Fantasy movies are something I can get behind, and have been for many years. From the magical world of the Harry Potter series to the Lord of the Rings franchise, I have always adored it. However, there’s another genre within fantasy that I’ve also come to adore, and that’s dark fantasy.
With popular movies like Pan’s Labyrinth and others that perfectly encapsulate what the genre is all about, dark fantasy is perfect for those who want a little bit more of a twist to their magic, with some sinister undertones or not-so-good characters. That’s where these picks come in handy. These are some of the best dark fantasy movies that are available to stream (or rent) right now.
Pans Labyrinth (Netflix)
Pan’s Labyrinth, taking place in Spain during the 1940s, tells the story of a little girl who somehow finds herself in a strange fantasy world filled with magical creatures after she and her mother move in with her stepfather. However, she finds that there is more to this world than just its whimsical side - as there is darkness as well.
Guillermo del Toro is a master of fantasy, so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise that one of his most well-known films is here. Everything from its storyline to its characters make Pan’s Labyrinth a movie I could watch over and over, and still never get bored. Something else I love about it is its use of practical effects. The makeup is absolutely stunning, and I’m amazed every time I see it.
Corpse Bride (HBO Max)
Tim Burton definitely knows how to make darker movies, and Corpse Bride is one of those. In this beautifully animated stopmotion film, we follow a young man who is nervous about marrying someone he hardly knows, so he decides to practice his wedding vows in the forest. As he places the ring on a supposed root while speaking, it's revealed that it is actually the finger of a dead woman. His words cause her to rise, and now, she is his corpse bride.
Corpse Bride is such a fun movie, as it not only has elements that I believe younger children would enjoy, such as the animation or the music, and things that adults can love, too. The story of accepting love and moving on with life even once you’re gone is a powerful one, especially with this dark fantasy world of dancing skeletons and strange goons.
The Dark Crystal (Starz)
If you want a dark fantasy from way back, check out The Dark Crystal. Coming from the minds of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, the film takes place on the planet of Thra, a strange world inhabited by interesting creatures, including Jen. He is a gelfling who is tasked with finding a shard, and must use it to heal the titular crystal in order to fulfill an ancient prophecy, having to overcome obstacles such as the Skeksis, dark creatures who wish to stop him.
The premise sounds kinda strange, but hear me out when I say The Dark Crystal is worth your time. This is legit dark fantasy. While there are monsters and strange creatures, some moments really make you wonder why it was marketed as a family movie, when in reality, it's not. Henson, known for The Muppets, created something that is filled with lore, amazing designs, and fascinating puppetry, and it's something everyone who has a love for design should watch.
The City Of Lost Children (Amazon Prime)
In The City of Lost Children, we see a dystopian society, where a scientist is somehow unable to dream, which causes him to age quicker. Soon, he takes it upon himself to try and steal the dreams of children to stop aging, kidnapping them. However, his plans soon start to have repercussions.
The City of Lost Children is one of those films that genuinely makes me shiver, because I hate the idea of someone literally going into my head and stealing my dreams. I may not be a child anymore, but that stuff still scares the crap out of me. What also makes this movie a fun dark fantasy is the scientist’s crew of strange creatures who live with him. Their interactions are really what sell this movie, and make it such a fun re-watch.
Horns (Pluto TV)
In Horns, Daniel Radcliffe stars as a man who wakes up one morning with little horns protruding from his head, and strange powers he didn’t have before. Deciding to make the best out of a bad situation, he uses these powers to hunt down the true killer of his girlfriend (a crime he was falsely accused of) to make sure that she didn’t die in vain.
Horns is certainly less fantasy-ish - meaning you won’t find crazy monsters or intense lore, but it’s certainly dark and has fantasy aspects that I know you would enjoy. Daniel Radcliffe pulls off the evil look, even after playing a hero for more than a decade in the Harry Potter franchise, and the rest of the cast is fantastic as well. Something I really like about it is the build-up of his powers, how he slowly starts to become even scarier over the course of the film, creating even worse situations.
Sleepy Hollow (Starz)
Sleepy Hollow is based on the famous legend of the same name, following a young policeman who is sent to the town to investigate the murders that have been occurring. The only issue is that this murderer seems to be headless.
I gotta say, Sleepy Hollow is such an underrated gem of a movie. I feel like no one ever really talks about how great it is as not only a dark fantasy movie, but a great horror one, as well. Johnny Depp is perfect in the lead role, along with a talented cast who sell this film. What makes this such a great dark fantasy is not only its brilliant art direction, including every scene that has the famous headless horseman, but its dark humor, too. I can’t tell you how many times I laughed during this film, and that’s thanks to its great comedic timing and fun fantasy moments.
A Monster Calls (Netflix)
One of the most recent entries on this list, A Monster Calls is brilliantly done. In this dark fantasy, a young boy is living with his dying mother, is bitter about the situation and wishes to escape from his nightmares. One day, after midnight, he is visited by a strange monster, who offers to tell him three stories in exchange for the boy telling the fourth. He accepts, but this takes him on a long adventure.
A Monster Calls is one of the few on this list that will make you cry. I’m not going to reveal what it’s entirely about, because I feel like its the sort of movie you should watch for yourself, but I will say that the monster is far more than any of us expected, and really takes the young protagonist on a journey that culminates in a climactic, satisfying ending.
Beetlejuice (Pluto TV)
Beetlejuice is a classic dark fantasy movie where a deceased couple starts to haunt their old home. When new inhabitants move in, it doesn't take long for another entity, the titular character, to try and terrify them to make them leave. But, the new owner’s daughter, Lydia, ain’t so easy to scare.
I could go on and on and on about how much I love Beetlejuice. Not only is it a great example of what dark fantasy should look like, with fun monsters and great art direction, but the Beetlejuice cast is phenomenal. Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice? I don’t think he could have been played better. Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis are a great couple, Catherine O’Hara is amazing - heck, even Winona Ryder was brilliant as Lydia. The movie was so popular it even became a Broadway musical.
Crimson Peak (Netflix)
Guillermo del Toro's Crimson Peak follows an author, wishing to write the next big novel, who moves into an old Gothic home with her husband and his sister. Upon arrival, she finds out that there are mysteries in this old house, along with dark secrets of the past. She takes it upon herself to discover what is happening there - and what her strange visions are.
Crimson Peak is a movie that deserved so much more attention when it initially came out. It’s not the standard dark fantasy film, but the elements that it already has (ghost, cool art design, and interesting characters) are enough for anyone to enjoy. Even the horror aspects of this movie are fantastic, making this not only a fun dark fantasy but an excellently done horror movie.
Legend (Amazon Rental)
Now, this is a campy fantasy movie that I adore with all my heart. Legend has one of the simplest premises ever - an evil monster wishes to cover the world in an eternal cloak of darkness by marrying a princess and killing everything that lives. However, a boy in the forest takes it upon himself to stop the monster.
It’s such a shame that Legend wasn’t that big of a hit when it first came out, because it has a lot going for it. Wonderful lore, really cool set design, an interesting story - even the casting was fantastic. The legendary Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness is some of the best casting I think I have ever seen in a dark fantasy movie. Tom Cruise is even awesome in one of his earliest roles. There’s just something about this underappreciated film that I feel needs to be loved a little bit more. Thankfully, you can so that right now.
Coraline (Amazon Rental)
Last but not least, we have Coraline. This famous stopmotion film follows the titular character as she and her family move into a strange house. When she finds a hidden door and opens it one night, it reveals a mirror version of her world, where everyone loves her, except the people have buttons for eyes. However, her trips there start to grow increasingly eerie, and she realizes there is a dark past behind this fantasy realm.
Raise your hand if Coraline terrified you as a child. *Raises hand.*
I definitely can’t be alone in thinking that Coraline had some decently scary moments, especially during the climax. However, Coraline is such a fun movie to watch that I can’t even be mad about it. From the dark fantasy world that she steps into, to the beautiful color scheme and terrifying creatures later on, this stopmotion film is stunningly dark and something that everyone who loves dark fantasy should see.
Fantasy is something we can all get behind, but dark fantasy is truly where it’s at. If you’re looking for your next movie to watch with your friends during movie night, maybe check out one of these. Trust me, you won’t regret it.
Big nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Will forever hate season eight. Superhero and horror geek. And please don't debate me on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!
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