My Five Favorite Fantasy Films

I think you’ll find some surprises in this list.

1. Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) stars William Powell as a Boston man in a mid-life crisis who falls in love with a real, live mermaid (Ann Blythe). This movie is just chock-full of witty lines and preposterous situations: like when Mr. Peabody enters “The Wee Shop of Intimate Things” and tries to buy “half a bathing suit.” Or when a nosy P.R. man spots him bending over a fish pond and whispering heart-felt words of love to… a fish, it seems. They just don’t make ’em like this anymore!

2. Jason and the Argonauts (1963), in which Ray Harryhausen created some of the greatest, most eye-popping special effects ever, using clay models and his trademark stop-motion techniques. To this day, in spite of all our technological advances, no one has ever surpassed Harryhausen’s rendition of the giant bronze statue of Talos coming to life, and his battle between the Argonauts and a platoon of homicidal skeletons: two of the greatest special effects scenes ever, in one movie.

3. The Princess Bride (1987), William Goldman’s “bent fairy tale,” featuring pro wrestling legend Andre the Giant in his one and only movie role. But it’s Mandy Patinkin who steals the show, with his immortal lines, “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” You’ll never see a movie with a sprightlier, more creative screenplay.

4. One Touch of Venus (1948) Ava Gardner is a statue of the goddess Venus who comes to life and falls in love with department store clerk Robert Walker, and turns his humdrum life upside-down. This film is another festival of wit: song lyrics by Ogden Nash, and Eve Arden in a supporting role, delivering a fusillade of droll one-liners. Compared to this, movies today are made by cavemen.

5. Ugetsu (1953), directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. Many of you probably have never heard of this one. It’s a grim little tale of two idiots, a potter and his clod of a brother-in-law, who get caught up first in a civil war and then in supernatural events. Watch what happens when the potter thinks he has become the lover of a princess of a noble house. Sweet dreams!

All five of these movies have one thing in common: they are fantasies that thoroughly succeed in carrying you away for an hour and a half or so–and I do mean far away. But don’t worry. You can always come back.

13 comments on “My Five Favorite Fantasy Films

  1. So, how come you didn’t add the 1940 “Thief of Baghdad” a classic fantasy film produced by the Korda brothers prior to the WWII outbreak? I believed this movie introduced use of the “blue [or green] screen” for the first time. Remember the giant spider and the genie played by Rex Ingram?

    As for Ray Harryhausen, anything he created was fantastic. A close friend of legendary star Fay Wray, his favorite all-time fantasy thriller was, of course, “King Kong” 1933. He even accompanied the actress up to the Empire State Bldg. a few days before her death in 2004.

    1. Oh, there were a lot of movies I could’ve added to the list. But blog posts have to be kept short, and I wanted to see what readers would suggest. Of course “Thief of Baghdad” was a classic fantasy. And I fondly remember the blue/green screen. Whatever happened to that?

  2. I’m particularly impressed by the inclusion of ‘Ugetzu’, I wonder if this film is ever seen outside of the university nowadays? “Jason and the Argonauts” with the animated skeletons scared the crap out of me as a kid and remains one of my most vivid film memories. Hooray for Ray!

    I’m also impressed that more ‘obvious’ candidates such as any of a number of fine Disney fantasies (The Jungle Book) are omitted. This list seems to be a call for great fantasy movies that fall under the radar? On that note, I shall proceed to find and watch the three on the list I have yet to see.

    I trust they will live up to their inclusion= our Esteamed Host is well known for his educated palate for artistic gems.

    1. Of course I left a lot of great fantasy films off this list. I wanted to see what movies readers would suggest. You walked right into my trap! Say–wasn’t there an earlier, black-and-white Jungle Book starring Sabu? Or did I just imagine that?

    1. I like to fire a warning shot across the reader’s bow, without letting him know I’m firing a warning shot across his bow.

  3. Among the many vinyl records I gave away when I downsized was a 78 of Mary Martin singing “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” from the original Broadway version of “One Touch of Venus.” (I can’t remember which song was on the flip side.) What a witty number that was. Now I must go look up the movie version to see whether it’s on YouTube and/or an available DVD. Thanks for reminding me of this one, Lee — although I wouldn’t have thought to call it a “fantasy film” (or show), even though it certainly isn’t reality!

  4. Two out of this list are my favorites: The Princess Bride which, I think, is celebrating a milestone year – not sure of the number, and Jason and the Argonauts. The year I saw that movie our backyard wooden fence was struck by lightning and collapsed into our postage stamp yard. — this is in Kensington in Philadelphia. My friends and I pulled it into the middle of the yard and for hours we played the Greek Mariners from that movie. In a kitchen cabinet I found some stale candy corn from the last Halloween —. perfect for imagining evil dog’s teeth! We started tossing the “teeth” around but after awhile we thought it best to stop. Our imaginations were becoming quite lively and we were half afraid that skeletons would start popping up out of the ground. We decided to go inside and leave the “Argo” to fend for itself.

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