Film is a visual medium, although the visuals would be nothing without strong dialogue and a well-done screenplay to build off of.
Unfortunately, far too many fantasy movies focus on the swords and battles and magical effects without considering the writing elements.
There are a few standouts, though, a few exceptional films that really do turn their dialogue into an art. If you are a book-ish person looking for something new to watch or a movie watcher looking for the one non-cheesey flick (that isn’t directed by Peter Jackson), check out this list:
Featuring Claire Daines and future Daredevil, Charlie Cox, this tweenage fantasy film is clever, fun, and fresh with an old concept (boy tries to win girl’s heart with an epic adventure quest) with new twists.
Much of this can be credited to the always-amazing Neil Gaiman who wrote the novel inspiring this screenplay, although huge parts of the story have been pared down, simplified, or made much less… rated R.
It also features Robert De Niro doing a can-can. Literally what else could you want?
This classic Tim Burton film may have been what kicked off the Johhny-Depp-Looking-So-Pallid-He’s-Practically-Black-and-White-And-Also-Has-Bad-Hair Era of horror filmmaking, but it’s arguably the best of them.
The most interesting part of the movie’s writing and direction is how the “normal” 50s-ish suburban world is depicted as the real “other”, the real strange place and strange people and the man with literal scissors for hands is the normal one.
It also features horror royalty Vincent Price’s last performances and it’s as heartbreaking as it is glorious.
A Knight’s Tale
Heath Ledger, Paul Bettany and many future Game of Thrones alums gather in your typical sports movie about a lower-class underdog trying to make it in the rich man’s sport, win the upper-crust girl of his dreams, and defeat the condescending villain who inexplicably wears black all the time.
Oh, and the sport is jousting.
This film is an interesting example because while it’s set in a pre-technological historical era with some fantastical elements (Geoffrey Chaucer running into Edward the Black Prince of Wales while writing The Canterbury Tales?!) the dialogue is mostly built on modern-day slang with the tropes and tales of a typical underdog sports movie.
More easter-eggs from the world of today (or 2001, at least) abound with a wooden version of the Millenium Eye popping up in medieval London, jousting fans thump-thump-clap-ping to “We Will Rock You” and David Bowie being the dance of choice at a 14th-century banquet. The movie really shines, however, in Paul Bettany’s roaring, scenery-chewing speeches:
The Princess Bride
This one is cheating and needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen it, watch it now. Seriously. How have you gone this long without experiencing this masterpiece? You can thank me later.
The dialogue is tight, every direction is deliberate and meaningful, every line stuffed with humor and intelligence and double-meanings. Some of the best parts, however, come from the fully-improvised unscripted ramblings of Billy Crystal as Miracle Max, a bumbling magic man with a nagging wife (played by Carol Kane) which nearly shut down the film’s production for being too funny.
Every line is a classic, an in-joke among nerds and fantasy fans for close to 40 years.
If you are a film student or even a passing hobbyist, the screenplays of William Goldman (which include Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Misery) can be read like novels and are a masterclass in screenplay writing.
Seriously. Go watch this.
What is your favorite well-written fantasy movie? Which of these are you going to give a try?
Let me know in the comments!
And if you’re looking for more good fantasy writing, check out my novella In the House of Souls: a Faehunter Novella which is only 99c/99p on Amazon!