I was giving some thought the other day to why there were so many fantasy movies in the 80’s. And seriously, there were a ton, do you remember? It seemed like that’s most of what I watched in those days. Just a steady stream of Jim Henson puppets and hand-drawn post-production lighting effects. I guess we still have fantasy movies today. The Harry Potters and the Lords Of Rings and all that. Somehow though it doesn’t feel the same. Today it’s darker, or maybe just more sterile. They’re big and flashy, but they don’t capture that wonder the way they used to. Too much CGI, and not enough Muppet. Or maybe I’m just old. (Some are better than others, of course. I think the Hellboy movies did a decent job of getting a little of that wonder and mystery.)
How or why were fantasy flicks so huge just for that era? I didn’t really come up with any answers, but it did inspire me to list all the ones I had considered. So here it is, my top 10 fantasy movies of the 80’s…
- Labyrinth — One word: Ludo. Oh, and David Bowie. But mainly Ludo.
- The Neverending Story — Too many great scenes to mention. Laser-eyed oracles, wolves, luck dragons, racing snails, and a giant sneezing turtle! And P.S. the mom’s name, once and for all, is “Moonchild.” How that question haunted me as a kid!
- Clash Of The Titans — Claymation at its finest, and Laurence Olivier slumming it. There is absolutely no need to remake this movie.
- Legend — Tim Curry as the best devil ever put to film. Tom Cruise in his younger days. A great dark atmosphere, and two soundtracks from Jerry Goldsmith and Tangerine Dream.
- Willow— Dwarves, sword fights, a giant two-headed monster, and an entire army being turned into pigs. Pigs, I said! You’re all pigs!
- Conan The Barbarian — Really either of them will do. And here they’ll have to represent the legion of “sword and sorcery” films that followed. The 80’s were practically drowning in them. By and large, they were terrible (Beastmaster?). But the two Conan films are untouchable. The definitive barbarian saga.
- Time Bandits — Terry Gilliam seems to have a pretty good handle on fantasy. Two of his movies are on my list here, and even his more recent stuff like Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas is almost fantasy.
- The Dark Crystal — I think I need to watch this again. My memories of it are hazy, but I know I saw it in the theater. So I would have been what, three years old? Yeah, hazy memories.
- Return To Oz — Fairuza Balk before she grew up and got hot, a headless witch, and a bunch of creepy henchmen with rollerblades on their feet and hands. Very nice.
- The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen — He rides around on cannonballs. And Robin Williams plays the man on the moon.
There are many that deserve honorable mention. The Princess Bride comes to mind, though that was a little more like a romance. The Goonies, though that was almost in John Hughes territory. Definite honors to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, representing the best of the countless post-apocalypse movies that were also so popular in that era. Maybe Ice Pirates or Dune to touch on the sci-fi trend, like those Ewok made-for-T.V. movies and all that. That could be a whole separate list!
You could even include the more general adventure movies with fantastical twists, like Innerspace and Howard The Duck. Or cartoon hybrids like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. OMG, remember Pete’s Dragon? I guess technically, that was the 70’s. OK, clearly that are tons more I could have named on this list. What am I forgetting? Dozens, I’m sure. Feel free to share your faves too. It all just goes to show what a golden age the 80’s were for this kinda stuff. Ah, the good old days. Nice reminiscing…