One caveat: I'm taking a more inclusive stance on what constitutes "fantasy" here, to basically include any kind of non-SF story in which supernatural stuff happens. For those who think that "fantasy" means armored Princes going to war on horseback using magical swords against evil wizards, well, you need to broaden your views!
The list is in no particular order, except for the final two, which really do constitute my top two.
So, why start here? Why not? It's funny and it's got ghosts. It's full of wildly funny visual jokery, and some of it can slip by without notice; for instance, the StayPuft Marshmallow Man gets a huge laugh when he shows up, but what's great is that he actually changes facial expressions: his grin turns mean when he's stepping on people, and when he's clinging to the edge of the building, watching helplessly as our heroes cross the streams (even though "it would be bad"), he has this comical expression of anger and fear. On a Marshmallow Man. I love that. This movie also features one of my favorite throwaway lines of all time: "Listen! Do you smell something?"
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Now, I do like the recent Tim Burton version of this story, but it's the old one that's the enduring classic, and with good reason. I remember watching it when I was just a kid, and then I didn't see it again until I was in college. Usually that is a formula for serious disappointment; nostalgia, as someone once wrote (I can't remember who), is usually happiest when not fully investigated. But Willy Wonka sucked me right back in when I was twenty. To this day it's the best thing Gene Wilder ever did. I love the way he takes over the film as soon as he shows up, and the casual malevolence and benevolence he is able to portray, often from one line of dialogue to the next.
A lot of people I know don't find this movie particularly scary, but I thought it enormously effective, and it accomplished its scares without resorting to things going bump in the night or evil slashers hiding behind curtains or any of the usual horror movie tropes. Instead, the movie takes place in brightly lit rooms where everyone can be seen, and it still got under my skin when I saw it. (I do consider horror to be part of fantasy.)
Back to the Future
Am I wrong to think of this as fantasy? Maybe. Maybe it's science fiction. I'm not really sure. It depends on the definition, and as everyone knows, there's just no good definition separating SF from fantasy. So I include BttF here because the BS behind its story is such cheerfully made-up BS. Sure, they dress it up a bit with some technobabble, but I'm calling it fantasy. So there it is.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Now this is most definitely fantasy, and one of the most engaging movies of the 1980s. The sheer amount of craft in melding the animation and the live acting is amazing, but the movie's script is just so perfect, always taking its material seriously but managing to evoke its madcap world of cartoons and people living together with extremely subtle winks to the audience. It's a wildly funny and inventive fantasy.
Is it actually SF? No, I don't think so. I think it's pure fantasy, and another grand example of a movie creating its own world. Fantasy all the way.
The Princess Bride
Is it fantasy? Or parody of fantasy? I think it straddles the line like no other movie ever has. This movie kids because it loves.
This movie died a quick death at the box office, and I don't know why; I found it charming and fun.
The Green Mile
I may be cheating a bit here, since I haven't seen the whole movie in one go, but I've seen all of its bits and pieces enough times in various telecasts that it all adds up to the whole thing. That said, this is, well, The Shawshank Redemption with some added supernatural elements.
(Warning -- that's the last scene of the film.)
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension
This is another one that straddles the SF-Fantasy line. Maybe it's actually SF, but I'm not sure; all of its Sfnal content is completely made up out of whole cloth. It's a wickedly funny movie, too, full of sly and twisted humor that's my cup of tea in such things. Lots of great lines, including another of my all-time favorites, "Whoa, don't tug on that! You never know what it might be attached to."
Pirates of the Caribbean
I'm listing all three of them here, because I genuinely love them all, even if the last one could have used one more pass through the rewrite stage.
By far my favorite Biblical epic. Am I on blasphemous ground in calling it a fantasy? I guess one day I'll find out. But I really love this movie (and I'm due to watch it again, come to that).
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The only movie on this list that was made for teevee. I don't get the sense that it's very well liked or remembered, but I find it a lively romp, telling the story of Merlin's life as it intersects with the Arthurian story. It tends to be a bit episodic and disjointed, but I still think it's a fun movie.
Interview with the Vampire
I thought Tom Cruise was just fine as Lestat. This is one of those movies that gets better on repeat viewings, I've found.
The Wizard of Oz
This movie is almost clicheed at this point, but it's really a finely crafted fantasy. (Although frankly, I've often wondered what happens after the movie's end – isn't Toto still doomed?)
It's not that great a movie, but it's an ambitious piece of 1980s adventure movie making, it has a terrific score by James Horner, and as fantasy set-pieces go, surely the fire-mares sequence is one of the best.
It may seem odd, at first glance, that no indisputably great film has been made out of the King Arthur legends, but when one considers the Matter of Britain as a whole, the obstacles it poses to filmmakers become obvious. The Arthur "legend" is actually a giant collection of legends, and any telling of the story in a movie form is going to leave large amounts of stuff out. And if you really do it proper, Arthur himself will disappear for large periods of time while we follow other knights around. So, for now, Excalibur is as good as it gets, as far as Arthurian films are concerned. It's a beautifully made movie, even if the tone is generally cool.
I've long maintained that this is my favorite Disney animated film, and I've not changed my mind yet.
You know what? This is not only fantasy, but in a lot of ways it's straight-up horror. The whole Pleasure Island part of the movie is downright scary, especially when Lampwick starts his own transformation. Most people think of Jiminy Cricket warbling "When You Wish Upon a Star", but that's only the tiniest portion of this movie.
The Emperor's New Groove
I never tire of giving this flick some love. It's by far the zaniest thing ever to come out of Disney; it's so zany and madcap and hilarious, in fact, that I almost think they were channeling the spirit of Chuck Jones when they made it. General opinion seems to be that Disney's animated offerings after, say, Pocahontas were poor, but I've never believed that, and this movie stands with anything they ever did.
Rounding out the Disney portion of this list. This movie just barely edges out Beauty and the Beast, which is probably actually a better movie, maybe. But this one's a sentimental favorite of mine, because in college The Girlfriend (now The Wife) and I saw it in theaters together four times.
My Neighbor Totoro
Now the Hayao Miyazaki portion of the program. Miyazaki is so good at making magic a part of his worlds, as normal as wind or trains or trees or whatever. He doesn't give long explanations of anything; he just shows us his magical stuff and we accept it. The masterstroke here is how not only are we seeing the magical world of the Totoros, but they are seeing what is to them the magical world of us. How many other movies show big magical creatures taking enormous delight in the sound a raindrop makes when it hits an umbrella?
Kiki's Delivery Service
Such a simple, low-key movie, telling the story of a young witch who has to use her powers to...deliver packages and find her own self-confidence. That's it. No evil wizards to defeat, no threats to the world to thwart, just a girl at an awkward age trying to figure things out. And one of the most beautiful fictional cities ever in a movie. I'd love to live in that town!
Spidey's my favorite superhero, and I like all of the movies, but the first and third ones have problems that bug me a bit about them, where the second one is just about as good as it can be.
To this day, my favorite superhero movie ever. It does, admittedly, come a bit close to derailing courtesy of some of the slapstick stuff with Otis and Miss Tessmacher, but even with the "Turning back the world" thing, it just works on all levels for me.
Many think that this is Hayao Miyazaki's best film. I think it's his second best.
This is Hayao Miyazaki's best film.
The Lord of the Rings
The whole thing.
Either A New Hope, or all six. Take your pick.
And there they are!