The sequel to James Cameron‘s billion-dollar success, Avatar, has held audiences in limbo for over a decade. Thankfully, it’s almost here. With Avatar: The Way of the Water finally on the horizon, there will be new characters, underwater lagoons, and creatures to indulge in and learn about. But until then, diving into some other fantasy creature movies is perfectly acceptable.
It took 13 years for the new Avatar movie to come to fruition. During that time, there have been many new and old films that helped fill the void that the Na’vi left. With creatures like amphibian-humanoid men, gargantuan dragons, and human-ruling apes, the world of fantasy creatures remains stronger than ever.
The Shape of Water (2017)
The Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water is the most similar in presence and demeanor to the tall, humanoid-looking, blue aliens in Avatar. Guillermo del Toro‘s dark fantasy movie follows Eliza, a mute cleaning lady who works in a high-security government lab. Much like Jake Sully in AvatarEliza falls in love with a mysterious, scaled creature that lives in a water tank.
The film won Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards, and it deserved every one of its merits. It explored the eccentric bond between two lost and isolated souls and found power in silence. Between Eliza’s voicelessness and the Amphibian Man’s inability to communicate, the film finds heart in its silent characters.
War for the Planet of the Apes (2014)
One of the greatest parts about Avatar and its upcoming sequel is that they are not just about exploring a new world and creatures – they are jam-packed with intense action. War for the Planet of the Apes fulfills both with its own extreme action and enthralling creatures in a world full of CGI apes that rival the beautiful motion capture of Cameron’s Na’vi.
The film lovingly embraces its title, and much like Avatar, humans and creatures find themselves at war with one another over vengeance and the future of their planets. The new Planet of the Apes movies are some of the best reboots in recent memory and fill the void that Avatar left, with great story-telling, breathtaking CGI, and beautiful themes of military and social issues.
Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Pan’s Labyrinth is a dark fantasy drama filled with loads of monsters and creatures to study. It also leaves you to wonder about what exactly is going on inside Guillermo del Toro’s mind. There are grotesque faeries, giant toads, and the goat-like Faun, all taking up space in the magical world that 11-year-old Ofelia disappears into after witnessing her step-father’s brutality in war-torn Europe.
Despite many unique creatures, none are more interesting or memorable than the Pale Man. He is one of del Toro’s best and most horrifying, with his melting flesh, faceless skull, and eyeballs in the palms of his hands.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe remains the best movie in the franchise because of all of the cute and unforgettable creatures that are introduced in it. Unlike its successors, the first Chronicles of Narnia movie has an impeccable childlike wonder, the kind that is hard to perfect in a world full of CGI, talking animals, a war of beasts, and a gigantic lion based on Christ.
The movie presents some of the most bizarrely endearing creatures. Mr. Tumnus, Mr. Beaver, and Aslan are all more memorable than most of the human characters in any of the movies, and they’ll leave you incredibly sad because they are not in the sequels.
At the core of Dragonheart is a story about scamming people out of their money. Once you make it to the end though, the themes of honor, sacrifice, and friendship truly shine through. The movie follows a knight named Bowen, who befriends one of the last dragons, Draco. They spend their days having fun and taking people’s money while putting on fake shows.
Bowen finds out that the dragon gave a piece of his heart to one of his former students though, who is now the tyrannical King Einon. Bowen vows to stop the king, but the connection between dragon and man proves difficult – if the king dies, so will Draco. The struggle of morality will pull at your heartstrings as Bowen and Draco’s friendship grows stronger.
The Fifth Element (1997)
The Fifth Element is one of the best action movies to come out of the 90s and is home to many unique characters, as well as a fellow tall, blue-skinned alien, Diva Plavalaguna. In the 23rd century, New York is filled with flying cars, off-world vacation destinations, and technology that can create a perfect human-looking being with only a part of an alien hand.
The movie birthed some of the most iconic creatures and outfits in sci-fi films. Between Leeloo Dallas’ multipass and flashy orange suspenders, the hulking metal Mondoshawan bodies, and Diva Plavalaguna’s latex skin-dress and tentacle hair, there is something for everyone to appreciate.
The Water Horse (2007)
The Water Horse begins on the shore of Loch Ness in Scotland, where a young boy, Angus, finds a strange egg. And yep, you guessed it, it eventually turns into the fabled Loch Ness monster. But not until the boy and his best friend overcome hardships, find wondrous courage, and protect each other from harm’s way.
Though its CGI is nowhere near as seamless and gorgeous as Avatar’s, the touching story and friendship between Angus and Crusoe make it worth it. There is a reason that The Water Horse is many people’s comfort movie – it deals with all of the fantasies of an imaginative childhood: yearning for a best friend, wishing to find a magical creature, and having to grow up and deal with life’s cruelties.
Robert Zemeckis held nothing back when making the 3D computer-animated fantasy movie, Beowulf. So much so that people often are turned off by the uncanny valley nature of its CGI. The characters sometimes look so realistic that it’s hard not to be a little freaked out by it. The same can be said for Avatar’s Na’vi, which were made with motion capture to make them as realistic-looking as possible.
Beowulf is based on the Old English epic poem of the same name and follows a mighty warrior who arrives at a kingdom and offers to rid their land of a vicious demon named Grendel. He slays the beast, but at a very high cost – the wrath of Grendel’s mother, a seductive and vicious creature played by the alluring Angelina Jolie.
The Dark Crystal (1982)
The Dark Crystal is a fascinating look into on-screen world-building. Much like Avatar’s Pandora, the planet of Thra is full of peculiar characters, odd-looking creatures, and luscious settings that transport you entirely. It’s hard not to lose yourself in the way of the Mystics and Gelflings.
In the movie, the leader of the Mystics, the Master UrSu, raises a young Gelfling named Jen. As UrSu’s death and Thra’s three suns draw near, UrSu instructs Jen to fulfill the prophecy that would heal the Crystal by retrieving the last remaining shard of it. The movie is an accomplishment of Jim Hensen’s vast imagination, and it will feed yours as well.
A Monster Calls (2016)
A Monster Calls deals with the isolation and loneliness of a childhood that is far too overwhelming. Conor’s beloved mother is dying, his father lives thousands of miles away, and he has nothing in common with his overbearing grandmother. One night, a monster appears at his bedroom window, and Conor finds a very unlikely friend.
The Monster guides Conor through a voyage of courage and faith when he tells him stories, and Conor takes part in them when he feels like it. The stories become increasingly familiar to Conor and begin to mirror his own life and problems. The tale is incredibly touching and will be sure to leave you in tears by the end with the way it perfectly encapsulates the process of childhood loss and grief.
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