Written by Heidi Berthiaume
7 of the Best – Fantasy Movies of the 80s
At its most basic definition, Fantasy is Not Reality. This makes for a huge playing field from sword-and-sorcery, fairy tales, and mythology, to even ghosts and vampires. For the sake of these 7 of the Best Fantasy Movies of the 80s, I’m narrowing the scope to “fantasy worlds”, thus dropping out films with fantasy elements such as Ghostbusters and adapted mythology such as Clash of the Titans.
Cursed lovers whose animal forms won’t stray and whose human forms can never touch, a plucky thief who talks to God, a magnificent Friesian, Siberian wolf, a red-tailed hawk – lots to love and fall in love with.
Navarre enlists Phillipe to take him back into the city of Aquila to slay the Bishop who cursed his lover Isabeau to be a hawk by day and a human by night, while Navarre remains a human by day and a wolf at night. When the hawk is injured, the group goes to Imperius, the drunken monk who betrayed their love to the Bishop years ago. In hopes of redeeming himself, Imperious tells Phillipe of how the couple can break the curse – by confronting the Bishop in their human forms, something that can only happen during a solar eclipse. Phillipe convinces Isabeau to try Imperious’ plan.
The soundtrack, composed by Andrew Powell and produced by Alan Parsons, reflects the synth-infused style of the 80s well, and can thus sound dated. If one of my three wishes could be more wishes, I’d spend one of those additional wishes on having a fully orchestral soundtrack composed by John Williams created for Ladyhawke. Also, three cheers for a fantasy heroine with short hair!
Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984)
An animated movie from Japan, this is Hayao Miyazaki‘s adaptation of his manga, and often cited as a Studio Ghibli production, though it was released before the studio was formed in 1985. Nausicaä has an English dub of such talents as Patrick Stewart, Uma Thurman, and Edward James Olmos.
Princess Nausicaä loves flying her glider and exploring the Toxic Jungle, taking samples and learning more about the creatures who live there, including the giant, pillbug-like Ohmu. One day, a plane from the kingdom of Tolmekia crashes in her Valley of the Wind. Within the cargo is a young version of the bioweapon that caused the apocalyptic Seven Days of Fire a thousand years ago. Princess Kushana invades The Valley with Tolmekian troops to reclaim the bioweapon, taking Nausicaä and others hostage.
A pilot from Pejite shoots down Kushana’s airship, which crash-lands in the Toxic Jungle. Nausicaä stops several Ohmu from attacking, though she and Asbel, brother of the princess of Pejite, fall below the surface in a hole of quicksand. Here underground, the water and air are pure, leading Nausicaä to realize the jungle plants actually purify; it is the soil itself that is polluted.
With her newfound knowledge, Nausicaä returns with Asbel to Pejite only to find it overrun by jungle insects. The Pejite have been provoking the jungle inhabitants in an effort to destroy the Tolmenkians and the People of the Valley. Hanging a wounded baby Ohmu from an airship, the Pejite lead an army of furious Ohmu against Tolmekian troops who deploy the bioweapon. Nausicaä sets her sights on saving the baby Ohmu in the hopes she can stop the enraged insects from destroying her Valley.
This was my first non-Disney film and it awoke me to the fact that animation was a means to tell a story, to any age audience, and that songs and talking animals were not a requirement. Also, subtitled anime is awesome.
With the well-traveled fantasy plot of save-the-baby-destined-to-destroy-the-great-evil, this collaboration from George Lucas and Ron Howard is a fun, two-hour adventure, showcasing the new special effects of the time. It was nominated for both Sound Effects Editing and Visual Effect Academy Awards, but lost both statues to Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
A baby human is found in a river and brought to Willow, a Nelwyn farmer and hopeful sorcerer. When a hound sent by the evil Queen Bavmorda wrecks the village, the High Aldwin sends Willow and other Nelwyn to return the baby girl to her own kind.
At a crossroads, the party finds Madmartigan, a human trapped in a cage. The other Nelwyn want to leave the baby with this man and return home. Willow and his friend Meegosh refuse, though after spending the night, decide to entrust the baby to Madmartigan’s care after all.
When the baby is stolen by a group of brownies, Willow and Meegosh give chase but are trapped. A Fairy Queen frees them and says the baby is the future princess, the one to bring down the evil queen. The two Nelwyn must save the baby and find the sorceress Fin Raziel.
This new quest reunites Willow with Madmartigan, has the Nelwyn cast a transformation spell (badly), join an army to attack a castle, cast another transformation spell (even more badly), and finally confront Bavmorda herself.
Definitely fuel for my teenage crush on Val Kilmer, this movie has a great heart and goes well with heavily-buttered popcorn.
The Neverending Story (1984)
With a lead song from Limahl, this epic fantasy is an adaptation of the German novel by Michael Ende, who was so displeased with the movie that he sued the producers … and lost.
Bastian is a young boy who hides out in a bookstore to avoid bullies who routinely beat him on his way to school. Warned away from a specific book by the bookseller, Bastian (of course) borrows the book and hides out in the school attic to read.
Thus the audience is introduced to the story of Atreyu, a young warrior sent to find a cure for the illness of the Childlike Empress, ruler of Fantasia. The sicker she becomes, the more The Nothing consumes the land.
Atreyu and his horse Artax visit Moria in the Swamps of Sadness, unaware they are being hunted by the Gmork, a creature summoned by The Nothing. Surviving tragedy and finding allies, Atreyu makes his way to the Southern Oracle, even as Bastian becomes more and more involved in the story, to the point he sees himself in one of the Oracle’s visions.
Fantasia is a lavish world populated by luck dragons, rock biters, gnomes, messengers on racing snails, and more. While the movie starts in the real world, the significant events happen within Fantasia and the resolution melds the two together with a scene that every child who has ever read a fantasy book has likely wished for with all their heart. I know I did.
The Great Conjunction, an alignment of the planet Thra’s three suns, is drawing near. Jen, a Gelfling living with the gentle Mystics, is given the quest of retrieving a crystal shard from the astronomer Aughra and using it to make the cracked Dark Crystal whole. Should he fail, the evil Skeksis will become unstoppable.
At the Skeksis castle, the General and the Chamberlain fight for the throne after the death of the emperor. The General wins and banishes the Chamberlain. He leaves the castle, intent on winning back his place at court by befriending the Gelflings
After visiting Aughra, Jen meets Kira, a female Gelfling with whom Jen shares a psychic connection, and her fuzzy pet full of teeth, Fizzgig. Pursued by the huge, crab-like Garthim sent by the general, the Gelflings slowly learn more of their past and the true history of their world.
With its beautifully textured details and soft colors, The Dark Crystal has few links to its creation date, making it a delight to view again and again. The Pod Dance was a favorite song of mine, right up there with the Cantina Band tune from Star Wars.
In a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” teenage Sarah’s wish that the Goblin King take away her baby brother Toby comes true. Now Sarah has thirteen hours to make it through Jareth’s labyrinth or Toby will be turned into a goblin forever.
Sarah meets a little man named Hoggle who helps her start her journey through the labyrinth. Gathering allies such as the big shaggy beast Luddo and Sir Didymus and Ambrosius, Sarah faces riddles and traps and betrayal on her way to the Goblin City and Jereth’s castle.
Trevor Jones composed the movie’s score and the soundtrack contains five songs recorded by Bowie, with “Underground” also being released in some markets in instrumental and extended dance mix versions.
Having just gained my driver’s license, it was a monthly thrill to drive myself to my friend’s house for the weekend where we would order pizza and watch Labyrinth. Like Sarah, my plush animal friends are still around, should I ever need them.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Likely the most quotable fantasy movie ever, this fairy tale with a modern wrapper is an imminently re-watchable classic (unlike some classics which you watch to say you’ve watched them and then never want to see again).
Based on the 1973 novel by William Goldman, the movie begins with a grandfather at the bedside of his sick grandson. The story the grandfather reads is the heart of the film: the adventures of the farmboy Wesley and his love Buttercup.
Going off to seek his fortune so they can be married, Wesley’s ship is overtaken by the Dread Pirate Roberts. Despondent at hearing of Wesley’s death, for the Dread Pirate leaves no survivors, Buttercup agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck of Florin. Before the ceremony, Buttercup is kidnapped by the Sicilian Vizzini, the giant Fezzik, and the Spanish fencer Inigo Montoya who seeks revenge upon the six-fingered man who killed his father.
The man in black pursues them, taking on each of the kidnappers in turn. When he finally rescues Buttercup, his true identity is revealed as she pushes him off a hilltop. Their further adventures through the Fire Swamp, battling R.O.U.S., surviving being only “mostly dead,” and eventually enlisting the help of Fezzik and Inigo to take on Prince Humperdinck, are the stuff of movie legend.
From the line “As you wish” to “You killed my father. Prepare to die,” it’s easy to find new friends by a shared love of The Princess Bride. And if you don’t know what to watch some evening, this movie is always a good choice.