Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the most beloved and influential epic fantasy series ever made. It is the definitive adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s genre-defining, game-changing novel. The film series lived up to the grandeur of the book, and became the yardstick against which all other fantastical adventures were measured.
The fictional world of Middle-earth is built to perfection in The Lord of the Rings. Middle-earth has its own rules, customs, myths, and a great variety of inhabitants, which makes for a powerfully fleshed-out immersive setting. The development arcs of the characters are incredibly engaging. This is made evident by the fact that a great number of characters have become pop culture icons themselves. The films present the archetypal story of good-vs-evil in this high fantasy background. Standing apart from a crowd of generic fantasy films, these 12 TV shows and movies like Lord of the Rings have built epic worlds of their own.
1. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
Guillermo del Toro directed this masterpiece of dark fantasy grounded in the reality of war. Pan’s Labyrinth is an exceptional fantasy film, showcasing great world-building, grotesque characters, and a larger-than-life heroine’s peril-ridden journey. The production design makes the world of the labyrinths a grand spectacle, reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. However, while Jackson’s saga is more positive and innocent, Pan’s Labyrinth is sinister and frightening.
It is inspired by the darkness, horror, and tragedy that lie beneath the surface of fairy tales. This is reinforced through the setting of Francoist Spain in 1944. Young Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) is believed to be the reincarnation of Moanna, the Princess of the Underworld. She must journey through the magical labyrinths and complete some tasks to get back her rightful place. Pan’s Labyrinth is a unique film where the fairies and fauns are as real as Franco’s fascists. It is a triumph in both the fantasy genre and war genre.
2. Star Wars trilogy (1977–83)
Star Wars and Lord of the Rings have more in common than being iconic blockbusters which have influenced generations. The former is usually categorised as a sci-fi series, but it would perhaps be more accurately described as a space fantasy. The highlights of this series are its grandeur, epic adventures, spectacular visuals, and memorable characters, among other elements. It depicts the battle between good and evil through the Light Side and the Dark Side of the Force. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) goes through the archetypal hero’s journey in order to end the tyranny of the Galactic Empire.
Both the series also give us some iconic villains, some with redeeming qualities and some without. The magical elements and powers of the characters have parallels too. Star Wars offers a good balance of action, emotion, humour, and romance. A huge pop cultural phenomenon, Star Wars is a landmark in the history of cinema.
3. Harry Potter series (2001–11)
This is another iconic series, based on J. K. Rowling’s novels, which took the world by storm around the same period as Jackson’s trilogy. There are a lot of similarities between them in concept and plot trajectories. The Harry Potter series is set in a great fantasy world, the centre of which is the Hogwarts School attended by young witches and wizards. This magical realm has its own elaborate history, legends, myths, rules, and customs. It is a grand and highly imaginative world, full of odd creatures, peculiar objects, interesting concepts, and fan favourite characters.
Again the battle of good against evil is the focal point of the hero’s journey. We follow Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends as they grow up and sharpen their skills to battle against the Dark Lord Voldemort (Fiennes) and his army of Death Eaters. Along the way, this fascinating and immensely enjoyable series offers fantastical adventures, epic battles, and relatable coming-of-age experiences.
4. Fantastic Beasts series (2016, 2018)
This series is a spin-off of and prequel to the Harry Potter series but is distinctly different from it in many ways. The world of fantasy interacts with the human world in this series and the settings are various. This lends a different kind of depth and perspective to this universe. Like in Lord of the Rings, the magical elements are enticing, the safety of the world(s) is at stake, mythical creatures and grotesque characters abound.
However, one thing that makes this series stand apart in the fantasy genre is the relative normalcy of the main characters. Not only the human characters, but also Newt (Redmayne) himself is a lovable underdog hero who happens to be a fantastic beast-whisperer (pun intended). Fantastic Beasts presents a darker, more mature take on the Wizarding World. But it retains the alluring magical concepts, the powerhouse entertainment, and the archetypal battle between good and evil.
5. The Chronicles of Narnia series (2005–10)
Based on C. S. Lewis’s epic fantasy children’s novels, this series is mostly set in the magical realm of Narnia. The Pevensie siblings find the portal to this fantastical world through seemingly ordinary objects in the human world. They are destined to arrive in Narnia when the land experiences great difficulties brought on by malevolent forces. The world of Narnia is visually stunning and has its own legends, philosophies, and mythologies.
Both Tolkien and Lewis, who were friends, took inspiration from Norse mythology for their respective tales of fantasy. The two series thus have many parallels in their world-building. The trajectory of the little heroes who must rise to the occasion to save Narnia also presents a common theme. The first movie of the series is held to be the best. But if you like darker tones, the other two films are great options.
6. The NeverEnding Story (1984)
This fantasy film from Wolfgang Petersen is loosely adapted from Michael Ende’s novel of the same name. A young bookish boy, Bastian (Barret Oliver), starts reading a mysterious book and eventually finds himself as part of its narrative. In this film, the lines between imagination and reality are blurred. The book Bastian reads is about the magical realm of Fantasia which is under threat from an evil force known as “The Nothing.” This book acts as a portal for Bastian and he is drawn into the colourful and adventurous land of Fantasia.
The world-building in this movie is remarkable for its time. The various magical creatures and the vibrant landscape make Fantasia look attractive. The main characters are young kids who must step up to defeat evil and save their world from being immersed in darkness. It is an entertaining, creative film which has gained the status of a cult classic over time.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy series (2014, 2017)
This surprisingly fresh entry in the superhero genre also has elements of a Star Wars-esque space fantasy. The series has a lot of parallels with Lord of the Rings. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his odd group of friends form a sort of fellowship to protect the galaxy from the forces of evil. It stands apart from other superhero movies as they are protecting the alien world. This offers us a rich landscape (or space-scape) which heightens the fantastical nature of the series.
Instead of the One Ring, here we have powerful objects like the Orb and the Anulax Batteries, which must be kept from falling into the wrong hands. The films have a wonderful blend of comedy, sci-fi, and larger-than-life action sequences. They are also about family and friendship. Both the characters and cinematography are coloured neon-bright. This series presents one of the finest space adventures in recent years.
8. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This cult classic from Don Chaffey is a mythological fantasy adventure film. It was adapted from the Greek epic poem Argonautica, written by Apollonius Rhodius in the 3rd century BC. This source material makes for a great world of fantasy, full of legendary characters, magical objects, dangerous journeys, epic battles, and fascinating mythological creatures. Jason (Todd Armstrong) is the hero destined to bring about the end of evil usurper, Pelias (Douglas Wilmer).
The movie follows him and his group of warriors as they set out to obtain the magical Golden Fleece. They go through a number of adventures on their way and face some legendary monsters. These creatures are brought to life brilliantly through stop-motion animation techniques. These special effects made the fight sequence against the skeleton army an iconic scene in cinema. This is a colourful and highly entertaining film.
9. Willow (1988)
This fantasy film, directed by Ron Howard and produced by George Lucas, has some dark elements. It is set in a magical land which has its own mythical creatures, legends, and customs. It also has its own evil sorceress who wishes to thwart the prophecy of her downfall. She tries to kill the baby who is destined to end her reign one day. The Nelwyn dwarf Willow (Warwick Davis) takes up the responsibility of sending this baby safely to her people.
A journey full of adventures, dangers, magic, and twists and turns ensue. The film presents a familiar tale executed well. The special effects are the big highlight. Lucas’s company, Industrial Light & Magic, provided great stop-motion visuals and was groundbreaking in its use of the morphing technology. It is not a perfect film but it sure is fun.
10. Game of Thrones (2011–19)
This immensely popular fantasy drama is widely considered as one of the best TV series of all time. It is adapted from George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire. It seems to have taken some inspiration from Lord of the Rings and has some similar elements. However, Game of Thrones brings a far darker and more mature take on fantasy, which completely revolutionised the genre.
It is a complex show covering plenty of genres, themes, plot lines, and character arcs. The world-building is exceptional, and there’s great variety in the fictional lands of Westeros and Essos. There are two overarching plots unfolding simultaneously. One concerns the war of succession between several noble families to acquire the Iron Throne. The other is humanity’s fight for survival against a frightening army of the undead White Walkers. Along with fantasy, the series also presents a great take on war and politics.
11. The Witcher (2019–present)
This fantasy drama series is based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s book series of the same name. It is set in the fictional land called the Continent, which has a medieval-inspired look. It revolves around Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), a mutated monster-hunter known as a “witcher,” who is shunned by society. He is linked to Princess Ciri (Freya Allen) by destiny, and also finds the sorceress Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) along the way.
The show offers magical powers, mythical stories, grotesque creatures, and warring kingdoms through an unconventional narrative style. The visuals are good and the characters are interesting. The show has faltered sometimes with execution but it has still become a fan favourite. The main reasons for this are probably a good foundation, a great cast, and a touch of darkness in the fantasy elements. It will hopefully find a surer footing in the coming seasons and unleash its true potential.
12. His Dark Materials (2019–present)
The fantasy drama series is based on Philip Pullman’s novel series of the same name. It has an interesting setting which spans multiple worlds. In a parallel universe, young Lyra (Dafne Keen) discovers a sinister secret which involves kidnapped children and a mysterious particle called Dust. Her search for her missing friend takes her on a dangerous quest which has ramifications across the different worlds.
The show is visually enticing, has an engaging plot, and great characters. It stands out as a fantasy series by subverting the positive take of Lord of the Rings and creating something darker and heavier. It questions systems and institutions where Jackson’s saga adheres to them. This show is a unique addition to the fantasy genre. It is an excellent option for those who seek fantasy characterised by complexity, maturity, and audacity.
There we are! These are some of the best shows and movies like Lord of the Rings. The trilogy signified a landmark in the fantasy genre, which many other works have attempted to emulate with varying levels of success. This genre is remarkable for its highly imaginative quality, its scope of grand escapism, and sometimes even its critique of the real world through the unreal world. The movies and TV series listed here are exemplary works in the genre which share common ground with Jackson’s trilogy in different ways. If you’ve finished watching these, check out Stardust (2007), The Princess Bride (1987), and The Shannara Chronicles (2016–17).