Millie Bobby Brown in a promotional shot for Netflix's Damsel

Like ‘Damsel,’ These 10 Films Turn Fairytale Clichés on Their Heads

Netflix released yet another fairytale turned on its head in the form of Damsel, starring the face of Netflix, Millie Bobby Brown. The film follows the trials of Elodie who, after marrying into a rich royal family, is sacrificed to a dragon. The film is yet another to turn the fairytale cliché on its head, so if you liked Damsel, then here are some of our viewing suggestions.

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We are now at an age when, while we can enjoy the Disney princess movies of old for what they were, we can still raise an eyebrow and go, “Really? She’s really that useless?” Women don’t want to be portrayed as damsels in distress in desperate need of a man to come save us, and that has been reflected in the way we are now telling these stories. The role of damsel has been turned on its head, with the princesses taking a much more active role in their own rescuing.

The prince/savior role has also changed. Some stories choose to have the men play more of a supportive role rather than the outright hero of the story—think Kristoff in Frozen—whereas others, such as in the case of Damsel, show the men to be complicit in the villainy of the story. The stories have also become more layered in many ways, with the princesses battling not just against the villain, but also social expectations and tradition. Let’s take a look then at movies that, like Damsel, give more power to their princesses (or leading ladies).

1. Ever After

Drew Barrymore wears the cinderella dress in 'Ever After'.
(20th Century Studios)

Another retelling of the classic Cinderella story is Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore. Barrymore plays the smart and strong-minded Daniella, who, after the death of her father, is made to act as a servant for her stepmother and two stepsisters. The movie somewhat modernizes the characters by giving Daniella a lot more agency, and while she is kind, she is no pushover, fighting tooth and nail against her mother and sisters, and even the prince once they meet. She sees a future that is better for all and has no difficulty voicing her opinion on the matter, changing the prince’s heart and expanding his mind. In the end, she saves herself and agrees to marry the prince because she truly loves him, having spent time getting to know him.

2. The Princess Bride

Cary Elwes as The Man in Black, with his shirt ripped and his shoulder bleeding, holding a rapier in a defensive posture, protecting Robin Wright as The Princess Bride in the film The Princess Bride
(20th Century Studios)

Created as a satire of fairytale stories, The Princess Bride has to go on this list. Princess Buttercup plays the classic damsel who is willing to kill herself rather than marry a man she does not love, rather than fight her way out of it, which may beg the question … why is it included? It gets away with it because the entire film is an over-the-top parody of the genre, taking the tropes and clichés to the extreme rather than turning them inside out. It’s done in such a humorous and sweet way that it has become a cult classic, so if you love fairytales and are looking for something a little bit extra, then we highly suggest The Princess Bride.

3. Enola Holmes 1 & 2

Millie Bobby Brown as Enola and Henry Cavill as Sherlock in Enola Holmes
(Netflix)

If Millie Bobby Brown is the big draw for you then you will likely be interested in Enola Holmes and Enola Holmes 2. Brown plays the younger sister of the famed Detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), and having been raised by a rather remarkable mother, Enola is simply not content with being put in the box of “respectable woman” that her brothers deem necessary. Instead, she uses her intelligence and skills to unravel a mystery and save the young Viscount Tewkesbury from an assassination attempt, proving herself more than capable of looking after herself and worthy of the Sherlock name.

4. The Princess

Joey King, The Princess
(20th Century Studios)

Probably the most similar to Damsel is another recent fairytale retelling, 2021’s The Princess. Starring Joey King, this rock and roll story has the titular princess leave the altar at her arranged marriage, only for her family to be seized by her former fiancé and the princess sent to a tower to await her forced wedding. The princess is having none of it, and having been secretly trained in martial arts, she brutally takes on the soldiers in a bloody, action-filled quest to free her family and herself.

5. Maleficent

Angelina Jolie, Maleficent surrounded by green flames
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Disney has done plenty of live-action adaptions of their classic animation, with many having fallen short of expectations the more they are dragged on. One of the more interesting ones was 2014s Maleficent; rather than a live-action of Sleeping Beauty we are treated to an alternate view of the villain, one who becomes far more sympathetic in this retelling. Much like Elodie in Damsel, Maleficent is betrayed by someone she believed loved her, and her tale of revenge sets the storyline of Sleeping Beauty in motion—a great retelling where hero and villain are not who they seem.

6. Dragonheart

Still from the movie Dragonheart with Dennis Quaid
(Universal Pictures)

If you love the dragon element of Damsel, then the 1996 fantasy Dragonheart may be right up your alley. Much as Damsel is about the complex relationship between man and dragon, so too does Dragonheart play upon this theme. When a dragon gives up half of his heart to save a prince, he is betrayed when that prince shows his true colors as an evil tyrant. The prince’s former mentor believes the dragon’s heart corrupted the prince and sets off to kill all dragons, only to instead ally with the very dragon who shared his heart. The film looks at corruption, betrayal, and alliances formed against all the odds.

7. The Sea Beast

Netflix's official banner for The Sea Beast
(Netflix)

This animation is a wonderful, family-friendly film that combines elements of fairytales, pirate stories, and a little bit of Moby Dick. The people of the land fear the monsters of the sea and have been told time and time again how the monsters used to come to the coast and destroy towns. Now the monsters are kept at bay by the revered monster hunters—that is, until one young wannabe monster hunter, Maisie Brumble, comes face to face with the formidable Red Bluster, who isn’t quite as monstrous as she originally thought. Much like in Damsel, it would appear that the truth has been hidden over centuries, pitting man against beast in a war that only profits the royal crown.

8. Brave

Merida and the Queen argue in Brave
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Another animated film that fits the theme of flipping fairytales on their head is Disney/Pixar’s Brave. Set in Scotland, it follows Merida, daughter of a clan chief, who would much rather be out galloping through the country shooting arrows than learning how to stand correctly, sit correctly, and embroider, no matter how much her mother pushes. Wanting to change her fate, she accidentally turns her mother into a bear and must do everything possible to turn her mother back while also keeping her safe. Brave pushes back against many of the tropes of fairytales and also focuses on the bonds between mothers and daughters, and expectation and tradition vs. being true to who you are.

9. Pan’s Labyrinth 

A mythical faun with horns emerges from the shadows in a scene from 'Pan's Labyrinth'
(Warner Bros.)

Moving away from family-friendly content, we have Pan’s Labyrinth. (Trust me, as someone who watched this as a child, do not let your children watch it … I was terrified!) This dark, twisted take on the genre of fairytales comes from the mind of Guillermo del Toro and is split between the real world of Spain during the Francoist period and the mythical underworld. Both hold perils, and Ofelia, the presumed reincarnation of Moanna, daughter to the King of the Underworld, must overcome both. Full of pain and horrific acts, Pan’s Labyrinth is not a fairytale for the faint hearted, but then again, historically they never were.

10. Crimson Peak

Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) in 'Crimson Peak': a 19th century woman with long blonde hair navigates a dark hallway with a candelabra
(Universal Pictures)

To round out our list, we have another Guillermo del Toro film, Crimson Peak. It’s fair to say that the director loves to blend fairytale fiction with horror, and just as with Pan’s Labyrinth, a female heroine stands at the center of this dark fantasy. There are many parallels between Damsel and Crimson Peak, especially when it comes to love and betrayal. Both Elodie and Edith are tricked into a marriage that will see them sacrificed, and they are not the first ones to have suffered this fate. Helped by the ones that came before them, they discover the truth and work to free themselves through whatever means necessary.

Over the last few decades, the idea of turning fairytales on their heads has become a staple in modern filmmaking. Damsel is one of the more recent examples, but as this list proves, there is a wealth of movies to enjoy that get into the real nitty gritty of fairytale stories. Sometimes getting a happily ever after is something one must fight for themselves.

(featured image: Netflix)


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Author
Laura Pollacco
Laura Pollacco (she/her) is a contributing writer here at The Mary Sue, having written for digital media since 2022 and has a keen interest in all things Marvel, Lord of the Rings, and anime. She has worked for various publications including We Got This Covered, but much of her work can be found gracing the pages of print and online publications in Japan, where she resides. Outside of writing she treads the boards as an actor, is a portrait and documentary photographer, and takes the little free time left to explore Japan.