Top 10 Fairy Tales in Cinema

By James Oliver

These days, cinematic 'fairy tales' are associated with Disney or Shrek – children's films in other words, often smothered in irony. But peer into film history and you'll see that many filmmakers have been inspired by folk stories and the like.

What follows is ten of the best with video clips. And so, if you're sitting comfortably, we'll begin. Once upon a time...

NB. We've limited ourselves to choosing from titles currently available in the UK

10. The Princess Bride

Where better to start? An old man reads to his grandson, a handsome hero falls in love – you could say that's the very essence of fairy tales. The Princess Bride isn't based on a specific story – it's a tribute to all of them, and thoroughly enjoyable to boot.

Buy the DVD for £8.49 / Buy the Blu-ray for £


9. Bluebeard

Catherine Breillat is the bad girl of French cinema, obsessed with sex and... well, mainly sex. Not the most obvious candidate, then, to make a fairy tale and yet she succeeds with aplomb. Owing more to Angela Carter than the Brothers Grimm, Bluebeard shows her affinity with the form.

Buy the DVD for £6.99


8. Donkey Skin

Who better than Catherine Deneuve to play a fairy-tale princess? She looks radiant even when, as here, she appears to be sporting a novelty animal hat. Adapted from one of Charles Perrault's fairy tales (about a princess, her fairy godmother and aforementioned novelty animal hat) Donkey Skin is as charming, colourful and camp as you'd expect from a film directed by Jacques Demy.

Buy the DVD for £13.99


7. Faust

Subtitled 'A German Folk Tale', FW Murnau's final German film tells the old story of the scholar who sold his soul. Using effects that still look pretty special nearly 90 years later, Murnau conjured up devilment and delight, brilliantly evoking a world of pre-scientific metaphysics. Often misunderstood, this is maybe the purest statement of Murnau's world-view.

Buy the DVD for £


6. The Thief of Bagdad

Derived from the 1001 Nights (see also: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves), The Thief of Bagdad is one of the most purely pleasurable films ever made, a glowing tribute to the pleasures of storytelling. This sequence (filmed in exotic Cornwall rather than distant Araby) sees Sabu messing with a Genie. Be sure to note the Genie's magnificent toenails at 02.11

Buy the DVD for £6.99


5. Lotte Reiniger: The Fairy Tale Films

Lotte Reiniger was one of the greatest craftsmen (er...women) of cinema; she specialised in 'silhouette' films in which intricate cut-outs were given joyful life by her fluid animation. If the stories are familiar – she specialised in fairy tales – then the beauty of her technique makes her films a constant delight.

Buy the DVD for £8.99


4. Kwaidan

Because it's not just Europe that has folk tales. One of the most extraordinary films ever made, Kwaidan is a visually ravishing phantasmagoria, adapted from four stories by Lafcadio Hearn (an Irishman, as it happened), whose writings were based on traditional Japanese tales. This trailer gives but a flavour of its brilliance...

Buy the DVD for £11.99


3. Excalibur

The Matter of Britain has never been told as majestically as in John Boorman's masterpiece. Intense, stirring, mystical, triumphant, this is the outstanding modern version of the King Arthur legend. Here, Arthur drinks from the Holy Grail, finds his purpose renewed and rides off to kick some ass. And when the Old Spice music starts, turn it up LOUD.

Buy the DVD for £5.99


2. La Belle et la Bete

Often copied, never bettered, Cocteau's poetic rendering of the timeless tale is one of the most bewitching enchantments cinema can offer. It is a simple film, made with modest resources in a country still recovering from war. And yet it is possessed of an authentic magic; it is a film even cynics can believe in.

Buy the DVD for £16.99


1. Night of the Hunter

No, it's not set in ye olde times and, no, it's not based on any classic myth. But few films better evoke the atmosphere of fairy tales than Night of the Hunter. A film suffused with an elemental sense of good and evil, it brings traditional archetypes – innocent children, wicked stepfathers, kindly old women – into the twentieth century and makes depression-era America as mythical as any European kingdom. And just to be thoroughly subjective, this clip might be my favourite two minutes in the whole of cinema.

Buy the DVD for £6.49


Film Listing

Charles Laughton, 1955

£16.99

Recommended Star

The Night of the Hunter

A visually ravishing southern Gothic masterpiece, The Night of the Hunter is one ...

Blu-ray

Charles Laughton, 1955

£6.49

Recommended Star

The Night of the Hunter

A visually ravishing southern Gothic masterpiece, The Night of the Hunter is one ...

DVD

Tim Whelan, Michael Powell, 1940

£6.99

Recommended Star

The Thief of Bagdad

Probably the best film of its genre, telling of a small boy who experiences a series of magical a...

DVD

F.W. Murnau, 1926

£13.99

Recommended Star

Faust (Murnau, 1926) (Masters of Cinema)

FW Murnau's 1926 version of the Faust legend - his last German film - features as...

DVD+Blu-ray

Lotte Reiniger, 1922-56

£8.99

Recommended Star

Lotte Reiniger: The Fairy Tale Films

An exciting first volume of animated films from the pioneer of silhouette animati...

DVD

Jean Cocteau, 1946

£16.99

La Belle et la Bete (Remastered)

A landmark feat of cinematic fantasy in which master filmmaker Jean Cocteau conju...

DVD

Masaki Kobayashi, 1964

£11.99

Recommended Star

Kwaidan (Masters of Cinema)

Four nightmarish tales adapted from Lafcadio Hearn's classic Japanese ghost stori...

DVD

Rob Reiner, 1987

£8.49

The Princess Bride

A comical fantasy tale of beautiful princesses, foul villains and dashing heroes from director Ro...

DVD

Catherine Breillat, 2009

£6.99

Recommended Star

Bluebeard

Catherine Breillat's highly stylised retelling of Charles Perrault's fairy tale, Bluebeard weaves...

DVD

John Boorman, 1981

£5.99

Excalibur

John Boorman's epic version of the King Arthur legend takes all the important elements - the swor...

DVD

Rob Reiner, 1987

£9.49

The Princess Bride (25th Anniversary Edition)

A comical fantasy tale of beautiful princesses, foul villains and dashing heroes ...

Blu-ray

Jacques Demy, 1970

£13.99

Donkey Skin

French fairytale drama, directed by Jacques Demy. The King (Jean Marais) is distraught at the dea...

DVD