The best fantasy movies to watch instead of 'Harry Potter,' including 'The Wizard of Oz,' 'Labyrinth,' 'Pan's Labyrinth,' Spirited Away,' and 'The Neverending Story'

Great Fantasy Movies To Watch Instead of ‘Harry Potter’

If you’re in the mood for magic but don’t have the temperament for transphobia, do I have some movies for you. Or, should I say, if you’re trying to feel some fantasy but not bear some bigotry, you gotta feast your eyes on these films.

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No, wait: if you’re feeling sentimental for sorcery without a proclivity for prejudice, mind these here motion pictures!

I’VE GOT IT: If you’re having thoughts of thaumaturgy but lack the disposition for discrimination, you’ve gotta admire these audio-visual presentations!

NO REALLY THIS TIME: IF YOU’VE GOT A PENCHANT FOR PRESTIDIGITATION BUT NOT AN INCLINATION FOR INTOLERANCE, YOU GOTTA CONTEMPLATE THIS CINEMATOGRAPHY.

In other words: If you’re having a hard time revisiting the Harry Potter series because of J.K. Rowling’s persistent transphobia, here are great fantasy movies you can watch instead.

The Wizard of Oz

the cast of the wizard of oz
(Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer)

The Wizard of Oz is one of the earliest films to be canonically claimed by the gays. It has all the magic and wonder that you could possibly desire! A young girl living in a dreary middle-of-nowhere town is suddenly whisked away to a world of color and contentment where fabulous characters abound! It even has a magical article of clothing that is WAY more useful than the sorting hat. One sends you to home and safety, and the other sends you to a dungeon full of coked-out magic supremacists high on whatever they’ve been brewing in potions class. So you can bet that Dorothy is gonna fight that evil witch hell-bent on stealing her iconic footwear.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The cast of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy
(New Line Cinema)

Despite having no “canonically” queer characters, this blanket might be the biggest and gayest of them all. The Lord of the Rings is three movies long! In fact, it just might rule them all. Listen, Sam and Frodo are in love, and NOTHING THAT ANYONE SAYS is gonna change my mind. And all they have to do to solidify their love is travel across the rugged countryside of New Zea—I mean—Middle Earth to drop some evil dead guy’s magic ring in a volcano while some human and elf hotties battle the forces of darkness to save the free world. It’s so Harry Potter. It even has a WIZARD. Gandalf the Gay. Gray? No, gay. I said what I said. C’mon, just look at the belligerent sexual tension between him and Sauron the White. They dated. It was messy. They broke up. Tell me I’m wrong.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Pan and Ofelia in 'Pan's Labyrinth'
(Warner Bros.)

Okay so Pan’s Labyrinth is NOT gonna make you feel all warm and fuzzy like the first two movies on this list, but sometimes we all need a movie that’s gonna make us suffer—just a lil’ bit. Guillermo del Toro‘s fantasy is set during the Spanish Civil War when a young girl named Ofelia basically ventures into the Forbidden Forest and finds a spooky labyrinth where she meets a slew of magical creatures. Fairies! Fauns! Horrifying zombie-men with eyes on their hands! It’s gloriously creepy and not for the faint of heart, but also one of the greatest fairy tales ever told. Without a quaffle in sight.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Azlan and the children from 'The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe'
(Buena Vista Pictures)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is literally about going into the closet and coming out on the other side. Set during World War II, this film is about four kids who discover a mysterious wardrobe hidden in their countryside home. When they step into it, they are magically transported to the fantastical world of Narnia! What’s in Narnia? Talking lions! Confusingly sexy fauns! An evil witch to be defeated! It’s essentially a magical coming-of-age story not unlike Harry Potter, where children grow into fierce mystic warriors (and sell each other out for Turkish delight).

Coraline

Coraline crawling through a tunnel
(Focus Features)

Have you ever felt bored? Stuck in a rut? Do you live in a dreary house with lifeless parents and nothing to do but watch the paint dry on the walls of your cupboard under the stairs—I mean—room? Well, you might just relate to the protagonist of Coraline much more than you do to Gary Potterman! One day, Coraline discovers a mysterious little crawlspace in her house, and when she crawls through said space, she enters a parallel world where everything is fun! Her parents pay attention to her! They sing songs! They have buttons for eyes! Two out of three of those things aren’t creepy at all!

Spirited Away

Haku and Chihiro in 'Spirited Away'
(Studio Ghibli)

Spirited Away is another story about a child whose guardians are a total drag! The young Chihiro is moving across the country with her family in Japan when her mom and dad get lost on the road. They happen upon a totally abandoned village and decide to barge right in there and start searching for signs of life despite Chihiro’s protestations. What they find instead are spirits. When the night falls, the city is overrun with mystical beings from Japanese folklore, and Chihiro and her parents are *ahem* spirited away into a bathhouse run by a capitalistic witch! But her parents don’t mind; they’ve been turned into pigs! Now poor Chihiro has to save her mom and dad before they become some ghostie’s dinner!

The Secret World of Arrietty

Arrietty and Sho in 'The Secret World of Arrietty'
(Studio Ghibli)

The Secret World of Arrietty has no right to go for the emotional jugular as hard as it does. From the creators of Spirited Away comes a film about a young girl named Arrietty who lives with her parents in a house in the countryside. Sounds normal for humans to do, right? Well, here’s the thing: Arrietty and her family aren’t humans! They are a species of magical creature known as “borrowers”: diminutive little people the size of your finger who live in the nooks and crannies of your house and steal your sugar cubes! Everything changes when Arrietty is spotted by a sickly human boy living in the house, and the two strike up an unexpected friendship that borders on painfully impossible romance.

Labyrinth

Jareth the Goblin King and baby Toby in 'Labyrinth'
(Tri-Star Pictures)

Yay! More labyrinths! This movie is far more lighthearted than Pan’s Labyrinth, probably because this labyrinth is managed not by a spooky faun but by David Bowie dressed as a sexy goblin! Labyrinth follows a teenage girl named Sarah who has to navigate a treacherous maze in order to rescue her baby brother from the hands of Bowie’s Goblin King.

Bridge to Terabithia

Jesse and Leslie in Bridge to Terabithia
(Disney)

Another movie that will rip your heart right out of your chest, Bridge to Terabithia is about two friends who create a magical kingdom in the woods. They reign over Terabithia as king and queen, and hold court over imaginary creatures! It’s so cute. Until you realize that they’re both using Terabithia to escape their lonely home lives. You will cry. A lot.

The Neverending Story

A still from the film The NeverEnding Story depicting Noah Hathaway as Atreyu standing in front of the luck dragon Falkor under a starry sky
(Warner Bros.)

The Neverending Story is a bona fide ’80s classic. Fluffy luck dragons! Morally questionable wolves! Banger soundtrack! This film is about a shy boy named Bastian who steals a book called The Neverending Story from a bookstore. The book is about a young warrior who is attempting to find a cure for the dying Empress of Fantasia. As Bastian reads more and more, he realizes that his imagination is magically connected to the characters, and he’s gonna have to make some crucial decisions in order to save their world!

The Percy Jackson Movies

Percy Jackson summons water and lightening while flanked by his two friends in "The Lightning Thief"
(20th Century Studios)

If you want magical children, you can’t go wrong with the Percy Jackson series. And by “series” I mean the “two-logy”, cause they only made two of them. The plot revolves around the sixteen-year-old Perseus “Percy” Jackson, who discovers that he is the son of the Greek god of the seas Poseidon. He goes to Camp Half-blood (which sounds just like a J.K. Rowling minted slur when you think about it) in order to get demigod training with the other half-mortals … “half-mortal” also sounds disrespectful.

Matilda

Miss Honey and Matilda smile at each other while sitting in a parlor in "Matilda"
(Sony Pictures)

Matilda was directed by one of the most magical human beings to ever grace the face of the Earth: Danny DeVito. It centers around the titular young Matilda who suffers Harry Potter levels of abuse from her used car salesman dad and her stay-at-home mom. One day, Matilda is accepted into a school run by the dictatorial Miss Trunchbull, who chooses to remain willfully ignorant of Matilda’s latent intelligence. Her adorable teacher Miss Honey, however, nurtures Matilda despite Miss Trunchbull’s threats. In order to emancipate herself and Miss Honey from the school, Matilda will have to use all the powers at her disposal. Lucky for her, she’s a psychic.

The Shape of Water

A woman wanders a hallway in "The Shape of Water"
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

We all know about Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them… but what about Fantastic Beasts and How To #$%^ Them? That’s the gist of what this movie is about. Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water is about a mute woman who works as a cleaning lady at a top-secret government facility. There she discovers that the U.S. government is studying a merman. A very sexy merman. She begins to develop feelings for the fish/human hybrid, and the pair formulate a plan to escape the facility and live together.

The Craft

Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk, and Rachel True in 'The Craft'
(Columbia Pictures)

Andrew Fleming’s The Craft is Defense Against The Dark Arts gone wrong. In fact, if you leave off “Defense Against” that’s basically the plot of the movie. A high school girl named Sarah joins a group of socially outcasted young women who begin to experiment with witchcraft … but not the “wingardium leviosa” kind. I mean the “commune with evil spirits” kind. One of the group, Nancy Downes, becomes jealous of Sarah’s natural affinity for magic, and begins to delve into the darkest of dark arts in search of power. She finds it … along with all the homicidal impulses that come along with it.

The Golden Compass

A polar bear in armor roars while being held down by ropes in "The Golden Compass"
(New Line Cinema)

If you’re into Harry Potter because it was banned and derided by Christians, you’re gonna LOVE The Golden Compass. Inspired by Phillip Pullman’s best-selling book series of the same name, Chris Weitz’s The Golden Compass tells the story of a young girl named Lyra Belacqua and her anti-establishment adventures. After one of her friends is kidnapped, Lyra embarks on a globe-trotting quest to track him down. In doing so, she discovers a secret scientific phenomenon that a powerful religious organization has tried to cover up. Oh and giant talking polar bears. She finds them too.

(featured image: MGM / Tri-Star / Warner Bros. / Studio Ghibli / The Mary Sue)


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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.