Top 20 Fantasy Worlds in Movies TV and Games
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Nick Roffey
Fantasy is wonderful in any medium, though everything depends on how great the world is. For this list, we're looking at the most enthralling realms in fantasy shows, movies, and games. We'll be ranking them according to their realization on screen, rather than their literary source material. Our countdown includes Hyrule from "The Legend of Zelda" series (1987-), the Spirit Realm from "Spirited Away" (2001), Westeros & Essos from "Game of Thrones" (2011-19), Tamriel from "The Elder Scrolls" series (1994-), the Wizarding World from "Harry Potter" (2001-11), and more!
Fantasy is wonderful in any medium, though everything depends on how great the world is. For this list, we’re looking at the most enthralling realms in fantasy shows, movies, and games. We’ll be ranking them according to their realization on screen, rather than their literary source material. Our countdown includes Hyrule from "The Legend of Zelda" series (1987-), the Spirit Realm from "Spirited Away" (2001), Westeros & Essos from "Game of Thrones" (2011-19), Tamriel from "The Elder Scrolls" series (1994-), the Wizarding World from "Harry Potter" (2001-11), and more! Which of these worlds do you fantasize about living in? Tell us in the comments!
“The NeverEnding Story”
If you’ve ever wanted to ride a Luck Dragon … join the club! Based on Michael Ende’s 1979 novel, “The NeverEnding Story” films see Bastian Bux discovering the realm of Fantasia, a world created from human imagination. In that sense, Fantasia represents fantasy itself. As a result, it’s always changing, more of a dreamworld than a place of rules, history, and fixed geography. But the places the films do show us, and the characters we meet, are all incredibly memorable - from Atreyu, Rock Biter, and Falkor, to the Childlike Empress and even Gmork. Why is there a Swamp of Sadness? We don’t know. But we do know it’s ingrained in our memories forever! Don’t give in to the sadness, Artax!
Like Fantasia, the Goblin King’s labyrinth has the feel of a dream, with its own mysterious logic and geography. Why is there a Shaft of Hands? Why has Didymus sworn to guard the Bog of Eternal Stench? Are there other Ludos out there, or is Ludo the only Ludo? There may be no answers. However, the world of “Labyrinth” stands out for several reasons. There’s its novel labyrinthine form; its dark and menacing environments; and its visually striking puppets, courtesy of director Jim Henson and concept artist Brian Froud. Perhaps its most memorable locale is the room of Escher-style stairs. Of course, “Labyrinth” would be nothing without the child-snatching Goblin King himself.
At a glance, the continent of Thedas might seem awfully familiar. It’s a classic fantasy world populated with humans, elves, dwarves, and dragons. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a rich lore and history there. Divided into kingdoms with distinct political systems and cultures, Thedas is a sprawling world of ancient ruins, towns, fortresses, and underground caverns. Its various races and factions frequently clash and are riven by their own internal conflicts. Thedas’ magic system stands out, with mages drawing their power from the Fade, a realm of spirits and demons that’s closely connected to dreams. Also unique are the enigmatic Qunari, a white-haired, metallic-skinned race created for the games.
#17: The Westlands
“The Wheel of Time”
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. In the previous age, men driven mad by the Dark One broke the world. Now, female wielders of the One Power hold sway, as the world waits with bated breath for the prophesied Dragon Reborn, who’ll Break it again, save it, or both. This is the basic premise of Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic “The Wheel of Time”. Jordan’s novels weave in incredible detail about the world’s magic system, distinct cultures, and political factions. However, Amazon’s adaptation has so far received a mixed response from fans. There’s still time for the series to delve deeper; but even a glimpse of Jordan’s rich world on screen is enough to earn it a place on this list.
#16: The Dark Souls Universe
The fantasy worlds in FromSoftware’s games are dark and shrouded in mystery - from Bloodborne’s Gothic city Yharnam to Elden Ring’s Land Between. Gamers have dedicated countless hours to unraveling the mysteries of the “Dark Souls’” universe in particular. Whereas many fantasy games are packed with detailed tomes and exposition, the “Dark Souls” games make you work for every scrap of lore. But that’s what makes this land of fallen kingdoms, undead warriors, and ancient lords so intriguing. It’s a deadly world of gods and demons, locked into endless cycles of fire and darkness, death and rebirth. Even though its history remains elusive, it continues to captivate.
#15: Spirit Realm
Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli have created numerous memorable fantasy worlds. It’s the Spirit Realm from “Spirited Away”, however, that takes our entry here. Inspired by Shinto-Buddhist folklore, it’s the home of kami, or spirits, who come in a myriad of forms, many related to nature. The main location we’re privy to is Yubaba's bathhouse, a grandiose, multi-floored building bustling with workers and clients. However, Chihiro’s journey on the sea-train to Zeniba's Cottage hints at a much wider world, where spirits go about their daily business. The gorgeous animation, combined with the bathhouse’s colorful and eccentric characters, make it a world we wish we could see more of.
“The Dark Crystal”
The Skeksis might have given us nightmares as kids. But Jim Henson’s dark fantasy world also made us want to be Gelflings and have our very own Fizzgig! Some of the elements in “The Dark Crystal” are classic, drawing on familiar ideas and themes. But the animatronic puppet designs, based on Brian Froud’s concept art, elevate the world to one-of-a-kind. Thra feels like a real, yet also alien place, filled with fantastic flora and fauna - from the adorable Podlings to the bizarre Landstriders and sinister Garthim. The short-lived TV series “Age of Resistance” further built up Thra’s lore and history. The result is a fascinating world that begs to be explored.
It’s impressive to see how far Blizzard’s world has come since its inception. One of the recurring themes in the “Warcraft” series is the conflict between the human-led Alliance and the Orcish Horde. However, Azeroth is much more than that. With each game, the world has been expanded, revealing new continents and kingdoms. Its many regions are populated by the usual humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs, but also unique races like the Taureen, Pandaren, and Draenei. The world also has a fascinating cosmology; Azeroth is home to the world-soul of a titan, and was once a battleground where titans warred with eldritch horrors - who remain imprisoned beneath the surface.
Neverland is easy to find … provided you can fly. It’s a simple world, where children can remain forever young and live lives of adventure, running amok and battling pirates. However, it’s this simplicity that captures the childlike wonder and excitement at the heart of fantasy. There’s a poignancy to the original tale that’s often overlooked: once we’re grown up, no longer “gay and innocent and heartless”, we lose the way to Neverland forever. But the adaptations have brought to life Neverland’s enchanting qualities - whether in animation or live-action. It’s a place where innocence endures, and where - with a little pixie dust - fancy can take flight. That’s a fantasy that strikes a chord with us all.
“Alice in Wonderland”
Find the right rabbit hole and you’ll land in this surreal world of wonder. Just don’t eat the mushrooms. Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” novels have been adapted numerous times, in TV, cinema, and video games. Among the most notable adaptations are Disney’s animated 1951 film, and Tim Burton’s live-action movies. A wooded world full of oddball characters and anthropomorphic animals, Wonderland is a place where nonsense is normal and the absurd is ordinary. It’s another dreamworld, one that’s stood the test of time thanks to endearing and eccentric characters like the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, and Cheshire Cat. Oh, by the way: merry unbirthday!
“The Wizard of Oz”
Adapted from L. Frank Baum’s children’s novel, 1939’s “Wizard of Oz” is one of the most watched movies in history. Its popularity owes a lot to its memorable characters and quotable dialogue, but also to its colorful, quirky fantasy setting. Located somewhere over the rainbow, it’s a land of fairytales and folklore, where witches, munchkins, and anthropomorphic animals rub shoulders. Through it all runs the Yellow Brick Road that leads to Emerald City. Sure, its world might not be as meticulously crafted as some others here, but it’s whimsical, bright, and fantastic in every sense.
#9: Ancient Greece & the Nine Realms
“God of War”
“God of War” leans heavily on Greek and Norse myth to build its fantasy setting. But it’s done in such a compelling and innovative way that we had to include it. The games’ version of the ancient world is packed with mythological creatures, from harpies and minotaurs to dark elves and valkyries. Humans are the pawns of capricious deities who war for control over heaven and Earth. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where only the strong survive. The Nine Realms in particular are divided into distinct locales with unique environments and inhabitants. It’s a world that’s instantly recognizable, but also thrilling and perilous enough to stand out.
“The Legend of Zelda”
You don’t always need to pack in a plethora of kingdoms to make a great fantasy world. Sometimes, you just need one. While “The Legend of Zelda” games have visited various lands, the most prominent and iconic is the Kingdom of Hyrule. It’s distinguished by its natural beauty, with deep woods, towering peaks, and a vast desert region. Ruled by the Royal Family from Hyrule Castle, and watched over by the Golden Goddesses, it has a long and detailed history filled with ancient conflicts, calamities, and magical artifacts. A variety of unique races populate its diverse geographical regions, including the Gorons, Zora, Fairies, Gerudo, and Rito. Hyrule has been incredibly influential, showing how some places can be so special that revisiting them never gets old.
“Avatar: The Last Airbender”
It might not be our “Earth”, but it’s one we would gladly live in! The principal fantasy element in “Avatar’s” Earth is the presence of benders who can telekinetically manipulate the elements - water, earth, fire, or air. However, it’s also enriched by its Asiatic-inspired cultures and Spirit World, whose inhabitants come to permeate the Human Realm in “The Legend of Korra”. Of course, we’d be remiss not to also mention the bizarre chimerical animals, like winged lemurs and polar bear dogs. Sure, they aren’t the most imaginative fantasy creations … but they are adorable! Who didn’t want a flying bison as a kid? Sure beats a bike.
“The Elder Scrolls”
The vast continent of Tamriel is divided into nine provinces, each with their own dominant races, cultures and environments. Over it all rules the almighty Empire. Each game in “The Elder Scrolls” series has added to the world, making it hard to rival in scope. The lore is incredibly detailed, often offering multiple, clashing perspectives on the same events. While there are the usual high fantasy races, there are also some unique additions, such as the Argonians and Khajiit. What makes Tamriel really special though is how it seems to offer endless possibilities. Want to explore far flung ruins, delve into dark caverns, learn magic, become an assassin, or just get into a good old fashioned brawl? In Tamriel, you can do, and be, just about whatever you like!
“The Chronicles of Narnia”
Written by C. S. Lewis in the 1950s, the Narnia series is a prime example of portal fantasy - where characters are transported into a new, fantastic world connected to our own. It’s a subgenre whose charm often lies in the juxtaposition between the mundane and the fantastic, and this is where the magic of Narnia lies also. In Narnia, animals can talk, and ordinary school children can become kings and queens and make friends with mythical beasts. While the movies weren’t all well-received, the world they revealed remained enchanting. Every time we see a lamppost, we hope we’ve stumbled into Narnia somehow.
#4: The Continent
Several of Andrzej Sapkowski’s early Witcher stories offer dark takes on popular fairy tales, replacing traditional tropes with stark realism and moral ambiguity. It’s a tone that colors the rest of the series, as well as its adaptations - from CD Projekt Red’s video games to Netflix’s TV show. The Continent is a dangerous, often brutal world, where creatures inspired by Slavic folklore lurk in the woods, people can be just as monstrous, and Elder Races struggle to survive human expansion. It’s this danger and decay however that invites fans to imagine themselves in the Witcher world - killing monsters!
#3: Westeros & Essos
“Game of Thrones”
HBO’s fantasy drama was a game-changer for the genre on screen. And that’s largely thanks to the believable, gritty, and detailed world crafted by “A Song of Ice and Fire” author George R. R. Martin. Westeros and Essos don’t teem with magic, or even otherworldly creatures - unless, of course, you’re north of the Wall and run into a horde of White Walkers. But it’s the low-key approach to the fantastic that makes “Game of Thrones’” world stand out, leaving more room for political intrigue, bloody battles, and even bloodier betrayals. Its fantasy elements are rare but all the more precious and intriguing - from the few remaining Children of the Forest to the last Dragons.
#2: The Wizarding World
As kids, we all fantasize about embarking on magic-filled adventures … aaand wish that school was a little bit more interesting. J. K. Rowling tapped into these desires with her “Harry Potter” novels, and the films that followed did an incredibly convincing job of bringing her world to life. Hogwarts might be a school that would invite a LOT of lawsuits in the real world, but who wouldn’t want to attend? The world of “Harry Potter” is one of wonder and excitement, where wizards walk the halls, mythical creatures roam the forests, and the solution to our troubles is often just a wand tap away. You’d have to be a Muggle to miss out.
Before we unveil our top pick, here are some honorable mentions.
The Multiverse, “His Dark Materials”
A World of Dust, Daemons, & Supernatural Struggle
Pokémon World, “Pokémon”
Its Pokémon Might Be Its Most Distinctive Feature, But They’re Enough to Make It Great!
Paradis Island, “Attack on Titan”
A Dark, Post-Apocalyptic World That’s Larger Than Life
“The Lord of the Rings”
J. R. R. Tolkien’s high fantasy world towers over the rest, on screen as in literature. Inspired by Germanic mythology, Tolkien sought to create a new mythology of his own, including an elaborate fictional history and even new languages. This rich and complex world-building shines through in adaptations, from Peter Jackson’s films to the slew of video games that followed. It’s a world of brave and noble heroes, enigmatic wizards, glorious battles, and tales both inspiring and tragic. It’s also one of poignant transition, as the time of Elves gives way to the time of Men. Middle-earth evokes a sense of something lost - a glorious, mythical past that we wish was our present. It’s fantasy at its very best.