The greatest fairy tale movies are often the ones that ignite your imagination while also telling a story that imparts a decent life lesson. Most of them are child-friendly, while some are strictly for adults. Our favorite, in fact, is one that can only truly be appreciated when you are older. However, even those ones focused on the kids still frequently feature terrifying humans – cannibalistic granny, anyone? Still, most of these whimsical flights of fancy are harmless enough, provided their parables shine through all of that mob justice and burning pitchforks malarkey.
The below 50 picks are some of our favorite fairy tale films. They come from all decades, though there are few recent picks as these sorts of movies seem to have fallen out of favor with mainstream Hollywood. If you’re looking for a warm blanket of a movie, you could do worse. So, sit back, slip off those enchanted slippers and grab a warm, somehow sentient mug of coffee – these are the top 50 greatest fairy tale films of all.
50. The Brothers Grimm (2005)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Terry Gilliam’s fantastical account of fairy tale spinners Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm is not without its flaws (Peter Stromare’s ludicrously OTT performance chief among them), but it does allow the director free reign to let his imagination run wild. As a consequence, it’s a visual delight if nothing else.
Most Magical Moment: The arrival of a horse with a taste for children and the ability to belch out spider-web at an alarming rate.
49. A Tale Of Two Sisters (2003)
The Fairy Tale Movie: This Asian horror is loosely based upon an old Korean folk story and runs with the traditional fairy tale plot devices of a wicked stepmother, a coming of age journey and a liberal dose of the supernatural.
Most Magical Moment: The opening of the wardrobe door. We won’t spoil it for you…
48. Snow White: A Tale Of Terror (1997)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Snow White gets a Gothic overhaul in this grisly, dwarf-free tale. Monica Keena plays the Snow character, with Sigourney Weaver hamming it up as her increasingly demented stepmother. Blackly melodramatic throughout, there’s no happy ending to be had here
Most Magical Moment: Any of Weaver’s histrionic mirror scenes in which she has it out with her twisted reflection.
47. The Snow Queen (1995)
The Fairy Tale Movie: An animated charmer starring Helen Mirren in the title role as the wicked queen with plans to turn the entire world into her icy play-thing. David Jason, Rik Mayall, Hugh Laurie and Imelda Staunton are among the stellar vocal cast.
Most Magical Moment: The reindeer assisted escape from the Rat King’s castle is an adrenaline-soaked interlude.
46. Freeway (1996)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland star in this gritty crime flick loosely based around the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Instead of a big, bad wolf, Sutherland’s Bob Wolverton (a serial killer and rapist, no less) is the villain. As you can probably tell, it’s not for kids
Most Magical Moment: When Witherspoon turns the tables on Sutherland, shooting him several times with her hitherto-concealed firearm. Take that, Wolfie!
45. The Princess And The Frog (2009)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Disney’s throwback to the days of traditional animation might not live up to past triumphs, but it’s still a slice of pleasingly nostalgic fun, as waitress Tiana finds herself turned into a frog when she kisses an amphibian prince.
Most Magical Moment: Any of the scenes involving Louis the trumpet-playing alligator are an absolute joy. A top-notch provider of comic relief
44. Little Otik (2000)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Released in the US as Greedy Guts, this is a bizarre Czech story about a couple struggling to conceive a child. Loathe to see his wife so upset, the husband fashions a tree root into the shape of a baby, and hands it over to her. What he hadn’t planned for was the root coming to life
Most Magical Moment: The moment at which a bunch of twigs turns into a living, breathing creature!
43. Puss In Boots (2011)
The Fairy Tale Movie: This likeable spinoff recaptures the magic of the early Shrek movies, largely thanks to some excellent voice casting including the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris. The story is a little thin, put with a hero this loveable, it’s hard to hold that against it.
Most Magical Moment: The ride down the beanstalk is a particularly thrilling set-piece.
42. Tideland (2006)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Another out-there offering from Terry Gilliam, who leads the viewer through a little girl’s fantasy world, a grotesquely macabre realm devised as a reaction to the poverty of her real-life existence. Weird, provocative and oddly compelling.
Most Magical Moment: The conversations our diminutive heroine has with the severed heads of her Barbie dolls. We told you it was grim
41. Legend (1985)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Ridley Scott’s fantasy epic stars Tom Cruise as a young man seeking to win the hand of the beautiful Princess Lily and rescue his world from an icy doom. Released to an underwhelming box office response, the film has developed a cult following over time.
Most Magical Moment: The destruction of Tim Curry’s villainous Darkness by the light of the setting sun. Kapow!
40. Alice In Wonderland (1915)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The first full adaptation of Alice (after the eight-minute short of 1903) is a fifty-minute silent movie, which uses a raft of vivid imagery to perfectly capture the irreverent mayhem of the source material. When the narrative is this much of a mindfuck, who needs dialogue anyway?
Most Magical Moment: The arrival of the ginormo-headed Duchess. Yikes!
39. Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970)
The Fairy Tale Movie: This Czech oddity uses various fairy tale tropes to convey the traumatic nature of a little girl’s journey into adulthood as she gets her first period. Extremely dark, but an innovative way of adapting the genre.
Most Magical Moment: The occasional lapses in the appearance of the handsome prince, who is hiding a deathly white secret behind his veneer of charm.
38. The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen (1988)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Terry Gilliam’s sprawling fantasy is the dictionary definition of ‘uneven’, but there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way, including Robin Williams removing his own head and Uma Thurman dancing in mid-air.
Most Magical Moment: The introduction of a monstrous sea creature who swallows the travellers whole.
37. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Hiyao Miyazaki’s joyful fantasy is an offbeat love story involving witches, wizards and the walking palace that gives the film its name. There are echoes of Peter Pan in Howl’s unwillingness to grow up, but this one is too much of an original for any other comparisons to really stand up.
Most Magical Moment: The discovery of the wondrous dream cave in which Howl’s true nature is finally revealed.
36. Ella Enchanted (2004)
The Fairy Tale Movie: A wry spin on Cinderella in which Anne Hathaway sets out to find her prince, in order to break the spell of obedience under which she labours. Watch out for The Princess Bride‘s Cary Elwes as the villain, and Steve Coogan as the voice of his talking snake.
Most Magical Moment: An encounter with a group of hungry ogres in which crisis is narrowly averted by the arrival of Hugh Dancy’s swashbuckling prince.
35. LadyHawke (1985)
The Fairy Tale Movie: An oft overlooked ’80s offering from Richard Donner, in which Matthew Broderick’s thief attempts to reunite a cursed knight and his beau, who have been transformed into a wolf and a hawk respectively. An ace supporting cast takes this one up a few notches, with Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer and Alfred Molina all joining in the fun.
Most Magical Moment: The first appearance of the bewitchingly beautiful Pfeiffer. Now that’s magic
34. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The last Disney fairy tale produced by Walt himself, in which the titular princess is cursed by cruel fairy Maleficent and doomed to an eternal sleep until woken by the kiss of true love. Enter the noble Prince Phillip
Most Magical Moment: What do you think? It’s the kiss isn’t it! Made all the more awesome by the fact that Phillip has come straight from chucking a sword through Maleficent’s heart
33. The Company Of Wolves (1984)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Neil Jordan presents a profoundly messed-up, psycho-sexual take on the Little Red Riding Hood story, including several elements you won’t remember from the original tale. A jilted husband ripping his own face off, for one
Most Magical Moment: The wedding party scene in which a gatecrashing witch transforms the guests into a pack of snarling wolves.
32. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
The Fairy Tale Movie: A shy little boy with a love of books escapes the trials and tribulations of school life by disappearing through the pages of one dusty old tome into a magical fantasy land, where he must help save the locals from an advancing force known as The Nothing.
Most Magical Moment: When our hero first meets Falkor, the luckdragon. It just about balances out the horror of Artax’s death.
31. Shrek 2 (2004)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The plot might be stretched a little thin second time around, but Shrek 2 is still stuffed with sly, genre-mocking humour and loveable characters. Not as startlingly original this time then, but no less enjoyable for all that.
Most Magical Moment: The giant gingerbread man is a bit of a crowd pleaser, as he sets about smashing up the castle’s defences.
30. Penelope (2006)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Christina Ricci plays a young woman suffering from an inconvenient family curse she’s got a pig’s snout where her nose should be! What follows is a sweetly told fable about the skin-deep nature of beauty and the search for true love. Awww.
Most Magical Moment: The breaking of the curse. All it required was a little self-worth.
29. Tangled (2010)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Disney riffs on the fairy tale of Rapunzel in this eye-wateringly beautiful animation. Combining traditional animation with CGI wizardry, this is probably the best looking tale on the list, a fitting accolade for Disney’s fiftieth animated feature.
Most Magical Moment: Mother Gothel’s cracking rendition of ‘Mother Knows Best’. It’s no surprise to learn that actress Donna Murphy is a broadway star.
28. Ever After (1998)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Drew Barrymore stars in this glossily affable take on the classic Cinderella story set in rural 17th Century France, charming Dougray Scott’s prince with her quick wit and stoicism. Hooray!
Most Magical Moment: The ornately beautiful ball is a visual treat. Lovely stuff.
27. Willow (1988)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Warwick Davis takes a starring role as the titular dwarf who finds himself the unlikely hero in a quest to protect a special baby from the malicious attentions of a wicked queen. An epic adventure from the days when George Lucas had a direct line to his audience’s imagination.
Most Magical Moment: The animal transformation scene was pretty spectacular for the time!
26. Le Dernier Chaperon Rouge (1996)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Emmanuelle Beart stars in this twisted version of Little Red Riding Hood, in which Red discovers an underground laboratory where an evil scientist has been kidnapping and mutilating girls. The last of his victims has survived him however, and she rather fancies herself a new pair of legs
Most Magical Moment: The discovery of the garden is both creepy and wondrous, as the animals and flowers sway to the strains of a mysterious song…
25. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Tim Burton takes on the seminal American fairy tale of the Headless Horseman, with Johnny Depp leading a fantastically pallid cast through a blood-curdling tale of deception and revenge.
Most Magical Moment: When Depp’s Ichabod Crane returns the Horseman’s head, allowing him to make his return to hell. It’s a happy ending, of sorts.
24. Snow White And The Seven Dwarves (1937)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The Snow White story has been adapted more times than we can count, but none have managed to top the Mouse House’s seminal take on the fairest maiden in the land. Reasonably frightening in places (the forest scene in particular), it’s one of Disney’s darker dabblings with fairy tale lore.
Most Magical Moment: The transformation of the wicked queen into the hideous apple-bearing crone is deliciously grotesque.
23. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Guillermo Del Toro blends crushing realism with outlandish fantasy in this tale of a small girl living in Franco’s fascist Spain. Creating a fairy tale world in her mind is the only way she can cope with the horrors of her day to day life, a fact that is revealed in the film’s heartbreaking finale.
Most Magical Moment: The Pale Man sticks in the memory, but the bittersweet conclusion presents a classic fairy tale ending, albeit one that’s tinged with tragedy.
22. The Matrix (1999)
The Fairy Tale: Bear with us here, because to our minds, The Matrix is basically a sci-fi retelling of Alice In Wonderland. A wide-eyed innocent stumbles into a bizarre and baffling world that makes him question the whole nature of existence. Surrounded by a cast of odd characters, none of whom will give him a straight answer about where he is, he takes on an all-powerful ruler to break this world’s bizarre set of rules for the better. They’re one and the same story!
Most Magical Moment: Bullet-time, baby! Alice hasn’t got anything on that.
21. Splash (1984)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Disney puts a new spin on The Little Mermaid, with Daryl Hannah’s mer-dweller capturing the heart of Tom Hanks’ average joe. The course of true love never runs smoothly however, and that adage is doubly true when one half of the couple is a fish.
Most Magical Moment: The final scene in which Hanks takes the plunge, committing himself to a life under the sea. It’s much better down where it’s wetter, don’t you know?
20. Hard Candy (2005)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Don’t look at us like that! Hard Candy is Little Red Riding Hood by another name. Although this version of Red doesn’t need any big strong woodcutter to come and save her. She’s more than capable of looking after herself.
Most Magical Moment: The eerie, dream-like final scene in which Ellen Page disappears into the woods, taking a brief look back over her shoulder before she goes.
19. Labyrinth (1986)
The Fairy Tale Movie: A barmy adventure featuring David Bowie as the bizarre Goblin King who steals a young child and hides him in his fantastical labyrinth. When the missing imp’s older sister comes looking for him, all kinds of weird and wonderful antics ensue.
Most Magical Moment: The masquerade ball, in which the teenage Jennifer Connolly is profoundly wooed by Bowie’s fantasy land.
18. The City Of Lost Children (1995)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Jean-Pierre Jeunet tells the sinister story of Krank, a cruel inventor incapable of dreaming. Tired of missing out, he decides to start kidnapping children in an attempt to steal their dreams for himself
Most Magical Moment: The presence of a flea circus offers Jeunet a chance to show off with a head to head journey filmed from a flea’s eye view.
17. Suspiria (1977)
The Fairy Tale Movie: With its witches, labyrinths and deep, dark forests, there’s no mistaking the fairy tale origins of Dario Argento’s classic horror film. The lurid colour scheme and disconcertingly barmy storyline give it the slippery ambiguity beloved of the finest fairy stories.
Most Magical Moment: The maggot scene might be fairly queasy, but it could be plucked straight from the pages of the Brothers Grimm.
16. Alice In Wonderland (1951)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The definitive adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s trippy fairy tale, Disney’s version of Alice is surprisingly true to the source material, what with its creepy Cheshire Cat and authentically barmy tea party. Throw in Disney’s trademark visuals and you’re on to a winner.
Most Magical Moment: The aforementioned tea party is pleasingly bizarre, as is the parade of playing cards.
15. Stardust (2007)
The Fairy Tale Movie: An adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s popular novel, Stardust is a veritable smorgasbord of fairy tale tropes, from wicked witches to fair maidens, dashing heroes to flamboyantly camp pirates. Who’d have expected this from Matthew Vaughn, a man whose only previous directorial effort was gritty crime flick Layer Cake?
Most Magical Moment: The transformation of Michelle Pfeiffer’s haggard old crone into a stunningly slinky vixen is a sight to behold.
14. Enchanted (2007)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Disney brings postmodernism to the traditional fairy tale by displacing Amy Adams’ pure-hearted princess into the stark reality of contemporary New York. Fish out of water funnies ensue
Most Magical Moment: Giselle recruits a posse of neighbourhood animals to clean Patrick Dempsey’s flat for him. Neat trick.
13. Black Swan (2010)
The Fairy Tale Movie: This one is probably pushing the definition of fairy tale a little far, but given that the plot borrows heavily from Swan Lake, we think it probably qualifies. And with its woozily ambiguous storyline, it’s certainly dark enough to keep the Brothers Grimm happy.
Most Magical Moment: The awe-inspiring dance that forms the film’s grand finale. Beautiful and terrifying in equal measure, much like the film itself.
12. Peter Pan (1953)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Disney takes a crack at the boy who never grew up, the two-dimensional forerunner to the tale they would go on to tell in Hook. This one is a more conventional affair than that film, though no less charming for all that. The crocodile is brought to life particularly skilfully, as is Hook himself
Most Magical Moment: The initial nighttime flight from the children’s dormitory across the London skyline away to Never Never Land.
11. Shrek (2001)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Dreamworks reinvents the fairy tale, skewering many of its key tropes and cliches in the process. Yet for all the snarkiness, it’s also a heartwarming tale of an outsider striving for acceptance. And there’s a talking donkey, which is always good.
Most Magical Moment: Donkey’s rendition of ‘I’m A Believer’ is a bona fide showstopper!
10. Cinderella (1950)
The Fairy Tale Movie: The traditional story of Cinderella, jazzed up with a funky fairy godmother, a host of talking mice and an evil old cat. So successful was the movie that Disney based their logo upon the Prince’s castle. Iconic.
Most Magical Moment: The transformation of a knackered old pumpkin into a glorious carriage never fails to tickle our sense of wonder.
9. The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Jim Henson’s frequently nightmarish fantasy, charting the existence of a range of weird and wonderful creatures including the Gelflings, the Mystics and the utterly terrifying Skeksis.
Most Magical Moment: The draining of a Gelfling’s life force by a Skeksis scientist. Sorry, did we say magical? We meant harrowing.
8. The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Fairy Tale Movie: A delightful tale of boy meets fish, with sea-dwelling Ariel longing to become a human in order to marry the dashing Prince Eric. Enter the genuinely scary sea witch, Ursula, who can make it all happen for a price.
Most Magical Moment: ‘Under The Sea’ is one of the most toe-tappingly brilliant musical numbers of all time. The fact that it’s orchestrated by a flamboyant crab makes it that much better.
7. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The Fairytale Movie: Tim Burton’s moving tale of a gentle humanoid creature with scissors for hands, who was created by Vincent Price’s kindly inventor before he dropped dead. All alone in the world, he forges a bond with Winona Ryder, only for the townsfolk to turn against him
Most Magical Moment: The ice-sculpting scene is heartbreakingly beautiful…
6. The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
The Fairytale Movie: One of the more disturbing fairy tales on the list, largely thanks to the presence of Margaret Hamilton’s Wicked Witch and her army of flying monkeys. At least there are plenty of jaunty ditties to temper the fear factor!
Most Magical Moment: The first appearance of the Wizard, as a floating disembodied head. Impressive…
5. Hook (1991)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Steven Spielberg takes the fairy tale of Peter Pan and runs with it in this glorious slice of family entertainment. Robin Williams makes for a game Pan, but Dustin Hoffman’s preening Captain Hook steals every scene he crops up in. Hence the title of the film.
Most Magical Moment: When Pan reclaims his sword from Rufio. Goosebumps, anyone?
4. Aladdin (1992)
The Fairy Tale Movie: This all-singing, all-dancing account of a street-rat’s rise to prominence contains some of the catchiest songs of the entire Disney canon, and in Robin Williams’ Genie, one of the finest comedy sidekicks. Throw in a supremely hissable villain in the form of Jafar and some ace visuals, and it’s no wonder Aladdin remains so well loved some 20 years later.
Most Magical Moment: The Genie’s ‘Friend Like Me’ routine, in which he shows off the full extent of his powers to a spellbound Aladdin.
3. The Princess Bride (1987)
The Fairy Tale Movie: A gloriously daft adventure from Rob Reiner, in which the swashbuckling action is perfectly balanced by a raft of well-judged, surrealist humour. Packed to bursting with memorable characters, it’s the guilty pleasure to end all guilty pleasures.
Most Magical Moment: Inigo Montoya’s sword fight with Rugen, soundtracked by his long-rehearsed speech of vengeance…
2. Beauty And The Beast (1991)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Another Disney classic, this time bringing the feelgood tale of Belle and Beast to the big screen. Probably the most shamelessly romantic of all the Disney films, it’s also a thrilling ride, particularly when Beast goes toe to toe with the villainous Gaston.
Most Magical Moment: It has to be ‘Be Our Guest’, doesn’t it? A musical number only trumped by Mr. Burns’ rendition of ‘See My Vest’.
1. Red Shoes (1948)
The Fairy Tale Movie: Powell and Pressburger’s ballet-centric adaptation of a Hans Christian Anderson story contains everything a good fairy tale needs: a beautiful young heroine, a tragically fateful twist and a sinister edge a mile wide. An unsettling affair, as classic fairy tales tended to be.
Most Magical Moment: The ballet scenes are deliciously entrancing, helped in no small part by Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning score.