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7 best 2010s fantasy movies, ranked

Voldemort casting a spell in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2010), directed by David Yates.
Warner Bros. Pictures

For the fantasy genre, the 2010s were a time of both bittersweet endings and exciting beginnings. Dominated by epic franchises that would captivate fans across the globe, there were significant contributions to the genre and cinema as a whole from that era. Of course, there were also acclaimed standalone fantasy movies from talented directors who would use the best aspects of the genre while pushing its boundaries.

From the magical clash within Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the captivating story of The Shape of Water, the best fantasy movies of the 2010s offer spectacular and otherworldly viewing experiences for audiences of all ages. Full of rich fantastical realms, well-written heroes and foes, and spell-binding stories, these films have cemented their place in cinematic history as must-see significant entries in the fantasy genre.

7. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Bilbo Baggins surrounded by others in a scene from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Warner Bros. Pictures

In 2001, director Peter Jackson would achieve what seemed impossible by adapting J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings into a legendary trilogy. His follow-up to one of the best fantasy movie franchises ever made unfortunately did not live up to the high standard he set. The prequel movies started with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012, which follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who goes on a quest to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. He does this alongside a company of dwarves and his old friend, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen).

With defined expectations of what Middle-earth could offer, many fans were disappointed by The Hobbit‘s uneven pacing and clear deviations from the source material. The excessive use of CGI has also aged poorly, especially compared to the original trilogy’s stunning visuals. The fantasy film is still worth watching for viewers who want to dive back into that sprawling magical world that only Tolkien’s imaginative works can deliver, even if its execution on the big screen is flawed.

6. Life of Pi (2012)

The tiger Richard Parker and Suraj Sharma in Life of Pi.
20th Century Studios

Director Ang Lee brings the beautiful story first told in Yann Martel’s 2001 novel to life in Life of Pi. It chronicles the unusual journey of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), who survives a shipwreck and is left adrift in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. It soon becomes clear that he and the tiger must trust each other if they want to survive the coming days, which quickly turn into weeks. The hopeless situation turns into something else completely as Pi experiences some of the best and worst events in his life out on the ocean.

Life of Pi was a groundbreaking early example of the power of 3D effects when used right. The 2012 adventure-drama film accomplishes the challenging feat of effectively conveying Martel’s magical realism through breathtaking visuals and fantastic storytelling. At its core is an incredible performance from Sharma, who is impeccably cast as the boy whose dangerous situation turns into a poignant tale of self-discovery.

5. How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Hiccup rides Toothless in How To Train Your Dragon.
DreamWorks Animation

How to Train Your Dragon is a DreamWorks hit that depicts a fictional land called Berk where Vikings and dragons coexist, but have been long locked in a bitter conflict. It focuses on the journey of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), a young Viking who dreams of becoming a dragon slayer like his father, Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler). One day, Hiccup befriends a wounded Night Fury dragon he calls Toothless, and the Viking soon learns that the creatures are not as terrifying as he once believed them to be.

Directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, the 2010 film would become a blockbuster and one of the most popular animated movies ever, spawning a thriving multimedia franchise that even includes a live-action reboot from Universal Pictures that’s scheduled to premiere on June 13, 2025. 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon was the jumping-off point that gave fans a meticulously crafted world surprisingly rich with lore, with Hiccup’s emotional and inspiring arc being the cherry on top.

4. Your Name (2016)

Taki Tachibana and Mitsuha Miyamizu in Your Name.

A seamless blend of anime, fantasy, and romance, Your Name is a modern classic directed by Makoto Shinkai. The film follows the lives of two teenagers, Mitsuha Miyamizu (Mone Kamishiraishi) and Taki Tachibana (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who inexplicably find themselves swapping bodies. They panic at first, but soon find ways to enjoy and improve each other’s lives before eventually falling in love and wanting to meet the other in person and in their own bodies.

Your Name takes the body swap trope and adds its own unique twist to it that will take viewers by surprise. It’s impossible to talk about how effective this midpoint revelation is without spoiling the story, as it’s the type of film that’s best seen knowing as little as possible about its plot. All audiences have to know is that it’s not the typical body swap love story, as there’s something more serious going on beneath the surface that takes the film’s fantasy element to the next level.

3. The Shape of Water (2017)

A woman and a creature tough glass in The Shape of Water
Searchlight Films

Among director Guillermo del Toro’s most acclaimed movies, The Shape of Water is an unforgettable, romantic dark fantasy film set in 1962 Baltimore. In this Cold War-era setting, an unlikely romance begins between a mute janitor working at a high-security government laboratory, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), and a strange amphibious creature (Doug Jones) captured from the depths of the Amazon. A distinct connection forms between them as they learn to communicate through sign language, but the authorities soon threaten their safety.

The Shape of Water proves that love has no bounds, even if the differences seem too great or the circumstances too challenging. The movie is chock-full of del Toro’s trademarks, with the filmmaker filling it with detailed set and costume designs, familiar faces, an exploration of an unusual relationship, a critique of war and oppressive regimes, and a bittersweet ending. The result is a captivating romance that will have viewers holding their breath as Elisa scrambles to save the love of her life.

2. The Lighthouse (2019)

Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson in character with a lighthouse in the background in The Lighthouse.

The Lighthouse is a genre-busting film by director Robert Eggers, but if it had to be categorized, the horror and fantasy genres are where it would fit it best. Set in the late 19th century, the movie follows two lighthouse keepers, Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe), who are tasked with maintaining a remote lighthouse on a desolate island off the coast of New England. As they spend weeks together in close quarters, their sanity begins to unravel as they witness bizarre occurrences and surreal visions.

The character-driven movie shows how isolation can cause a haunting descent into madness, with the supernatural thrown into the chaotic mess to make viewers question everything they see. The entire film is a visual and auditory feast, though often in an unsettling way, with Eggers building an atmosphere that’s dripping with dread and anxiety. Pattinson and Dafoe deliver powerhouse performances as the tortured characters, whose increasingly deranged behaviors help create a viewing experience that truly lingers.

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 & 2 (2010 – 2011)

Voldemort casting a spell in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II (2010), directed by David Yates.
Warner Bros. Pictures

The Harry Potter movies were a landmark cinematic achievement and remain a cultural phenomenon to this day. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 & 2 play an important part in the epic saga, as they marked the end of the journey for characters fans have grown to love. In Part 1, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) risk their lives to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, objects containing fragments of his soul. In Part 2, the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort takes place at Hogwarts, with the protagonist forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to bring peace to the magical realm.

Director David Yates expertly adapts J.K. Rowling’s beloved novels, delivering a satisfying conclusion to the series that will stay with fans for years to come. The cast members deliver remarkable, yet bittersweet performances, particularly Radcliffe, Watson, and Grint, who had grown into their roles over the course of the Harry Potter movies. The final two films helped ensure that the massively popular series would effortlessly stick the landing, cementing its enduring legacy as one of the most successful fantasy franchises ever.

Editors' Recommendations

Hannah Saab
Saab whips up SEO-optimized articles as a writer for Digital Trends and updates top-performing articles on Collider.
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