Top 10 80s Fantasy Films

You want swords, dragons, magic and muppets? As you wish...
October 15, 2008
Growing up in the 80s we were exposed to the some of the best live-action fantasy movies. Sure there were some great animated features like The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn and Flight of Dragons, but some of the greatest ideas and hardcore implementation came through in live action.

Of course opinions are like armpits---everyone has two and they usually stink. These movies are my picks. I'll start with the worst, work up to the best and try to convey what made the films great and great to me. Enjoy the ride and argue in the comments. ;-P

#10 - Dragonslayer


Dragonslayer came out in 1981 and didn't thrill me. The film is a bit too dark to follow the action, especially when they enter an even darker cave. It starred Peter MacNichol, the dork who played Biscuit from Ally McBeal and a dozen other equally dorky roles in Numb3rs and Ghostbusters 2. He was younger and thinner in 1981, and arguably a bit less dorky. Regardless, I found the dragon lame, the action confusing, and the storyline just plain dull. Sure, I was 8 years old in 1981. Maybe the film has fantastic subtle nuances lost to my immature senses. Or it stank like dragon-dookie. Either way, I don't recommend it although I will rent it again just to see if my adult self sees things any differently.

#9 - Willow


The previews for the movie Willow thrilled me to no end. Sadly, the actual movie itself failed to live up to its own commercials. Val Kilmer rocked as Mad Martigan, but the movie fell flat for a few reasons. First, and please don't hate me, it really shocked me as a kid (Willow was released in 1988; I was 15) and I struggled to get over my "This movie is about a midget?!?" reaction. Second, as the "hero", Willow lacked in just about every aspect. He had no magic. He couldn't fight. He could ride a sled and chase a baby? Not impressed. The dragon fight was so-so, which can be forgiven due to budget and technology limitations, but the "wicked witch" smelled so cliche that even as an unsophisticated teen I rejected it. Now, as an unsophisticated thirtysomething, I stand by that rejection. I'd rather watch Willow than, say, Dead Poet Society, but come on DPS was freakin' depressing.

#8 - Legend


This movie can be forgiven for starring Tom Cruise. It completely rocks for starring Tim Curry as, basically, the devil. Its a challenge to reconcile Tim Curry as a bad-arse, evil, red, giant-horned satan with the cowardly, conniving "villains" he has played for the last two decades.

Legend is about an Adam & Eve-like innocent couple who live in the woods with fairies and unicorns. The girl "falls" by allowing the bad guys to capture a unicorn which they are going to "fix". Tom Cruise must rescue her. The visuals are fantastic in the literal sense of the word. The action is just so-so as the story follows a strong mythical theme of symbolic weapons, tools and actions as opposed to beating with blunt and/or sharp objects to overcome adversaries. A particularly clever bit involved using a series of mirrors to channel direct sunlight deep underground to use as a weapon against evil. Very cool.

#7 - Labyrinth


Two words: David. Bowie.


This movie, starring muppets and puppets care of Jim Henson's crew, is a delightful tale about a girl who is an utter and irredeemable b*tch. I mean, you just can't help but hate this girl. Why, why, why couldn't she have been eaten by a monster or left in the Bog of Eternal Stench (aka the Bush Administration)? Aside from her, the movie is pretty fun if you like muppets and fantasy. David Bowie plays, and this is a stretch, an effeminate weirdo who sings. The songs are quite catchy in a campy sort of way (translation: you sing them, but only when you're alone). This is a good movie to pop in on a lazy Sunday afternoon when nothing good is on and you need something in the background.

#6 - The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal

In 1982 this movie blew away pretty much everything I'd seen. Jim Henson and company pulled out all the stops on this one. The muppets (or puppets or whatever you call the dang things) were fantastic: long-legged running mounts, giant beetle monsters, vulture-people, and of course the gelflings (basically animalistic elves). The story was dark, funny, touching, had some romance, betrayal, murder, and of course sucking the souls out of people. It was fantastic in the truest sense of the word---the look of the characters and world lent a reality to the film that you don't get in animation and can't get with regular actors. I heartily recommend this film if you haven't seen it and there is a sequel coming out that I'm sure will be a disappointing turd with cream sauce.

#5 - The Conan Movies

Conan the Barbarian

Conan the Destroyer

Red Sonja

I'm grouping these three together because, well, they go together. These are the first hardcore films on the list and they earn that distinction because essentially Conan likes to kill a lot of people. There's only one thing better than Arnold as Governor of California and that is Arnold swinging a giant sword, chopping off people's arms, legs and heads. Of course, camel-punching is a must.

These movies did a great job portraying a Dungeons & Dragons style world with magic and monsters. Grace Jones played the world's greatest amazon in Destroyer and has never been beat.

Sonja was hot, but has been replaced by Xena. Oh well.

#4 - Krull


In this film, a heroic prince uses an ancient magic weapon known as a Glaive to rescue his betrothed. There is so much more to the story than that! There's the crazy spider woman and the old man....the monsters that squeal when you kill them and an evil worm jumps out of their skull and burrows into the ground...the bandits who join the hero for a chance to earn their freedom....the cyclops cursed so that he can see the future, but only the time and manner of his own death....the somewhat-competent wizard, Ergo, who turns into a puppy and tiger and famously proclaims, "I am Ergo the Magnificent! Short in stature, tall in power, narrow of purpose, and wide of vision." There are many people who will tell you this movie is junk, but they are all wrong!

#3 - The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster

This movie had some truly hardcore components. A witch uses magic to steal an unborn child from his mother's womb and into a cow. An spying-eye embedded in a magic ring, which they put out with a burning stick. Bat-people who wrap their membranous arms around you and digest you in a matter of minutes leaving only your bones! Prisoners who are turned into brutal killing machines by inserting an evil magic worm in their ears. Getting bit on the balls by a weasel! And of course...BOOBIES! Glorious 1980's boobies! The delicious, red-haired, blue-eyed Tanya Roberts' boobies!

The delicious Tanya Roberts

So, they spray-painted a tiger black to look like a huge panther. The movie had 1980s icon Marc Singer (from "V" the TV show), John Amos from Disney's "The World's Greatest Athlete" and "What's Happening" TV Show, and Rip Torn, the man with the baddest-arse name in all of human history. You haven't seen it? Go see it!

#2 - Excalibur


Excalibur earns its place as a truly adult fantasy film. First, it features adultery and not one but two magically assisted rapes, one of which is incestuous. Second, it delves into the metaphysical when the Knights of the Round table seek out the Holy Grail. This is truly the greatest telling of Arthur's tale on film in history. It is dark, hopeful, serious, adventurous and even funny at times. What is best in men? Is it the doom of men that they forget? What is the dragon?

Excalibur came out in 1981 and was under-appreciated in theaters. It features Jean-Luc Picard (I mean Patrick Stewart) and Liam Neeson. Nicol Williamson's Merlin set the bar for all other wizards and remained unmatched until Sir Ian McKellen took up the staff and robes as Gandalf in in The Lord of the Rings. This is one for the collection.

#1b - The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride

A story within a story, the Princess Bride is about love between a man and a woman, or an old man and a young boy depending upon your perspective. You are a sick, sick individual for even thinking that! Of course, a grandfather (Columbo) is telling the fantasy action romance comedy story to his sick grandson (that kid from the Wonder Years - Fred Savage). Is the action great? No. Is the story great? No. Are the special effects great? What special effects? No. What makes this movie great are the one-liners! Not since the Rocky Horror Picture Show had a movie provided more one-liners than Monty Python's Flying Circus. The best feature of this film? Andre the Giant.

Top to bottom: Andre the Giant as Fezzik, Mandy Pantinkin as Inigo Montoya, and Wallace Shawn as Vizzini

There are so many size jokes I could make here, but I won't. Instead I'll just say that Andre was a giant in Pro Wrestling, in acting and all over the 1980s. Rest in peace my friend! He made the movie something special.

Ironically, I didn't like the movie when I first saw it in the theater. It was only later after watching it and using the great lines that it grew on me. Here are a few:

"As you wish."
"Iocane powder, I'm sure of it." - he says from smelling the container...when iocane powder has no smell.
"Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line!" hahahahaha - thunk.
"I'm on the brute squad." "You ARE the brute squad."
"I am not left handed either!"

And of course...
"My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

#1a - Clash of the Titans

Movie Poster & DVD Cover

Ray Harryhausen's Stop-Motion Animated Medusa

Calibos played by actor Neil McCarthy, who is actually uglier without the make-up!

Harry Hamlin's Perseus with Medusa's head

The Kraken!

This movie was so good that as soon as I realized it had been released in 1981 I knew I had to include it in this Top 10-12-whatever list.

Burgess Meredith is fantastic. His voice will never be matched. The story is epic. The effects look amazing for 1981. The acting? Who cares! This is an action movie! Perseus has to outsmart Calibos and the three Stygian Witches (who eat human flesh). He tames Pegasus, hitches a ride with Charon the Ferryman, fights a two-headed dog, defeats Medusa, fights the giant scorpions that grow from her blood, and uses her head to turn the GIANT Kraken to stone, saving his love and the city of Joppa. You haven't seen it? GO SEE IT BEFORE THE REMAKE COMES OUT in 2010. You won't regret it. It is a piece of movie-making history and a legend in its own right.

Well that's my movie list. I know you are thinking I'm a moron, and I probably forgot your favorite movie. That is the beauty of can now write your own article! And I'll read it and give you a thumbs up because everyone who contributes here deserves one...some of us also deserve spelling lessons but that is besides the point!

Check out my other articles and May the Schwartz Be With You!

Great Animated Fantasies

64K of Childhood Memories

Murder Most Foul...Foiled?

The Cat's Out of the Cradle
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