Grueling quests, terrifying beasties, cheesy special effects and even cheesier music are featured in each of these fantasy movies that were made in the 1980s.
The Dark Crystal (1982) – Jim Henson’s masterpiece takes place in another world that has been dying for 1000 years, ever since the dark crystal—the world’s life source—cracked. Jen, a gelfling who is one of the last of his kind, must save the world by finding the missing shard and restoring the crystal to its former glory. He is helped along the way by another gelfling, Kira. The two must battle against the evil Skeksis and their army of giant, armored, bug-like creatures in order to achieve their goal and restore balance to the world. This movie features the voice talents of Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell.
Dragonslayer (1981) – Peter MacNicol stars as Galen, an apprentice sorcerer who is given the task of saving a kingdom from a fire breathing dragon. Every six months, one virgin girl is chosen by lottery as a sacrifice to the dragon so that it will leave the rest of the land alone. The king seems to be ok with the arrangement until his own daughter chooses to sacrifice herself so that no other girl must go. This movie is full of swordplay, magic, and even a little romance.
Labyrinth (1986) – In another Jim Henson classic, Jennifer Connelly stars as Sarah, a spoiled teenager whose baby brother, Toby, has been stolen by the Goblin King, Jareth, played by David Bowie, who is in love with her. In order to get him back, she must make her way to the center of a labyrinth, full of interesting creatures and crazy hijinks, within thirteen hours. Bowie is absolutely delightful with his bouffant, Tina Turner-esque hair and makeup, tight riding pants and boots, poofy shirt, and leather vesty thing. And, of course, he sings a ton! This is one of my all-time favorite movies, and continues to be my go to movie when I’m sick or upset.
Ladyhawke (1985) – Matthew Broderick stars as Mouse, a pickpocket who has escaped from a dungeon in medieval France. He helps two lovers, played by Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer, break a curse that causes her to be trapped in the body of a hawk by day, and him in the body of a wolf by night. In order to achieve their goal, the three make their way to the wicked bishop who placed the curse on the lovers in a fit of jealousy.
The Last Unicorn (1982) – Based on the book by Peter S. Beagle, this animated movie tells the story of the last unicorn left in the human world as she and her human friends try to save the rest of her kind from an evil king and his wicked henchman, the Red Bull. This movie features the voice talents of Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, and Jeff Bridges, and music performed by America.
Legend (1985) – This movie, starring Tom Cruise, Mia Sara, and Tim Curry, is probably the cheesiest on the list. Cruise plays Jack, a boy who lives in the forest, who is in love with Princess Lili. When the Lord of Darkness orders his goblin henchmen to kill the last two unicorns in the world so that there will be no more light, Jack must race to save the world, and his lady love, before it’s too late.
The Neverending Story (1984) – Barret Oliver stars as Bastian, a young boy who loves nothing more than reading a great book. While escaping some bullies, he stumbles into a mysterious bookshop and takes a book with a strange symbol on the cover. He spends the day reading and slowly begins to realize that he is as much a part of the story as the characters on the page. This movie is based on the book by Michael Ende. Interestingly, it’s only based on the first half. The movie sequels take bits from the rest of the book, but there isn’t anything based completely on the second half.
Return to OZ (1985) – Fairuza Balk stars in this sequel to The Wizard of Oz, which is based on the books The Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz, the second and third installments in L. Frank Baum’s classic series. Dorothy is again whisked away to the land of OZ during a storm, only to find that all its inhabitants have been turned to stone and that the emeralds of the Emerald City have been stolen. In order to save the land of OZ, she must outsmart the wicked Queen Mombi, and the greedy Nome King. This movie also features awesome(ish) animatronics done by Jim Henson Studios.
The Secret of NIMH (1982) – Ok. So this movie doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the list but it was one of my favorites growing up so it deserves a spot. Based on the Newberry Award winning book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Mark O’Brien, this movie follows a brave mouse who lives on a farm as she tries to find a way to move her family, including her very sick son, before the plowing season starts back up. Along the way she encounters a crow who loves sparkly things, a dangerous cat, a wise and terrifying owl, and some extremely intelligent rats who also have a magical secret. Fun fact: in the movie, the mouse’s name is Mrs. Brisby, instead of Frisby, in order to avoid any issues with the company that makes Frisbee toys.
Willow (1988) – Willow is a dwarf whose only wish is to be a wizard. When a human baby washes up on the banks of the river near his village, he is elected by the members of his village to return her to humans. Willow must then protect the baby, who turns out to be part of a prophecy, from the evil queen who rules the land. The movie stars Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley.