The best movies about magic include some of the most riveting and fascinating films ever made. From the bravado and intrigue of magic movies like The Prestige and The Illusionist, to the hilarity of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, the films about magic listed here are worth a watch (or two, and watch very carefully). These movies feature some of the best fictional magicians of all time, too. What’s your favorite movie about magic? If it isn’t listed here, feel free to add it.
• The Illusionist
The Illusionist is an engrossing, well-crafted story of mystery, magic and intrigue that is certain to enchant, if not hypnotize, audiences. The Illusionist is more modest in conception, with more control and more focus; its trick ending is more guessable but more realistic and more satisfying, too. At its centre is an enigmatic showman in turn-of-the-century Vienna, played with charisma and poise by Edward Norton; the director is Neil Burger, who made the much-admired JFK conspiracy-mockumentary Interview With the Assassin in 2002. He has here freely adapted a 1997 short story by Pulitzer prize-winning author Steven Millhauser, and the result is a smart, sharp, economically achieved piece of work.
• Stardust (2007)
Matthew Vaughn’s new film is a wackily surreal, primary-coloured fairytale from a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, similar to Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits – though without Gilliam’s darker, nastier edge. It’s wildly silly and cheerfully pointless, and borne aloft on a helium cloud of childlike good humour and good nature, and though overlong, it’s got happiness and charm. There are outrageously over-the-top turns from Michelle Pfeiffer as a wicked witch obsessed with remaining young and Robert De Niro as the zany pirate captain of an errant Zeppelin aircraft. The screenplay is, incidentally, the joint work of Vaughn and Jane Goldman, a smart writer who deserves to be known for more than being Mrs Jonathan Ross.
• Now You See Me (2013)
Now You See Me is a crisp crime caper that, while superficially entertaining, is devoid of much that could be viewed as positive when you “come in closer,” as Daniel instructs the audience to do. Just as he and his Four Horsemen comrades repeatedly blind audiences and pursuers alike to their true intent, so the movie’s narrative sleight of hand strives to convince us that we need not look at its ugly underpinnings.
• Practical Magic (1998)
Practical Magic is a chick movie with a multiple personality disorder. It tootles along being cute and fluffy like a twentysomethings’ version of Sabrina The Teenage Witch, but to further its notions of sisterhood and the power of women, it also takes a spin through Thelma And Louise territory, then revisits The Exorcist to up the supernatural content. It’s enough to make your head spin.
• Spirited Away (2001)
In this animated feature by noted Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki, 10-year-old Chihiro (Rumi Hiiragi) and her parents (Takashi Naitô, Yasuko Sawaguchi) stumble upon a seemingly abandoned amusement park. After her mother and father are turned into giant pigs, Chihiro meets the mysterious Haku (Miyu Irino), who explains that the park is a resort for supernatural beings who need a break from their time spent in the earthly realm, and that she must work there to free herself and her parents.
• The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige is often overlooked in the canon of Christopher Nolan’s movies and that is really a shame, for what a pleasant surprise it was. A great and very unusual story (stories about magicians don’t come along that often) with strong pacing, perfect story structure and great dialog. Written by Christopher and his brother Jonathan Nolan, it is one of the best — if not the best — screenplays of late to study the story-telling technique of Foreshadowing and Payoff. Two friends and fellow magicians become bitter enemies after a sudden tragedy. As they devote themselves to this rivalry, they make sacrifices that bring them fame but with terrible consequences.
• Houdini (1953)
While working as a Coney Island entertainer, Harry Houdini (Tony Curtis) meets and falls madly in love with Bess (Janet Leigh). The two quickly marry, and with her at his side, the magician begins his rise to fame as the world’s greatest escape artist and magician. But as the escapes get more and more dangerous, Bess worries that Harry may be taking his act too far. This biographical look at the life of Houdini takes several liberties with the facts, including how the magician actually died.
• The Magician (1958)
The film was distantly inspired by G. K. Chesterton’s play Magic, which Bergman numbered among his favourites. Bergman staged a theatre production of “Magic” in Swedish at one point. The film was selected as the Swedish entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 31st Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee. With The Magician, an engaging, brilliantly conceived tale of chicanery that doubles as a symbolic portrait of the artist as a deceiver, Ingmar Bergman proved himself to be one of cinema’s premier illusionists. Max von Sydow stars as Dr. Vogler, a nineteenth-century traveling mesmerist and peddler of potions whose magic is put to the test in Stockholm by the cruel, eminently rational royal medical adviser Dr. Vergérus (Gunnar Björnstrand). The result is a diabolically clever battle of wits that’s both frightening and funny, shot by Gunnar Fischer in rich, gorgeously gothic black and white.
• Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban not only changed the Harry Potterfilm franchise but helped shape the next decade of young adult film franchises for the better. Before Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron came on board the Harry Potterfranchise to direct the third film, the series was very much a straight-forward, by-the-book adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s bestselling series, more or less in line with other film adaptations of children’s books. Prisoner of Azkaban grossed a total of $796.7 million worldwide,making it the second highest-grossing film of 2004 and received praise for Cuarón’s direction and the performances of the lead actors. It marked a notable change in the film series’ tone and directing, and is considered by many critics and fans to be one of the best Harry Potter films.
• The Wizard of Oz (1939)
The Wizard of Oz has exerted the most profound influence on filmmakers around the world who refuse to see the cinema as a realist medium, but rather view it as the art form that comes closest to our dreams. In The Wizard of Oz, reality – as represented by Kansas – is literally colourless. What’s worse, it’s not the beautiful black and white one might expect from a Hollywood film of the period. Instead it’s doubly drab sepia. One of the most famous and iconic Hollywood films of all time, this adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s legendary is still as delightfully fantastical as when it came out. Judy Garland stars as Dorothy Gale, a farm girl in Kansas who gets swept up in a tornado and finds herself in the colorful and enchanting world of Oz with her little dog Toto.