X

The Absolute Best Fantasy Movies on Max

HBO Max rebranded itself as just Max, but it still has some of the most iconic fantasy movies around, plus a few underrated gems.

Updated June 4, 2023 9:00 a.m. PT

image-from-ios-14.png
Jennifer Bisset
Written by  Adam Benjamin Jennifer Bisset
Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
image-from-ios-14.png
Adam Benjamin Managing Editor
Adam Benjamin has helped people navigate complex problems for the past decade. The former digital services editor for Reviews.com, Adam now leads CNET's services and software team and contributes to its game coverage.
Expertise Operating systems, streaming services, mobile apps and first-person shooters Credentials
  • Adam has been covering streaming services since 2013 and wants to help people navigate the subscription creep in their lives.
Jennifer Bisset
Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET
16171819202122232425+
Years of Experience
14151617181920212223
Hands-on Product Reviewers
6,0007,0008,0009,00010,00011,00012,00013,00014,00015,000
Sq. Feet of Lab Space

CNET’s expert staff reviews and rates dozens of new products and services each month, building on more than a quarter century of expertise. Read how we test products and services.

The fantasy movies on the recently rebranded streaming service Max are a mix of cult classics, duds and some of the best fantasy ever filmed. Among the hits, you'll find the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, a selection of charming Studio Ghibli films, Harry Potter, comic book blockbusters from DC, and much more. Whether you're looking for mainstream hits or something new, you'll find them on this streaming service.

Show less
See at

The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

The Lord of the Rings is a masterclass in adapting beloved books to screen and weaving multiple stories together into one cohesive narrative. All the fantasy tropes are here: elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs and more. But the Lord of the Rings elevates them to new heights with its sweeping cinematography, shockingly immersive costuming and powerful performances. To put it another way: This trilogy won 17 Academy Awards, including 11 wins on 11 nominations for Return of the King. If you've been holding out, now's the time to watch, and if you've seen them before, there's never a bad time for a rewatch -- especially with the extended editions available on Max.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Wonder Woman (2017)

One of DC's strongest superhero films in the past decade, Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot as Diana, the princess of Themyscira. Her peaceful life is upended when fighter pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on her secluded island. The film follows Diana as she leaves her home paradise to attempt to put an end to World War I. Director Patty Jenkins pits Wonder Woman's hope against a world in despair.

Show expert take Show less
See at

The Wizard of Oz (1939)

A classic fantasy movie, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy as she's transported out of Kansas into a land of witches, wizards, living scarecrows and more. Judy Garland shines in her most iconic role as the lost-but-determined Dorothy. It's a great early film for kids, who will enjoy the colorful characters and musical numbers, and adults might appreciate a glimpse into how movies were made 80 years ago.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Spirited Away (2001)

This movie about transformation genuinely left me feeling transformed the first time I watched it. No other movie has affected me the way this one did. Arguably the best movie from a director responsible for many excellent movies, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a little girl who gets lost in a spirit world as her family moves across Japan. The animation is spectacular, and director Hayao Miyazaki's careful pacing gives every character the perfect amount of time and space, delivering one of the most unique and compelling fantasy movies ever made. 

Show expert take Show less
See at

Stardust (2007)

An underrated pure fantasy flick based on Neil Gaiman's book of the same name, Stardust conjures up a sprinkle of magic to transport you to the magical kingdom of Stormhold. Tristan (Charlie Cox) meets a fallen star in the form of a young woman (Claire Danes), helping her survive those hunting her.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Last Night in Soho (2021)

Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright dabbles in psychological horror, with several plunges into a young girl's fantasy. Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young fashion student who travels to the Swinging Sixties at night. She observes the life of another young woman (Anya Taylor-Joy) aspiring to achieve her dreams. But Last Night in Soho is no Midnight in Paris -- prepare for unsolved mysteries and a few ghoulish scares.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Shazam! (2019)

One of DC's most underrated superhero films, Shazam follows the teenage Billy Batson as he stumbles into an adult body and supernatural powers like the the strength of Hercules, the power of Zeus and more. Despite being easy fodder for childish jokes, this movie has one of the more emotional through lines of DC's recent slate.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Godzilla (2014)

The 2014 reboot of the towering terror of Tokyo is underloved and underappreciated. No Godzilla movie before or since has done as much to sell the truly awesome scale of the monster. Yes, the movie takes a slow burn approach to revealing Godzilla, but the time it spends in the build-up makes the payoff that much sweeter. While some might not like the movie spending more time on the humans following Godzilla, those characters add emotional stakes to the carnage. You can also find the sequels King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong on Max (along with the '54 original), but this is Godzilla's best showing.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Hellboy (2004)

Part superhero action movie, part World War II alternate history, part fantasy film about a demon child, Hellboy defies easy categorization. But director Guillermo del Toro weaves it all together into a dark and entertaining story about a man fighting against his apparent destiny. Hellboy is a cult classic because it treats its characters seriously while remembering that movies are meant to be entertaining, and Ron Pearlman wearing filed-down demon horns while being overprotective of cats is nothing if not entertaining.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Princess Mononoke will scar you. It's a violent, tragic movie that deals with the devastation of the natural world in the wake of industrialization. It's also the most visceral, harrowing movie Miyazaki ever made. Giant wolves, violent boars and wriggling parasitic demons all play vital roles in the story, which features more violence and bloodshed than anything else in the Ghibli collection. That's part of what makes Mononoke so great -- it feels distinct from all of Miyazaki's other movies, thanks to its unflinching look at themes of fear, violence and fighting to protect the things that matter to us.

Show expert take Show less
See at

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Oh, you thought we were done with the Miyazaki movies? Any of them are worth a watch (Totoro, Howl's Moving Castle and Nausicaa are additional highlights), but Kiki's Delivery Service holds a special place in my heart for how authentic it feels, even as a fantasy movie. Kiki is a bright, warm-hearted young witch, and as she ventures out on her own for the first time, she must learn to grapple with her powers, her feelings and her dreams all at once. It's a powerful story, sometimes painful in how accurately it portrays Kiki's struggles, but it's an uplifting tale for kids and adults alike.

Show expert take Show less
See at

The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

Studio Ghibli is often synonymous with Miyazaki, but this film is proof the studio is perfectly capable of making good movies with other directors. An adaptation of Mary Norton's book The Borrowers, Arrietty focuses on a young girl from a race of tiny humans who "borrow" things like tissue paper and cubes of sugar to survive. It's a sweet little story about growing up, helping others and facing the uncertainty of the future. 

Show expert take Show less

New Movies Coming in 2023 From Marvel, Netflix, DC and More

See all photos