From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Fantasy films are films with fantastic themes, usually involving magic, supernatural events, make-believe creatures, or exotic fantasy worlds. The genre is considered to be distinct from science fiction film and horror film, although the genres do overlap.
Fantasy films have a history almost as old as the medium itself. However, fantasy films were relatively few and far between until the 1980s, when high-tech filmmaking techniques and increased audience interest caused the genre to flourish.
What follows are some notable Fantasy films. For a more complete list see: List of fantasy films
In the era of silent film the outstanding fantasy films were Douglas Fairbanks' The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen (1924). Following the advent of sound films, audiences of all ages embraced what is surely the best loved fantasy film of all time, 1939's The Wizard of Oz. Also notable of the era, the iconic 1933 film King Kong is not a pure example of the genre, but borrows heavily from the Lost World subgenre of fantasy fiction. And Frank Capra's 1937 picture Lost Horizon transported audiences to the Himalayan fantasy kingdom of Shangri-La, where the residents magically never age.
The 1940s then saw several full color fantasy films produced by Alexander Korda, including The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Jungle Book (1942). In 1946, Jean Cocteau's classic adaptation of Beauty and the Beast won praise for its surreal elements and for transcending the boundaries of the fairy tale genre. Sinbad the Sailor (1947), starring Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., has the feel of a fantasy film though it does not actually have any fantastic elements. Conversely, It's a Wonderful Life and A Matter of Life and Death, both from 1946, do not feel like fantasy films yet both feature supernatural elements and the latter movie could reasonably be cited as an example of Bangsian fantasy.
Several other pictures featuring supernatural encounters and aspects of Bangsian fantasy were produced in the 1940s during World War II. These include Beyond Tomorrow, The Devil and Daniel Webster, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan, all from 1941, Heaven Can Wait the musical Cabin in the Sky (1943), the comedy The Horn Blows at Midnight and romances such as The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), One Touch of Venus and Portrait of Jennie, both 1948.
Because these movies do not feature elements common to high fantasy or sword and sorcery pictures, some modern critics do not consider them to be examples of the fantasy genre.
In the 1950s there were a few major fantasy films, including Darby O'Gill and the Little People and The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, the latter penned by Dr. Seuss. Jean Cocteau's Orphic Trilogy, begun in 1930 and completed in 1959, is based on Greek mythology and could be classified either as fantasy or surrealist film, depending on how the boundaries between these genres are drawn. Russian fantasy director Aleksandr Ptushko created three mythological epics from Russian fairytales, Sadko (1953), Ilya Muromets (1956), and Sampo (1959).
Other notable pictures from the 1950s that feature fantastic elements and are sometimes classified as fantasy are: Harvey (1950), featuring a púca of Celtic mythology; Scrooge, the 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol; and Ingmar Bergman's 1957 masterpiece, The Seventh Seal. Disney's 1951 animated film Alice in Wonderland is also a fantasy classic.
There were also a number of low budget fantasies produced in the 1950s, typically based on Greek or Arabian legend. The most notable of these is probably 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.
1960s and 1970s
Harryhausen worked on a series of fantasy films in the 1960s, most importantly Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Many critics have identified this film as Harryhausen's masterwork for its stop-motion animated statues, skeletons, harpies, hydra, and other mythological creatures. Other Harryhausen fantasy and science fantasy collaborations from the decade include the 1961 adaptation of Jules Verne's Mysterious Island, the critically panned One Million Years B.C. starring Raquel Welch, and The Valley of Gwangi (1969).
Otherwise, the 1960s were almost entirely devoid of fantasy films. The fantasy picture 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, in which Tony Randall portrayed several characters from Greek mythology, was released in 1964. But the 1967 adaptation of the Broadway musical Camelot removed most of the fantasy elements from T. H. White's classic The Once and Future King, on which the musical had been based.
Fantasy elements of Arthurian legend were again featured, albeit absurdly, in 1975's Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Harryhausen also returned to the silver screen in the 1970s with two additional Sinbad fantasies, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). The animated movie Wizards (1977) had limited success at the box office but achieved status as a cult film. Some would consider 1977's Oh God!, starring George Burns to be a fantasy film, and Heaven Can Wait (1978) was a successful Bangsian fantasy remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan (not 1943's Heaven Can Wait).
A few low budget "Lost World" pictures were made in the 1970s, such as 1975's The Land That Time Forgot. Otherwise, the fantasy genre was largely absent from mainstream movies in this decade, although 1971's Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory were two fantasy pictures in the public eye.
The release of the historical fantasy Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 began a fantasy explosion which continues into the twenty-first century. The modern sword and sorcery boom also began at this time with 1982's Conan the Barbarian.
- This is only a partial list. For a more complete list of fantasy films, including those since 1980 see: List of fantasy films.
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- List of fantasy films
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- List of science fiction films
- Fantasy television
- Sword and sorcery films
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