Young Hercules
1998-1999, Fox Kids

I’m convinced that there aren’t too many people who know about Young Hercules, because if there were everyone would be talking about it nonstop. It’s that amazing. Seriously. The show (which is a spin-off prequel of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and currently available for free on Hulu) stars a lanky teenage Ryan Gosling as a lanky teenage Hercules—son of Zeus and wearer of leather pants. The adolescent demigod attends a warrior academy that’s run by a glorious Centaur, and in every episode Herc ends up having to contend with a lot ancient Greek shenanigans (he prevents a war between Amazons and Centaurs, he tries to help his half-brother Hephaestus find a girlfriend, people are always shooting magical lightning bolts out of their hands, etc.). It’s ultra campy (there’s slapstick, silly special effects, and despite the show’s being set in ancient Greece, everyone seems to know karate) but that’s what makes it so fantastic. That and Ryan Gosling’s perfectly styled ’90s hair, which is marvelous. —Amber

Wings of Desire (1987)
Senior year of high school, my philosophy teacher showed us this gorgeous German film after a lengthy unit on the soul and what makes us human. In the movie two angels, Cassiel and Damiel, move around post-war Berlin unnoticed by the people they watch and listen to—including a painter, a poet, a heartbroken man, and a trapeze artist named Marion. The angels, who are visible only to children, have always been there, before Berlin was even Berlin, and although they can’t really interact with people or make direct changes, their observations help preserve the world’s history. Damiel, however, is fascinated by Marion, perhaps even falling in love with her, and begins to wonder if he should trade pain-free immortality for the chance to have actual earthly experiences in the context of a short and painful human existence. It’s one of those movies you have to watch several times to really absorb (even after 20+ viewings, I still don’t totally get it), but it’s worth it because it gives you something new to think about every time, and its black-and-white and sepia-toned cinematography are a beautiful portrait of the city of Berlin. Also, there’s a scene where Marion dances while Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform a concert (which is what I told all my friends to get them to watch this movie). —Stephanie

The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Disney’s animated take on the legend of King Arthur focuses on his lousy childhood and his saving-grace relationship with the great wizard Merlin, who becomes a professor and surrogate parent of sorts (cf. Harry Potter and Dumbledore) to young Arthur, or “Wart,” as his family calls him, and helps him head toward his destiny. Stylistically, the film looks quite a bit like the greatest Disney movie ever made, Robin Hood, and the songs are super fun and catchy, especially “Higitus Figitus.” But the real star of the movie is the most underrated Disney villain of all time, Mad Madam Mim, who should be wayyyy more famous than she is, for sheer creativity alone. —Pixie

Thor (2011)
Based on Marvel Comics’ superhero version of the Norse god of thunder, Thor begins with an arrogant Thor (Chris Hemsworth) being exiled from Asgard (the home of the gods), cast down to Earth, and stripped of his powers. As he struggles to acclimate to the mortal realm, we get several incredible action sequences, a few laughs, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, some smooching, and a lot of mischief caused by Thor’s wily brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). All of it is so crazy good that immediately after watching it for the first time I fashioned a winged Thor helmet out of cardboard and aluminum foil and wore it around the house all day in an attempt to re-create some of the magic that I’d experienced in the theater. Watch this movie ASAP and then make a Thor helmet for yourself—you will look very cool, I promise. —Amber

2005-present, CW

I heard about Supernatural from a friend of mine who spends his free time doing actual paranormal investigation and urban-legend research and appreciated how accurately the show portrays a lot of folklore. It follows two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, on an epic (eight seasons and counting) monster-hunting, apocalypse-averting road trip. I love ghost stories, but I’m easily frightened, so I need my horror to come with a side of humor, à la Buffy. While Supernatural is not nearly as awesome as Buffy (because I prefer girl heroines, and also because nothing is as awesome as Buffy), it does blend scary and funny nicely, and I love all the mythology they throw into the mix. You’ve got ghosts, vampires, tricksters, angels, and demons—and best of all, it’s not always clear who’s good and/or evil. —Stephanie

The Last Unicorn (1982)
This story, adapted by Peter S. Beagle from his own 1968 novel, is about a unicorn (voiced by the incredible Mia Farrow) who is told that she is the very last creature of her kind, and so embarks on a journey to find out what happened to the rest of her species. She encounters many obstacles and dangers along the way, as well as revelations and comic relief. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just tell you that this movie made a strong impact on me as a child, and taught me about the nature of innocence, the meaning of disillusionment, and the importance of believing in the magic that we all contain. I also learned about truth and authenticity and the real value of every experience we go through in life while trying to find answers to our existential questions. I highly recommend the movie and the book it was based on. —María Fernanda

Smoke Signals (1998)
A poetic and very, very funny movie about two young Native American men—Victor and Thomas-Builds-the-Fire—who live on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Idaho. Thomas is this sweet, well-meaning guy who wears his hair in braids, cleaves to the idea of the oral tradition, and turns anecdotes about Victor’s dad, Arnold, into these beautiful, idealized legends that Victor, who hasn’t forgiven his father for abandoning him when he was a kid, is not amused by. When Victor learns that his father has died, the pair embark on a road trip to collect Arnold’s ashes and belongings. As they make their cross-country journey, the movie cleverly addresses a lot of the stereotypical and problematic cinematic depictions of Native American culture (Thomas’s ideas about what it means to be Native American come from the movie Dances With Wolves, which he’s seen 200 times). The story is incredibly touching, and Thomas is one of the most memorable characters ever—it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. —Amber

O Brother, Where Art Thou (2000)
The basic plot of Homer’s Odyssey has been recycled throughout history as the model for many great tales, and this movie definitely ranks among the best of these re-creations. Set in Depression-era Mississippi, the satirical comedy follows the mishaps and adventures of three escaped convicts (of the goofy, scruffy, loveable kind—one of them is played by George Clooney sporting a curiously adorable pencil moustache) and has an awesome soundtrack that features gospel and bluegrass and jangly Appalachian folk of the time. Plus, the Coen Brothers made it, so it also happens to be a sleek, clever visual feast that jumps from slapstick-funny to terrifying to heartwarming to chillingly sexy at the blink of an eye. Basically, it’s brilliant: watch it and enjoy humming “Man of Constant Sorrow” to yourself for the next two weeks. —Esme

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
A beautiful nightmare set on film by Guillermo del Toro, Pan’s Labyrinth involves some of my favorite fairy-tale elements—a spooky labyrinth, a trickster faun, and a bright, imaginative girl (who might be the princess of the Underworld). Following the Spanish Civil War, the girl, Ofelia, and her pregnant mother move in with Ofelia’s tyrannical stepfather, which leads to a real-life battle of good-versus-evil that runs alongside Ofelia’s fantastical journey in the labyrinth. If you love magical realism, the un-Disneyfied versions of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and visually stunning movies, this is a must-see. —Stephanie

The Dark Crystal (1982)
Jim Henson and Frank Oz, of Muppets fame, directed this movie, which is entirely populated by puppets—some of them are cute and have awesome haircuts; others look like creepy old bird-lizards; one, early in the film, plays a flute while naked. It’s really, really weird, but in the most fascinating way—like Henson’s Labyrinth [/2012/01/literally-the-best-thing-ever-labyrinth/] but a lot scarier and more disorienting. The story focuses on Jen and Kira, two elfin creatures called Gelflings, who have to stop the Skesis (the aforementioned bird-lizard creatures) from using the power of the dark crystal to become immortal. This is high fantasy, so anyone who enjoys getting lost in the elaborate universes is going to appreciate the story and all of the little stylistic details that went into shaping these characters and their world. I was initially terrified by The Dark Crystal (there’s this character named Aughra whose eye pops out), but I have to concede that it’s mesmerizing and strangely beautiful and you have to watch it. —Amber

The Crow (1994)
On the eve of their Halloween wedding—Devil’s Night, which is celebrated in Detroit, where this movie is set, with arson, vandalism, and violence—Eric Draven and his fiancée, Shelly, are brutally murdered by a crew of thugs. A year later, Eric emerges from his grave and goes off to seek vengeance. The movie is based on one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, and while the story differs a little bit, the imagery is just as dark and the emotions as powerful, abetted by a great soundtrack that includes Nine Inch Nails and the Cure. Like the Batman movies, The Crow is action-packed and haunting, but be warned: it’s also very violent; and sadly, Brandon Lee, who plays Eric, was accidentally killed during the filming. —Stephanie ♦