Best Magical Movies That Aren’t Harry Potter

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Harry Potter has become synonymous with movies about magic. Warner Bros. attempted to expand the Wizarding World franchise with the Fantastic Beasts series, but that franchise failed to take off and was canceled after three films. Now, Warner Bros. is looking to expand the franchise more by returning the original books with a prestigious Max series. Yet the story of the Boy Who Lived may be the standard for magical movies, but there have been a few other films that have done very well in the world of magic and sorcery.

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Audiences might now be looking for a new type of magical film. Either because they want something different from Harry Potter as they spent years watching it, or they might now want to distance themselves from the franchise following the controversy surrounding author J.K. Rowling, and her comments regarding transgender individuals have now made the Harry Potter series a complicated one to revisit. This now means an entirely new generation growing up might not want to approach the once-beloved magical franchise, and parents might want to think of something else to show their kids. Luckily, there are plenty of magical movies to choose from. Here are some great Harry Potter alternatives.

Update January 23, 2024: This article has been updated with even more great magical movies and franchises that can act as substitutes for the Harry Potter series.

15 Legend (1985)

Legend
Legend

Release Date
August 28, 1985

Ridley Scott traded science fiction for fantasy in Legend. The 80s film certainly had enough camp to turn off most Ridley Scott fans, but it also had some memorable moments. One of the longest-lasting images of the film is Tim Curry’s character of The Lord of Darkness, a horned, demonic figure who tries to plunge the world into eternal light by killing off the last unicorns. Tom Cruise stars as Jack, who must stop The Lord of Darkness in this fantasy classic.

What Makes It A Great Alternative

While the storyline in Legend already has a captivating and magical touch to it, it is the production that truly makes this movie a work of art. The movie is so classical, fittingly as the name implies, that it feels like an iconic legend coming to life. While the rumor that it inspired the video game franchise The Legend of Zelda has been exaggerated, it is clear that Legend is looking to invoke a classic feeling to it. With unicorns, magic, and all that jazz, this is the perfect movie for someone looking to watch an old-school sword and sorcerer film featuring one of the biggest movie stars in the world before he was super famous. Rent on AppleTV

14 Practical Magic (1998)

Practical Magic
Warner Bros.

In Practical Magic, a fantasy romance from 1998 with two well-known actresses, Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, portraying two sisters, who are witches in secret and trying to live their life under the burden of a curse. Any man who ever falls in love with one of the women will find the tragic fate of death. Sally (Bullock) and Gillian (Kidman) are set on bringing this curse to an end, but the road is not an easy one.

What Makes It A Great Alternative

Practical Magic centers all around a family curse, which really makes the sisters’ lives difficult. The introduction of this course can be related to the Harry Potter franchise, which clearly is full of many different curses. Whether it is a cursed chain that was supposed to kill Dumbledore, a cursed ring that slowly but surely brought the death of Dumbledore’s cells, or all the other spells and potions in the films, the magical endeavors have a similar touch as in Practical Magic. Rent on AppleTV

13 The Craft (1996)

The Craft

The Craft is a fantasy horror movie which centers on the life of Sarah Bailey, a teenager who moves to Los Angeles and, after a difficult start, forms a friendship with three schoolmates. However, Nancy, Bonnie, and Rochelle are not like other teenage girls. They are known as being witches and using witchcraft against their enemies, but their powers cause trouble for all of them, and seomtimes the way out isn’t that easy. The Craft carries the message of being aware of one’s gift, whatever it may be, and using it for the right reasons, even when society can quickly cause a temptation to abuse it for more power.

What Makes It A Great Alternative

What really elevates this movie and makes it special, even almost thirty years after its release, is the outstanding chemistry between the characters, which can also be seen in Harry Potter. The strong bond between the friends in The Craft is very similar to the one between Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and, to be fair, who hasn’t gotten in some trouble before? Magic in both of these movies has been at the center of one or the other mishap, which put them in a tricky situation. Additionally, each of the characters in The Craft has such relatable worries, ranging from low self-esteem to racism or broken homes. Rent on AppleTV+ or Vudu.

Related: The 23 Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy Movies of 2023, Ranked

12 The Witch (2015)

The Witch
The Witch

Release Date
January 27, 2015

Director
Robert Eggers

Here is something for an older crowd, offering more scares than they would get from the Harry Potter franchise. The Witch is a fantasy horror film that was released in 2015 but is set in the 1630s and focuses on the life of William and Katherine, as well as their five children. After the disappearance of their youngest and a series of other daunting incidents, the fear of witches and their black magic spreads through the rest of the family like poison. A nightmare takes over the entire family, each of them turning against one another, as lies and fear tower over them like a daunting wave.

What Makes It Great

The Witch delivers a gut-wrenching story filled with an almost unbearable amount of tension and incredible effects, and it is held together wonderfully by words of disguise, distrust, and sins. Robert Eggers, the writer and director of The Witch, won the Bram Stoker Award in 2016 for his incredible screenplay, but there are many other awards attached to the name as well as the makers and actors of the movie. This movie dives into the darkest corners of the human psyche, playing with fear and uncertainty while using the daunting sides of dark magic to its full extent. This is the hype of horror that the Potter films never really got into, but The Witch offers a more brutal take on magic. Stream on Max.

11 Onward (2020)

onward
Onward

Release Date
February 29, 2020

Pixar’s Onward is an animated tale that mixes action, adventure, comedy, and, of course, fantasy. Highlighting the exciting theme of magic, the film follows two elf brothers named Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt, who want nothing more than to see their deceased father one last time. In order to make their wish come true, they embark on a tumultuous journey in search of magic. Onward kicks it off with the idea that technology is of more use than magic; however, the two brothers, headstrong as they are, set their minds on finding magic and using it to reunite with their father. It is a heartfelt story, which is lightened up with a great sense of humor and outstanding animation.

What Makes It Great

Onward is full of great visuals, a fun contrast between incorporating fantasy elements into what is supposed to be a contemporary world, something the Potter films had a great time with like the flying car in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Onward was a film that was greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it was released one week before theaters shut down, but since then, it has grown to become a favorite among audiences on Disney+. For anyone looking for something that mixes fantasy and the modern day, check out Onward. Stream on Disney+

10 Hocus Pocus (1993)/Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Binx - Hocus Pocus
Walt Disney Pictures

Hocus Pocus follows a young high school student as he unwittingly releases the Sanderson Sisters upon the town of Salem. The witches wreak havoc on Halloween night as the kids try their best to send them back to where they came from. Almost 30 years after the release of the first movie, the prequel as well as the sequel, Hocus Pocus 2, hit Disney+, telling the origin story of the Sanderson Sisters.

What Makes It Great

Hocus Pocus is a staple of Halloween film fare. The cult classic is a must-watch throughout October, just as Harry Potter has become around Christmas time. It certainly stands out with its colorful atmosphere and its impressive costumes, for which the designer, Mary E. Vogt, even received an award. This atmosphere of the movie also occasionally surfaces in the Harry Potter films, especially during scenes such as school balls or other important events, which allow for great costumes to take the stage. Throughout the entire movie, there are spells and curses which will definitely ring a bell for Harry Potter fans. Whether it is a spell to bestow oneself with immortality, steer flying broomsticks, intriguing portions, or looking for ways to bring the dead back, Hocus Pocus has a lot of magic to offer. Stream on Disney+

9 Jumanji Trilogy (1996, 2017, 2019)

The original Jumanji, starring Robin Williams, is a beloved family film revolving around a magical board game. It was then followed years later by a spiritual sequel, Zathura, in 2005, but the franchise fully extended in 2017 with the release of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The film updated the formula from a board game to a video game that kids were transported into and featured the star power of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillian, and Jack Black. It proved to be so successful that a sequel, Jumaji: The Next Level, was released in 2019.

What Makes It Great

The Jumanji films offer audiences a fun family adventure trilogy to explore that spans generations. The original film brings the magical jungle to the real world, while the two sequels transport the characters to a mystical world filled with danger. This is the same level of excitement and wonderment that the Harry Potter franchise is known for. The movies feature plenty of big action set pieces and great character interactions that have made this franchise one of the most beloved and surprising trilogies in recent years. Stream Jumanji on Prime Video. Stream Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle on Hulu. Stream Jumanji: The Next Level on Starz.

8 Shazam! (2019)/Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)

Based on the DC Comics character of the same name, Shazam! tells the story of young Billy Batson (Asher Angel) who when he says the magic word ‘Shazam’ becomes an adult superhero (Zachary Levi). The first film sees Billy grappling with his superpowers while also coming into conflict with a mad scientist who is also working with a series of demons: the Seven Deadly Sins. The sequel, Shazam! Fury of the Gods expands the magical world with Billy Batson and his Shazam family coming into conflict with ancient gods, dragons, and other mythological creatures.

What Makes It A Great Alternative

Both Shazam! films focus on a young boy in a magical world, much like Harry Potter, but through the lens of a modern superhero movie. The first film is more of a comedy, paying homage to films like Big. The sequel feels like a full-blown magical epic, throwing mythical creatures into present-day Philadelphia. Shazam! is a superhero franchise but also a magical franchise that draws from the character’s rich Golden Age comic book history, making it feel more like a fantasy film than other superhero films. With a council of wizards, minotaurs, and unicorns, and a magical library with a pen that can write anything for you, Shazam! feels like Warner Bros. had the perfect franchise that could have filled the gap left by Harry Potter, and they squandered it. Stream both films on Max.

7 Stardust (2007)

Stardust
Paramount

Stardust began as a novel written by Neil Gaiman. Matthew Vaughn adapted the film in 2007. The fantasy film starring Daredevil’s Charlie Cox brought Gaiman’s magical world to life with an all-star cast including Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro. In the film, Tristan Thorne, played by Cox, enters a world of pirates and fairies to obtain a fallen star in order to gift it to his beloved called Victoria. The fallen star is revealed to be a woman, Yvaine, who Claire Danes plays, and it turns out that Tristan is not the only one who is after the beautiful fallen star.

What Makes It A Great Alternative

Stardust is very much like a classic fairy tale, featuring a mythical quest in a magical land with witches, pirates, and, of course, a shooting star made into a human persona. The production design and costuming are gorgeous. It is one of the best modern fantasy films of all time that sadly should have done better (Stardust actually opened one month after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which crushed it at the box office). Yet it has gained a cult following in recent years thanks to the wonderful characters brought to life by its amazing cast. Stardust is for someone who wants an old-fashioned fantasy adventure with a bit of romantic comedy flair. Stream on Prime Video

6 Doctor Strange (2016)/Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)

Magical elements had been teased in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it was with the release of Doctor Strange that the franchise fully embraced the supernatural. The first film follows Dr. Stephen Strange as he attempts to heal his hands, severely injured during a car accident, by any means necessary. He eventually makes his way to the sorcerers of Kamar-Taj, where he trains to become a master of the mystic arts, eventually facing off against a great evil. Then, in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Doctor Strange faces off against the Scarlet Witch while trying to protect a young superpowered girl named America Chavez.

What Makes It Great

The Doctor Strange movies fully establish the rules of magic in the MCU, introducing sorcerers and witches. The first film is a lot like Harry Potter for adults, as it features a magical facility where you train in magic, and the main hero eventually faces off against a magical evil that only he can stop. The sequel then expands the world, with even mystical creatures, and also drops Doctor Strange into an adventure similar to the middle Harry Potter films (the naming convention of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness feels a lot like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban). With incredible spells and visible magic, Doctor Strange sometimes evokes that feeling of being amid a battle straight out of Harry Potter, minus the wands. Strange, while using his hands and mind power, looks equally awesome, though, and he would surely point that out himself as well. Stream on Disney+

Related: Here Are the Most Powerful Magic-Users in the MCU, Ranked

5 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe offers plenty of magic, beginning with the existence of the wonderfully magical place called Narnia, which is filled with talking animals, witches, mystical creatures only known from tales, and much more. When Lucy, the youngest of four siblings, takes Edmund, Susan, and Peter through the back of a cupboard and straight to Narnia, their lives are forever changed. As the four siblings learn of their true destiny, they rise above their fears and fight for justice and freedom for Narnia. The film featured plenty of star power with Liam Neeson as the voice of Aslan the lion and Tilda Swinton as The White Witch

What Makes It Great

The Chronicles of Narnia was greenlit as an attempt to compete and cash in on the success of the Harry Potter franchise, as the series was a seven-long book franchise that was world-famous…or at least one of the entries was. That is why The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was one of the biggest movies of 2005 (even outgrossing Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at the domestic box office), but the sequels failed to catch on, and the franchise now getting a reboot from director Greta Gerwig. Yet with an epic magical world, an all-star cast, and some dazzling visuals, it is clear why The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe captured audiences’ attention in 2005 and brought a beloved book to life as many had only ever dreamed of. Stream on Disney+

4 Matilda (1996)

Matilda
Matilda

Release Date
August 2, 1996

The adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book proved to be one of the more popular children’s book adaptations. Matilda actually shared a couple of things with Harry Potter. Both she and Harry were forced to be raised by horrible people while dealing with powers. While Matilda possesses telekinetic powers, much of the film deals with her struggles with her parents and the sadistic principal, Miss Trunchbull.

What Makes It Great

Matilda offers a perfect combination of a dark atmosphere knitted together with lots of fun and humor. While using her powers to her advantage, such as making food for herself, it is the overall portrayal of Matilda’s childhood that is important. It captures the abuse that some children suffer and how sometimes the desire for revenge might develop. Harry and Matilda start out their journey in a similar position. Both of them don’t really experience family life as it should be, constantly struggling with not being accepted and longing for love and family. They are thrown into the world of magic from a young age onward and have to come to terms with it without proper parental guidance. While Matilda doesn’t make use of a wand, her powers still sometimes relate to what Harry can do, and, overall, the magical aspect is captivating all the same. Rent on AppleTV

Related: The 16 Most Underrated Fantasy Movies Based on Books

3 Labyrinth (1986)

Jim Henson and his Creature Shop helped bring the world of Labyrinth to life. The coming-of-age film tells the story of Sarah Williams, whose brother is under her watch, but she is struggling to calm the crying baby down. Overwhelmed with the task and annoyed by her little brother, she wishes for the evil Goblin King Jareth to take him away. When her wish actually comes true, and she realizes that she misses him terribly, Sarah is forced to solve The Goblin King’s labyrinth in order to save her infant brother from the Goblin King.

What Makes It Great

The acting in Labyrinth is simply outstanding. David Bowie’s performance as the Goblin King was universally praised alongside Jennifer Connelly’s as Sarah. Additionally, the world that Henson built was impressive, and it feels as though it is all set in a dream. In fact, with the exception of Bowie and Connelly, the cast is made up entirely of puppets, adding to the uniqueness of the entire film. If there is one message in Labyrinth that stands out particularly, then it is that space should be given to the inner child, and sometimes, more often than not, it is even important to listen to it, because it might actually know better. Rent on Amazon

2 Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Guillermo Del Toro was once offered the chance to direct Harry Potter. He opted for his own magical fairy tale in the form of Pan’s Labyrinth. The Spanish production follows the character of Ofelia as she embarks on a magical journey at the request of the mysterious Faun. The young girl is sent to make it through different tasks if she ever wants to reunite with her father again, but the path there is certainly not an easy one. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, Pan’s Labyrinth is a much darker magical film in comparison to others. It creates a chilling atmosphere but still never loses sight of its exhilarating magic.

What Makes It Great

Pan’s Labyrinth incorporates the fantastic and sometimes also daunting world of magic into the very world of war that holds so much reality for many. Paired with Del Toro’s horror sensibilities, this fairytale was one of the most memorable magical films ever made. It certainly is for older audiences, much like the later Potter films, but it offers plenty of great visuals and imagination that have made Del Toro one of the best filmmakers currently working. Rent on AppleTV

1 The Middle Earth Saga (2001, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2014)

Few film series had the same impact as the Harry Potter series. The Lord of the Rings stands as one of the most important film trilogies of all time. It all began with the Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. which hit theaters just one month after Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It was then followed by two sequels, The Two Towers in 2002 and Return of the King in 2003. Then, in 2012, the franchise returned with a prequel trilogy in The Hobbit, with films released in 2012, 2013, and 2024. They made the entire franchise known as the Middle Earth series. The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies brought the world of J.R.R. Tolkien to life. Fans get to follow along on an epic tale that spanned generations and the story of the One Ring.

What Makes It a Great Alternative

The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films are a series of six films, so in terms of run-time and amount of media, it certainly fills the gap left by Harry Potter. Yet also, The Lord of the Rings films were contemporary movies of the Harry Potter franchise, and together, they helped popularize the big-budget fantasy IP adaptation boom that Hollywood is still in today. Yet Lord of the Rings certainly got more acclaim as all three films in the original trilogy were nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and Return of the King swept the Oscars, winning all eleven categories it was nominated for.

Much like the Fantastic Beasts films, The Hobbit prequels are not as beloved as the original defining films, but they work to make a massive tapestry that fully brings audiences into a magical world. If any film series was going to be a good substitute for Harry Potter, it was always going to be Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and the world of Middle Earth. Stream on HBO Max

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