The 2000’s were a memorable decade not only for cinema, but for the fantasy genre as a whole. This was the decade where two franchises in particular dominated at the box office. However, it was also the decade before HBO’s Game of Thrones sent the fantasy genre down a darker path. Ultimately, audiences received many classic entries in the genre. Here are the top 10 fantasy film of the aughts.

10. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), Universal Pictures

The Grinch himself is a mascot of both Christmastime and the work of Dr. Seuss. In between the classic animated film and the panned Illumination version, there is the Ron Howard film. Led by a brilliantly designed and performed Jim Carrey, he brings his signature energy to the film. Props also goes to the set design for managing to capture the art of Dr. Seuss in live-action. In this adaptation, however, the Grinch is given a more well-rounded character and sympathetic backstory. This incarnation of the character has earned his place as a holiday icon.

9. MirrorMask (2005), Samuel Goldwyn Films

Coming from the masters of puppetry themselves, the Jim Henson Company, they continue the legacy of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. The story follows teenage Helena as she enters a world of her old drawings after getting into a fight with her circus-running family. If there’s one thing to remember about this film it’s the absolutely wild visuals. Unlike previous Jim Henson works which were grounded with practical effects, this film has a dreamlike quality with its digital effects. Lastly, this overall trippiness adds to the psychological themes of coming of age.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), The Walt Disney Company

Adapting the work of children’s author and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, the first Narnia film was easily the most well known. A trip through an enchanted wardrobe leads the Pevensie children to the eponymous land. Along the way, they encounter the villainous White Witch along with the unsubtle Christ-figure Aslan. This film strikes the balance between childlike wonder and grandiose fantasy, as is expected of Disney. Also, for anime fans, Lewis’ book was one of the first in the “Isekai” genre.

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7. Shrek (2001), DreamWorks

Combining 2000’s pop culture with a few unsubtle jabs at Disney, Shrek quickly earned its place as a cultural phenomenon. The ogre himself is far and away the most iconic character of Dreamworks. Memes aside, the film gives us a rounded anti-hero with Shrek himself who ends up learning the values of friendship and even to love. Furthermore, this film is the best in the genre of fractured and satirized fairy tales. The longevity of the Shrek franchise can also be seen in the recent success of Puss In Boots: The Last Wish.

6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2003), Warner Bros. Pictures

Of all of the films in the saga, special mention has to go to the third film, Prisoner of Azkaban. Director Alfonso Cuaron takes the series into darker territory. The film follows Harry’s attempts to reconnect with his godfather, Sirius. In particular, the film delves into themes of loss, connection, and even depression with the terrifying creatures known as Dementors. Along the way, there are the fantasy adventures and deeply emotional moments that made fans fall in love with Harry Potter‘s Wizarding World.

5. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Warner Bros. Pictures

This list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from legendary director Guillermo del Toro. Taking place under the brutal Francoist Spain, Pan’s Labyrinth tells the story of the young girl, Ophelia. Throughout the course of the film she learns of her mystical heritage and ventures into a fantastical, yet twisted world. Along with evading magical beasts, she deals with the true monster of the film: fascism. The film became one of Del Toro’s most iconic works for how it balanced the allegorical evils of the fantasy world and the real dangers of the Spanish army.

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4. 300 (2007), Warner Bros. Pictures

This film decidedly falls into “historical fantasy,” as its story has nothing to do with either the Greek city state of Sparta or the Achaemenid Empire whatsoever. Adapting Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 tells the story of the Spartan Warriors who stood against the encroaching Persians. As a comic adaptation, it captures the brutality and stark vision of the original work. 300 is classic Zack Snyder as it contains his icnonic style of excessive slo-mo during action. There are heavy themes of war, leadership, and heroism.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Warner Bros. Pictures

Led by a bombastic and vibrant Johnny Depp, Tim Burton’s modern retelling of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book, “Charlier and the Chocolate Factory”, combines Burton’s delightfully twisted vision with a hefty dose of whimsy. Much like Jim Carrey’s The Grinch, this film also gives a much more nuanced and human version of Wonka. Composer Danny Elfman goes all out on the musical numbers featured. While not as well remembered as the original film, many can attest the unique charm of this film.

2. Beowulf (2007), Paramount Pictures

There have been many heroic epics told across the ages, the Babylonian epic “Gilgamesh”, the Germanic “Nibelungenlied”, the Chinese “Journey to the West”, and of course, the Scandinavian “Beowulf.” The 2007 Beowulf CGI film was created by the joint efforts of Robert Zemeckis and fantasy author Niel Gaiman. Unlike in the original Beowulf, this take on the character deconstructs his constant bravado and even calls into question his take on events.

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1. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003), Warner Bros. Pictures

Topping the list is Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, a cinematic classic that managed to win Best Picture at the 2004 76th Academy Awards. Jackson’s legendary adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work set the bar for fantasy productions for years. Bringing viewers to the conclusion of the grand saga, all of the arcs come together. Dominating the film is one of the most epic battle sequences with the film’s effects and presentation in full effect. Crossing its magnificently constructed world is a cast that triumphantly marches to defend it. Every moment in this trilogy has become iconic which makes it fitting for the King of Middle-Earth to sit at number one.

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