Magical duels are hard to get right. When done well, they can be visually stunning and exciting, really bringing the magic to life and creating an immersive spectacle. However, when done poorly, they just look like people zapping each other with silly-colored electricity.
Redditors on r/movies, the largest film subreddit, recently got together to discuss which movies do spell fights best. Their picks include an animated classic from the ’60s, a Marvel movie, a B-movie based on a poem, and one of 2023’s most enjoyable films so far.
10 ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves’ (2023)
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is one of 2023’s most charming movies so far. It’s a fun fantasy romp that nicely captures the spirit of the role-playing game. It also features some of the most impressive magic fights in recent move memory, including time-bending, shapeshifting, and transfiguration.
“We got big stuff with a mage fighting others and I believe not even once it amounted to ‘magic beams’ or beam clashing,” said user SuperLegenda. “There was spell variety, there was smart usage of different spells and abilities and it’s clear the function of every cast.”
9 ‘Willow’ (1988)
This ’80s fantasy follows a young farmer named Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) who discovers a baby with a special destiny and sets out on a perilous journey to protect her from the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh). Along the way, he teams up with the swashbuckling swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) and the wise sorceress Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes) to defeat Bavmorda and fulfill the baby’s destiny.
It features several visually stunning magic fights, especially for its time, which probably influenced the look and feel of magic in several later films. “Finn Raziel’s fight with Bavmoorda in Willow is awesome,” said the Redditor DrRexMormon.
8 ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ (2022)
The second Doctor Strange follows the neurosurgeon-turned-sorcerer (Benedict Cumberbatch) as he tries to protect America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager with the ability to travel between dimensions, from the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
The film has multiple terrific magic fights, but several users singled out the “music magic” fight for praise. “That felt like Raimi camp, I loved it,” said user riegpsych325. “Was probably the best scene in the movie imo,” said user Intelligent-Age2786. Several Redditors also praised Dr. Strange’s fight with Thanos (Joh Brolin) in Infinity War as among the best magic fights ever.
7 ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ (2010)
Nicolas Cage is Balthazar Blake, a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan. He’s searching for the “Prime Merlinian,” a descendant of Merlin who has the potential to become the most powerful sorcerer of all time. When he finds the young and unassuming Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), Balthazar takes him under his wing and trains him in the magical arts.
Although not a big hit, the film successfully blends action, humor, and impressive magic. “Really creative if poorly received,” said user rhb4n8. Fellow Redditor SuperLegenda agreed, saying, “I’ve always loved that movie, so underrated.”
6 ‘The Sword in the Stone’ (1963)
This Disney classic, based on the classic novel by T. H. White, tells the story of a young boy, voiced by Rickie Sorensen, who becomes the legendary King Arthur after pulling the sword Excalibur from the stone. Along the way, he is mentored by the wizard Merlin, voiced by Karl Swenson, who teaches him important life lessons through magical transformations into different animals.
The film’s stunning animation, memorable musical numbers, and heartwarming story have earned it a place among the most beloved animated movies ever. It’s famous for one magical duel, which is very creative — and frequently hilarious. “Still the best!!!” said user shaka_sulu.
5 ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ (2007)
In the fifth Harry Potter, the boy wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) faces a new challenge: the tyrannical rule of the Ministry of Magic and the arrival of a new professor, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), who seeks to silence Harry and his friends’ claims of Lord Voldemort’s return. It ups the stakes in many ways, culminating in one of the most spectacular magic fights ever put to film.
“Dumbledore vs Voldemort in the fifth movie is the best duel the series has offered because both sides actually used diverse spells instead of nameless laser beams,” said user SuperLegenda. “It’s also one of the few fights that could be beat-by-beat with the book. Watching it was one of the few times like genuinely seeing the pages unfold onto the screen,” added the Redditor ConfusedGrundstuck.
4 ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ (2001)
During the first Lord of the Rings movie, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) engage in a magical duel at Isengard. It’s unique in that there are no beams of light or, indeed, any visible magic at all. Instead, they hurl unseen force at each other.
Nevertheless, it’s pretty brutal. Gandalf is particularly hard hit: Saruman tosses him about like a rag doll, and it’s painful to watch. The user robreddity said it works because of “the physical exertion.”
3 ‘The Raven’ (1963)
The Raven is a comedy-horror movie directed by master of schlock Roger Corman. It’s a loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe‘s famous poem of the same name and follows the mad magician Dr. Erasmus Craven (Vincent Price) as he mourns the loss of his wife, Lenore (Hazel Court). However, his mourning is interrupted by the sudden appearance of the sinister Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff), who claims to know the truth about Lenore’s death.
It features a magical fight that was ahead of its era and unlike anything else on screen up til then. “The wizards’ duel between Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in The Raven is very imaginative, if limited by the special effects of the time,” said user MatttheBruinsfan.
2 ‘The Covenant’ (2006)
The Covenant is a supernatural horror about a group of four young warlocks, descendants of the original families who settled in Ipswich, Massachusetts, who possess extraordinary powers. However, when a fifth descendant, Chase Collins (Sebastian Stan), arrives at their high school, they discover he uses his powers for evil. The group must navigate their own personal struggles and family secrets while trying to save themselves and their community.
While not the most original, the film stands out with its dark, eerie atmosphere and solid special effects. “The Covenant was pretty cool,” said user Ishtalker. “The use and concept of magic had a good balance.”
1 ‘Warcraft’ (2016)
Director Duncan Jones brought the popular video game series to the silver screen with this live-action adaptation starring Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, and Ben Foster. It takes place in the world of Azeroth, which is on the brink of war as the orc race seeks to conquer and colonize new lands.
As the war unfolds, a human warrior named Anduin Lothar (Fimmel) teams up with the mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer), and the half-human, half-orc Garona (Patton) to prevent the destruction of their world. There are a number of awesome battles and magic duels aplenty, especially against vile necromancers.
KEEP READING: The 10 Most Technologically Innovative Movies of the 2010s