Top 10 Fantasy movies of the 80s

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Fantasy is a catch all phrase. Add a little bit of mysticism in the movie and suddenly the morons put the movie on a Fantasy list.

No. This list is legit fantasy. It’s also a list that contains no animation.

Nothing against animation. I just think animation should have its own list. So 80s movies like Heavy Metal and The Little Mermaid aren’t going to be on this list.

And even more specifically, no Sci-Fi either. That should be a different list. If they’re flying around in spaceships, how the fuck is that supposed to be a Fantasy film?

So this list is the past, or has a significant amount of storyline in the past, no animation, no Sci-Fi. True Fantasy.

And why the 80s?

Because the 80s were the best decade since the 1920s. Sure, I wasn’t around in the 20s but damn, I was made for the 20s.

The 80s was a genuinely good time. People were happier. People were better looking. And Americans loved America. Now, everyone is morbidly obese, hates America, and is miserable. I’m one of the few people today who enjoys life and appreciates what this country has to offer.

The 80s was also pre-CGI. I hate CGI. Actors acting in front of a green screen has zero magic in the movie. That’s why it feels like 80s movies have magic in them and movies today? You forget you watched them a few years later.

Film is better than digital too. But that’s another rant for another day. I’ll just tell you that I had magical times in the darkroom. Nowadays, kids have no idea what I’m talking about.

The list

If you grew up in the 80s, you were blessed. You got to see an America where people felt like they belonged to something. It reflected in their films.

Movies lacked the cynicism of the 90s and on. They had spirit.

We had movies like Ferris Beuller and Back to School. We also had the best high school movies.

I always enjoyed Fantasy. It’s my favorite genre.

Luckily, we had some good Fantasy after the 80s. The Lord of the Rings trilogy ruled. 80s Fantasy films simply didn’t have the budget to compete. They rarely had A list everything. They had to make do with simpler plots and rarely had A list actors acting in them or A list directors directing them.

Harry Potter also had some decent movies. I prefer Harry Potter 3 as it had Alfonso Cuarón, a damn good director directing it.

So without further ado, here’s my list:

10 – Flesh and Blood

Almost nobody’s seen this movie. But at least you know Paul Verhoeven and Rutger Hauer.

Verhoeven directed some movies you’ve probably heard of – RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Showgirls, and Starship Trooper. Before all those hits (and one complete bomb that is so bad it’s good), Verhoeven directed Flesh and Blood, a piece about a medieval city that’s being plundered.

The movie is seriously fucked up, but if you’re in a situation this bad, you’ll understand why the characters did what they had to do. Especially Agnes, a young Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Rutger Hauer is the top male lead. He of course went on to be in a lot of damn good movies, including my favorite Fantasy film of all time, a film that people loved so much, a musician took the name of the movie as her stage name.

9 – Dragonslayer

The damsel in distress theme ruled 80s Fantasy. Especially the damsel needing rescue from a dragon, demon, or monster.

In this case, a dragon. And a damn good one.

A Disney movie with nudity and graphic violence? Um, yes.

This movie left such an impact on me that my song Princess for the Night is directly inspired by it. But the theme is old. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood even used this theme. It goes back much further than that.

In this case, you have a male character who wants to be a hero. And a female character whose parents dressed her up as a boy so she wouldn’t be part of the lottery.

When the Princess finds out that her father took her name out of the lottery, she rigged the next lottery so that every name is her own. He has no choice but to let his daughter become the next sacrifice to the dragon.

Can our hero rescue the Princess?

This movie executes well. It has the feeling that you’re there, seeing it all happen.

And it’s not clean. It’s dirty and grimy, like the Medieval times should be.

8 – The Princess Bride

The very first time I saw this movie, I immediately thought “that woman is perfect.” Robin Wright playing Princess Buttercup. Perfect casting.

No, I never read the book. I gathered it must have been a book because Grandpa reads the book to his grandson in the movie, and that’s how it’s narrated.

My favorite character though wasn’t the lead character. Rather, it was Inigo Montaya. A good guy with a single mission – to revenge his father’s death against the six fingered man.

“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Inigo Montoya

Andre the Giant also played a minor role, as a giant. Surprise surprise. Always liked the guy.

The only downside of the movie is Billy Crystal. Geez, take that character out! We don’t need to see a wizard with a New Jersey accent in a Fantasy movie. That was a stupid idea and a horrible casting.

It would probably rank higher on my list if Billy Crystal wasn’t in the movie. I hated that character.

Still, very enjoyable movie.

If you want a genuinely happy movie, this is it. A lot of cynical folks love to make fun of this movie because, well, they can’t enjoy life so they don’t want you to either. They’ll even complain about something other than the Billy Crystal character. Well, they’re wrong.

Leave your brain at the door and simply enjoy this one. It’s cute. It’s clever. And it’s a lot of fun.

7 – Labyrinth

If my wife made the same list, this one would win it. She loves this movie. She also loves the soundtrack.

David Bowie plays the Goblin King and also co-wrote the soundtrack with Trevor Jones.

This was the film that killed Jim Henson’s movie career.

What?

Yes. It was a total dud when it came out. I honestly didn’t even know about this movie until a decade afterwards, it bombed that badly.

Of course, after he died, it became a cult classic. Now everyone and their Grandma raves about it.

It’s sad when things like this happen. Happened to my hero Peter Tchaikovsky as well. He wrote his masterpiece, it bombed, and he killed himself a few days later.

But back to the movie. Jim Henson directed this masterpiece staring a young Jennifer Connelly as a girl trying to get her baby brother back from the goblins who stole him.

The sets are magical. Henson and his team did amazing things with them.

And Bowie plays a wonderful villain.

This movie is so good looking that you can have it on in the background, do your chores, and every time you can take a break from your work, you’ll stumble upon a good looking scene.

6 – The Neverending Story

Honestly, I don’t think I could go back and watch this as an adult. It was too much a kid’s movie. I’d probably find it boring.

That said, I still to this day remember the magic I felt when I watched this movie in the theater. I even remember who I saw it with.

Like The Princess Bride, I had no idea this was initially a book. Also like The Princess Bride, you have a character reading the book as part of the story’s delivery.

Does it work?

Yes. You have a kid who reads the book to escape from some bullies. He eventually becomes part of the story, literally.

In the story, Fantasia disappears, consumed by The Nothing. I felt that it referenced our childhood dying, how we lose that fantasy element in ourselves and become pragmatic adults.

So it hit me pretty hard at the time. I knew my childhood would die. I was the perfect age to feel it dying as I was turning into a grown up.

Was that what the writer meant? Who knows? That’s just what I got out of it.

5 – Clash of the Titans

I rate this one highly as I could still watch it today and still find it awesome. I happen to love stop motion monsters. I loved the old Sinbad the Sailor movies, which had stop action monsters.

Clash of the Titans was one of the last A movies to use stop motion, and was the last one with stop motion great Ray Harryhausen before he retired.

The remake? I totally forgot they made it. You will probably too. Watch this 1981 one instead.

It’s based off Perseus, one of my favorite Greek mythology heroes. He has to kill the Medusa in order to save Andromeda from the Kraken.

Sure, it’s a cheesefest by today’s standards. But that’s because CGI took all the fun out of the movies.

Also contains a lot of nudity for a PG movie, back in the days when people didn’t freak out about nudity like they do today. I swear, I’ve heard twice as many complains about the nudity in Game of Thrones than the graphic violence. (And these same people wonder why they have shitty sexual relationships).

The movie did spectacularly well in the box office. None of the other 80s sword and sandal movies even came close, but that’s because like the movies that followed Conan the Barbarian, they looked like cheap rip offs.

4 – Highlander

This is one of the best Fantasy movies ever made. Sean Connery. A soundtrack by Queen. A 7′ tall bad guy. This movie has it all.

Connor MacLead, a Scottish Highlander, is an immortal who learns that he can only die by being beheaded. His tribe thinks he’s evil and exiles him.

He falls in love with a beautiful young lady, but as she ages, he stays exactly the same.

After her death, he vows to never love again.

Then we find him in 1980s New York City. The movie flashes back between those old Scottish days, other past times, and today (well, 1980s).

Sean Connery plays Ramírez, MacLead’s mentor. He’s another immortal who teaches MacLead that he’s not the only immortal, and when one immortal beheads another, he receives the guy he killed’s powers in something called The Quickening.

Well, why should Ramírez teach MacLead that? Shouldn’t he keep that to himself?

No, because there’s one immortal so bad that we got to team up to make sure that guy doesn’t become The One. That guy is the Kurgan. Really bad dude (the 7′ tall guy).

You know exactly where this movie will head in the grand finale.

It’s definitely worth the ride. Although Connery has a bit part as Ramírez, he plays that part so perfectly. Christopher Lambert (Rayden in Mortal Kombat) plays MacLead very well. And Queen’s songs fit perfectly. It’s almost as if they wrote those songs for the movie. Wink.

Whatever you do though, do not see its sequel. Its sequel is so bad that it poisons this film. I would pay a lot of money to have those horrible hours erased from my memories. (Can you do that with hypnosis?)

3 – Conan the Barbarian

A lot of people would rank this one or two on their list.

The only problem this movie has is that there are so many really good 80s Fantasy movies. It’s like comparing Super Bowl winners.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars in this epic, which never got a decent remake. It’s a shame as Robert E Howard’s Conan is one of my favorite Fantasy characters ever. He deserves a better movie. This was the only one worth a damn. The followup was ok, but lacks the magic this one had.

Yes, magic. Even the sets, designed off of Frazetta paintings, who you know is one of my favorite artists of all time.

It inspired countless rip offs, often done on low budgets in foreign countries.

Conan’s not a good guy. He’s an anti-hero, designed to survive very dark times by any means necessary.

Whereas Conan may not necessarily be a good guy, James Earl Jones plays Thulsa Doom, the perfect bad guy. A sociopathic cult leader whose cult raids villages and steals children.

The pursuit of the perfect steel drives Conan. Also dreams of riches and revenge.

The Akiro character narrates the story, a character that we don’t see until late in the movie. Akiro lives in a hut in the middle of nowhere.

This is a must see. A cult classic. It made Schwarzenegger’s career.

2 – Legend

Mia Sara in Legend
Mia Sara as Princess Lily in Legend (1985)

Ridley Scott previously had hits with Alien and Blade Runner. This time, he did a High Fantasy masterpiece with a young Tom Cruise, before he became a household name with Top Gun.

I remember enjoying this one in the theater, enjoying the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. The European version, which if I’m not mistaken is also the Director’s cut, is even better. It features an orchestrated soundtrack, has darker fairies, and an ambiguous ending. Americans at the time loved happier endings, so we saw the happier version of the movie.

Jack, played by Tom Cruise, is a human who’s wild enough to be in good with the fairy folk. His love is Princess Lily.

One day, he takes her to see the unicorns. Which is strictly forbidden.

Lily does the unthinkable and touches the unicorn, which sets off a permanent winter and other curses.

The goblins are in league with the Prince of Darkness, played by Tim Curry. Curry is so heavily made up and covered that there’s no way to tell it’s him.

Scott does a fantastic job with this movie. The sets look like a magical forest (all shot indoors in make-believe sets) and if I remember correctly, it won a Best Makeup Academy Award.

The movie bombed though in the theaters. I remember loving it and wondered why it wasn’t in the theater that long. Rotten Tomatoes also hates it, which baffles me because they usually have better taste.

It’s actually a pretty good movie. Very much like a fairy tale though, so that’s probably why it’s had such bad reviews.

Unlike some of the other movies, it never really became a cult classic. Still to this day, I’m baffled by why it’s so negatively received. I watched the European version not too long ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

But then again, High Fantasy has a very particular market. Most people want some semblance to the real world. High Fantasy is anything but. You got Lord of the Rings, and, well, Lord of the Rings. Those Wardrobe movies were crap except for the first one which wasn’t too bad. And don’t get me started how bad those Hobbit movies were. (Although the 1977 one was actually pretty good).

1 – Ladyhawke

I’m going to have the same top ten list as everyone else. However, it will be in an entirely different order.

Was Ladyhawke really this good? Well, there’s a certain musician who thinks it was so good she named her stage name after this movie.

More importantly, I think it was.

Before Matthew Broderick became a huge star in Ferris Beuller, he starred in this Fantasy film about a thief who escapes the inescapable dungeons of Aquila, only to find himself in the middle of a terrible curse.

The evil Bishop of Aquila fell in love with Isabeau (played by Michelle Pfeiffer). But she didn’t love him back. So he cursed her and the one she loved with (Navarre played by Rutger Hauer), selling his soul to the Devil in exchange that Isabeau and Navarre cannot touch each other in the flesh. “Then no man shall.”

Navarre turns into a big ass black wolf by night, and Isabeau turns into a hawk at day. Thus the name of the film – Ladyhawke.

Navarre “hires” the thief to break back into the dungeons of Aquila so Navarre can get his revenge on the Bishop.

However, a fifth character, the drunk monk Imperius, learned of a night without day and a day without night (an eclipse, but people back…). Imperius tries to convince Navarre not to kill the Bishop but rather break the curse in this night without day and day without night thing. Of course, Navarre thinks Imperius is just a drunk ass idiot talking drunk ass nonsense.

“Go back to your drink, old man.”

Navarre

Richard Donner directed and produced this movie. It has a disco soundtrack, which is already several years after disco died a terrible death.

Critics didn’t like the movie and it bombed in the box office. Surprise surprise.

Whatever.

I love it and I’ve seen this movie with over a dozen different people now, probably almost ten times. Everyone loved it or at the very least, said it was entertaining.

Then why did it bomb?

It’s Fantasy. Fantasy almost always bombs unless it’s Lord of the Rings. It’s that one genre that everyone claims to loves but nobody actually goes out and buys the tickets. Then they wonder why they don’t make more Fantasy movies. Weird how that works, huh?

Have you seen any of these movies?

So have you seen any of these movies? Do you like any of them?

I know the 80s was before a lot of folks were born. I’m old. But proud to say I lived thru the 80s and as cool as everyone thinks the 80s was, it was even more cool when you were there.

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