Escape Reality With These 14 Must-Watch Modern Fairy Tale Films

Pans Labyrinth 1 e1668405301148

When a film lover requests recommendations for modern fairy tale films in an online film forum, they're met with a variety of movies that have that faity-tale feeling, even if they don't look like one from the outside. Here are some of the best of the many movies discussed. 

1. Coraline (2009)

Coraline 2 Focus Features MSN
Image Credit: Focus Features.

Coraline is a special and wonderful movie that perfectly exemplifies a modern fairy tale. Based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman, Coraline tells the story of a tween girl who finds a pathway into a world where her “other parents” lavish her with the attention she craves but doesn’t get from her parents in the real world. But things don’t stay perfect for long. 

2. Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish Ewan McGregor
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

One film fan calls out Tim Burton’s Big Fish as an example of a modern fairy tale movie. The film follows a man who attempts to piece together the story of his father’s life but struggles to differentiate between fact and fantasy. 

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Quvenzhané Wallis Beasts of the Southern Wild
Image Credit: Mary Cybulski/Cinereach Ltd.

Beasts of the Southern Wild follows a young girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) as she searches for her mother after her father falls ill and the world begins to change around her, from melting ice caps to the appearance of magical creatures. One movie lover says “Omg, still in my top 10 all-time favs. The heart on that movie and the soundtrack is still so dear to me.”

4. The Little Prince (2015)

The Little Prince Jeff Bridges, Mackenzie Foy
Image Credit: Wild Bunch / Paramount Pictures.

This formally and narratively exciting adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s famous novel of the same name, tells the story of a little girl who meets an aviator who once met a mysterious and magical little prince. The film tells the original to film story in computer-generated animation while adapting the novella with stop motion to create something beautifully unique. 

5. The Lobster (2015)

Image Credit: A24

Not all fairy tales are bright and joyous and neither are their modern counterparts. The Lobster takes place in a world that almost looks like ours but is much grayer and includes very strange mating rituals. The story follows a man who checks into a hotel where he, and everyone else, must find a mate within 45 days or be transformed into an animal. The film is sometimes bleak and has a brutally dark sense of humor, but certainly fits in among other stories with fairy tale elements. 

6. Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

Wes Anderson’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox tells the story of the titular Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney) and several of his friends as they take on the farmers who want to force them out of their homes. It’s a gorgeously stop-motion animated film that brings Anderson’s typical symmetrical and brightly colored style to a story about talking animals, unsurprisingly it’s a great fit. 

7. Lady in the Water (2006)

Lady in the Water Bryce Dallas Howard
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

One respondent emphatically recommended M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, stating that the movie is ​​”one of my favorite movies of all time.” It’s a perfect fit for the request too as it tells a story that centers on a water nymph found in the swimming pool of an apartment complex, mixing modernity and classic fairy tale creatures to tell a unique story. 

8. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Guillermo Del Toro may be the cinematic master of the modern fairy tale. Both The Shape of Water and Pan’s Labyrinth receive multiple mentions in the discussion, but between the two, Pan’s Labyrinth remains the filmmaker’s masterpiece. The story of a girl who, looking to escape her brutal life during the Spanish Civil War, finds a portal to a mystical world isn’t just one of Del Toro’s best, it’s one of the best movies of the 21st century. 

9. Song of the Sea (2014)

Song of the Sea
Image Credit: Cartoon Saloon/GKIDS.

An animation lover strongly recommends the Irish animated film Song of the Sea, highlighting that it “is a beautiful movie that looks like a pop up book.” The movie centers on a ten year old boy in modern Ireland and his younger sister who is a magical creature who must go on a quest to free faeries from an ancient Irish goddess. 

10. Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Colin Farrell
Image Credit: Jonathan Hession/20th Century Studios.

Ireland receives more than one mention, as another commenter suggests that the most recent modern fairy tale movie is Martin McDonagh’s Banshees of Inisherin. Unlike the other movies mentioned though, Banshees never includes anything explicitly magical, instead telling a simple story of the break up of two friends that grows increasingly meaningful as an allegory as the film goes on.

11. Amelie (2001)

Image Credit: Miramax and UGC Fox Distribution.

Few live-action, ostensibly realistic movies look as magical as Amelie. The French film from writer/director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is bathed in a warm yellow glow that accentuates the story’s sweetness. The film follows a shy young woman who decides to anonymously better the lives of people around her and learns to connect with the people around her through those actions. 

12. Tigers Are Not Afraid (2017) 

Tigers Are Not Afraid
Image Credit: Videocine.

Tigers Are Not Afraid proudly wears its Pan’s Labyrinth influence as another film about surviving an inhospitable world by discovering magic. In Tigers Are Not Afraid, that world is a small Mexican city ravaged by the ongoing drug wars. But a group of children find a way to survive by banding together and with the help of three magical pieces of wish-granting chalk. It’s a beautiful but sometimes difficult-to-watch film that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the violence of gang warfare while also functioning as an exciting magical realist adventure. 

13. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Director David Fincher’s sweetest film to date, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, loosely adapts the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald to tell a fantastical love story. The film follows the eponymous Benjamin (Brad Pitt), who is born as an old man and ages backward, becoming ever younger over his 80 years of life. The most impactful moments in that life are those shared with the woman he loves, who moves in and out of his life. 

14. Matilda (1996)

Matilda (1996) Mara Wilson
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing.

Based on the novel of the same name by Roald Dahl, Matilda follows a young girl who never quite fits in with her family and struggles with an overbearing principal at school as she discovers that she has telekinetic powers. But unlike the similar Carrie, Matilda is a fun and sweet story of a girl who uses her powers to better the lives of those around her and make life more magical. 

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Film and TV Critic, Pop Culture Writer

  • Expertise: Horror, Animation, Queer Film
  • Education: Master's Degree in Philosophy from Boston College, Dual Bachelor's Degree in Philosophy and Political Science from Boston College
  • Organizer of Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd
  • Over 200 reviews, essays, articles, and lists across various sites

Experience: Kyle Logan has been writing about film since studying film and philosophy as an undergraduate at Boston College. Kyle began writing about film professionally in 2020 and has written for many sites including Screen Anarchy, Film Stories, and Fangoria. Kyle has also organized the Queer Film Challenge on Letterboxd since 2020, highlighting the queer history of film and bringing attention to rising queer filmmakers. Kyle now works full time with Wealth of Geeks, contributing lists, reviews, and podcast appearances on topics as varied as film, travel, and Halloween candy.