The 1980s was a golden era for fantasy movies, and it produced an overabundance of iconic films that continue to captivate audiences to this day. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most popular fantasy movies from that era, including their release dates, synopses and reception:

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(1) Legend (1985)

Synopsis: “Legend” is a dark fantasy film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tim Curry and Tom Cruise. It follows the journey of a young hero, Jack (played by Tom Cruise), who must rescue Princess Lili from the clutches of the Lord of Darkness (played by Tim Curry) in a mystical, enchanted forest.

Reception: While “Legend” received mixed reviews upon its release, it has since gained a cult following for its stunning visuals and Tim Curry’s memorable performance.

 

(2) The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Synopsis: Based on the novel by Michael Ende, “The NeverEnding Story” tells the story of a young boy, Bastian, who becomes engrossed in a magical book and discovers a world of fantastical creatures and adventures within its pages.

Reception: The film was a critical and commercial success, praised for its imaginative storytelling and special effects.

 

(3) Labyrinth (1986)

Synopsis: Directed by Jim Henson and starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, “Labyrinth” is a coming-of-age fantasy film. It follows Sarah’s quest to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King’s labyrinth.

Reception:While it was not a major success at the box office, “Labyrinth” has since become a beloved cult classic, cherished for its puppetry and David Bowie’s iconic performance.

 

(4) The Princess Bride (1987)

Synopsis: “The Princess Bride” is a whimsical fairy tale adventure directed by Rob Reiner. It weaves a tale of love and adventure as a young woman, Buttercup, and her true love, Westley, embark on a quest to rescue her from an unwanted marriage.

Reception: The film received widespread acclaim for its humour, romance, and memorable characters, making it a beloved classic.

 

(5) Willow (1988)

Synopsis: Directed by Ron Howard and produced by George Lucas, “Willow” is an epic fantasy film that follows a young farmer who must protect a special baby from an evil queen.

Reception: While it received mixed reviews upon release, “Willow” has since garnered a dedicated fan base and is celebrated for its adventurous spirit.

 

(6) Beetlejuice (1988)

Synopsis: Directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton, “Beetlejuice” is a dark fantasy-comedy about a recently deceased couple who hire a mischievous “bio-exorcist” to scare away the new occupants of their former home.

Reception: “Beetlejuice” received critical acclaim for its unique blend of humour and horror, as well as Michael Keaton’s iconic performance as the titular character.

 

(7) Gremlins (1984)

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Synopsis: This horror-comedy film follows a young man who receives a cute, furry creature called a Mogwai as a pet but inadvertently unleashes chaos when the creatures transform into mischievous gremlins.

Reception: “Gremlins” was a commercial success and received positive reviews for its blend of horror and humour.

 

(8) Ghostbusters (1984)

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Synopsis: “Ghostbusters” is a supernatural comedy directed by Ivan Reitman. It follows a team of scientists who start a paranormal extermination service in New York City to combat a supernatural threat.

Reception: “Ghostbusters” was a massive box office hit and received critical acclaim for its humour and memorable characters.

 

(9) Teen Wolf (1985)

Synopsis: Starring Michael J. Fox, “Teen Wolf” is a teen comedy with a supernatural twist. It follows a high school student who discovers he can transform into a werewolf and explores the perks and challenges of this newfound ability.

Reception: “Teen Wolf” was a commercial success and is remembered for its light-hearted take on teen angst and the supernatural.

 

(10) Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Synopsis: The Indiana Jones series, created by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, follows the adventures of archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as he travels the globe in search of ancient artifacts while facing dangerous adversaries.

Reception: The Indiana Jones series, which began with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981, was highly successful and has been praised for its action, adventure, and iconic character.

 

(11) Splash (1984)

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Synopsis: Directed by Ron Howard, “Splash” is a romantic comedy with a fantasy twist. It tells the story of a man who falls in love with a mysterious woman who happens to be a mermaid.

Reception: “Splash” received positive reviews for its charm and humour, marking a successful entry in the romantic fantasy genre.

 

(12) The Dark Crystal (1982)

Synopsis: In the mystical world of Thra, Gelfling Jen embarks on a quest to heal the corrupted Dark Crystal and restore balance, encountering allies and uncovering the truth about the malevolent Skeksis.

Reception: “The Dark Crystal” received mixed reviews upon its 1982 release, praised for groundbreaking puppetry and imaginative world-building but critiqued for a dark narrative; however, over time, it has gained a cult following, celebrated for its artistic achievements and contribution to puppetry in filmmaking.

 

(13) BIG (1988)

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Synopsis: “BIG” is a fantasy comedy starring Tom Hanks as a young boy who wishes to be “big” and wakes up in the body of an adult, leading to a series of comical adventures.

Reception: “BIG” was well-received for its blend of humour and heart, with Tom Hanks’s performance earning particular praise.

 

14. Excalibur (1981)

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Synopsis: “Excalibur” is a visually stunning retelling of the Arthurian legend, chronicling the rise and fall of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table. Directed by John Boorman, the film blends myth and magic with a dark, operatic style.
Reception: The film received praise for its visual splendor and epic scope, though some critics found its narrative disjointed.

 

15. Lady Hawke (1985)

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Synopsis: “Ladyhawke” follows the story of a young thief who escapes the dungeons of a medieval bishop and encounters a cursed knight and his lady, who transform into a wolf and a hawk, respectively. Directed by Richard Donner, the film blends fantasy and romance in a medieval setting.
Reception: The film was generally well-received, with particular praise for its performances and the unique blend of romance and fantasy, though some critics were divided on its modern musical score.

 

16. Dragonslayer (1981)

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Synopsis: “Dragonslayer” tells the tale of a young sorcerer’s apprentice who must confront a fearsome dragon to save a kingdom’s princess from being sacrificed. Directed by Matthew Robbins, the film is noted for its special effects and dark, realistic approach to fantasy.
Reception: The film was praised for its groundbreaking special effects and darker tone, though it underperformed at the box office compared to other fantasy films of its time.

 

17. Krull (1983)

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Synopsis: “Krull” is a science fantasy adventure that follows a prince and his allies on a quest to rescue his bride from an alien invader in a magical world. Directed by Peter Yates, the film combines elements of traditional fantasy with science fiction.
Reception: Despite its ambitious scope and elaborate production design, the film received mixed reviews and was a box office disappointment.

 

18. Beastmaster

Lee Holdridge - The Beastmaster - Theme [Extended & Remastered by Gilles  Nuytens]

Synopsis: “The Beastmaster” follows the journey of a young warrior with the ability to communicate with animals as he seeks to avenge his father’s death and thwart a malevolent priest. Directed by Don Coscarelli, the film blends sword-and-sorcery with a unique protagonist’s power.
Reception: The film gained a cult following for its imaginative premise and engaging adventure, despite mixed critical reviews at its release.

 

19. Sword and the Sorcerer

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Synopsis: “The Sword and the Sorcerer” centers on a mercenary with a magical three-bladed sword who helps a princess overthrow a tyrant. Directed by Albert Pyun, the film is a quintessential 80s sword-and-sorcery adventure with notable special effects.
Reception: It was a box office success and became a cult classic, although critics were mixed, often citing its campy tone and uneven storytelling.

 

20. Conan (both films)

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Synopsis: “Conan the Barbarian” follows the titular hero’s quest for vengeance against the warlord who slaughtered his tribe, while “Conan the Destroyer” depicts his journey to rescue a princess and secure a powerful artifact. Directed by John Milius and Richard Fleischer respectively, the films are known for their muscular protagonist, epic battles, and mythic themes.
Reception: “Conan the Barbarian” was critically acclaimed for its epic scope and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s breakout performance, while “Conan the Destroyer” received mixed reviews, with praise for its action sequences but criticism for a lighter tone and less cohesive plot.

 

These fantasy films from the 1980s have left an indelible mark on the world of cinema, captivating audiences with their imaginative storytelling, memorable characters, and enduring appeal. Many of them continue to be cherished and celebrated by generations of moviegoers.