(Photo by TriStar Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection)

35 Best 1980s Fantasy Movies Ranked

Star Wars didn’t just open the floodgates for science fiction and space operas. Fantasy movies also erupted in Skywalker’s wake, offering an arena of dreamy imagination for audiences seeking worlds beyond our own. 1980s fantasies have a distinct feel to them, with their classical and romantic storytelling, top puppetry and makeup, and some early (and dodgy) computer graphics. The Princess Bride is arguably the ultimate ’80s fantasy movie, a postmodern yet timeless tale of true love, piracy, and rodents of unusual size.

For our guide to the best 1980s fantasy movies, we’ve collected practically every movie of the genre with a Tomatometer and ranked them by score, with Certified Fresh films first. Industry originals like Don Bluth (The Secret of NIMH), Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), and Jim Henson (The Dark Crystal) were at their creative height. But even established directors made uncharted moves, like Ridley Scott and Tom Cruise in Legend. The Neverending Story (directed by Wolfgang Petersen) has stuck around because of its featured creatures and heavy emotional beats, while the physically charged fairy tale Labyrinth was a revelation for young women and older children.

Disney turned to the dark side, with the surprisingly violent Dragonslayer and the moody Black Cauldron, a box office bomb that got the studio to lighten up with The Little Mermaid, kicking off their late ’80s and ’90s renaissance. Independent animation took big swings (Heavy Metal, The Last Unicorn), Arnold Schwarzenegger got his break as Conan the Barbarian, and Willow is now summoned back to the Daikini world with a Disney+ series.

And now, as you wish: The best 1980s fantasy movies by Tomatometer, with Certified Fresh films first. Alex Vo

#1

The Princess Bride (1987)
97%94%

#1
Adjusted Score: 102031%
Critics Consensus: A delightfully postmodern fairy tale, The Princess Bride is a deft, intelligent mix of swashbuckling, romance, and comedy that takes an age-old damsel-in-distress story and makes it fresh.
Synopsis: A fairy tale adventure about a beautiful young woman and her one true love. He must find her after a... [More]
Directed By: Rob Reiner

#2

The Little Mermaid (1989)
93%88%

#2
Adjusted Score: 97673%
Critics Consensus: The Little Mermaid ushered in a new golden era for Disney animation with warm and charming hand-drawn characters and catchy musical sequences.
Synopsis: In Disney's beguiling animated romp, rebellious 16-year-old mermaid Ariel (Jodi Benson) is fascinated with life on land. On one of... [More]
Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker

#3

The Secret of NIMH (1982)
93%85%

#3
Adjusted Score: 97202%
Critics Consensus: The Secret of NIMH seeks to resurrect the classical style of American animation and succeeds, telling a mature story with rapturous presentation.
Synopsis: Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman), a widowed mouse, must move her children out of their home in a field before the... [More]
Directed By: Don Bluth

#4
Adjusted Score: 94395%
Critics Consensus: Bursting with Terry Gilliam's typically imaginative flourishes, this story of a possibly deranged Baron recounting his storied life is a flamboyant and witty visual treat.
Synopsis: During the "Age of Reason" of the late 18th century, the Turkish army lays siege to a European city where... [More]
Directed By: Terry Gilliam

#5

Time Bandits (1981)
90%77%

#5
Adjusted Score: 92657%
Critics Consensus: Time Bandits is a remarkable time-travel fantasy from Terry Gilliam, who utilizes fantastic set design and homemade special effects to create a vivid, original universe.
Synopsis: Young history buff Kevin (Craig Warnock) can scarcely believe it when six dwarfs emerge from his closet one night. Former... [More]
Directed By: Terry Gilliam

#6

Flash Gordon (1980)
83%69%

#6
Adjusted Score: 86204%
Critics Consensus: Campy charm and a knowing sense of humor help to overcome a silly plot involving a spacefaring ex-football player, his adoring bevy of groupies, and a supervillain named Ming the Merciless.
Synopsis: Although NASA scientists are claiming the unexpected eclipse and strange "hot hail" are nothing to worry about, Dr. Hans Zarkov... [More]
Directed By: Mike Hodges

#7

The Neverending Story (1984)
83%81%

#7
Adjusted Score: 85226%
Critics Consensus: A magical journey about the power of a young boy's imagination to save a dying fantasy land, The NeverEnding Story remains a much-loved kids adventure.
Synopsis: On his way to school, Bastian (Barret Oliver) ducks into a bookstore to avoid bullies. Sneaking away with a book... [More]
Directed By: Wolfgang Petersen

#8

The Dark Crystal (1982)
77%81%

#8
Adjusted Score: 79670%
Critics Consensus: The Dark Crystal's narrative never quite lives up to the movie's visual splendor, but it remains an admirably inventive and uniquely intense entry in the Jim Henson canon.
Synopsis: Jen (Stephen Garlick), raised by the noble race called the Mystics, has been told that he is the last survivor... [More]
Directed By: Jim Henson, Frank Oz

#9

Excalibur (1981)
73%80%

#9
Adjusted Score: 78730%
Critics Consensus: John Boorman's operatic, opulent take on the legend of King Arthur is visually remarkable, and features strong performances from an all-star lineup of British thespians.
Synopsis: The magical sword of Excalibur starts off in the hands of British lord Uther Pendragon (Gabriel Byrne) and then, years... [More]
Directed By: John Boorman

#10

Quest for Fire (1981)
88%75%

#10
Adjusted Score: 88755%
Critics Consensus: Its characters can't do much more than grunt, but that doesn't keep Quest for Fire from offering a deeply resonant -- and surprisingly funny -- look at the beginning of the human race.
Synopsis: In the prehistoric world, a Cro-Magnon tribe depends on an ever-burning source of fire, which eventually extinguishes. Lacking the knowledge... [More]
Directed By: Jean-Jacques Annaud

#11

Dragonslayer (1981)
83%62%

#11
Adjusted Score: 84560%
Critics Consensus: An atypically dark Disney adventure, Dragonslayer puts a realistic spin -- and some impressive special effects -- on a familiar tale.
Synopsis: A terrible dragon is terrorizing the medieval land of Urland in the 6th century. Representatives from the kingdom seek the... [More]
Directed By: Matthew Robbins

#12

Labyrinth (1986)
75%86%

#12
Adjusted Score: 78445%
Critics Consensus: While it's arguably more interesting on a visual level, Labyrinth provides further proof of director Jim Henson's boundless imagination.
Synopsis: Teenage Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) journeys through a maze to recover her baby brother (Toby Froud) from a goblin king (David... [More]
Directed By: Jim Henson

#13

The Last Unicorn (1982)
75%86%

#13
Adjusted Score: 75836%
Critics Consensus: The Last Unicorn lacks the fluid animation to truly sparkle as an animated epic, but offbeat characters and an affecting story make it one of a kind for the true believers.
Synopsis: In this animated musical, the villainous King Haggard (Christopher Lee) plots to destroy all the world's unicorns. When a young... [More]

#14

Fire and Ice (1983)
71%53%

#14
Adjusted Score: 21711%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: This fantastical animated movie by cult filmmaker Ralph Bakshi finds the villainous Nekron and his mother, Queen Juliana, attacking the... [More]
Directed By: Ralph Bakshi

#15

Highlander (1986)
70%79%

#15
Adjusted Score: 72225%
Critics Consensus: People hate Highlander because it's cheesy, bombastic, and absurd. And people love it for the same reasons.
Synopsis: When the mystical Russell Nash (Christopher Lambert) kills a man in a sword fight in a New York City parking... [More]
Directed By: Russell Mulcahy

#16
#16
Adjusted Score: 67213%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A Hobbit faces the powers of darkness as he tries to destroy the Ring of Doom. Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's... [More]

#17
#17
Adjusted Score: 61481%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A medieval prince (Lee Horsley) rescues a damsel (Kathleen Beller) and avenges his slain family with a triple-edged sword.... [More]
Directed By: Albert Pyun

#18

Heavy Metal (1981)
66%67%

#18
Adjusted Score: 67560%
Critics Consensus: It's sexist, juvenile, and dated, but Heavy Metal makes up for its flaws with eye-popping animation and a classic, smartly used soundtrack.
Synopsis: Adventures from deep space to futuristic New York, and beyond. Each world and story is dominated by the presence of... [More]
Directed By: Gerald Potterton

#19

Conan the Barbarian (1982)
65%74%

#19
Adjusted Score: 67060%
Critics Consensus: Though Conan may take itself too seriously for some, this adventure film about a former slave seeking vengeance is full of quotable Schwarzenegger lines and gritty action.
Synopsis: Orphaned boy Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is enslaved after his village is destroyed by the forces of vicious necromancer Thulsa Doom... [More]
Directed By: John Milius

#20

Ladyhawke (1985)
65%74%

#20
Adjusted Score: 66088%
Critics Consensus: There's pacing problems, but Ladyhawke has an undeniable romantic sweep that's stronger than most fantasy epics of its ilk.
Synopsis: Upon breaking out of a dungeon, youthful thief Phillipe Gaston (Matthew Broderick) befriends Capt. Navarre (Rutger Hauer), a man with... [More]
Directed By: Richard Donner

#21

Clash of the Titans (1981)
63%70%

#21
Adjusted Score: 65583%
Critics Consensus: A goofy, old-school sword-and-sandal epic, Clash of the Titans mines Greek mythology for its story and fleshes it out with Ray Harryhausen's charmingly archaic stop-motion animation techniques.
Synopsis: Perseus (Harry Hamlin), son of the Greek god Zeus (Laurence Olivier), grows up on a deserted island. His destiny is... [More]
Directed By: Desmond Davis

#22

The Black Cauldron (1985)
55%48%

#22
Adjusted Score: 55359%
Critics Consensus: Ambitious but flawed, The Black Cauldron is technically brilliant as usual, but lacks the compelling characters of other Disney animated classics.
Synopsis: In the land of Prydain, lowly pig herder Taran (Grant Bardsley) dreams of becoming a gallant knight. Young Taran receives... [More]
Directed By: Ted Berman, Richard Rich

#23

Return to Oz (1985)
54%71%

#23
Adjusted Score: 55811%
Critics Consensus: Return to Oz taps into the darker side of L. Frank Baum's book series with an intermittently dazzling adventure that never quite recaptures the magic of its classic predecessor.
Synopsis: Dorothy discovers she is back in the land of Oz, and finds the yellow brick road is now a pile... [More]
Directed By: Walter Murch

#24

Willow (1988)
53%79%

#24
Adjusted Score: 56188%
Critics Consensus: State-of-the-art special effects and an appealing performance from Warwick Davis can't quite save Willow from its slow pace and generic story.
Synopsis: Enter the world of "Willow." Journey to the far corners of your imagination, to a land of myth and magic,... [More]
Directed By: Ron Howard

#25

The BeastMaster (1982)
46%54%

#25
Adjusted Score: 43278%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Prehistoric Dar (Marc Singer) uses ESP with animals to save a slave girl (Tanya Roberts) from a sorcerer (Rip Torn).... [More]
Directed By: Don Coscarelli

#26

Erik the Viking (1989)
47%58%

#26
Adjusted Score: 40381%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: A Viking with a conscience, Erik (Tim Robbins) tires of pillaging and decides to set out on a quest. When... [More]
Directed By: Terry Jones

#27

Legend (1985)
41%73%

#27
Adjusted Score: 43533%
Critics Consensus: Not even Ridley Scott's gorgeously realized set pieces can save Legend from its own tawdry tale -- though it may be serviceable for those simply looking for fantasy eye candy.
Synopsis: Darkness (Tim Curry) seeks to create eternal night by destroying the last of the unicorns. Jack (Tom Cruise) and his... [More]
Directed By: Ridley Scott

#28

Happily Ever After (1993)
40%52%

#28
Adjusted Score: 28379%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: Snow White tries to rescue her prince with the seven dwarfs' cousins, the dwarfelles.... [More]
Directed By: John Howley

#29

Krull (1983)
30%51%

#29
Adjusted Score: 30978%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: On the planet of Krull, an evil creature called the Beast decimates the world's army and kidnaps the lovely Princess... [More]
Directed By: Peter Yates

#30

Sheena (1984)
22%32%

#30
Adjusted Score: 19929%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: The Zambouli tribe raise a young white orphan whom their shaman believes to have been sent as part of a... [More]
Directed By: John Guillermin

#31

Conan the Destroyer (1984)
27%38%

#31
Adjusted Score: 27823%
Critics Consensus: Conan the Destroyer softens the edges that gave its predecessor gravitas, resulting in a campy sequel without the comparative thrills.
Synopsis: In his second cinematic adventure, the mighty warrior Conan (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is tricked into working for the scheming Queen Taramis... [More]
Directed By: Richard Fleischer

#32
#32
Adjusted Score: 23061%
Critics Consensus: Masters of the Universe is a slapdash adaptation of the He-Man mythos that can't overcome its cynical lack of raison d'etre, no matter how admirably Frank Langella throws himself into the role of Skeletor.
Synopsis: When the evil Skeletor (Frank Langella) finds a mysterious power called the Cosmic Key, he becomes nearly invincible. However, courageous... [More]
Directed By: Gary Goddard

#33

Hercules (1983)
22%26%

#33
Adjusted Score: 12041%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: In this adaptation of the Greek myth, Hercules (Lou Ferrigno) -- a semi-divine being -- squares off against King Minos... [More]
Directed By: Lewis Coates

#34

Red Sonja (1985)
21%28%

#34
Adjusted Score: 22248%
Critics Consensus: Dull, poorly directed, and badly miscast, Red Sonja is an uninspired conclusion to Schwarzenegger's barbarian trilogy.
Synopsis: Power-hungry Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman) captures the priestesses guarding the Talisman, a mystical orb that created and can destroy the... [More]
Directed By: Richard Fleischer

#35

The Ewok Adventure (1984)
21%44%

#35
Adjusted Score: 16470%
Critics Consensus: No consensus yet.
Synopsis: When a family's spacecraft crashes on the forest moon of planet Endor, teenage son Mace (Eric Walker) and his little... [More]
Directed By: John Korty