Thanks to shows like Game of Thrones and The Witcher, the fantasy genre is experiencing a bit of a renaissance. With Netflix at the height of its production and curation powers, the company is making and programming fantasy content like never before. While dragons, orcs, swords, and magic all come to mind with the genre, let’s not forget that fantasy has many branches.
All the movies on our list have some sort of fantastical element, but not all of them take place in a traditional fantasy setting. In fact, some of them are indistinguishable from the real world, aside from one or two elements. Here are the best fantasy movies currently streaming on Netflix through October.
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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 (Casey Affleck) dies in a car crash, he awakens in his new phantasmic 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, a studio 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 two 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, and 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
Most of the Underworld series is on Netflix, and while each entry is entertaining, we still think the first film is the best. Like subsequent entries, Underworld explores the secret history of vampires and lycans (i.e., werewolves), as well the complex mythology behind each. It follows Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire who specializes in hunting lycans, and her struggle to choose between her order and her love interest, who was bitten by a werewolf. The film sports some slick Gothic visuals, a great performance from Beckinsale, and plenty of vampire-on-werewolf action. It wasn’t well-received by critics, sure, but audiences loved it, leading to its success at the box office.
Rotten Tomatoes: 31%
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman, Shane Brolly
Director: Len Wiseman
Runtime: 121 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
Swiss Army Man (2016)
In Swiss Army Man, Daniel Radcliffe plays Manny, a beached corpse that can talk, store water like a well, be used as a surfboard, and produce ungodly farts. Oh, and he also becomes a shipwrecked Paul Dano’s best friend. Over the course of this bonkers hybrid of indie-fantasy meets buddy-comedy, our two leads make a pact to get Dano’s character, Hank, back to civilization. As they plan their voyage, Hank fills Manny in on his love life (giving us brief cameos from Mary Elizabeth-Winstead), teaches him how to eat at a restaurant, and shows him how to have fun at a party.
Arguments ensue, tears are shed, and laughs are shared. Yes, this is a bizarre concept, but the fraternal ramblings of the two leads make for quite an adventure of a film. Featuring an emotive score by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell (both of Manchester Orchestra), Swiss Army Man will feel like one of the most wild hour-plus journeys you’ve ever taken through cinema, but it’s one we’ll bet you’ll love.
Rotten Tomatoes: 71%
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Paul Dano, Mary Elizabeth-Winstead
Director: Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan
Runtime: 95 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
The Lobster (2015)
In Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, Colin Farrell plays David, the newest resident of The Hotel, a prison-like retreat for singles to find their next romantic partner. If they can’t find love within forty five days, the person is transformed into an animal of their choosing. And, you guessed it, David decides that a lobster would be best for his transfiguration. Lanthimos’ dystopian universe plays like an amalgam of David Lynch horrors and laugh-out-loud dark comedy. With amazing performances from Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, and John C. Reilly, The Lobster is a high-concept (and at times uncomfortably odd) story done right. Lovers of Lanthimos’ other films, especially Dogtooth and The Favourite, will feel right at home with this selection.
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Runtime: 118 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 magic 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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