100 Essential Films of the Fantastic (76-100)


#79 Time Bandits

Part 4 of the 100 Essential Films of the Fantastic. See Part 1 for an introduction. To view all 100, visit the list’s contents page.

 76 Heavy Metal #76 Heavy Metal (1981) D: Gerald Potterton

Animated anthology based on Heavy Metal magazine (which, in turn, was derived from France’s storied Metal Hurlant) drops all traces of SF sophistication in favor of animated sex and violence in large doses. Something of a stoner classic, but a lot of fun sober, too.

 77 Raiders of the Lost Ark  #77 Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) D: Steven Spielberg

The best action movie ever made, hands down. And a brilliant idea by George Lucas – an adventurer archaeologist who investigates the supernatural and occult – brought to life by Steven Spielberg at the giddy height of his powers.

 78 Road Warrior  #78 The Road Warrior (1981) D: George Miller

Or Mad Max 2; the definitive post-apocalyptic film that spawned hundreds of imitations. Really just a Western with an exciting, Stagecoach-inspired finish, but Miller infuses this cocktail with the bizarre and the dangerous.

 Time Bandits  #79 Time Bandits (1981) D: Terry Gilliam

Gilliam began to break free of the Python gang with Jabberwocky (1977), but this feels like his first film proper, a catalog of surreal cartoons delivered in live action. As a kid, the glowing head chasing the time-traveling dwarfs down a secret corridor uncovered in a child’s bedroom terrified me; that the face is God (“The Supreme Being”) is downright subversive. And that ending!

 80 Blade Runner  #80 Blade Runner (1982) D: Ridley Scott

The film that won Philip K. Dick millions of fans (if only he’d lived to see that happen), this Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? adaptation – strongly influenced by Scott’s love of European comic books – is grim, exotic, chillingly beautiful, and seemingly ageless.

 81 Conan the Barbarian  #81 Conan the Barbarian (1982) D: John Milius

Only in an era that spawned the likes of Excalibur and Dragonslayer could an adaptation of a 30’s pulp character (and Marvel comic book) treat its material with such somber gravity. Milius honored Robert E. Howard and Frank Frazetta with his Conan film, but also Nietzsche and Wagner.  The score, by Basil Poledouris, is one of the genre’s very best.

 82 Time Masters  #82 Time Masters (1982) D: René Laloux

Laloux (Fantastic Planet) dreamed of a TV anthology series based on the novels of Stefan Wul, but circumstances led the project to be modified into a single feature-length film. He and co-screenwriter/art designer Moebius weren’t entirely satisfied with the finished product, but it remains a haunting animated film. Laloux would move on to the more fully realized Gandahar (1988), but I revisit this one more often.

 83 Videodrome  #83 Videodrome (1983) D: David Cronenberg

A proto-cyberpunk movie about the dangers of VCRs and satellite television, Cronenberg’s film is hallucinogenic, grotesque, funny, and erotic.

 84 The Company of Wolves  #84 The Company of Wolves (1984) D: Neil Jordan

Around the themes of fairy tales, werewolves, Little Red Riding Hood, and sexual awakening, The Company of Wolves circles and paces like a hungry wolf. A very adult reflection on the storybooks of childhood, and incomparable to anything else in the fantasy genre.

 85 Nothing Lasts Forever  #85 Nothing Lasts Forever (1984) D: Tom Schiller

In a New York City ruled by the fascist Port Authority, a young musician (Zach Galligan) discovers a powerful and secret sect of hobos, and travels to the Moon, where he discovers the love of his life (Lauren Tom, of Futurama). Features cameos from Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Eddie Fisher!

 86 Brazil  #86 Brazil (1985) D: Terry Gilliam

Another story of a young man (Jonathan Pryce) trying to find love in a retro-themed dystopian society, though Gilliam is more cynical about his hero’s prospects. An alternately hilarious and horrifying satire on the life of a dreamer.

 87 Big Trouble in Little China  #87 Big Trouble in Little China (1986) D: John Carpenter

The cult only gets larger every year, as more people catch on to what Carpenter achieved with this wonderfully silly take on martial arts movies, with black magic, demons, and lightning-harnessing villains. The joke is that Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is not the hero – he only thinks he is. And Russell somehow gets away with a 90-minute John Wayne impersonation.

 88 Adventures of Baron Munchausen  #88 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) D: Terry Gilliam

In the third part of Gilliam’s “Dreams” trilogy – which are all on this list because they all feel like essential fantasy movies – an aging and senile Baron Munchausen (John Neville) rediscovers his youth as he embarks on a final adventure with young Sally (Sarah Polley) to find his lost comrades.

 89 Akira  #89 Akira (1988) D: Katsuhiro Otomo

Otomo adapts his manga into a meticulous and apocalyptic animated film: in Neo Tokyo, the government abducts street punk Tetsuo and submits him to tests that unleash a limitless destructive power within him. As he threatens to destroy the city, his childhood friend Kaneda races to stop him. One of the most influential anime films ever made.

 90 Lair of the White Worm  #90 The Lair of the White Worm (1988) D: Ken Russell

Russell’s impish humor is on full display in this adaptation of an obscure Bram Stoker novel. Lady Marsh (Amanda Donohoe) plots to raise an ancient monster from deep underground while she preys upon the countryfolk with her two long teeth. Full of wit, slapstick, literary allusions, and the usual Russell blasphemies.

 91 Until the End of the World  #91 Until the End of the World (1991) D: Wim Wenders

Wenders’ follow-up to Wings of Desire (1987) is kin with his road movies of the 70’s, but with a sci-fi twist: it’s the near future (1999!), and William Hurt and Solveig Dommartin are on the run, recording images on an invention which Hurt plans to deliver to his blind mother so she can witness them. Meandering (the director’s cut is four hours), often confusing, but also meditative, moving, and vital.

 92 City of Lost Children  #92 The City of Lost Children (1995) D: Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marc Caro

The second collaboration between Jeunet & Caro (after the equally worthwhile Delicatessen), about a mad scientist kidnapping children to steal their dreams, is a visually lavish, opium-fueled steampunk fantasy with Rube Goldberg gags and imagination to spare.

 93 Princess Mononoke  #93 Princess Mononoke (1997) D: Hayao Miyazaki

Pick your own favorite Miyazaki film for this list. Mine is Princess Mononoke, which is the first film that really exposed me to Miyazaki’s vision (I’m not counting a badly-dubbed, heavily edited VHS tape of Nausicaa  viewed in the early 90’s). There are no bad guys in this environmentalist fable, just tragic battles waged because of differing points of view – like real life.

 94 Existenz  #94 eXistenZ (1999) D: David Cronenberg

Cronenberg shows us yet another merging of technology with biology: Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law play a virtual-reality video game that connects them via an umbilical cord plugged into a (suggestive) hole opened in their bodies. But the illusion is so convincing that soon they can’t discern what’s reality and what’s a game.

 95 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow  #95 Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004) D: Kerry Conran

A film that was strangely loathed by many fans on its release, despite the fact that it’s a quite loving homage to Max Fleischer Superman cartoons, Flash Gordon/Buck Rogers retro-pulp, and Willis O’Brien & Ray Harryhausen. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow battle giant robots, journey to Shangri-La, uncover a lost kingdom of dinosaurs, and match wits against Sir Laurence Olivier (!). Paltrow has never been so likeable outside of the Iron Man films. At least watch the fantastic scene set in a theater screening The Wizard of Oz first-run.

 96 The Fall  #96 The Fall (2006) D: Tarsem Singh

Tarsem’s best film by far is a personal project, a remake of an obscure Bulgarian picture, Yo Ho Ho (1981). For this fantasy tale told to a child, he prefers location shooting in places that look like special effects – and only augments with CG on occasion. The performance by young Catinca Untaru is captivating.

 97 The Fountain  #97 The Fountain (2006) D: Darren Aronofsky

Aronofsky’s best film takes place simultaneously in three different realities, the past (a search for the Fountain of Youth), present (a man’s wife is diagnosed with cancer), and future (a cosmic journey in a giant bubble) – though only one of them may be real. Aronofsky merges these stories into a seamless whole: each tale overlaps and reflects upon the others.

 98 Pans Labyrinth  #98 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) D: Guillermo del Toro

Del Toro’s adult fairy tale takes place in the fascist Spain of the 1940’s, as a young girl uncovers a secret, violent, and scary Wonderland. A worthy arthouse hit and perhaps his best film.

 99 Coraline  #99 Coraline (2009) D: Henry Selick

Another modern take on Alice in Wonderland, this based on a novel by Neil Gaiman. Selick’s superb stop-motion animation works even better in 3-D on the big screen, as Coraline escapes her boredom by visiting an alternate universe where her parents have buttons for eyes, and give her everything she wants – at a rather severe price.

 Under the Skin #100 Under the Skin (2013) D: Jonathan Glazer

A woman (Scarlett Johansson) roams Scotland picking up men and luring them back to her apartment, a black void where they are slowly absorbed and dissolved, leaving only skin. A Kubrickian science fiction commentary on the male gaze, that also views humanity with a genuinely alien gaze.

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