7 Fairy Tale Movies You Should Watch Because You're A F*cking Grown-Up, That's Why.
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7 Fairy Tale Movies You Should Watch Because You're A F*cking Grown-Up, That's Why.

By Joanna Robinson | Seriously Random Lists | September 11, 2012 | Comments ()


With the recent glut of "fairy tale" movies and TV shows "for adults" you'd be forgiven if you were inclined to wash your hands of the entire genre. Somewhere between Twilight-infused Little Red and leather clad Hansel and Gretel I began to lose my faith in Hollywood to do anything interesting with the notion of fable and folklore. And don't get me started on the overblown, undernuanced "Once Upon A Time" or the only marginally better "Grimm." That being said, it's not as if the essence of fairytales and folklore aren't appropriate subject matter for adults. There's a reason they were around long before Disney got ahold of them. The following 7 films represent the best "adult" fairy tales in recent memory. There's nothing wrong with enjoying your Disney, but check these out too. Because you're a f*cking grown-up, that's why.

Edward Scissorhands (1990): Tim Burton has tried time and time again to recreate the dark, magical spell he spun in Edward Scissorhands. But the mournfully comic tale of an outcast boy (essentially an Ugly Duckling/Pinocchio hybrid) has never been matched. His other attempts at fables (Big Fish, The Corpse Bride, Alice In Wonderland) have gotten exponentially worse over time. While Edward Scissorhands certainly isn't Burton's only good movie, it's arguable his best and a fine example of a fairytale plot that rings true.

Ondine (2009): One of Colin Farrell's better films, this story of an Irish fisherman who finds a woman in his net whom he believes to be a Selke (water nymph) borrows heavily from the ballet of the same name (which in turn borrow heavily from "The Little Mermaid"/"Melusine"). Though the very best "Selke" film is still The Secret Of Roan Inish, this more mature plot involves addiction, redemption and flirts with the idea of the supernatural without explicitly invoking it.

The Company of Wolves (1984): This is the most "classically" fairytale movie on the list and one of many strong "Little Red Riding Hood" retellings. (See also: Freeway.) Neil Jordan's messed up take manages to scratch out the snarling, writhing sexual subtext of The Big Bad Wolf without all the stupid trappings that were the downfall of Catherine Hardwick's more recent attempt.

The Fall (2006): It's surprising that after the brilliance of The Fall, Tarsem produced the dumb but pretty Immortals and Mirror Mirror. What keeps The Fall from a similar fate are the completely natural (and largely improvised) performances from stars Lee Pace and Catinca Untaru. Their interactions provide an anchor for the candy floss visuals of The Bandit and his companions. And while it's not all happily ever after, it's a satisfying journey.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006): Speaking of unhappy endings, the one in Pan's Labyrinth is so traumatic that many haven't gone back for a second viewing. But that's classic fairytale: the blood in Cinderella's shoe and the Little Mermaid's watery grave. The storyline, that of a girl with a cruel step-parent who must perform three tasks/labors to prove her worth, is the stuff countless fairytales are made of. But the shocking violence of the brutally fascist Spain and Del Toro's stable of gruesome/frightening creatures make this story unsuitable for children. That's right, Del Toro made it just for you.

Hanna (2011): From the first scenes of Hanna handling a beloved and well-worn volume of fairy stories to the final confrontation in the fictional "Grimm House" and the real, derelict Spreepark in Berlin director Joe Wright made no secret of his fairy tale intentions. In fact, Cate Blanchett's Marissa Wiegler (part evil step-mother, part big bad wolf) emerges from a giant set of lupine jaws. Too on the (my what a big) nose? Not at all. Hanna, with her long blond hair and bleached eyebrows is part alien child, part princess. Another Pinocchio trying to figure out how to be a real child. Underneath the action thriller veneer Hanna is, like most fairy stories, about growing up and finding your place in the world despite fantastical opposition. If you can make it through puberty, you can make it through anywhere.

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012): The closing (non-spoilery) lines of my favorite film of the year so far is classic fairytale: "Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub." And while there are some elements that work better than others (I wasn't personally the biggest fan of the literal "beasts") there are two "catch-your-breath" sequences involving Hushpuppy's mother. Pure mythic, magical realism scenes that are equal parts Laura Esquival and fairydust. But when Hushpuppy descends into the red-tinged dance club called Elysian Fields, her hero's quest almost complete, she's not just a fairytale figure, she's an achingly real girl. This film does so successfully what many fail to do: make a tale more honest by making it less true.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Muscleman

    If you like these kinds of movies, please watch "Hellboy 2," The part with the witch is awesome.
    I would also rec. "City of Ember."

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Odd. If I remember correctly, the review for "Ondine" on this very site found the movie less than average. And here comes the recommendation. To quote: "Any semblance of joy or wit or pleasure gets drowned under a lagging pace, a carapace-crushingly stupid plot, and a fishy twist that I had wished for and was sorely sorrowful I received."

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  • Brenda

    What about Lawn Dogs? It actually weaves a Russian fairy-tale into the story, but I love it because it's a wonderful girl-coming-of age story. Little Otik and Tom Thumb are both super creepy fairy-tales that would give kids nightmares

  • Love, love, love "The Fall" and "Edward Scissorhands." If I hear even just a few bars of the song from "Edward..." my eyes automatically water up. You know which song I mean.

    But I just haven't been in the right mood to watch "Pan's Labyrinth." I had it on my DVR for almost 3 years and never put it on.

  • Jt

    P.s. I nominate the Pale Man (I think that's his name from Pan's Labyrinth) as one of the top 5 scary monsters ever conceived, holy crap those pointy knitting needle fingers...

  • Jt

    Great list. I actually loved the literal beasts in BOTSW, but that is just me. Everyone out there in internetland should spit out whatever they're eating and go see this film. It is staggeringly beautiful, lush and haunting. Kind of like, well - Pan's Labyrinth - another movie other movies want to be.

  • googergieger

    Lady Vengeance

  • great list! i think i may be in a minority that loved Big Fish. i also may be alone in that I would add Shyamalan's Lady in the Water.

  • muscleman

    Here! Here!
    I second "Lady in the water" If you watch it on blu ray, turn it up. The surround sound of the wolves scared the crap out of me......LOL!

  • BWeaves

    I will not watch Pan's Lab, because that eye-ball in the hand creature freaks me the hell out in still photos.

  • Sean

    It's wonderful. The eye thing isn't actually that scary or threatening. The people are far more deadly.

  • Rooks

    Chihiro? Princess Mononoke? I really believe that every single Ghibli-movie counts as a fairy tale, but gee, there are wriggling worms of dark brownish blood coming out of that huge rabid boar's blind eyes, nostrils and mouth and every pore and that scary waste-monster in the bath and the dragon that slowly disintegrates and gaaah. Creeps. Good bad, bad creeps.

    And also, for all the German readers: There's a version Die Sterntaler made for television featuring a delightful and melancholy Meira Durand as the protagonist and Axel Prahl as a really scary, drug-user-eyed Grobian. That one's also only for the grown-up kids, I think, because despite there being an adorable talking dog in it, it's bone-jarringly depressing and strangely heavy-hearted. Which is why I love it to bits.

    Anyway: I love this list, Joanna, and every single movie on it. Especially The Fall.

  • Swoon! great list. Pan's Labyrinth was- quite simply- everything a movie should be.

  • John G.

    I think you're saying "fucking" when you write "f*cking", but it's so hard to figure out with that one letter missing. I mean, it could be "ficking" or "fecking" or "facking", so I guess whoever needs to be protected from that big bad word is safe.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    I really wanted more of the fairy tale scarey creatures in Pan's Labyrinth, and less of the fascists scarey creatures.

  • So happy The Company of Wolves is on the list. It gets ignored so much in fairy tale film history when, really, it's one of the more adventurous entries in the field. It's dark, twisted, and quite beautiful.

  • ExUSA

    I think I must be in the minority, because I found the ending to Pan Labyrinth comforting. It was perfect and very beautiful, and fitting to the fairy tale theme.

    I used to love the series of fairy tales that Andrew Lang compiled when I was 8 or so, and about half of them ended the same way Pan's Labyrinth did. It reminded me of the Little Prince as well.

  • Maguita NYC

    Ah, Le Petit Prince!

    Totally agree with you on Pan's Labyrinth. Guillermo had the balls to give it the proper ending it deserved. Made the horrifying taste of it stay with you longer, bitterly reminding you that fairy tales are grounded in reality too.

  • apsutter

    Pan's Labyrinth was amazing!! Guillermo makes some excellent movies, that's for sure. The Orphanage was great too, though not a fairy tale movie.

  • I don't think that it really falls into the same category as most of these Fairy Tale movies, but this made me remember The City of Lost Children. I freaking loved that movie.

  • City of Lost Children is one of my husband's favorite movies. Our daughter's name is Miette. :)

  • linnyloo

    You and me both!

  • Samantha Klein

    Why does it have to be scary and violent in order to be "for grownups"? I don't like either of those things. I do want to see The Fall and Hanna, though.

    Also, I shall happily argue with you on the subject of Edward Scissorhands being Burton's best. The Nightmare Before Christmas. That is all. I win!

  • fracas

    It depends on what your criteria is. If it's movies that Burton directed, then Nightmare doesn't count. They're both great movies. I don't think I could pick a favorite. I'm pretty partial to his Batmans too.

  • $27019454

    O thank you for this. I have seen many on this list, but somehow missed In the Company of Wolves. I will seek it out! But I am never ever going to watch Pan's Labyrinth again. Nosir. Nyet.

  • the company of wolves is definitely an excellent, but overlooked movie. it is a lot like an unsettling dream, ethereal and forbiddingly dark around the edges

  • linnyloo

    I know what you mean. Pan's Labyrinth was released the year Children of Men came out -- both movies left me sobbing and snot-faced while the credits rolled, both really hurt to watch and stuck with me for a long while after, and while I have almost every frame of each film burned into my head and loved them both fiercely, I don't know if I'll have the strength to see either again.

  • Fredo

    I'm humming the lullaby to Pan's Labyrinth right now.

  • Fredo

    I'm humming the lullaby to Pan's Labyrinth right now.

  • AvaLehra

    "The Company of Wolves" for the win! It is one of my favorite movies, ever. It's based on Angela Carter's collection of short stories "Burning Your Boats." It really is more than just a Riding Hood retelling -- it's more an exploration on a girl's journey toward womanhood, her awakening to sexuality and a LOT of kick butt 80s special effects a la "Manimal" and "An American Werewolf in London."

    I love that you included this in the list.

  • Great choices. The Fall takes my breath away and I have been meaning to catch Ondine and Hanna for ages. I also suggest Stardust - it's lots of fun and pretty clever. Definitely a Princess Bride-esque delight.

  • BiblioGlow

    I third Stardust! It's my go-to movie for when I'm having a crap week and want to feel better about...just everything. Such a comfortable, comforting fairy tale, yet simultaneously unique and new.

  • BWeaves

    I second Stardust! ARRRRRRRRRR

  • NateMan

    I'd add MirrorMask to this list. I know it's not loved with the same intensity as Pan's Labyrinth, but I found it fascinating.

  • Tinkerville

    Came here to suggest the same thing. Mirrormask is captivating in a weirdly hypnotic way and has some truly amazing visuals.

    While we're on the subject of Gaiman, Coraline is a damn good movie as well.

  • Bodhi

    I love Coraline. I finally watched it on FIL's big ass HD & it was better than I remembered. And the 3rd act was scarier than I remembered too

  • Kala

    Mirrormask fills me with so much goddamn happiness that it's hard to breath.

    "You may think I'm a hard-hearted black sock, but underneath this DARK, WOOLY EXTERIOR is a naked, pink foot."

  • zeke_the_pig

    This list has made me feel very warm inside. It has also made my sofa feel very warm on the outside as I experienced a type of multiple love-gasm reading it:
    'Oh my god, I loved The Fall!', then before I had time to catch breath: 'Ohmygod I fucking LOVED Pan's fucking Labyrinth!!', then: 'OH! MAN! I loved Hanna!!!', and finally: 'FUCK! I just KNOW I'll LOVE Beasts of the Southern Wild!!!!'
    Have some respect for the refractory period will you, Joanna!

  • NateMan

    Glad to see someone other than my wife and I loved The Fall. Great flick.

  • Javier

    I was going to make a comment regarding the Big Fish mention in Burton's entry but after seegin The Fall there I was filled with glee!

    God, that is such a good, beautiful film

  • linnyloo

    When Hushpuppy and her three friends go marching to the ocean and start swimming, it just was so deeply satisfying and epic. So much love for that movie -- and for the Fall too -- and both those very young actresses absolutely blew me away.

  • mswas

    Is that Jim Rash in the header image?

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