HBO Max doesn’t have the deepest movie catalog compared to competitors like Netflix and Prime Video, but trades that quantity for some serious quality. HBO Max is home to some of the most iconic fantasy films ever made, from classics like the Wizard of Oz to more recent hits like The Lord of the Rings and the Studio Ghibli collection. If you want to watch an endless catalog of new movies you’re better off with other streaming services, but if you want a nice mix of fantasy powerhouses and cult classics then look no further.
Here are our picks for fantasy movies to stream on HBO Max right now.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
The Lord of the Rings is a masterclass in adapting beloved books to the screen and merging multiple stories into one cohesive story. All the fantasy tropics are here: elves, dwarves, wizards, orcs and more. But the Lord of the Rings takes them to new heights with its sweeping cinematography, shockingly compelling costumes and powerful performances. In other words, this trilogy won 17 Academy Awards, including 11 wins out of 11 nominations for Return of the King. If you’ve been holding on, now’s the time to watch, and if you’ve seen them before, there’s never a bad time to watch again — especially with Amazon’s Rings of Power series coming out in the fall.
Spirited Away (2001)
This movie about transformation really made me feel transformed the first time I saw it. No other movie has touched me as much as this one. Arguably the finest film from a director responsible for many outstanding films, Spirited Away tells the story of Chihiro, a little girl who gets lost in a spirit world while her family travels through Japan. The animation is spectacular, and director Hayao Miyazaki’s careful pacing gives each character the perfect amount of time and space, delivering one of the most unique and immersive fantasy films ever made.
Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Harry Potter was a cultural phenomenon for 15 years, and while the author of the books has since left fans with more conflicting feelings about the franchise, there’s no denying that the films were some of the most influential fantasy films of the new millennium. All eight films — from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 — are available to watch on HBO Max. Prisoner of Azkaban, the series’ third entry, is a highlight, as is the two-part Deathly Hallows finale.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Princess Mononoke will scar you. It is a violent, tragic film about the destruction of the natural world in the wake of industrialization. It’s also the most deeply rooted, poignant film Miyazaki has ever made. Dire wolves, violent swine and writhing parasitic demons all play vital roles in the story, which contains more violence and bloodshed than anything else in the Ghibli collection. That’s part of what makes Mononoke so great — it feels unlike any of Miyazaki’s other films, thanks to its unwavering take on themes of fear, violence, and fighting to protect the things that matter to us.
The Mummy (1999)
Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz star in this action-oriented reboot of Universal’s classic monster movie, which unleashes a cursed ancient Egyptian pharaoh in the 1920s. The Mummy was the eighth highest-grossing film of 1999, surpassing Blair Witch and James Bond at the box office, and it retains much of its original charm. It should be a joke, a flop, but the performances by Fraser and Weisz grounds the film in humor and compassion. However, avoid it if you don’t like beetles.
The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)
Studio Ghibli is often synonymous with Miyazaki, but this film proves that the studio is perfectly capable of making good films together with other directors. An adaptation of Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, Arrietty focuses on a young girl from a race of petite people who “borrow” things like tissue paper and sugar cubes in order to survive. It’s a sweet little story about growing up, helping others and facing the uncertainty of the future.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A classic fantasy film, The Wizard of Oz follows Dorothy as she is transported from Kansas to a land of witches, wizards, live scarecrows and more. Judy Garland stars in her most iconic role as the lost but determined Dorothy. It’s a great early movie for kids, who will love the colorful characters and music tracks, and adults can appreciate a glimpse of how movies were made 80 years ago.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)
Oh, you thought we were done with the Miyazaki movies? They’re all worth checking out (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 like a fantasy movie. Kiki is a smart, warm-hearted young witch and when she sets out on her own for the first time, she must learn to deal with her powers, her feelings and her dreams at the same time. It’s a powerful story, painful at times in how accurately it portrays Kiki’s struggles, but it’s an uplifting tale for children and adults alike.
Video screenshot by Bonnie Burton/CNET
Part superhero action movie, part alternate history of World War II, 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 battling his seeming fate. Hellboy is a cult classic because it treats its characters seriously while reminding that movies are meant to be entertaining, and Ron Pearlman wearing decorated demon horns while being overprotective of cats is nothing but entertaining.
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