HBO Max is home to a handful of the most iconic fantasy films ever made, from classics like The Wizard of Oz to more recent hits like The Lord of the Rings and the Studio Ghibli collection. Make the most of this mix of fantasy powerhouses and cult classics.
Here are our picks for fantasy movies ready to stream on HBO Max.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
The Lord of the Rings is a master class in adapting popular books for the screen, merging multiple stories into a cohesive narrative. All fantasy tropes are here: elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs and more. But The Lord of the Rings takes them to new heights with its gripping cinematography, shockingly immersive costumes, and powerful performances. Put another way, this trilogy won 17 Oscars, including 11 wins from 11 nominations for Return of the King. If you’ve persevered, now is the time to watch, and if you’ve seen it before, there’s never a bad time for a rewatch – especially with Amazon’s Rings of Power series coming out this fall.
Spirited Away (2001)
This film about transformation really changed me the first time I saw it. No other film touched me like this one. Arguably the best film from a director responsible for many excellent films, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a little girl who gets lost in a spirit world while her family moves across Japan. The animation is spectacular, and director Hayao Miyazaki’s careful pacing gives each character the perfect amount of time and space, delivering one of the most unique and compelling fantasy films ever made.
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon for 15 years, and while the books’ author has since left fans with more conflicting feelings about the franchise, there’s no denying that the films have been among the most influential fantasy films of the new millennium. All eight films – from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – are available to watch on HBO Max. Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment in the series, is a highlight, as is the two-part finale of Deathly Hallows.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke will scare you. It is a brutal, tragic film that deals with the devastation of nature in the course of industrialization. It’s also the most emotional, harrowing film Miyazaki has ever made. Huge wolves, violent boars, and wriggling parasitic demons all play an important role in a story that features more violence and bloodshed than anything else in the Ghibli collection. That’s part of what makes Mononoke so great – it feels unlike any of Miyazaki’s other films, thanks to its unwavering focus on themes of fear, violence and fighting to protect the things we hold dear.
The Mummy (1999)
Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz star in this action-oriented reimagining of Universal’s classic monster film, which unleashes a cursed ancient Egyptian pharaoh in the 1920s. The Mummy was the eighth highest-grossing film of 1999, surpassing Blair Witch and James Bond at the box office, and has retained much of its original charm. It was meant to be a joke, a flop, but Fraser and Weisz’s performances ground the film with humor and compassion. However, avoid if you don’t like bugs.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Studio Ghibli is often synonymous with Miyazaki, but this film proves that the studio is quite capable of making good films with other directors. Arrietty, an adaptation of Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, focuses on a young girl from a race of tiny humans who “borrow” things like tissue paper and sugar cubes to survive. It’s a sweet little story about growing up, helping others and confronting the uncertainties of the future.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
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A classic fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy as she journeys from Kansas to a land of witches, wizards, living scarecrows and more. Judy Garland shines in her most iconic role as the lost but determined Dorothy. It’s a great early film for children who will enjoy the colorful characters and musical numbers, and adults may appreciate a glimpse into film making 80 years ago.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Oh you thought we were done with the Miyazaki movies? Each of them is worth checking out (Totoro, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Nausicaa are other highlights), but Kiki’s Delivery Service holds a special place in my heart because of how authentic it feels, even as a fantasy film. Kiki is a bright, warm-hearted young witch, and when she sets out on her own for the first time, she must learn to confront her powers, her feelings, and her dreams at the same time. It’s a powerful story, painful at times because it accurately depicts Kiki’s struggles, but it’s an uplifting story for children and adults alike.
Hell Boy (2004)
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
Part superhero action film, part WWII alternate history, part fantasy film about a demon child, Hellboy defies easy categorization. But director Guillermo del Toro weaves it all together into a dark and entertaining story about a man fighting his apparent destiny. Hellboy is a cult classic because it takes its characters seriously and remembers that movies are meant to be entertaining, and Ron Pearlman, who wears polished demon horns while being overly protective of cats, is nothing if not entertaining.
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