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The Best Fantasy Films On Netflix You Haven't Seen

Fantasy is a fascinating and nebulous genre, defined as much by what it isn't as by what it is. While most people hear the word and think of knights, castles, and dragons, fantasy is primarily about magic — strange worlds with rules that don't make sense, bizarre creatures that shouldn't exist, and supernatural occurrences that can't be logically explained. It's not quite science fiction, which comprises futuristic stories that are at least theoretically possible, and it's not quite horror, which aspires to scare its audience rather than provide a sense of wonder. Fantasy stories are the ones that don't fit, the ones that operate in imaginary universes where anything at all can happen.

As technology advances, more and more fantasy films are getting made, and many of them find their way to Netflix, where they are far too often buried in the waves of that endless sea of streaming content. The deeper you dig, the more varied and original they get. 

For the avid fantasy fan, there are gems to be found in those depths, movies that, despite coming from different countries, aiming for different audiences, and featuring wildly different settings and characters, are all infused with their own wondrous forms of magic. So strap on your sandals and saddle your dragon, because we're heading off into uncharted lands to seek out the best Netflix fantasy films you haven't seen. Warning: Here there be monsters.

Psychokinesis (2018)

In just a few short years, director Sang-ho Yeon's "Train to Busan" has become a modern zombie classic and a seemingly bottomless hidden gem that's continually being discovered by new audiences. With that kind of pedigree, you'd think that his 2018 fantasy/superhero mashup "Psychokinesis" would have made more waves, but sadly it slipped under the current for most people, despite being released as a Netflix original.

When a cluttered, despondent security guard unknowingly drinks water tainted by some sort of mystical meteor juice, he suddenly gains the power to move things around with his mind. With his newfound abilities, he sets out to protect his estranged daughter from a shakedown by a rival corporate tycoon and reconnect with the girl in the process. While it takes awhile to get going, "Psychokinesis" rewards viewers with an epic finale that makes the whole journey worthwhile, and proves again that Yeon is as skilled behind the camera as he is at writing, heartfelt, emotional stories.

Big Fish (2003)

"Big Fish" is by far the best known film on this list, but it's also the oldest, and it seems to have somewhat fallen out of pop culture's collective cinematic memory. Based on the Daniel Wallace novel of the same name, directed by Tim Burton, and starring Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, and of course, frequent Burton collaborator and longtime partner Helena Bonham Carter, it's a movie about Edward Bloom, a man whose larger-than-life stories turn out to be only partially exaggerated.

When the film begins, the elderly Bloom is dying from cancer, and so he re-tells his stories in flashback form, with McGregor portraying the young Bloom as he befriends giants, discovers a hidden village deep in the swamp, and is attacked by a werewolf while working for a circus. Bloom's son, Will, has grown up with these tall tales and has become disillusioned with them, but when he starts to investigate his father's claims, he learns that there is a degree of truth to all of them. In the end, it becomes clear that Bloom has lived a spectacular life, and the truth or falsehood of his stories are insignificant in comparison to the immortalizing power of the stories themselves.

"Big Fish" is a strange, beautiful film, brought to life by Burton's signature offbeat style and several fantastic performances, most notably that of McGregor. It also features an Academy Award-nominated original score. If you haven't seen it, it should be first on your Netflix list — and if you have, there's never a bad time for a re-visit.

A Monster Calls (2016)

If you like your fantasy films to also be tearjerkers, feast those brimming eyes on "A Monster Calls," adapted by screenwriter Patrick Ness from his own 2011 novel

Young Conor O'Malley's mother is battling a life-threatening illness, leading him into conflict with his austere grandmother (played by Sigourney Weaver), and into an encounter with the titular monster: a massive anthropomorphic yew tree voiced by Liam Neeson. In classic fairytale fashion, the monster insists on telling Conor three stories before demanding a story from him in return. 

As elements of the monster's stories begin manifesting in Conor's mundane life, the boy seeks the monster's assistance in curing his mother's disease — but the monster has a different purpose in mind, a different truth to be drawn from the foreboding, inevitable fourth story. Gorgeously rendered and even more gorgeously written, "A Monster Calls" is a modern fable about how we deal with grief and the pain of loss, and a must-watch for both drama lovers and fantasy fans.

Paradise Hills (2019)

"Paradise Hills," a Spanish film starring Emma Roberts, Milla Jovovich, and Awkwafina, might appear at first glance to be science fiction rather than fantasy; it's set in the modern world, set primarily in an island treatment facility for rebellious young women pushing back against their wealthy family or business partners. 

One of the facility's "patients" is Uma (Roberts), admitted due to her rejection of an advantageous marriage, who has no interest in being re-educated to be more obedient and engages in several attempts to escape, along with her newfound friends Chloe and Yu. When the truth of what's actually happening on the island is uncovered, "Paradise Hills" reveals its more fantastical nature, ultimately falling somewhere within the blended genre of science fantasy. 

Regardless of genre conventions, it's a stunningly well made and visually arresting film, with breathtaking sets and costumes and a memorable final sequence that shows off its intelligent, thought-provoking themes. You won't have any issues being trapped for 90 minutes with "Paradise Hills."

Errementari: The Blacksmith and the Devil (2017)

While "Paradise Hills" is a Spanish film that veers into science fiction territory, "Errementari" is a film from Basque Country with a decidedly horror flavor. Set in the mid-19th century and adapted from the Basque telling of "The Smith and the Devil" — an ancient European folk tale that has been traced back to the Bronze Age — it has all the classic elements of the old story, revolving around a blacksmith named Patxi who has sold his soul to a demon called Sartael before cheating him out of their bargain. 

But there's so much more going on in "Errementari," including a convoluted family secret, a government official who is more than what he seems, and a young girl seeking to get her mother back from hell. By film's end, it's clear that "Errementari" is less a horror story than it is a dark fantasy adventure whose supernatural creatures just happen to come with religious context, a movie with more heart than it knows what to do with and an ending that leaves viewers awestruck rather than afraid.

Nightbooks (2021)

If you like the idea of a fantasy story with roots in ancient folklore, but want something a trifle less mature, turn your Netflix page to "Nightbooks," a film based on the book by J.A. White — which is in turn a modern, kid-friendly re-telling of the Middle Eastern classic "One Thousand and One Nights." 

Alex Mosher is a boy who loves writing scary stories, a habit that leads him into the clutches of the witch Natacha (Krysten Ritter of "Breaking Bad" and "Jessica Jones" fame), who demands a scary story be read to her every night. Trapped in Natacha's magical apartment, Alex must use his imagination to keep himself alive each day while figuring out a way to escape, aided by Natacha's housekeeper, Yazmin, another child ensnared by the witch. But of course, not everything in the apartment is as it seems, and as Alex and Yazmin grow closer to unveiling Natacha's secrets, Alex must also face the ultimate scary story — the one he tells himself.

Monster Run (2020)

Sometimes it's very clear which novel your movie is drawing from. Sometimes, less so. 

American author A. Lee Martinez has seen several of his books optioned over the years, but so far, none have actually made it to the big screen. The sole exception is "Monster," published in 2009, a book about a modern-day monster hunter and the regular person who stumbles into his life. While the pandemic-plagued Chinese production "Monster Run" keeps this basic premise, very little else about the film is recognizable to those who have read the book. That said, it's still a story worth watching. 

Ji Mo has long been considered crazy for saying she can see monsters, but when she discovers a hidden world in which monsters actually do exist, it turns out she's destined to become more than she ever thought possible. "Monster Run" has its problems (some of the acting is shaky and the film's structure doesn't make the most out of its premise) but the uniquely compelling visual effects and imaginative world-building make it stand out. What other film could have both a brilliantly executed time loop sequence and a wise-cracking sidekick character who is literally a piece of paper?

Animal World (2018)

American novels aren't the only source material for recent Chinese films. "Animal World" is adapted from the Japanese manga "Gambling Apocalypse: Kaiji," and while the extent to which its actual plot involves supernatural occurrences is unclear, it remains undeniably fantasy, with a story that would be perfectly at home in a video game, punctuated by high-budget dream sequences that test the limits of the audience's imagination. 

When broke loser Zheng Kaisi seeks out a way to pay for his mother's medical bills, he ends up on the mysterious ship Destiny, home to participants in a high-stakes game of rock, paper, scissors (yes, really). Using his understanding of math and probability, Kaisi and a pair of friends must battle other players to win both the necessary funds and their own freedom, watched over by the sinister Anderson (a delightfully out-of-place Michael Douglas). The premise might sound flimsy, but the film commits to it with wild abandon, and the "Sucker Punch" style fantasy/action set-pieces alone make "Animal World" worth the price of your Netflix subscription.

Ne Zha (2019)

The final Chinese film on this list, "Ne Zha" might be a hidden gem for fantasy fans in the West, but it's actually one of the biggest blockbusters ever — the fourth-highest-grossing movie in Chinese box office history, and globally, the top-grossing non-American animated film of all time. Based loosely on the 16th-century Chinese novel "Investiture of the Gods," it features a modern interpretation of Chinese mythological figure Nezha, in this case a two-year-old child who has been infected with demonic magic since the day of his birth — though he believes himself to be a demon hunter, instead. Ne Zha is both extraordinarily powerful and extraordinarily destructive, but secretly has a deadly and inescapable fate hanging over him.

"Ne Zha" is a marvel of modern animation, a film that delights in the exquisite rendering of magical forces such as demons, dragons, and the legendary Chaos Pearl. But it's wondrous in the arcs of its characters as well, as Ne Zha learns the power of friendship and the power of sacrifice. Catch up with the rest of the world and check this one out.

The Mirror Boy (2011)

Another well-known foreign film that remains largely obscure to Western audiences is "The Mirror Boy," a Nigerian film which was nominated for three Africa Movie Academy Awards

One of those nominations went to Edward Kagutuzi for his portrayal of 12-year-old Tijan, a boy who grew up in London, but is brought back to his native Gambia by his mother after he gets into a fight. No sooner does Tijan reach Gambia, however, than he is drawn away by the strange and occasionally incorporeal Mirror Boy, who takes him on a journey that will see him reunited with his ancestors and learn the truth about his mysterious father. 

While the question of whether or not Tijan's odyssey and family history are truly mystical in nature lies at the heart of the film — much of the plot involves the mother's search for her missing son — it answers that question definitively as the story unfolds, with the magical meeting the mundane in a climax flavored with dark sorcery, an evil queen, and the true nature of the Mirror Boy himself.

Cosmos Laundromat (2015)

This list has recommended many different kinds of fantasy, but there's nothing else quite like "Cosmos Laundromat," an animated short film created by the Dutch Blender Foundation. The story of a suicidal sheep named Franck who encounters possible salvation in form of the enigmatic Victor, it's an absurdist masterpiece, a beautiful and bizarre creation that has no interest in explaining itself and every interest in leaving its audience in baffled, delighted awe. 

To explain any details of the plot would do "Cosmos Laundromat" a disservice (and we don't really understand it, anyway) but between the winged jacket, the cassette player, the multi-colored tornado, the caterpillar, and the final reveal of the eponymous laundromat itself, it's a journey that captures the true essence of fantasy: strange and wonderful, infused with the kind of magic that defies the limits of reality and makes you believe anything is possible, even for a ragged sheep who has given up hope. Anyone who values the intangible truths of fantasy storytelling should watch this film, and if you have Netflix, there's no excuse not to — it's only 10 minutes long.