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10 Movies with Memorable Magic Elements

Lots of movies have magic, but here are some of the all-time classics (and some of my faves)

By Wade WainioPublished 2 years ago 14 min read
Top Story - January 2022

1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Based on L. Frank Baum's fantastical novel, Victor Fleming's "The Wizard of Oz" is about a young lady, Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), whose life either becomes full of magic (or she suffers a head injury and hallucinates wildly). Living with her Aunt Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin) on a farm, Dorothy seems to lead an alright life, though she does have fantasies about getting away, demonstrated in song form. The escapist aspirations are made more serious after a grouchy woman, Almira Gulch (Margaret Hamilton), threatens to have Dorothy's rebellious pet dog Toto destroyed!

Things get even worse when the farm is hit with an enormous tornado, with Dorothy inside the farmhouse. She gets knocked unconscious, which is really where the magic begins. When Dorothy comes to, she finds the house has been transported to jolly old n Munchkinland in the Land of Oz. After relating her dilemma to the magical Glinda the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke), Glinda magically gives Dorothy a pair of magic ruby slippers. Then Dorothy encounters the dreaded Wicked Witch of the West (Hamilton) who wants those dang shoes but, for whatever reason, is warded off by Glinda.

Desiring to be transported home, Dorothy follows the famous yellow brick road on a journey to meet the Wizard of Oz (Frank Morgan) in Emerald City. Along the way, Dorothy encounters the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and they all get harassed by that pesky witch, who does things like bring apple trees to life, then puts them to sleep with some magical poppies.

Dorothy's simple quest to return to the farm is perilous indeed, as her entourage is threatened with death every step of the way (the Witch threatens to do more than have the Cowardly Lion sent to a sanctuary). An imprisoned Dorothy is not a happy Dorothy!

As for additional magic, you have the Wicked Witch of the West on her flying broomstick and much of the Emerald City itself. Of course, part of the moral to "The Wizard of Oz" is that Dorothy's farm life, which she initially tries to escape, is like Heaven compared to being caught by the Witch in some outlandish fantasy realm. So yes, you have a flying broomstick, a Wizard, and the flying monkeys, but the simplicity of home life can cast its own captivating magic spell. Additionally, we learn that, in truth, someone merely impersonates the Wizard in Oz, who isn't really so great and powerful after all.

Obviously, one can assess the Witch's intention to steal those ruby slippers. In fact. I have read articles claiming the Witch is actually the "good guy" (a crazy fan theory-style article). Then, of course, you might hear claims that Dorothy is actually the Scarecrow's girlfriend, which could have iffy implications about the human character back on the farm.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Starring Harrison Ford as the title character, practically everyone's heard of Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark (sometimes known as "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark"). It's an action-packed classic full of memorable moments. You have the almost non-sequitur intro, where Indy escapes from a booby-trapped Peruvian temple on a waiting seaplane. You have the classic premise of the all-American guy taking on the Nazis, and all reminiscent of a teenage dreamer who read too many action pulp comics as a kid.

Indy drags Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) along for the adventure where he fights Nazis on a quest to unlock the secrets of the mythic Ark of the Covenant. It was perhaps the biggest film of 1981, spawning 3 sequels, including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), and the less-acclaimed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). George Lucas was inspired to create Indiana Jones by characters like Buck Rogers and Spy Smasher. Of course, Indiana Jones inspired comic books, video games, a few "The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles."

In addition to practical effects for the magic and disgusting face-melting scene, the film production relied on everything from stop motion animation to puppets and blue screens. Staged correctly, any number of silly-looking things can look larger-than-life on a screen. Interestingly, the script to "Raiders" was very vague about what would happen once the Ark is opened, saying only "all hell breaks loose." So the crew went with the old American tradition of improvising, putting different techniques to the test. So, in many ways, the special effects are a very strong component of what makes "Raiders of the Lost Ark" seem so magical.

3. Return to Oz (1985)

The original "Wizard of Oz" gave us the Wicked Witch of the West, with her magical broom, flying monkeys, as well as flying slippers, living scarecrows, talking lions, and so on. Walter Murch's "Return to Oz" puts Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) in a setting with an even darker mood, thanks to the director's nightmarish representation of Dorothy's imagination (or darker world, if you regard Oz as 100% real within the story's universe).

In a way, a lot of freaky concepts and images were already underneath the original film's glossier, somewhat happier depiction. The Witch shot fire from the broom to set the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) on fire, and the very reality of heading into the woods represented the unknown, which seems fraught with danger. This trip reveals Oz to hardly be home to humans, and Dorothy seems to have fewer chances of relief. Also, she seems less connected to Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) or Uncle Henry (Matt Clark), who are basically Dorothy's parents. Her returning to Oz once again has her wanting to return to Kansas. She can ultimately win in the end, but this renewed quest happens after Dorothy's expected to undergo shock treatment, suggesting people regard her as crazy (or perhaps "unwell," in modern, politically correct parlance).

This crazed adventure introduces villains like the Nome King (Nicol Williamson), Mombi (Jean Marsh), but had received mixed reviews upon release. Still, the alternately disturbing and funny characters and colorful designs make "Return to Oz a memorable, if not pleasant, experience.

4. Labyrinth (1986)

Jim Henson's "Labyrinth" is interesting. It imagines that some dark, magical mischief can happen when the parents (Christopher Malcolm and Shelley Thompson) head out. They promise to come home late, leaving their daughter, Sarah Williams (Jennifer Connelly), to watch over baby (Toby Froud, who later himself began a career in puppeteering, animation, and special effects).

There are many ways of sulking, but Sarah doesn't just spend the night in her room, refusing to leave the bed. She wishes for Toby to be taken away by Jareth, the Goblin King (David Bowie), as she's sick of having to spend more time with him.

Unfortunately, her magical wish comes true and she must enter a labyrinth to rescue Toby before he's turned into a goblin. Oh yeah, and did we mention that Jareth is also a barn owl, perhaps as his side hobby?

So yes, "Labyrinth has its share of magic, and Jareth is quite a prankster, trying to bring half-serious, mean-spirited wishes into reality. Being a Jim Henson film, much of the magic actually is puppet action. If Sarah is dreaming (as some people might believe), it's definitely the kind of dream you'll remember the next morning.

I think we've all had some Sarah-esque moments, where we wish for something that we don't 100% truly want. In this case, Sarah probably would have rather been at the mall than babysitting and got a little too angry. Still, she redeems herself in a hurry to rescue Toby. It's a classic example of why one should think before making a wish.

Some people think the labyrinth's a cool place, and I get it. In fact, Sarah herself might have a boring home life. However, who wants to remain in the labyrinth all day, every day? Sure, some people found David Bowie attractive, but would hearing him sing and prance really be better than going to the mall? Personally, I'd stick around for a little bit, place the baby in the baby basket, and say "Gee, look at the time! Gotta' go!" That's assuming I'd ever track down a missing child personally, of course. Most people would probably just collapse in tears and let the police handle it, rather than track down some barn owl-turned-Goblin-Guy.

5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Chuck Russell's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" does a great deal to expand on the myth of Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). We learn his mother was a nun (Nan Martin) and his father was 1 out of 100 anonymous "maniac" mental patience who raped her after she was accidentally locked in the institution with them overnight. In other words, Fred Krueger's very existence seems cursed from the very start, even before he was burned to death by angry townsfolk for being a child murderer. (To increase the curse factor, "Nightmare On Elm Street V: Dream Child" further elaborates that Freddy's mom proceeded to take her own life, presumably by putting a noose around her holy neck.)

By the third film, Freddy now dominates the lives of Elm Street children, killing them in dreams, exacting vengeance on the sons and daughters of those who burned him to a crisp. How can the police arrest him? They can't, and the staff at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital actually think the Elm Street kid deaths are merely suicides.

Their most recent, I mean patient, Kristen (Patricia Arquette), ends up there because her mom (Brooke Bundy) believes she almost committed suicide. Of course, Freddy was actually behind the apparent attempt, sleepwalking her into the bathroom and making his own violence look like self-cutting. So, basically, the staff at Westin Hills play glorified nanny to those believed to be troubled teens. Of course, we all know the real trouble is Freddy, and the teens won't likely be safe unless others believe them. Fortunately for them, Freddy's previous foil, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), has joined the staff at Westin Hills.

Of course, Nancy's not the only element to return from the first film. In addition to her father, Donald Thompson (John Saxon), you also see Freddy's now-dilapidated house (which, actually, also was Nancy's house, at one point). This house somehow becomes a staple for the series, and ultimately takes on its own magical properties. Near the film's beginning, Freddy basically starts cheating by luring Kristen into the house, using a little girl (Kristen Clayton) as bait. Like some other Freddy targets, Kristen is actually pretty strong, not having lost her sanity, despite not knowing how she became his victim in dreams or why she's being tortured at Freddy's pleasure (or why he appears as a penile snake in one memorable scene).

She managed to escape "Dream Warriors" in one piece, but Kristen again encounters Freddy and is brutally murdered by him in the follow-up film. However, in the time we know here in "Part 3, we see she has the power to not only heal from the physical/psychological wounds Freddy inflicts but also miraculously bring others into her dreams. Sure, some of them ultimately disappear into Freddy's clutches, including Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), who Freddy injects with some deadly syringes, but it's nevertheless an impressive skill.

Obviously, I could go over and each every death here, but enough ground has been covered, and this is just a brief reminder of what Freddy and his opponents can do. Though he is semi-dead as of right now, we'll surely witness the reappearance of Freddy, and anyone who is able to outrun him in a future nightmare will be lucky.

6. The Princess Bride (1987)

Rob Reiner's "The Princess Bride" is undeniably a modern fairytale, and certainly one of the best fantasy/comedy films from the 1980s. You have so many classic storybook elements, such as the castle of the wicked Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon). The story also seduces viewers with some love story elements between Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright. However, Humperdinck gets in the way of their relationship, and it seems like he'd snap Buttercup's neck unless she marries him. Rather predictably, yet enjoyably, it becomes a rescue operation.

As the narrative is weaved, we encounter huge snake-like eels that shriek, a fire swamp, a seemingly magical cure for being tortured to death, and other things. A common thread of the film, however, is that the magic is at least semi-plausible if you haven't noticed. Shrieking eels seem like something that could exist, as does a fire swamp, or even the state of being "mostly dead." Either way, it has the feel of a magical tale where heroes must escape someone's evil clutches. Though it's a fun film, there are some pretty neat things holding the tapestry together, and more recent filmmakers would do well to take a page or two (but not more) from "The Princess Bride."

In the end, after much toil and suffering, the heroes finally succeed in fleeing turmoil, and Buttercup, the sweetheart of the kingdom of Florin, has a happy ending, hair spilling around her shoulders. The whole experience conjures images of swashbucklers, catacombs, castles, and cursed places, as well as meadows and thinly-veiled magic.

7. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)

In George Miller's "The Witches of Eastwick,' 3 women — Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon), and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) — are no doubt close, but run into each other more frequently, for reasons as yet unknown, as they seem to be drawn to one another in spite of the differences in their backgrounds and characters. However, it's eventually learned that they're actually witches and, through their witchcraft, they function as a coven. Rather than conduct a bunch of magazine and newspaper interviews, they keep their influx of paranormal-tinged magic on the down-low.

However, these little quirks are put to the test when their newfound "friend," Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) shows up in their town of Eastwick, Rhode Island. Though they have mixed views of him, the story ends up with some darkly obsessive behavior and plenty of magical pranks. The stranger in town takes interest in all three women and becomes increasingly mysterious and powerful. Amidst the magic is a fair amount of comedy and a story that's reasonably memorable.

8. Willow (1988)

In Ron Howard's "Willow," a midwife (Zulema Dene) sends baby Elora (Kate and Ruth Greenfield/Rebecca Bearman) adrift on a fragile raft at the request of the mother (presumably a peasant woman played by Sallyanne Law), to save Elora from evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) who wishes her dead. It has been foretold that Elora has the power to end Bavmorda's reign, so the queen seeks to kill her before she grows. (Bavmorda does kill the midwife — presumably one of her ladies-in-waiting — for helping Elora's mother save the baby, which promptly demonstrates the queen's wrath).

Obviously, the girl has some magical properties, making her a special collector's edition child at birth. As the story of "Willow" progresses, it acquires a wild, untamed nature, but never strays too far from carrying a light mood overall. Elora is found by the family of Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) in a village of dwarves. Initially, Willow seems to hate the baby but ends up playing a protective role on a journey to safely deliver the child to someone who can care for it. It's ultimately learned that the baby faces the wicked brutality and power of Bavmorda.

In some fantasy tales, a ring is invented through magic, and there's some spectacular journey. Here, there is not exactly a protective charm for the child, although the child herself seems almost like a good-luck charm during Willow's travels. Willow at first has an entourage of fellow dwarves, but soon gains the company of master swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and a quirky-yet-powerful sorceress named Raziel (Patricia Hayes). At first, Willow seems halfhearted about his protector role of the child but never willfully abandons her.

This movie has its share of magic spells, dragon-like creatures, fiendish and disgusting trolls (literal ones, not internet ones), and a great sorceress battle, as well as Willow's own magical moments. For whatever reason, this film has always had its detractors but, at the very least, it happened before anyone even heard of a Quidditch match. Granted, "Willow" does not have everything (for example, a Gryphon would have been cool), but it still has a few fabled creatures of fairy-tale folklore such as brownies (Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton) and a fairy queen (Maria Holvöe).

Plus, Madmartigan falls in love with Bavmorda's daughter, Sorsha (Joanne Whalley), due to a bit of magic (she initially assumes it's either him being foolish or some attempt at deception. Interestingly, however, Madmartigan's attraction to her doesn't wear off when the magic does, so Sprsha's inheritance of power is being usurped by romance. Aww!

9. Pet Sematary (1989)

Based on the Stephen King novel, Mary Lambert's "Pet Sematary" first introduced that titular magical location to film. We get vague sentences about it being cursed by Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), but not until after he takes Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff) there to bury a recently-deceased family cat named Church. It ends up being bad for the Creed family — especially Rachel (Denise Crosby) and Gage (Miko Hughes).

Others may disagree, but for me, the point of "Pet Sematary" isn't really a running commentary on the interrelationships of the characters themselves. It's more a commentary on the phenomenon of loss and how families cope with it. When the cat comes back the very next day, Louis knows there's something off about it. However, life initially proceeds somewhat normally, with the family not suspecting that Church is actually an undead cat. There are occasional interjections by Church, who is no longer just the family's pet, but this is employed more for artistic effect; and a little dark comedy, as the daughter (Blaze Berdahl) just assumed the cat smells bad.

However, as the curse expands, more family members fall prey to it. What happens when the dead are clearly identifiable as family members, and what if you can bring them back? They may be simply referred to by name, but who or what is it answering back? Church establishes the conditions of the story's narrative, while the opening of the film has Jud mention how tombstones are almost like correspondence between the living and the dead. Of course, the ability to interact with the dead becomes the ultimate conflict between the characters, as the dead don't come back the same.

Some scenes contain repeated phrases such as ground being "sour," and "The soil of a man's heart is stonier." There is some family drama aside from the death element, of course, such as Louis not staying home rather than attending a

Thanksgiving meal, but that never gets very elaborated upon (perhaps it involved Louis's wife's unexpected pregnancy or something like that). Finally, another cool, creepy moment is when Rachel is haunted by her long-dead sister, Zelda (Andrew Hubatsek). While not everyone likes "Pet Sematary" overall, it seems those Zelda moments stick with people.

10. It (1990)

Another Stephen King-related entry? Sure, why not? The terrifying clown (Tim Curry) in Tommy Lee Wallace's "It" is capable of dangerous psychic and physical transformation. We never quite know what Pennywise is as this movie (or miniseries) progresses, but it is a demon-like creature with otherworldly powers involving the fears of its targets (overwhelmingly children). Nonetheless, the creature is not completely powerful, as a group of children called "The Loser's Club" head out to fight Pennywise with some success (albeit at risk of becoming hopelessly lost in the sewers of Derry).

As one might expect, this is not everyone's favorite horror movie or even everyone's favorite depiction of Pennywise. However, this miniseries was pretty big at the time and led to a greater worldwide recognition of Pennywise as a horror villain. The 2017 version obviously ranks as among the most successful horror films of all time, but it's safe to say it owes some of its success to what came before.

Aside from the unusual material in the film itself, it also has one of the most potentially confusing tiles, conversationally; "Have you seen it?" "Have I seen what?" "It!" Oh, and "It" still has a creepy opening... and no, I am not even referring to the scene where Georgie (Tony Dakota) gets iced. Many people seem to forget the scene with Pennywise in the clothesline, which is creepy enough of an idea on its own.


About the Creator

Wade Wainio

Wade Wainio writes stuff for Show Snob, Undead Walking,, Vents Magazine and Haunted MTL. He is also an artist, musician and college radio DJ for WMTU 91.9 FM Houghton.

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    Wade WainioWritten by Wade Wainio

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