The absolute best fantasy movies on HBO Max
Fantasy movies on HBO Max don’t get enough attention, but they should. The streaming service is home to some of the greatest fantasy franchises in history, including the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, a selection of charming Studio Ghibli films, DC comic book blockbusters, and more. Whether you’re looking for mainstream hits or cult classics, you’ll find them on this streaming service.
One of DC’s most underrated superhero films, Shazam follows teenager Billy Batson as he comes across an adult body and supernatural powers like the Force of Hercules, the Power of Zeus and more. Despite being easy fodder for childish jokes, this film has one of the most moving lines on DC’s recent slate. The sequel comes out in March, so now is the perfect time to review or catch up.
An underrated pure fantasy film based on Neil Gaiman’s book of the same name, Stardust conjures up a pinch of magic to transport you to the magical realm of Stormhold. Tristan (Charlie Cox) encounters a Fallen Star in the form of a young woman (Claire Danes), helping her survive those who hunt her.
Fantastic Beasts: Dumbledore’s Secrets (2022)
If you’ve been following the Fantastic Beasts series, you’ve probably noticed a drop in quality since the first entry. We’re now on the third, with the notable absence of Johnny Depp as big bad Gellert Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen took over the role). Maybe you chose not to head to the theater to see this episode — now is your chance to watch it at home on HBO Max.
A Guillermo Del Toro tale with fine production values, Nightmare Alley intertwines with the director’s dark fantasy preoccupations. Bradley Cooper stars as a carnival worker who rises through the ranks – at a dangerous price. It never explodes into full-fledged fantasy, but the carnival setting, seances, and mysterious characters evoke dark gothic magic.
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Last Night in Soho (2021)
Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright delves into psychological horror, with several dives into a young girl’s fantasy. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young fashion student who travels at night in the Swinging Sixties. She observes the life of another young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) aspiring to fulfill her dreams. But Last Night in Soho isn’t Midnight in Paris – prepare for unsolved mysteries and some grisly scares.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
The Lord of the Rings is a masterclass in adapting beloved books to the screen and weaving multiple stories into one cohesive narrative. All the fantasy tropes are here: elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs and more. But Lord of the Rings elevates them to new heights with its sweeping cinematography, incredibly immersive costumes, and powerful performances. In other words: this trilogy won 17 Oscars, including 11 wins out of 11 nominations for The Return of the King. If you’ve been holding out, now’s the time to watch, and if you’ve seen them before, there’s never a bad time for a new watch – especially with Amazon’s Rings of Power series coming out. in autumn.
This movie about transformation really left me feeling transformed the first time I watched it. No other film has touched me like this. Arguably the finest film from a director responsible for many excellent films, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a little girl who becomes lost in a spiritual world as her family moves across Japan. The animation is spectacular, and director Hayao Miyazaki’s careful pacing gives each character the perfect amount of time and space, delivering one of the most unique and compelling fantasy films ever made.
The 2014 reboot of Tokyo’s towering terror is underloved and underrated. No Godzilla movie before or since has done so much to sell the monster’s truly impressive scale. Yes, the film takes a slow approach to revealing Godzilla, but the time it spends in the build makes the payoff all the more enjoyable. While some might not like that the movie spent more time on humans after Godzilla, these characters add emotional stakes to the carnage. You can also find sequels King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong on HBO Max (along with the 1954 original), but this is Godzilla’s best performance.
A classic fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy as she is transported out of Kansas to a land of witches, wizards, living scarecrows and more. Judy Garland shines in her most iconic role as the lost but determined Dorothy. It’s a great first film for kids, who will enjoy the colorful characters and musical numbers, and adults might enjoy a glimpse into how movies were made 80 years ago.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
Part superhero action movie, part WWII alternate history, part fantasy film about a child demon, Hellboy defies easy categorization. But director Guillermo del Toro weaves it all together in a dark and entertaining story about a man struggling with his apparent fate. Hellboy is a cult classic because it treats its characters seriously while remembering that movies are meant to be entertaining, and Ron Pearlman wearing demon horns filed down while being overprotective of cats is nothing if not entertaining.
Princess Mononoke will scare you. It is a violent and tragic film that deals with the devastation of the natural world as a result of industrialization. It’s also the most visceral and heartbreaking film Miyazaki has ever made. Giant wolves, violent boars, and writhing parasitic demons all play a vital role in the story, which features more violence and bloodshed than anything else in the Ghibli collection. That’s part of what makes Mononoke so great – it stands apart from all of Miyazaki’s other films, thanks to its unyielding look at themes of fear, violence, and the fight to protect the things that matter to us.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Studio Ghibli is often synonymous with Miyazaki, but this film is proof that the studio is perfectly capable of making great films with other directors. An adaptation of Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, Arrietty centers on a young girl from a race of tiny humans who “borrow” things like tissue paper and sugar cubes to survive. It’s a sweet little story about growing up, helping others, and dealing with the uncertainty of the future.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Oh, you thought we were done with Miyazaki movies? Each one is worth watching (Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Nausicaa are additional highlights), but Kiki’s Delivery Service holds a special place in my heart for its authenticity, even as a fantasy film. Kiki is a bright and warm young witch, and as she ventures out on her own for the first time, she must learn to wrestle with her powers, her feelings, and her dreams at the same time. It’s a powerful story, sometimes painful in the precision with which it describes Kiki’s struggles, but it’s an uplifting story for children and adults alike.
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