Fantasies from the 80s are among some of my favorite films in general. The use of organic effects that stretched creative effort and artistry is what gets me. They may not hold up to first-time 21st-century viewers, but I personally feel really taken in by them, in ways CGI often still fails to do. Here are my personal Top Five favorites of the genre. Leave a comment below and let us know what yours are!
This was one I actually didn’t up seeing until I was in high school. Is the story great? Not really. It’s utterly contrived. Even still, it’s special to me and fun to watch.
What makes it so special is the use of Jim Henson’s amazing Muppets to their full potential, as well as the fabulous art direction and set design. Of course, David Bowie was an alluring baddie, even if his costume choices were a little… awkward. Jennifer Connelly is beautiful as ever, even though her character is pretty bratty, at least at first. Still, I’m pretty sure all of us ladies wanted to be her (huge 80s sleeves and all) during the exquisite ballroom scene. Dance magic, dance!
Oh, Matmartigan… I crushed on him hard. Val Kilmer’s best role in my opinion. Willow is a lovely story with a Tolkienesque vibe going on. I do love the adventure and characters in Willow, even though it is kind of drawn out and unfocused at times.
It’s pure fantasy and, like most great fantasies, it follows a very special, yet unexpected, person in whose hands lie the future and safety of an entire world. What makes Willow stand out is that he is not only a magical person and a dwarf, he is also a father. This is a quality you don’t see in most fantasy stories and it’s a wonderful trait to give your hero. It’s his fatherly presence and intuition that makes him the most fit and responsible for the task of protecting the prophesied child, Elora Danan, on the road to her destiny.
3) The Princess Bride
I know some people will be face-palming wondering why this isn’t on the top of the list, or even second. Inconceivable! After all, I do have every line of this movie memorized (like many people) and I watched it on repeat as a child. It ranks third because, when I look back as an adult, it didn’t have quite the profound impact on me that my top two did.
William Goldman wrote both the delightful book and the screenplay and they are brimming with wit and satire in a very singular sense of humor. The Princess Bride is easily one of the most quotable movies of all time, and its memorable dialogue is what glues it firmly in cinema history. I think my main criticism is that there really isn’t any big takeaway from it overall; it’s just a fun story. The book has a little bit more depth, especially with Inigo’s character. He’s the best! So if you’re one of the many fans of the classic film, be sure to pick up the pages too.
2) The Last Unicorn
There are many animated films that are not exactly “kid friendly” and this is one of them. Though I consider it an animated treasure, the Rankin-Bass animation still creeps me out (don’t even get me started on their Tolkien movies). Yet, there’s something about that style that works perfectly for The Last Unicorn. The story in itself is creepy, haunting, and melancholy. The film is terrifically cast with the voices of Alan Arkin, Jeff Bridges, and Mia Farrow, and also provides superb original songs by America that absolutely overwhelm me with nostalgia whenever I hear them. The Last Unicorn is a simple story with a weighty emotional core, and its origin novel by Peter S. Beagle is one of my favorite books of all time.
1) The NeverEnding Story
My dad would record movies for us on good ol’ VHS all the time when we were kids. I was exposed to a lot of really neat, off the beaten path types of films and programs and it shaped my deeper understanding of stories and art. The one that was most significant to me at that age was The Neverending Story.
I remember as a six-year-old begging my after school daycare to let me show it to the other kids. They wouldn’t because it was “too scary.” They weren’t wrong either. It has, what I consider to be, one of the scariest scenes of all time. I actually wrote an analysis all about the atmosphere of fear in The Neverending Story which you can read here: http://www.reelcathedral.net/2013/07/the-fear-is-in-atmosphere-look-at.html
Even with some points of bad acting, and terrible green-screen flying scenes, I still think it’s a great film because it’s got it where it counts. The themes of the power, fear, and importance of dreaming and imagination struck my heart even as such a young girl and I never forgot them. It was also the first time I remember a film making me cry, and if you’ve seen it I bet you can guess which part I’m talking about. Again, this one originates from a book I highly recommend (seeing a pattern here?) so be sure to check that out too. After all, the very idea of The Neverending Story is to absorb stories and create worlds in your mind.
Yes! Numbers 1, 3 and 4 comprised probably a full third of my movie memories as a kid. Awesome list, Alexis. But, Val Kilmer’s best role? Doc Holiday, hands down. Say When!!
Oh no, you are so right! I’ve been so scattered lately that I completely forgot about Doc Holiday. I retract my first statement, Doc Holiday is his best role. But Mad Martigan is definitely second. 😉 Thanks Gene!
Yes to all 5, I love them all. They don’t make them like they used to. Fantasy movies in the 80/90’s had more heart, soul and humour. I’m dreading the remake of Ladyrinth. What an insult. It’ll be all sexual inuendos, model figures and CGI.
I didn’t know they were remaking Labyrinth. Lame… :-/ But yes, there is something very special about films from this era. ♥
All five are pretty much must sees for 80s films. I didn’t see Willow or Labyrinth until high school either, but I think I definitely appreciate them and all these movies more as an adult. You notice the cheesiness more, but the really good parts stand out even more!
Yes exactly! The cheese is there but the stories are still wonderful. 🙂