Making a movie about magic is a tricky proposition. If you do it wrong, it’ll come off as hokey and lame, and you might even insult the viewer’s intelligence. If you do it right, you can wind up with a critically acclaimed box office hit. Over the years, movies on the subject have come into fashion and gone back out again, with one little franchise showing considerable staying power. The good news is a movie about magic or featuring a magician can take many different forms, much like an illusion itself. Forget that last part.
Hugo never seems to get mentioned when people talk about Martin Scorsese’s best work, but that’s probably because no one gets murdered to an Eric Clapton song in it. Putting that aside, the movie is absolutely stunning. It’s the rare children’s movie that doesn’t treat the viewer like a child. The film gets standout performances from the entire cast, including Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, and youngsters Chloe Grace Moretz and (possible future Spider-Man) Asa Butterfield.
It seems like Stardust was a film that no one knew how to market. Despite a cast boasting the likes of Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Claire Danes, Ricky Gervais, Peter O’ Toole, Daredevil himself Charlie Cox, and Sienna Miller, the movie didn’t even clear $40 million while in theaters. That was despite strong reviews, a screenplay by famed graphic novelist Neil Gaiman, and an intriguing plot, featuring a sleepy town and an enchanted parallel universe separated by only a wall. Because it slipped in and out of theaters basically unnoticed, it has taken years for this fantasy blockbuster to be truly appreciated.
Hocus Pocus (iTunes)
This was another one that needed some time. Hocus Pocus opened in 1993 to poor reviews, with one critic even calling Bette Midler’s appearance “depressing”. Of course, once the tale of three witches being woken up in modern day middle America headed to VHS and later DVD, fans saw it differently. Today the movie is always in heavy rotation on multiple channels around Halloween.
Practical Magic (Netflix)
Today, Practical Magic stars three Oscar winners. In 1998, Dianne Wiest was the only cast member with an Academy Award on her resume. The two extra Oscars could’ve helped the romantic comedy about two witch sisters, since it failed to make back its $75 million dollar budget at the box office.
The Harry Potter Franchise (iTunes)
There is no other franchise with a stranglehold on the world of magic quite like Harry Potter. Not only that, but the films served as notice that you can milk a book series for all it’s worth, and still manage to do it well. Each film received critical acclaim, and the eight movies made nearly $8 billion total. Ta-Da.
Now You See Me (iTunes)
This David Copperfield meets Ocean’s 11 action-heist-thriller-comedy was nothing short of a box office smash, raking in more than $350 million worldwide on a budget less than a quarter of that. All that success caused a sequel to be put into production almost immediately, with Daniel Radcliffe joining the cast and Lizzy Caplan replacing Isla Fisher.
It’s interesting there haven’t been MORE films about Houdini, isn’t it? There have been a few, but considering his life, his magic, and the myths about his death, it seems like some studio would be trying to pump out a movie about him every year or so. According to the fantastic book Tales from Development Hell, an Indiana Jones-style franchise with Harry Houdini as the main character has been kicked around for years, but has never been able to get made. As of 2014, Johnny Depp was in talks to played the famed magician in a series of adventures. For now, when you think Houdini films, you think Tony Curtis. Of course, the film takes multiple liberties with Houdini’s life, and depicts his death as occurring during his famed Chinese Water Torture Cell.
The Illusionist (iTunes)
The Illusionist isn’t a bad movie. At all. The problem with The Illusionist is that it isn’t The Prestige. There are plenty of differences between the Edward Norton/Paul Giamatti and Hugh Jackman/Christian Bale films, but nine years later, much like Beta max and VHS or Blu-Ray and HD DVD, only one product can survive, and it appears the public has chosen The Prestige. Still, you can do a lot worse than watching Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti chew scenery for a couple of hours.
The Prestige (iTunes)
The Prestige took a great concept and cast and put them to work. With a dizzying number of twists and turns (even for a Chris Nolan movie), the ending was a shockingly genuine surprise for many; an increasingly rare thing today.
Hey! Are you terrified of Hannibal Lecter AND ventriloquist dummies? Maybe don’t watch this movie. Or do. Whatever. Free country.
Honorable Mention: Magic Mike (iTunes)
Don’t tell me this movie isn’t magic. Have you seen C-Tates’ dance moves?