I love movies. I'll watch pretty much anything—with a few exceptions (I'm looking at you 50 Shades of Grey). From sci-fi, to horror, to comedy, there are good films and there are bad films. Then there are the films which are just... underappreciated.
These are films which were either really good but have since been kind of lost in the newer, "cooler" films, or were really fun—but were critically panned and subsequently forgotten.
With that in mind, I thought I'd do a series of lists of underappreciated films. So, here we go; let's get this party started with five underappreciated fantasy films!
Number 5: 'Immortals' (2011)
Immortals is the youngest film on this list. Released in 2011, the film received a mixed-to-positive response from critics who praised the performances of the cast, visuals, costumes, production design, and so on while criticizing the film's story, script, and lack of character development. The film was made on a budget of $75 million and went on to make $226.9 million at the box office.
The film tells the story of a warrior, Theseus, as he searches for the mythical Epirus Bow—a weapon of extraordinary destructive power which was lost when the gods went to war thousands of years earlier—to keep it out of the hands of the vengeful King Hyperion and prevent the release of the titans.
Now, the plot is an amalgamation of stories from Greek mythology: Theseus, the Minotaur and the Titanomachy... sort of. Mythology buffs who watched this probably noticed this early on, but only certain parts of these myths are actually used. Much of the film is focused on the Epirus Bow, something I wasn't.
The Titanomachy is the war that Zeus led against his father Cronus (or is it Kronos?).
The story of Theseus (his Six Labors, the Marathonian Bull, and so on) is hardly present—in fact if you want to be picky you could say that Theseus is the only part of the story present. Only a small part of the Minotaur story is present—the part where Theseus kills it—other than that there's little to tie the films to the myths... especially since even the Minotaur in the film is completely wrong!
I won't go into all the details now because if I did we'd be here for ages.
Overall, the film is pretty good. It's a fun action film with impressive performances from the cast (seriously, they made the stilted speech of the script actually work). It's kind of a shame, but every time someone talks about this film they focus on the negative aspects with barely a mention to the positive ones.
Number 4: 'Legend' (1985)
This 1985 classic was directed by Ridley Scott (yes, the guy who directed Alien) and stars Tom Cruise, Mia Sara and Tim Curry. It was nominated for several awards upon its release, including: Best Special Effects, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and a few others.
The story is your stereotypical hero's journey: Darkness (Tim Curry) sends out his minions to kidnap and kill a pair of unicorns, and bring their horns as proof the deed was done—this is to create eternal night or something.
Jack (Tom Cruise) and a motley crew of forest dwellers set out to thwart Darkness's plans, restore light to the world and rescue the beautiful and impetuous Princess Lili (Mia Sara).
Legend is a fantastic film to watch if you're looking to get into fantasy films, and considering that it was made in 1985, the effects do, for the most part, hold up quite nicely. Unfortunately, the film is a bit mixed-up at times, and so some of the comedy elements fall flat more often than not. The film received a mixed reception when it was released, but has since become a cult favorite film.
It's also a personal favorite of mine and one of only a few fantasy films I can comfortably recommend for family viewing—in spite of it's darker, more intense moments.
Number 3: 'Willow' (1988)
Not many people that I've spoken to over the last few years have been aware of Willow... I'm not going to lie—that's actually kinda sad.
The film's plot follows the character of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis), a Nelwyn farmer who ends up on a quest with Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) to save an infant princess from the evil queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh).
I'm not saying more on the plot of the film; I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet seen it. I will say, however, that this is probably one of the most impressive fantasy films I've seen in years. In fact, if I'm being completely honest; the only films that come to mind as an equal would be the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Much like Legend, most of the effects were done practically with puppets, or makeup, or some other movie trick, and, while some of them may look a little silly, the effects work does hold up quite well. Willow is not only one of my personal favorite films, it's required viewing in my family. If you haven't seen it then I highly recommend checking it out; it's well worth a watch.
Number 2: 'Red Sonja' (1985)
Okay, by show of hands... wait... no, that's just silly; I can't see your hands. *sigh* Let's try this again, how many of you readers have actually seen this film? I'm imagining very few of you and that's not too surprising. Red Sonja is, by far, one of the most obscure films on this list. It's also one of the most misunderstood films in my opinion.
The story follows a woman named Sonja as she sets out to stop the evil queen Gedren (played by Sandahl Bergman) from destroying the world with a mystical talisman. She is accompanied by Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a young prince, and his servant.
Released by MGM and United Artists in 1985, the film garnered a largely negative reception. Red Sonja is the third in a set of sword and sorcery films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and, like its predecessors (Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer), is based on the character created by Robert E. Howard.
Red Sonja was produced on a budget of $17.9 Million but only pulled in $6.9 Million at the box office. Now, I can probably guess what you're thinking: "How can a film that lost $10 million be any good?"
Well... by being campy and fun. I know it sounds weird but hear me out.
The film isn't great, that much I admit quite freely. The acting is corny, the fight scenes do sometimes drag, and the pacing is a bit erratic; but it's still a fun romp. Schwarzenegger is clearly having an absolute blast with the role of Kalidor. Nielsen and the other members of the cast really tried to make it work and they have a few good moments here and there, but it wasn't quite enough.
All that said, the film has garnered something of a cult following in the years since its release and it's worth a look if you're into this kind of film.
Some Quick Honorable Mentions:
I had to put these on the list somewhere...
'Conan the Destroyer' (1984)
The 1984 sequel to Conan the Barbarian sees Conan take a job protecting a princess on a journey to collect a sacred horn and subsequently from an evil queen bent on world domination. What's with classic 80s flicks and evil queens anyways?
The film grossed $31 million at the box office on it initial release on a budget of only $18 million—not exactly a smash hit but it's better than nothing. Conan the Destroyer is a bit more... humorous than its predecessor (Conan the Barbarian) which made for a more entertaining picture all around.
'Clash of the Titans' (1981)
I almost put the 2010 remake in this spot but I figured fewer people would know about the original.
This film is a must-watch for any mythology buffs out there. It's corny, much like other films of the time, but it's also well-paced, has some pretty good effects work (although many of the effects don't hold up as well now), and has a fantastic cast.
The plot follows the myth of Perseus as he seeks to save the beautiful princess Andromeda from a mythical beast called the Kraken... I'd like to say more but that'd spoil the film—unless everyone who's reading this has seen the 2010 version that is.
It's worth a look in spite of it's dated effects and cliched story; loads of fun to watch once you get into it. It's a shame not many people talk about this one.
Number 1: 'Excalibur' (1981)
I haven't met a whole lot of people who've seen this one and, looking back on the film, I can understand why.
Don't get the wrong idea, this is an excellent film, but it's also very slow in some place.
Excalibur is the story of King Arthur and documents his time as king from the day he pulls the mythical sword Excalibur from the stone to the day he dies at the hand of Mordred and is taken to the island of Avalon.
King Arthur is probably one of the best known fantasy stories ever known. Even if you've never seen any of the many films or read any Arthurian literature, you've likely heard of the character and his exploits. Pulling Excalibur from the stone, the Knights of the Round Table, Lancelot and Guinevere's romance, the Death of Arthur at the hand of Mordred, and Galahad returning Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake are all part of the legend of King Arthur.
The story and pacing are pretty good, the music and performances are fantastic and the makeup and special effects, while dated, are still visually very impressive!
Now, I first saw this film when I was about 10 or 12... yeah, I was way too young to watch this when I did. It's pretty tame compared to what we have today but there are a few scenes which kids shouldn't, in my opinion, be allowed to see.
Final Thoughts: What do you all think?
So, those are my picks for five underappreciated fantasy flicks. Now, I'd like to know your thoughts. Have you seen any of these films? Which ones? What did you think of them?
You guys can hit me up on Twitter and let me know.