Children’s writer Roald Dahl once said, “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Perhaps that is why we let ourselves be captivated by stage magicians and their illusions, even though we are well aware that it’s all just sleight of hand or a trick with smoke and mirrors. Maybe this even explains humanity’s curiosity about witchcraft and the supernatural, or the overwhelming modern success of fantasy films, books, and video games.
If you’re looking to add a little bit of magic into your life, then these magician movies are sure to bamboozle and bewitch you.
The Prestige (2006)
By the time Christopher Nolan released Inception (2010), the Hollywood director had already established himself as a master magician who loved playing tricks with the audience’s mind. In every Nolan film, he asks the viewer to pay close attention, notice certain clues, and solve a puzzle, even if it means watching the movie over and over to make complete sense of it.
The Prestige (2006) is set in the Victorian era and delves into the bitter rivalry between two talented magicians (played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, respectively). Based on Christopher Priest’s novel of the same name, the movie is an enchanting ride, filled with twists and turns that will leave you wondering exactly how the stage magicians perform their seemingly-impossible tricks.
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
If you’re in the mood for an oddly charming love story between a cursed young girl and a very eccentric wizard, Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) won’t disappoint.
Adapted from the fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones, the film takes some creative liberties with its source material. Most notably, it changed the character of Howl from a tantrum-throwing spell-caster (in the book) to a noble and charismatic hero (in the film)—without compromising on Jones’ whimsical world.
The Illusionist (2006)
There's something irresistible about slow-burn period dramas. That's particularly true when the protagonist is an attractive magician who must brave great odds to be with his beloved of higher social standing.
Enter Eisenheim (Edward Norton). He is the son of a cabinet maker, and pursues a career in stage magic. However, on account of his class and financial position, he cannot marry his childhood love, the Duchess von Teschen (Jessica Biel), who is engaged to someone else.
Eisenheim may cut an impressive figure on stage with his parlor tricks, but can he cunningly pull the strings one last time to get a happy ending?
RELATED: 16 Enchanting Movies About Magic
Now You See Me (2003)
One can argue that pulling off a successful heist is nothing short of magic.
In Now You See Me, a group of magicians commit implausible bank robberies and offer the monetary rewards to the audience. But when they are trailed by the FBI, can they trick them, too?
This film showcases different types of magic practitioners, including a mentalist (who also claims to be psychic), a street magician, an escape artist, and even an impressionist, highlighting all the various skills a magician needs to trick and con their way to success.
Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)
Although the original Wizard of Oz (1939) film has a “wizard” in the title, he doesn’t play a prominent role in the plot; instead, it’s mostly Dorothy and her eclectic found family going on a magical adventure.
This Sam Raimi movie styles itself as a prequel of sorts to the 1939 movie, and follows the escapades of Oscar (James Franco), a magician and con artist from a traveling circus. Eventually, Oscar is transported from Kansas to the wondrous land of Oz. There, he encounters each of the three witches, and is soon embroiled in a game of flirting, trickery, and other thrilling escapades.
The film also has a beautiful black-and-white opening sequence that pays homage to Baum’s novels and the 1939 classic.
The Illusionist (2010)
This hidden gem of an animated movie has nothing to do with the 2006 film of the same name.
Instead, this movie is based upon an unproduced script by the legendary French director Jacques Tati. It's conjectured that he originally wrote it as a message to his oldest daughter, from whom he was estranged.
The movie explores the life and relationships of an out-of-work illusionist whose quaint magic tricks cannot compete with new-fangled entertainments such as rock and roll concerts. Contemplative, poetic, and deeply personal, The Illusionist explores the legacy of stage magic and childhood wonders in a fast-changing modern world.
Houdini is widely considered to be the greatest magician and escape artist of all time. This vintage film by Philip Yordan offers a fictionalized biography of the legendary man.
It traces Houdini’s (Tony Curtis') career, from his humble beginnings in a Coney Island carnival, to gradually attracting more fame as an escape artist. It also explores his fraught relationship with the spiritualist movement.
If you’ve ever wondered about the person behind some of the world’s most infamous and dangerous stunts, this biopic is sure to be an engaging watch.
Doctor Strange (2016)
Wizards are cool, but you know what’s even cooler? An origin story that showcases how an ordinary (albeit arrogant) man learns to channel magic after surviving trauma—and instead of being corrupted by power, he uses it for the greater good.
Doctor Strange spends time actually explaining the laws of magic, borrowing elements from non-Western mysticism and other cultures. We watch Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) transform from complete skeptic and amateur to master of the mystic arts.
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
A common trope is that magicians have to sell their souls to the devil to gain mystical knowledge or power to practice the dark arts. Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a delightfully whimsical foray into the escapades of a nearly-bankrupt traveling theatre troupe, and it tackles this trope in a comedic and thoughtful manner.
The elderly Doctor Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), the leader of the troupe, has made a pact with Satan. He's joined in his business by his 16-year-old daughter, a dwarf, and a barker. The troupe’s primary attraction is the “Imaginarium,” in which viewers enter a surreal dreamscape, explore their desires and fantasies, and ultimately have to make a difficult choice.
Darkly imaginative, funny, and philosophical, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a great watch if you’re in the mood for something off-beat.