Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). Set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and darker than anything the Brothers Grimm ever published, Pans Labyrinth is a masterpiece of fantasy-horror. Writer and director Guillermo del Toro was heavily influenced by fairy tales in the creation of his twisted vision, which was several years in the making and won three Oscars at the 2007 Academy Awards. Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) uses her imagination to escape the horrors of Spain in 1944, while her sadistic Falangist stepfather (Sergi López) violently hunts down republican rebels. She encounters mythical and magical creatures, including the mysterious Faun, who challenges her to complete three tasks to be granted immortality. Part nightmarish fantasy and part brutal war drama, Pan’s Labyrinth is unlike any film you’ve ever seen and one that will stay with you long after the credits have rolled. You’ll try and fail to forget the image of the Pale Man when you go to sleep at night.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003). Wizards, Elves, Hobbits, Men, Dwarves, Orcs, Goblins… it was thought that J.R.R Tolkien’s timeless novels would never translate into film, with an animated version being its best hope. Enter New Zealand filmmaker Peter Jackson, and the rest is history. His seminal retelling of the classic tale on celluloid in the early noughties brought a whole new generation of fans to the adventures of Frodo Baggins and co., simultaneously breaking the mould when it came to CGI special effects. The final chapter in the trilogy, The Return of the King, went on to win 11 Oscars in 2004, a record it shares with two other movies (Titanic and Ben Hur). The story of nine unlikely companions trekking across Middle Earth to destroy Sauron’s ring of power will continue to captivate for years to come. Thankfully, such was the size and scale of these movies, there won’t be any remakes any time soon. Oh – apart from a TV series that is.
Willow (1988). Written by a certain George Lucas and directed by Ron Howard, this 1988 fantasy swashbuckler had all the makings of a magical smash hit – but they couldn’t quite pull the rabbit out of the hat. Regarded by many as one of the 80’s most underrated films, the tale centres on Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis being rewarded for his turn as Wicket the Ewok), a dwarf farmer and wannabe sorcerer tasked with saving the life of a special baby princess. He encounters devilish rogue and scruffy nerf-herder type Madmartigan (a rarely better Val Kilmer) and together they take on the armies of the tyrannical Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). It’s predictable and cheesy but loads of fun nonetheless, and although different in genre, it was still too close to that galaxy far, far away to warrant any real box office clout. Anyone of a certain age will swear by it though, and it has rightly earned its status as a cult classic.
The Princess Bride (1987). Even with the writing ability of William Goldman, the multi-genre directing talents of Rob Reiner and a stellar, all-star cast, this “romantic comedy fantasy adventure” garnered positive reviews but didn’t ignite ticket sales upon its release back in 1987. However, that hasn’t stopped it becoming one of the most loved, admired, quoted and often imitated movies of all time, firmly propelling it into the realms of cult, largely thanks to word-of-mouth and the internet. A simple premise (farmhand attempts to rescue princess from nasty prince) gives way to a brilliantly nuanced, surprisingly deep and often hilarious yarn that you can watch over and over again. In a movie littered with standout, memorable moments, colorful characters and pitch-perfect performances set in an epic and believable fantasy world, it’s hard to pick a favorite. “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” That will have to do.
Highlander (1986). A movie that spawned an unlikely film franchise and mediocre TV show, but the original will always be the best. Based on a story by Gregory Widen about immortal warriors who battle down the centuries for the coveted “prize” and can only be killed by decapitation, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a music video. That might have something to do with director Russell Mulcahy being a 1980s stalwart for helming shorts for the likes of Spandau Ballet and Elton John, but it’s the stonking Queen soundtrack that gives Highlander that extra punch here. In a movie where a Frenchman (Christopher Lambert) is playing a Scotsman and a Scotsman (Sean Connery) is playing a Spaniard, it’s a messy but epic swords and sorcery cult classic with a die-hard following. The sequels are garbage, the series is ham-fisted nonsense, and the reboot likely to follow suit, ironically proving the tagline very sage advice indeed: “there can be only one.”