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Forgotten Fantasy Movies You Should Go Back And Watch

When it comes to fantasy, some films tower above the rest. Lists of the highest-grossing fantasy films ever continue to be dominated by The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Disney has basically owned the genre for decades, with its animated classics and live-action remakes. And in the 1980s, there was a boom in fantasy classics with the likes of The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth, and The Princess Bride, to name a few.

However, not every fantasy film becomes ingrained in the pop culture. Sometimes, they're cruelly tossed aside or forgotten about entirely. And every now and again, there's a film that gets dismissed as trash when it's anything but. Perhaps it was overshadowed by stiff competition, or maybe written off too soon after damaging early reviews. Or sometimes it does well at first but slips from memory as the years tick by, something that seems to happen all too often with the fantasy genre. Well, have no fear, adventure seekers. We're here to refresh your memory. From must-see late '70s debuts that nobody ever talks about to the 2014 flick that recently found a new lease on life, these are the forgotten fantasy movies you should go back and watch.

Ladyhawke is a forgotten fantasy that has one of Rutger Hauer's best performances

The commercial failure of 1982's Blade Runner baffled Rutger Hauer, who delivered a career-defining performance as the leader of the renegade Nexus-6 replicants, Roy Batty. Worse still, Hauer was typecast as a villain after his turn in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, which is why Richard Donner didn't want him playing the hero in Ladyhawke, his beautifully shot and criminally overlooked medieval fantasy. "I always considered Rutger as a heavy son of a b****," Donner told the now defunct Starlog Magazine in 1985. "I couldn't see him as a real macho hero, the whole make-my-day kind of thing."

Donner also wanted someone younger, but the imposing Dutch actor talked the director out of it, telling him, "If you want to tell a story about someone who is about strength, endurance, and love, you need an actor with balls." Hauer was proud of his turn as Etienne Navarre, a hunted knight who's been cursed by a jealous bishop — Navarre turns into a wolf by night, while his true love, Isabeau of Anjou (Michelle Pfeiffer), transforms into a hawk during the day, keeping them together yet always apart. Young pickpocket the Mouse (Matthew Broderick) comes along for the ride as the trio set about defeating the bishop and lifting the dreadful curse, and SyFy called Ladyhawke an "underseen gem" when it revisited the movie after Hauer's passing in 2019.

The City of Lost Children is the perfect fantasy film for steampunk fans

If you're a fan of steampunk fantasy and you haven't seen the French film The City of Lost Children, you're in for a real treat. Ron Perlman (who was cast on his looks alone and didn't speak a word of French beforehand) stars as carnival strongman One, who sets out to rescue his adopted brother from the clutches of antagonist Krank (Daniel Emilfork), an A.I. scientist who cannot dream. To avoid old age, Krank has to harvest the dreams of children, all kidnapped at his behest from a nearby port by a cyborg cult. The City of Lost Children is a trippy tour de force with some unforgettable visuals that you won't believe were achieved without CGI.

"We made every set for real," co-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie) told The Skinny in 2016. "It was a huge set with a sea, waves, the streets, the canal — it looked amazing. The first day we got lost in the set, it was so big; it was unique. It was one of the last movies made for real. CG is cool because at the end you can have a better result, but the joy to make it is not the same." The filmmaker (who shared directing duties with regular collaborator Marc Caro) admits that The City of Lost Children isn't the perfect movie, but the vast majority of critics bought into it. The film is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, hailed as an "engrossing, disturbing, [and] profoundly memorable experience."

Excalibur takes King Arthur in a dark direction

You'll get some serious Lord of the Rings vibes from John Boorman's Excalibur, which was very much the director's intention. "I'm trying to suggest a kind of Middle-earth," Boorman, who spoke directly with Tolkien about adapting his epic long before Peter Jackson's trilogy, told American Film (via BAMPFA). "I want it to have a primal clarity, a sense that things are happening for the first time," he said. "Landscape and nature and human emotions are all fresh. I tell the actors that they are not reenacting a legend, they are creating it." Boorman's masterfully shot Arthurian fantasy was well-received at the time, but when it comes to King Arthur, people tend to talk about Monty Python and the Holy Grail, instead.

Released some six years earlier, the beloved Monty Python comedy couldn't be more different to ExcaliburBoorman's film is exceedingly violent and deadly serious, leaning into the more uncomfortable parts of King Arthur's story. (It was using incest to make viewers cringe long before Game of Thrones.) The film follows Arthurian legend so closely that the final result was simply too dense for some, but for fantasy fans, it's an absolute must-see. Nigel Terry delivers a committed performance as Arthur, and Nicol Williamson's Merlin steals every scene he's in. Excalibur also features an incredibly young Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, and it introduced Helen Mirren and Patrick Stewart to American audiences, too. Plus, cinematographer Alex Thomson received an Oscar nomination for his stunning work on the movie.

Jabberwocky is a treat for fantasy fans and Terry Gilliam fans

You can't talk about fantasy films without mentioning the work of Terry Gilliam. The former Monty Python man went on to establish himself as a visionary director with films like Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but before any of those, he made a film loosely inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem Jabberwocky. Gilliam's film of the same name — his first as a solo director — stars regular collaborator Michael Palin as Dennis, a hapless cooper who gets sent on a quest to kill the titular creature against his will after being mistaken for a hero.

Gilliam was keen to distance this film from his previous work, but execs wouldn't listen. The Brit was reportedly furious when he found out it was being marketed as Monty Python's Jabberwocky in the States, and he was vindicated when it ended up doing better in places where Monty Python remained largely unknown. The film has become "a kind of missing link between the Monty Python movies and Terry Gilliam's solo efforts," according to IndieWire, which called Jabberwocky one of the most underrated films ever. "It's rarely discussed even among fans of both, or either." That's a real shame, because while Jabberwocky isn't the best Terry Gilliam movie out there, it's a worthwhile watch for Palin's performance alone. It also looks great for having had such a meager budget. Gilliam later revealed that he utilized a decaying set from 1968's Oliver! to save some money.

Zathura: A Space Adventure is a secret Jumanji movie

The Jumanji franchise was successfully resurrected with a star-studded sequel in 2017, but what a lot of people don't know about Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is that it isn't the first follow-up to the '90s hit. A decade after the Robin Williams-led original made over $260 million at the box office, Jon Favreau directed a standalone spinoff called Zathura: A Space Adventure, a science-fantasy epic featuring early turns from future YA stars Josh Hutcherson and Kristen Stewart. The film revolves around three siblings who turn to an astronaut (Dax Shepard) for help after the titular board game transports their house to outer space.

Unlike its predecessor, Zathura bombed and was quickly written off as a failure, but the figures only tell half the story. Remarkably, somebody at Columbia thought it would be a good idea to release Favreau's family fantasy on the exact same day as Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which pulled in huge crowds and left Zathura fighting an uphill battle from the start. The critical response has never matched the receipts, as this forgotten fantasy gem is Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and is "a prime example of how misleading box office returns can be," according to Den of Geek, which revisited the film in 2018. "With its witty, efficient script, sense of directorial whimsy, and focus on character over special effects, it is a terrific movie worthy of reappraisal." And Favreau told Indie London that he was "very proud" of Zathura.

Dragonslayer is an underrated fantasy gem from Disney

By the time the 1980s rolled around, Disney was in a slump. Pete's Dragon and Return from Witch Mountain didn't do big business, and The Black Hole failed to pull in the Star Wars crowd as planned. George Lucas' space opera was all anyone could talk about at the time, and it would prove to be the downfall of Disney's next big live-action feature, 1981's Dragonslayer. Hitting cineplexes the year after The Empire Strikes BackDragonslayer was hastily dismissed as a Star Wars rip-off, and it's easy to see why. There's an Obi-Wan-esque wizard (Ralph Richardson), a mystical glowing weapon, and a mop-topped rookie (Peter MacNicol) thrust into a quest much bigger than him. When the dragon is inevitably slain, it even explodes like the Death Star.

There was a clear effort to mimic Star Wars, but if you look past the lip service, you'll discover that Dragonslayer is more than just a pale imitation. The practical effects were outstanding at the time (Guillermo del Toro told ComingSoon that the film's dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative, is "one of the most perfect creature designs ever made"), and they still hold up. "Seeing the film today, one wonders if the negative critics were allowing Star Wars to cloud their assessments," PsychoBabble said, while Empire called Dragonslayer "an unknown treasure of a fantasy film and well worth a look for fans of the genre." The majority of critics love it, and if you're into your sword-and-sorcery epics, so will you.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a forgotten Miyazaki classic

The work of Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki is popular with fantasy fans the world over, but the Japanese animator's early films aren't nearly as well known in the West as they should be. His sophomore feature-length anime Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a great way to kill a few hours, but if you're only going to watch one fantasy gem from Miyazaki's back catalog, make it 1986's Laputa: Castle in the Sky, the first film released under the Ghibli banner. It follows a boy named Pazu (voiced by James Van Der Beek in the English dub), who befriends a magical girl named Sheeta (Anna Paquin), a descendant of Laputan royalty. Sheeta's amulet is the key to finding the lost floating city of Laputa, which is why the shady Colonel Muska (an on-form Mark Hamill) is in pursuit of the pair.

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a sweeping movie set to a gorgeous score by Miyazaki's go-to composer, Joe Hisaishi, and the animation is simply breathtaking at times. Miyazaki dreamed up the steampunk setting after a trip to Wales, where miner strikes were raging. "I admired the way they battled to save their way of life, just as the coal miners in Japan did," he told The Guardian. "Many people of my generation see the miners as a symbol; a dying breed of fighting men." It may not be Miyazaki's best film, but skipping it is a big mistake.

Seventh Son is getting a second life

It's not very often that a film with a Rotten Tomatoes rating as bad as 12 percent gets another chance to shine, but that's exactly what happened to Seventh Son in 2020. Based on The Spook's Apprentice  the first in a long-running series of novels by Joseph Delaney — the film stars Jeff Bridges as monster hunter Master Gregory. After his apprentice (an almost-clean shaven Kit Harington) is killed by escaped witch Mother Malkin (Julianne Moore), Gregory commences a search for a replacement. He finds one in the form of Tom Ward (Ben Barnes), who has to learn the tricks of the trade quickly if he doesn't want to go the same way as the last apprentice. It's hardly a groundbreaking setup, so how come Seventh Son bounced back?

Much to everyone's surprise, Sergei Bodrov's film popped up in Netflix's top ten most-viewed movies section in August 2020. Some believe it was down to people streaming more during the coronavirus pandemic, while others say it gained attention again because it's a reunion for The Big Lebowski co-stars Bridges and Moore (the former jokingly called Seventh Son "the Big Lebowski prequel" while promoting the film). Whatever the reason, new viewers are discovering that if you go into Seventh Son not expecting too much, you might just have a good time. "At first you won't quite believe you can make it through such hokey dialogue," critic Alex Zane said, "but it's not long before it turns into something rather enjoyable."

Solomon Kane is a fascinating genre adventure

A forgotten fantasy that found a new audience via Netflix, 2009's Solomon Kane is an unapologetic genre film. The eponymous character (created by Robert E. Howard, the man behind Conan the Barbarian and Red Sonja) is a former pirate who denounces his wicked ways and embraces pacifism after an encounter with a demon. Kane (James Purefoy) then falls in with a family of Puritans on their way to the New World, but when one member is kidnapped and the rest are slaughtered, he comes out of retirement to avenge them. Michael J. Bassett's film was supposed to kick-start a trilogy, but it still works as a standalone feature and "definitely deserves more recognition," according to The Cultured Nerd. "This movie is not talked about enough. ... [It's) totally worth watching, especially for the lover of fantasy."

The director earned praise from fans of the source material (it stays true to the "core of Howard's original character," Fanboys of the Universe said), but what really makes Solomon Kane worthy of reconsideration is the leading man's performance. Best known for his turns in Netflix shows Altered Carbon and Sex Education, James Purefoy is excellent as the Puritan Avenger, underplaying Kane's inner turmoil to great effect. He took a deep dive into the character's history after Bassett approached him about the film, and he was instantly hooked. "I saw this very British, 17th-century swaggering swordsman, and I thought, 'Yeah, let's have a go at that,'" Purefoy told Den of Geek.

Bridge to Terabithia is a forgotten fantasy you should definitely check out

Based on Katherine Paterson's novel, the forgotten Disney film Bridge to Terabithia failed to capture the imagination of general audiences back in 2007. This could be because it's a bit of a grower ("It's the sort of movie I admire more in retrospect than I did while watching it," Chicago Reader critic J.R. Jones said), but it probably had more to do with the fact that it was released alongside Spider-Man 3. As people flocked to see the final film in Sam Raimi's trilogy, there was one critic who just wasn't feeling it. "I couldn't face another overexposed, 'grown-up' superhero tale, so I ended up seeing a kids' movie which could be the year's most underrated film," The Guardian's Peter Lyle said in his glowing Bridge to Terabithia review. "It's the best movie I've seen in ages."

Lyle admitted to leaving the showing in tears after an "utterly unexpected and unsparing" turn of events towards the end, but there's plenty of joy to be had before that point. Shot on location in New Zealand, Bridge to Terabithia is the story of two unhappy tweens (AnnaSophia Robb and a pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson) who create a fantasy world in a local woodland. It's all in their heads, of course, but their joint dedication to Terabithia is absolutely infectious, and it's brought to life brilliantly by Peter Jackson's Weta Digital. Robert Patrick (Hutcherson's distant dad) and Zooey Deschanel (Robb's music teacher) round out the cast.

The Fall is a visual feast

Never mind fantasy, Tarsem Singh's The Fall is one of the most visually stunning films of any genre. The Indian director is said to have shot his passion project in 28 different countries, seeking out the most beautiful and/or unusual landscapes the world has to offer. The result is a true spectacle, but sadly, it never got the recognition it deserved. Singh's kaleidoscopic showpiece fell victim to "a very ill-fated premiere at Toronto in 2006, which saw two early, dismissive trade reviews kill off distributor interest," The Telegraph said. "It found champions later, and has since become a cult oddity, hidden treasure in its creator's oddball career."

Singh got away with such outlandish cinematography by setting his story in the imagination of a child. The Fall begins in 1915, when Hollywood stuntman Roy Walker (Lee Pace) sustains a potentially paralyzing injury on the set of his first picture. Roy strikes up a relationship with fellow patient Alexandria (Catinca Untaru), a little girl recovering from a broken arm. To pass the time in hospital, the stricken stuntman tells her a story about her namesake, Alexander the Great, and we get to see the characters comes to life in her mind. For some, this was a cheap trick that enabled the director to indulge himself, but that's only a problem if you let it be. As From the Front Row said, "The Fall is Tarsem's imagination unleashed, brilliantly original and gloriously imperfect, and the world is a better place for it."