Giants, witches, massive anthropomorphized animals, oh my! The fantasy genre is one rich in imagination and has only become wackier and more inventive in modern times. These stories may take place in different times and settings, but they all explore fantastical elements we’re not likely to ever see in the real world. Who doesn’t love a little fantasy escape from time to time? Netflix has an awesome collection of fantasy films, and we’ve gone through the collection to pull out the absolute best. The following films represent the peak of fantasy moviemaking available on Netflix.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020)
This is a Charlie Kaufman fantasy, which is to say there are no mystical creatures, only humans caught up in their own baffling imaginations. One of the more polarizing films of 2020, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is aggressively weird, coming across like a Beckett play at times. Yet, it’s also oddly beautiful in its strange meanderings and tangents. Jessie Buckley plays a young woman who, full of misgivings and about ready to end her relationship with her new boyfriend, still accompanies him to his parents’ secluded farm — far, far from the city — for dinner.
Rotten Tomatoes: 82%
Stars: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Runtime: 105 minutes
Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
Oddly enough, two major takes on The Jungle Book were released within two years of one another. The first, Disney’s The Jungle Book, got better reviews, but Netflix’s Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle has more stunning special effects and a far more faithful retelling of Rudyard Kipling’s classic tales. Director Andy Serkis — a master of VFX — goes above and beyond in this jungle fantasy that is genuinely terrifying at times. Mowgli tells the classic tale of a human child raised by a wolf pack in the jungles of India under the tutelage of the panther Bagheera and bear Baloo. But what Disney’s version overlooks is the sheer sadism and megalomania of the tiger Shere Khan. This version doesn’t.
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Stars: Rohan Chand, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Naomie Harris
Director: Andy Serkis
Runtime: 105 minutes
The BFG (2016)
Decades before either the manga Attack on Titan or the media adapted from it, Roald Dahl was writing about the dangers of giants who preferred a menu of people in his 1982 novel The BFG — short for “Big Friendly Giant.” An animated adaptation was released in 1989, but in 2016 Steven Spielberg brought the late Dahl’s story to live-action. Ruby Barnhill plays the young, orphaned Sophie, who befriends the eponymous BFG, voiced by Mark Rylance, who also performs the motion capture for his Godzilla-sized character. Together, Sophie and the BFG set off on a family-friendly quest not quite as dark as the source material, to stop the cannibal giants who threaten humanity.
Rotten Tomatoes: 74%
Stars: Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 117 minutes
Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny (2006)
If you’re familiar with the hilarious comedy rock duo Tenacious D, made up of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, then you know you could probably make up an album just of the songs telling different versions of their band’s origin. Well, in the 2006 musical fantasy comedy Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny, you get one more version of their genesis. The still-young duo learns that all the greatest rock stars had a secret weapon on their journey to fame and fortune — the mystical guitar pick known as the Pick of Destiny. JB and KG go on a quest to get their hands on the legendary artifact, but they’ll have to face some weird challenges along the way, including a duel with Satan himself. Goofy and filled with what seems like a million cameos — including appearances by rockers Meat Loaf, Dave Grohl, and the late Ronnie James Dio — Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny is an unquestionably awesome way to spend an hour and a half.
Rotten Tomatoes: 52%
Stars: Jack Black, Kyle Gass, JR Reed
Director: Liam Lynch
Runtime: 93 minutes
The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (2021)
Based on the Onmyōjinovel series by Japanese writer Baku Yumemakura, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is one of Netflix’s most recent international acquisitions. In a fascinating world where impossible creatures like demons and dragons co-exist with humans, four of the Yin-Yang masters are summoned to the capital to battle with a mammoth serpent god who brings calamity to the world every century. Visually breathtaking, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is a thrilling cinematic treat.
Rotten Tomatoes: 84% audience score
Stars: Mark Chao, Allen Deng, Jessie Li
Director: Jingming Guo
Runtime: 132 minutes
A Monster Calls (2016)
Conor’s mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. Coping with the heavy load of maintaining the household during his mother’s illness, the bullying he suffers at school, and the horrible nightmares he endures are all getting to be too much. Comfort comes from the most unexpected of sources — a giant humanoid tree monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who promises the young Conor (Lewis MacDougall) nothing more than three stories. Surprisingly honest about the trials of childhood, A Monster Calls is a powerful exploration of grief, and a uniquely extraordinary example of how fantasy can serve as much more than pure escapism.
Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Stars: Lewis MacDougall, Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones
Director: J.A. Bayona
Runtime: 108 minutes
What happens when the boy who vowed to never grow up … grows up? The answer is Hook, the 1991 Steven Spielberg classic starring the late Robin Williams as an older Peter Pan who has forgotten his past, Julia Roberts as his fairy friend Tinkerbell, and Dustin Hoffman as the titular villain, Captain Hook. Now a financially successful but unfulfilled workaholic, the older Peter no longer remembers the wonder and adventure of his younger days. But when Captain Hook kidnaps his children, the hero is forced to shake the dust off his green tights and return to Neverland to not only save his family but to recapture the magic he’s lost.
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Stars: Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts
Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 142 minutes
Monster House (2006)
Ever seen a house you were worried was haunted? Did you think there were ghosts inside? Monsters? Maybe just some creepy psycho? Well, what if the house itself was the monster? That’s the kind of danger D.J. (Mitchel Musso) and his friends face in Monster House. After D.J.’s elderly neighbor Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi) is brought to the hospital, the house starts inexplicably eating people. With D.J.’s parents gone for the weekend and the house next door making meals out of everyone from police officers to the babysitter’s drunk boyfriend, it’s up to D.J. and his friends Chowder and Jenny to embark on a scary adventure in this funny, scary, and family-friendly romp.
Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Stars: Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mitchel Musso
Director: Gil Kenan
Runtime: 91 minutes
The Happytime Murders (2018)
He’s a disgraced ex-cop. He’s a private eye. He’s a puppet — not metaphorically. Phil Phillips is an actual puppet beating the streets and looking for a killer in the crime comedy The Happytime Murders. In a world where puppets live alongside humans, the soft, cuddly toy people are the oppressed underclass. When someone starts killing off the puppet cast members of a popular sitcom, Phil teams up with his old partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to stop the puppet purge. If you’ve ever wanted to answer questions like “What are the best ways to kill a puppet?” or “What would a puppet adult shop look like?” The Happytime Murders is the movie for you. Be forewarned though, this ain’t no Muppet movie. Its R rating is well earned for its raunchiness and vulgarity.
Rotten Tomatoes: 24%
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Banks, Maya Rudolph
Director: Brian Henson
Runtime: 91 minutes
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow? How do you tell if someone is a witch? And if you come across a rabbit at the entrance of a cave, how fast do you run and why aren’t you running already? All of these questions and more can be at least partially answered only with the 1975 comedy classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The second feature film made by the legendary cast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Holy Grail is absolutely mandatory for any fan of swords and sorcery fantasy, comedy, or any kind of movie that keeps you laughing so hard from start to finish that you’ll never stop to consider whether or not it makes any sense (SPOILER: it does not).
Rotten Tomatoes: 97%
Stars: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Director: Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones
Runtime: 91 minutes
I Lost My Body (2019)
Winner of the 2020 César Award for Best Animated Film, I Lost My Body is a genre-bending fever dream, propelled by gorgeous art and an appropriately bizarre premise. The star of the film? A severed hand. When the hand gains consciousness in a dissection lab, it has one primary purpose: To return to its body. The hand must scramble through Paris to find its way back to the pizza delivery man who is missing him, all the while remembering the glory days when it was still attached. That is, until they met Gabrielle.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Victoire Du Bois, Patrick d’Assumçao
Director: Jérémy Clapin
Runtime: 81 minutes
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Set in the years following the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth follows a young girl named Ophelia (Ivana Baquero) who moves in with her mother and new stepfather, Vidal (Sergi López), an evil Civil War commander. The first night in her new home, a fairy leads Ophelia into the garden, where she meets a faun (Doug Jones) that believes she is the reincarnation of Princess Moanna, a princess of the underworld — his home. To attain immortality, Ophelia must accomplish three tasks the faun gives her. Pan’s Labyrinth is a stunning movie that deals with complex issues through the lens of childlike wonder and despair.
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Stars: Ivana Baquero, Sergi López, Maribel Verdú
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Runtime: 115 minutes
A Ghost Story (2017)
What if we told you that one of the most beautiful drama-fantasy films involved leading man Casey Affleck wearing a sheet over his body for nearly the entire runtime? You might call us crazy, and that’s okay, but we still urge you to dive into David Lowery’s quiet little masterpiece, A Ghost Story.
When C (Affleck) dies in a car crash, he awakens in his new phantasmagoric form. Returning to the suburban, single-story ranch he shared with romantic partner M (Rooney Mara), the wraith spends the rest of his eternity “haunting” the house. Featuring some of the most meditative and emotional performances from the two leads, Andrew Palermo’s lush cinematography, and a heart-wrenching score by Daniel Hart, A Ghost Story may not be for everyone. But those that can appreciate a slow burn of fantastical proportions will leave the film feeling handsomely rewarded. Oh, and we almost forgot to mention that there’s a five-minute, single-take scene involving M, crying, and a pie. Yes, like the pie you eat.
Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Stars: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, Will Oldham
Director: David Lowery
Runtime: 87 minutes
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)
Studio Ponoc, composed of Studio Ghibli alums, made a splash with its first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The film, based on a Mary Stewart novel and centered on a young girl who discovers a flower that transforms her into a witch for one night, is as fun as it is beautiful. It walks in the footsteps of well-known Studio Ghibli films like Arrietty and Ponyo — a given, considering director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s involvement — yet it hits all the right emotional beats, proving Miyazaki isn’t the only one who has mastered the art of a good story. Netflix also has a pretty good collection of anime series if you need more after this one.
Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Stars: Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Runtime: 102 minutes
Bright wasn’t well-received when it arrived on Netflix, but since its premiere in 2017, it has become one of the most-streamed films on the platform. That’s because, while the movie is flawed, it does have a unique world, impressive practical effects, and a timely story about crime and discrimination.
In Bright, humans coexist with a variety of fantasy races. The film follows Ward (Will Smith) and his partner Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), the first orc police officer. The two have a strained relationship because Ward was previously injured by an orc robber, and it is believed that Jakoby let the robber go on purpose. The film tries to juggle complex issues of race, identity, and loyalty while also telling a larger-than-life fantasy story. It doesn’t always juggle those topics particularly well, but it remains one of the most ambitious fantasy films of the last several years.
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Stars: Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace
Director: David Ayer
Runtime: 117 minutes
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Based on Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi’s popular book series, The Spiderwick Chronicles continues the trend of quality, emotionally-complex fantasy films aimed at children. It was received well by audiences and critics alike and features impressive performances to boot. The film follows Jason (Freddie Highmore), his twin brother Simon, and their sister Mallory (Sarah Bolger). After moving into their great-great-uncle’s estate following a divorce, Jason discovers Arthur Spiderwick’s study and a book detailing his observations and knowledge of faeries. As the film progresses, all three children are pulled into a struggle between the faeries and the ogre Mulgarath, who wants to use the information in the book for evil. The film is well-paced and exciting, and it is the perfect entry point for young fantasy lovers.
Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Stars: Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, Nick Nolte
Director: Mark Waters
Runtime: 97 minutes
Fullmetal Alchemist (2017)
Fullmetal Alchemist is a live-action film based on the popular manga and anime of the same name. The film, like the subsequent versions, follows brothers Edric and Alphonse. The brothers live with their ill mother in the countryside, where they study alchemy. After their mother dies, however, they try to bring her back to life with a forbidden Human Transmutation. The alchemy fails and has severe consequences: Edric loses his arm and leg, while Alphonse loses his entire body and his spirit possesses an empty suit of armor.
The two brothers grow up to become state alchemists while continuing to hide their taboo act and pursue a stone that has the power to restore their bodies. The film received mixed reviews, but it does feature some pretty advanced film techniques and high production value, rendering it worth the watch, especially for fans of the show and manga.
Rotten Tomatoes: 28%
Stars: Ryôsuke Yamada, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka
Director: Fumihiko Sori
Runtime: 135 minutes
Horns is based on Joe Hill’s bestselling novel of the same name. It begins with Ignatius Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) waking up from a bender to find a pair of horns growing from his head. Soon after, he is accused of raping and murdering his girlfriend. While he professes his innocence, most of the community believes he did it. The horns give Ig the unique power to force people to reveal their darkest secrets, and Ig uses them to discover who the true killer is. As the film progresses, Ig’s horns grow larger, and he begins to take on the appearance of the Devil more and more.
It’s a shocking and surprisingly human story about redemption, love, and revenge.
Rotten Tomatoes: 41%
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella
Director: Alexandra Aja
Runtime: 120 minutes
Based on Neil Gaiman’s 1999 novel, Stardust follows Tristan (Charlie Cox) on his quest to retrieve an enchanted star from the magical realm of Stormhold. Meant to be a gift for his bride-to-be Victoria (Sienna Miller), the star turns out to be the disguised form of a woman named Yvaine (Claire Danes). Tristan decides to bring Yvaine back to his lover but must contend with the wretched forces of the magic realm. Along this colorful, flight-of-fancy pilgrimage, we’re treated to great performances by all, but particularly Robert De Niro as the swashbuckling Captain Shakespeare. Frankly, it’s nice to see the acting maestro lay his Tommy gun down and engage energies outside his typical wheelhouse of roles.
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Stars: Claire Danes, Charlie Cox, Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Runtime: 127 minutes
From Oscar-winning writer-director Bong Joon Ho, Okja is a brilliant mesh of animal rights versus big business, both operating in the body of a beautifully crazy film. The story follows Mija (Seo-hyun Ahn), a South Korean farm girl and owner of a genetically modified super-pig named Okja. Developed by the multinational Mirando Corporation, several prototypes of these genetically modified pigs were sent out into the world. After 10 years of growing to maturity, the company announces that Okja has been awarded the honor of “best super-pig.” It’s all a ruse, though, and the company wants to move Okja from Mija’s farm to New York for (unbeknownst to the world) experimentation and eventual slaughter. Mirando’s CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) arranges for Mija to travel to New York to be with Okja. However, the plot thickens when the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) kidnaps Okja to expose Mirando, sending the film down a path of much greater moral weight.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-hyun Ahn
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Runtime: 120 minutes
Hugo sees mob maestro Martin Scorsese stepping away from the mafia and into a coming-of-age tale of whimsy. The film takes place in early 1930s Paris and follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), the nephew of the Gare Montparnasse’s clock-keeper. When Hugo steals parts for an automaton he is trying to salvage (his father’s work), the shopkeep, named Georges (Ben Kingsley), agrees to let Hugo pay off his crime by having him work in the shop. Much to Hugo’s surprise, Georges’ granddaughter, Isabella (Chloë Grace-Moretz), wears a necklace with a heart-shaped key, the exact key Hugo needs to power his father’s automaton. Hugo was shot completely in 3D and is packed to the brim with beautiful imagery and heartfelt storytelling. What’s better is screenwriter John Logan’s choice to write Georges as real-life film pioneer Georges Méliès. Extensive use of Méliès’ catalog will be a big treat for cinephiles, especially for fans of his 1902 silent film, A Trip to the Moon.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Stars: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace-Moretz
Director: Martin Scorsese
Runtime: 126 minutes
Children of the Sea (2019)
Based on Daisuke Igarashi’s manga of the same name, Children of the Sea follows teenage girl Ruka. Estranged from both her mother and school friends, Ruka’s summer is looking like it’s going to be a bummer. That is until she starts spending more time at the aquarium where her dad works. While there, Ruka meets Umi and Sora, mysterious teenage brothers who were raised underwater by dugongs. The siblings are being studied by marine biologists to better understand their aquatic origins, while at the same time, a series of strange events begin unfolding. Oceanic oddities are occurring, like comets crashing into the sea and marine life mysteriously migrating to Japan’s waters and remaining there. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that Ruka, Umi, and Sora share some kind of mysterious connection, which could be the cause of the marine phenomena.
Ayumu Watanabe’s animated adaptation of Igarashi’s manga is a feast for the eyes. Oceanic depths are deeply layered, vibrant, and filled with life — not to mention the rich character work. Mana Ashida does a particularly amazing job as Ruka. As the plot thickens, so does Ruka’s drive and curiosity — and we’re right there with her.
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Stars: Mana Ashida, Hiiro Ishibashi, Seishû Uragami
Director: Ayumu Watanabe
Runtime: 111 minutes
A Whisker Away (2020)
Have you ever wanted to be a cat? A Whisker Away explores this wish come true and the consequences the transformation presents. Our story is led by Miyo Sasaki, a teenager living in Tokoname, dealing with her adolescence and pining for her school crush, Kento Hinode. Much to Miyo’s dismay, Kento is always turning down her advances. But love conquers all, especially when Miyo receives a magic Noh mask that turns her into a cat named Tarō. As a feline, Miyo begins making visits to Kento’s residence, where he immediately takes to his new whiskered visitor.
Over the course of the film, we learn more about Miyo and Kento’s families, livelihoods, fears, and secrets. As Miyo wears the mask more and more, she risks never being able to return to human form again and must decide if life as a cat is worth losing her humanity for. Directed by Junichi Sato and Tomotaka Shibayama, from a script by Mari Okada, A Whisker Away is an electrifying panorama of emotion like no other.
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Stars: Mirai Shida, Natsuki Hanae, Johnny Yong Bosch
Director: Junichi Satô, Tomotaka Shibayama
Runtime: 104 minutes
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