Best Urban Fantasy Films
Often when we think of fantasy films, images of dragons and far off lands like Oz or Middle Earth come to mind. But some of the greatest fantasy flicks take place in a world very familiar to a lot of us. The subgenre of urban fantasy tends to take fantastical elements but ground them in dark and gritty cityscapes creating a mystical realm right under our noses. In fact some of the greatest fantasy films of all time fall into this category.
Highlander: There can be only one!!!!!!! Made on a surprisingly small budget Highlander has gone on to amass a devoted and well-deserved cult following. Living among us in secret are a race of sword-wielding immortals locked in eternal conflict until only one is left standing. One such immortal is Connor MacLeod, originally from the 16th century Scottish Highlands now living in modern day New York, working as an antique dealer. As he tries to thwart the curiosity of forensics investigator Brenda Wyatt, one of MacLeod’s enemies, Kurgan, arrives in town to settle their rivalry. As if getting epic duels between immortal swordsman set in a gritty New York setting was not cool enough, Highlander also delivers us a kick-ass soundtrack courtesy of Queen. The unexpected success of Highlander spawned a series of (terrible) sequels as well as a (good) TV show which featured another immortal of the Clan MacLeod.
The Crow: The last thing musician Eric Draven saw before dying was his fiancée being terrorized by those who murdered him. Naturally his soul is unable to find peace, so one year after his death, the crow that took him to the afterlife, brings Draven back to exact his revenge. Stalking the bleak rain-drenched streets of Detroit, Eric Draven hunts down those who murdered he and his fiancé using his newfound supernatural abilities. But the city’s crime boss does not take kindly to his men being killed-off by a face painted vigilante, and his knowledge of the occult may hold the key to destroying Eric Draven. While at its heart, the film is a melancholic love story, there is still plenty of action and an undeniably gritty and violent edge. The reputation of the Crow will always be tied to the onset tragedy which led to the death of actor Brandon Lee. In his final performance, we see the gifted actor Lee could have been if given the chance.
Hellboy: With this adaptation of the Dark Horse comic book character Guillmero del Toro firmly established himself as a talented director with a unique and imaginative style. Unintentionally brought over as an infant during World War II, the demon known as Hellboy was adopted by the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense and the wise old Professor Broom. The slobbish laid-back demon and his crew, consisting of the aquatic Abe Sapien and the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, are charged with protecting the earth from supernatural evil. Hellboy was successful with both critics and fans and even picked up a Saturn Award and was nominated for two others. Del Toro followed up the success of this flick with Hellboy II: the Golden Army.
Blade: Before movies based off Marvel properties dominated cinema, an obscure vampire-hunter became a favorite hero of movie-goers. Created by comic book legends, Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan, Blade is a human-vampire hybrid who seeks to eradicate the bloodsucking undead. Memorably played by Wesley Snipes in the Blade franchise, this antihero exudes coolness. In his big screen debut, the Daywalker is forced to confront a dangerous enemy in the form of Deacon frost who disregards the vampiric tradition in order to eradicate the human race. The movie was a surprise hit and spawned an even better sequel Blade II and an inferior threequel Blade: Trinity.
Night Watch: A 2004 Russian film which has built a cult following in the United States due to its unique style. In order to bring an end to the age old conflict between good and evil supernatural beings (known as the Others) a truce was called. In order to uphold the peace between their two sides; those who sided with the Light formed Night Watch to ensure their enemies did not violate the terms of the truce at night and the Dark Others did the same with the Day Watch. In modern day Moscow, Anton has been recruited by the Night Watch, and on a mission to stop a vampire he becomes entangled in a conspiracy which threatens to destroy the balance the two sides have maintained. As the truce begins to crackdown, the forces of good and evil are both drawn to a little boy who could hold the key to granting one side a total victory. Granted the plot is a bit muddled and all over the place, but director Timur Bekmambetov creates a visual language which is absolutely stunning and unlike anything else viewers are likely to see. Bekmambetov proves adept at blending the gritty real world of Moscow with a secret world inhabited by; shape-shifters, vampires, witches, and healers. The film spawned a sequel Day Watch which continues the saga Night Watch began, but sadly the planned third film to conclude the series never came together.
Big Trouble in Little China: This masterpiece from director John Carpenter introduces the world to, Jack Burton. Burton is cocky, charismatic, good-looking, and he is the idiot sidekick to the real hero of the movie, he just does not realize it. Burton’s pal, Wang Chi has his fiancé kidnapped by a street gang in San Francisco which kicks off a nonstop adventure through China town to battle the sorcerer David Lo Pan. Through Jack Burton, we are thrust into a world of wizards, monsters, and ninjas which he tackles with tons of bloated confidence. Big Trouble in Little China has become a cult classic over the years as Carpenter expertly blends Asian mystical elements into the modern era with comedy, action, and Kurt Russell’s pure awesomeness.
Doctor Strange: Doctor Stephen Strange was an arrogant world-renowned surgeon who, frustratingly to some, has the skills to back-up his boasts. But a car accident causes him to lose everything and the world of Western medicine he devoted his life to does not have the answers. Strange seeks out aid from the mysterious Ancient One, who puts him on the path to becoming the Sorcerer Supreme. As Strange’s abilities grow the magical world is thrown into chaos by Kaecillius who seeks to topple everything the Ancient One has built. In bringing this movie to life, director Scott Derrickson does not shy away from the famously trippy elements of the character, which made Doctor Strange a staple of Marvel Comics for so many years. Displaying mysticism in magic in the real world is never an easy feat, especially when it’s done right under the noses of ordinary people, but Doctor Strange executes it perfectly.