Skywalker Saga. Is all of it great? No, not really, but what I will never deny is the feeling of excitement and enchantment every time I embark on a new chapter in a galaxy far, far away. The quirky creatures, the unique worlds, the thrilling adventure and iconic characters have made it a classic of the fantasy genre. Yes, yes I can hear some of you out there arguing that it’s a “science-fiction” film. Truth be told, it really does feel more like science-fantasy film. So with that in mind, I figured now would be a good a time as any to remember some of the best fantasy films of this decade. The ones that fill us with child-like awe and a longing for adventure. The films that fuelled our imaginations and left us dizzy with emotions after.
Our world can be a harsh and cruel place, so why not take a brief reprieve from it in other ones? So without further ado, let’s escape away into the very best fantasy films this age has to offer.
10. Trollhunter (2010)
Fantasy films have a unique ability to bring us into worlds that we otherwise wouldn’t have ever imagined or conjured up. They are worlds that intrigue and fascinate us with rich and intricate details. So we’re gonna kick off our list with a severely underrated fantasy film that doesn’t get enough attention. A Norwegian found-footage documentary following the lives of people who hunt stony monsters in 2010’s Trollhunter. At first glance, it’s easy to write this film off as another campy monster flick, and you would be wrong to do so. The level of worldbuilding director and writer André Øvredal packs in here had me glued to the screen from start to finish.
This film depicts the process of hunting Trolls almost as if it is a genuine science. The film discusses the different sub-species of, methods and religious weapons used against them and so much more. Trollhunter is legitimately engrossing and definitely one of the more unique fantasy films out there.
9. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010)
Till this day, I’ve yet to see an animated film with the visuals to rival that of Zack Snyder’s Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. It is eye-bleedingly gorgeous. Enter the wild, Australian wilderness where wars are fought between owls for the fate of their kingdoms. A world full of beauty and grandeur but at the same time stunning brutality and terror. Snyder knows his way around visuals and Ga’Hoole speaks volumes to his abilities. There is a particularly beautiful scene in which an owl flies through a storm and for a moment, becomes one with it.
That being said, I am well aware of the absurdity about gushing over talking owls fighting one another and the tone of the story can be a little inconsistent at time. However, the visual splendour of seeing these majestic creatures expertly brought to life via 3D stereoscope cannot be understated. Never have I wanted to be an owl so bad in my life, if only to visit such a well-realized world.
8. Hugo (2011)
Though the fantasy genre does get unfairly labelled as childish by more narrow-minded individuals, it cannot be denied that there is an aspect of youthful whimsy within it. Films can help the audience, regardless of age, find their inner kid. The one looking excitement and adventure, and weirdly enough, one of the most charming examples of this is brought to us by Martin Scorsese. The guy who made Goodfellas is also the man responsible for Hugo. The story follows a young orphan named Hugo as he traverses a fictionalized Paris in 1931.
In his journey to discover more about his father, Asa Butterworth’s Hugo will form new friendships, uncover secrets and even learn magic! Hugo is ultimately a tale about one boy’s quest for love and beauty even in the face of tragedy. He’ll make you hope and dream again, that boy!
7. Paddington 2 (2017)
There is an unspoken rule in the fantasy film genre that when we agree to sit down and watch a film, we suspend a certain level of disbelief. We simply let go and allow the film to carry us away to a better world. No world on this list I can say with the utmost confidence has more charm and joy than that of 2017’s Paddington 2. And it’s all because of our dear Paddington Brown. I don’t care how cynical, jaded or stone-hearted you are, you will melt into a bubbling mess of giggling glee around that bloody bear.
It’s his stubborn insistence on being so very sweet. It’s his insatiable and infectious love for marmalade. It’s the fact that deep down inside he makes us wish we could all be like him. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll cheer for our little brown friend as he defies all odds to make this world a better place.
6. Song of the Sea (2014)
In the drudgery of the mundane, there are moments in which we can’t help but wonder if there is a world beyond ours. What if there was one full of fairies, giants and witches? What if the fairy tales we heard were real? Well, in Tomm Moore’s Irish animated fantasy film, Song of the Sea we get to see how the supernatural both plagues and uplifts a small Irish family longing to be whole again. Every single detail in Moore’s Song of the Sea is painstakingly brought to life by hand-drawn animation and it shows. There’s a vibrancy bursting forth from the screen that makes me reminisce of old-school Disney cartoons.
In spite of the story’s familiar roots, it still manages to touch on very relatable issues of sibling rivalry, abandonment and family. But with a wee bit of magic and a good dose pluck, perhaps there’s something that will make everything better. It’s in those moments of hope in which Song of the Sea finds its voice.
5. The Shape of Water (2017)
But fantasy films aren’t just a means for childish escapism, it can also be an avenue for in which we transition from the wide-eyed wonder of childhood to the darker disillusionment of adolescence and adulthood. They can be great ways of deconstructing popular tropes and traditions of the genre. Which is precisely why we love Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water. This modern, mature retelling of a Beauty-and-the-Beast like tale sees a mute scientist looking for a source of love and connection in the form of the Amphibian Man. Del Toro also uses this supernatural element to address uncomfortable issues of bigotry, sexuality and love.
Not unlike 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro continues his tradition of dealing with complex themes through mythical events and creatures. It somehow manages to be simultaneously romantic and subversive at the very same time. For this beautiful piece of paradoxology, we gotta give it a spot on our list.
4. The Kid Who Would Be King (2019)
You may have not noticed The Kid Who Would Be King’s release in theatres this year. If you didn’t then believe you me, you have missed out on one of the best fantasy films of the decade. The film follows a pair of frequently bullied schoolboys, Alex and Bedders, as they uncover a plot by the evil enchantress Morgana. She seeks to unleash her powers upon the world and bring it to ruin once again. Along the way, the pair will befriend a strange young wizard and form an alliance with their tormentors to save the world. Alex must also wrestle with the tragic reality of his father in this story.
The Kid is more than just a fun-family film, it’s a sobering look at how cycles of abuse and neglect inspire generational pain. Director and writer Joe Cornish could have simply phoned it in with this but he didn’t. For exceeding my expectations so thoroughly through strong storytelling, beautiful visuals and a bold vision, I dub The Kid Who Would Be King a spot here.
3. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Stories, whether fictional or not, have always had a profound effect on our shared cultural imagination, especially myths. In stop-motion animation studio Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings, we see one of the most poignant, melancholic expressions of the power of narratives in a generation. The story follows Kubo, a young Japanese boy who uses the art of music and origami to tell stories. A day comes however when he must face the truth of his past and do battle with dark forces who wish to tear his world asunder. With his two string shamisen, a magic katana and an odd pair of animal guardians, Kubo will stop at nothing to know his story.
Kubo is a visual feast for the eyes as we witness a mythical Japanese landscape brought to breathtaking life through animation inspired by Japanese ink wash paintings and origami. We’ve always seen Laika studios take risks with films like Coraline and Boxtrolls dealing with disturbing themes but never like this. Kubo will tug on your heartstrings, challenge your notions of epistemology and leave you enraptured by the beauty of its aesthetics. Do yourself a favour and watch it now!
2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
Now we couldn’t possibly have a rundown of the best fantasy films of an era without touching on the subgenre of epics. Films that encapsulate nearly every aspect of the genre we’ve come to know and love. Not only highly immersive and rich in diegesis but also capable of exploring rich themes and providing fulfilling character studies as well. Films that capture the whimsy and excitement of childhood before touching on the more mature realities and implications that come with the fantasy. We would be woefully remiss if we didn’t include the long-awaited sequel to one of the greatest science fantasy franchises of all time. I’m talking about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Some people, namely our resident film critic Dashran, might say The Last Jedi is better. I disagree. The film doesn’t quite capture the first-love elation of returning to a universe once thought closed off from us. Once the ecstasy of unbridled nostalgia wore off, the film continued to impress with powerhouse performances by Adam Driver, John Boyega and Daisy Ridley. Force Awakens is the perfect marriage between the Shakespearean motifs of the prequel trilogy and the familial themes of the original. Force Awakens could have clenched my top spot if not for another that eclipsed its glory.
1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 (2010-2011)
Yes, we are aware that we’re cheating a little by counting both Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2 as a single film. That being said, you really can’t experience the two films apart. Next to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, never has a fantasy film series set the bar quite so high as Harry Potter. We felt like a kid again in Philosopher’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. Discovered the growing pains of adolescence and innocence loss in Prisoner of Azkaban and Goblet of Fire. And since Order of the Phoenix, we’ve followed the war efforts of Harry and friends against the Dark Lord Voldermort. This right here is the climactic conclusion of an epic saga and an age of fantasy itself.
Seeing the original cast’s characters’ full story come full circle was both equal parts beautiful and saddening. I’ve followed them for the longest time and to see them truly come into their in this final battle to determine the fate of the Wizarding World was magnificent, intimate and deeply, deeply satisfying. Every film before has been leading up to this and Deathly Hallows did not disappoint. Which is why I can say with certainty that no fantasy film this decade has managed to even come close to touching the bar set by Deathly Hallows. Not Warner Bros’ dogshit Hobbit trilogy, not their mediocre to terrible Fantastic Beast films and most certainly not the Twilight Saga. Deathly Hallows encapsulates everything we love about the genre and deserves to claim the spot of Greatest Fantasy Film of the 2010s.