One of the reasons moviegoers take the time to head to the theater or sit on the couch for two hours of their day is to be entertained by a movie is to escape the world we live in each day and enter an existence grounded in fantasy. While fantasy as a genre has certainly been watered down over the years to the point where it’s basically a glorified subgenre that can apply to sci-fi, comic book or animated films etc by default, some movies still manage to embrace the spirit of what is pure fantasy. Those are the flicks that take center stage today as I continue my examination of my favorite films of the 2010s. Whether set in a magical world, focused on strange life forms or anything in between these fantastical escapes from the reality we know have all helped entertain us the last ten years and transport us to realms, realities and even the darkest corners of the human mind over the years. As I continue my decade in review series by genre today I present to you my picks for the Top 10 Fantasy Films of the 2010s.
For today’s list I had to be very specific because, as I said, fantasy can apply to a slew of different genres as a subgenre. The films that qualified for this list are more purely based on fantasy or fit more into this category than other genres for which they were considered. I chose to exclude overtly sci-fi films, comic book movies and animated movies which all have or will have their own lists in my Best of the Decade series. I wanted this to be focused on live-action movies that I felt best captured the spirit or potential of fantasy as a genre. As with the rest of my Best of the Decade lists there are no franchise limits to multiple movies from the same series can appear here.
With that said, what is your favorite fantasy flick of the 2010s? Let me know in the comments below and please enjoy the lest.
10. “Troll Hunter”
This Norwegian dark fantasy is a tragically underappreciated gem from director André Øvredal who also directed the excellent horror films “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”, both of which made my Best Horror Films of 2010s short list. He finally makes one of my countdowns with this found footage film about a film crew who follows a troll hunter through Norway experiencing his dangerous encounters with the creatures of legend. Imaginative, inspired and a hell of a lot of fun “Troll Hunter” is one of the better found footage flicks released during the last 10 years as interest in the subgenre began to die out. It utilizes the gimmick to perfection giving us a pretty need first person view of what it would be like to see these legendary fairy tale creatures in the real world.
9. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1”
One could argue that the “Deathly Hollows” movies are actually one film split in half, but both parts are very much their own experience. The film “Harry Potter” franchise defined a generation and its two-part conclusion in 2010 and 2011 provided an emotionally satisfying end even if it also sparked the infamous “two-part finale” trend. The first part was mostly a road film that showcased just how far the cast and characters had come putting Harry, Ron and Hermione in dangerous predicaments that tested their resolve to the fullest. While fans had to wait half a year to see it all finally come to a close, this lead up to Harry and Voldemort’s final showdown satisfied in more ways than one and rarely felt like a cheap excuse to make more bank from this franchise. Every story element felt earned and significant to the build up for the conclusion even ending on a particularly tear jerking loss that left us all impatient for the rest of the story.
8. “The Jungle Book”
It’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of Disney’s live action remakes, but I’ll admit this one I very much enjoyed. “The Jungle Book” was one of my least favorite Disney classics so I honestly didn’t have a problem with a remake. Jon Favreau directed this 2016 hit that, in my opinion, enhanced the story and became its own thing reminiscent of the original but not a complete carbon copy. The visual effects are fun and eye catching and the all-star cast bring the characters to life in all the best ways…except Christopher Walken singing which you could argue is an awesome so-bad-it’s-good moment. A few Disney live-action remakes fit squarely into the fantasy genre including “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin” and “Maleficent” but this was the film that truly made me feel like Disney had something with this gimmick…until “The Lion King”, another Favreau product, proved just how wrong I was making “The Jungle Book” feel like even more of a standout.
7. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
You could argue the “Hunger Games” franchise is more of a sci-fi series, but for me it’s focus on dystopia and the titular competition makes it more of a fantasy than a true sci-fi epic. Over the course of the 2010s four films made up the “Hunger Games” film series showcasing Katniss Everdeen’s trials through the competition and the rebellion that resulted, but the second film, “Catching Fire”, is considered by fans and critics alike to be the best effort in the mix. Katniss and other past champions are forced back into the arena due to a twist associated with the anniversary of the games challenging her resolve once more and giving us a much more fully realized and epic competition than the first film thanks to a larger budget. Fun, suspenseful and character driven, “Catching Fire” lived up to its name further fueling the flame that was YA-mania as viewers sought a worthy replacement for the dormant “Harry Potter” series.
6. “Paddington 2”
This is one of the most perfect and charming family films of the decade and if you told me a “Paddington” movie would stand out that much I probably wouldn’t have believed you until I saw it. This 2016 sequel to the 2014 film that was also on my shortlist for this countdown builds on its predecessor’s charm in every way and presents us with a family-friendly story that’s neither too childish nor too mature. It speaks to the kids inside us all and yet also feels surprisingly grown up. That is a very difficult thing to pull off especially given the source material. Packed with an endless supply of sweetness “Paddington 2” takes itself just seriously enough to get its point across before wowing both the young and young at heart with its imaginative fantasy elements that make you feel like you’ve stepped right into one of Paddington’s storybooks. It’s charming, memorable and an all-around great adventure.
5. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 2”
While Part 1 of the finale to the initial “Harry Potter” series was an engaging road movie, the second part, the culmination of everything the previous seven films had built up to, satisfied in all the best ways as Harry and Voldemort finally faced off for the fate of the Wizarding World. With high stakes, exceptional performances, significant loses, triumphant victories and more than enough heart, action and suspense to satisfy every fan “Deathly Hollows Part 2” is not only the superior effort in the finale duology, but also quite possible the best movie in the entire franchise. In the same way that “Avengers: Endgame” effectively closed the first saga of the MCU years later, “Deathly Hollows Part 2” did everything possible to thank fans for their dedication and it that regard it did not disappoint.
4. “A Monster Calls”
A lot of people forget this movie exists and that’s a shame because it is fantastic! Based on a novel of the same name, “A Monster Calls” is a deep and engaging dark fantasy about a young boy dealing with the trauma of his mother’s terminal illness who meets a giant monster that imparts worldly wisdom in the form of several stories meant to teach the boy that not everything in the world is cut and dry. The lessons evoked in this film are significant not just to young viewers but adults as well making for a poignant, insightful and emotionally satisfying experience that, in my opinion, is the kind of film the world needs to embrace right now. Sadly it was overlooked upon release, but if you get the chance this is definitely one of the most moving films of the decade in my opinion that just might force you to examine your own perspective on grief, anger and close-mindedness.
3. “Life of Pi”
What makes “Life of Pi” so special as a film is that more than any other movie on this list it attempts to blur the barrier between fantasy and reality. The very idea of “Life of Pi”, itself based on a once thought unfilmable book, is that the audience is forced to determine for themselves whether or not they believe the fantastical tales of its titular character as he regales a journalist with stories of when he was stranded at sea with only a tiger as his companion. The film went on to earn a Golden Globe for Best Picture – Drama and won Ang Lee the Globe and Oscar for Best Director thanks in no small part to the imaginative storytelling and spectacular visuals which all fit well into the fantasy genre. “Life of Pi’s” ability to seamlessly ride the line between reality and fantasy thanks to its unreliable narrator eventually gave birth to an entirely new way of looking at stories in film which is still debated and analyzed to this day.
2. “A Ghost Story”
This supernatural drama from 2017 is rooted in fantasy exploring the idea of the afterlife like no film ever before. Starring Casey Affleck and directed by David Lowery, “A Ghost Story” explores a man’s journey through time after he dies unexpectedly giving us a rather unique perspective into the idea of a haunting as the man, represented by the stereotypical bed-sheet ghost design, interacts with residents of his former home through different decades. Ambitious in every sense of the word, “A Ghost Story” feels very unique and poignant in its exploration of just one possible idea about life after death challenging conventional beliefs and whether or not grief and the feeling of loss ends once the human body expires. It’s a powerful and poetic experience that makes you feel like a fly on the wall watching a very private process take shape.
1. “The Shape of Water”
Kind of hard not to put the only fantasy to win best picture in the 2010s on the top of this list. “The Shape of Water” took home the top award at the Academy Awards in 2018 and rightfully so as director Guillermo del Toro, well known for his love of fantasy who also took the Best Director Oscar, flawlessly led this unique love story about a deaf woman who bonds with an amphibious man. Visually appealing with spectacular performances all around and a memorable creature brought to life by suit actor Doug Jones, “The Shape of Water” challenges the conventions of love and personal connection and is not afraid to be awkward as it showcases del Toro’s vision and imagination in its most fully realized state. More than anything else “The Shape of Water” is a true example of a filmmaker truly embracing his love for a genre reminding everyone in a decade with few true purely fantasy standouts what makes fantasy movies so special.