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Top Ten Best Wizards in Film



Wizards and TTRPGs go hand in hand. If you've been a fan of D&D or Pathfinder or any of the other fantasy-themed games available out there, chances are that you've either played a wizard character yourself, or your friends have. Since there are many wizards (and witches) in pop culture that have informed our collective imagination about what wizards are supposed to be like, we're going to focus on what I feel are the top ten best wizard characters in live action film (excluding animation and television for now).


Quick Aside


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MERLIN (Excalibur 1981)


When people think of wizards, most people these days will think of Harry Potter, but before that franchise came around, you'd probably hear quite a few people mention Merlin. Merlin is a classic character who has been around longer than most wizards in history and he's been depicted across almost all forms of media by lots of different actors. Excalibur, from 1981, is one of the best modern depictions of Merlin on screen and the movie itself has been described as sort of Heavy Metal meets D&D. Nicoll Williamson steals the screen as a wry and witty Merlin who assists Arthur (of King Arthur fame) in establishing his own kingdom, with an iconic look including a strange yet effective metal skull cap that sets him apart from wizards in story books who wear the stereotypical pointed hats and flowing robes. Wizard Focus of Choice: Staff




DAVID LO PAN (Big Trouble in Little China, 1986)


As much as I personally love Big Trouble in Little China from 1986, I'm guessing many people from today's world haven't had the pleasure of seeing this amazing movie full of Chinese mysticism, American bumbling, and a killer John Carpenter touch. James Hong is an amazing actor, and his talents were let loose with the chaotic and strangely likable creep David Lo Pan, who kidnaps women to marry them and thus be able to have a physical body once again and rid himself of a curse. With his creepy smiles and cackling laugh, it can be extra unnerving to see Lo Pan get hit by a semi-truck and not only come out unscathed from underneath but also be able to magically emit some sort of horrible spell that manifests itself as light coming out of his eyes and mouth to blind the film's protagonists.


Wizard Focus of Choice: His Body




WILLOW UFGOOD (Willow, 1988)


A young farmer who fancies himself a great wizard, Willow Ufgood - played by the legendary Warwick Davis - undertakes a quest wherein he must protect a special baby from an evil queen. Different than most depictions of wizards in fantasy films, Willow showcases how the underdog can still come out on top. With an unforgettable performance by Warwick Davis, Willow has become ingrained into the subconscious of all fantasy lovers everywhere. (There's also now a show on Disney+) Who can forget Willow raising his wand against the terrifying Queen Bavmorda?


Wizard Focus of Choice: Wand



SHANG TSUNG (Mortal Kombat, 1995)


Who can forget the iconic portrayal of the sadistic wizard Shang Tsung by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the original Mortal Kombat movie from 1995? With his menacing stare, forceful personality, and intimidating screen presence - Shang Tsung has long been a Mortal Kombat roster favorite, and his depiction in the original film by Tagawa is so good that they got him to reprise his role for the video game Mortal Kombat 11. Shang Tsung's quest to snag the final win in the Outworld Tournament and thus victory over Earth is as ambitious as it is costly, and Shang Tsung is just the wizard to attempt such a feat.


Wizard Focus of Choice: His Hands



ALBUS DUMBLEDORE (Harry Potter, 2002)


The original actor for Albus Dumbledore, Richard Harris, unfortunately died after the first movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - however, the character of Dumbledore forged on under the helm of actor Michael Gambon for the remaining core Harry Potter films, and then was also portrayed by actor Jude Law in the Fantastic Beasts spin off movies featuring a younger version of Dumbledore. With that being said, say what you will about the Harry Potter franchise but love it or hate it, no list about wizards would be complete without a few of Hogwarts' best on it. Dumbledore is to Harry Potter what Gandalf is to Lord of the Rings - A mentor, a protector, and a model for how all wizards should conduct themselves. Dumbledore is no mere copy of Gandalf, however, despite their similarities. As the master of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, he's in a class all his own. (Pun Unintended but I laughed so I'm keeping it)


Wizard Focus of Choice: Wand


LORD VOLDEMORT (Harry Potter, 2002)


Let's face it - Harry Potter, as a franchise, literally has more wizards in it than Portland, Maine has restaurants per capita. So, we're still going to stick with this movie series and talk about Lord Voldemort. Where would the modern love for wizarding be without its unhinged hatred for the evil Lord Voldemort, played excellently by Ralph Fiennes? With his creepy no-nose look, and his snakelike way of delivering his speech, Lord Voldemort, aka He Who Must Not Be Named, has achieved a level of infamy almost synonymous with that of Darth Vader for an entire generation of movie and book fans.


Wizard Focus of Choice: Wand



JARETH, THE GOBLIN KING (Labyrinth, 1986)


Taking a break from Hogwarts for a moment, we really can't forget David Bowie's iconic portrayal of Jareth, the Goblin King from the 1986 fantasy film Labyrinth - Jareth is a jaded wizard who kidnaps a young girl's baby brother in order to get her to come to his labyrinth so he can force her to become his girl. Yes, that sounds as creepy on paper as it is. Anyway, Jareth is full of magical tricks (and dancing) and has definitely sealed his spot in the pop culture wizard hierarchy as a result.


Wizard Focus of Choice: Balls



HARRY POTTER (Harry Potter, 2002)


You had to know The Boy Who Lived must make an appearance. All around the world, fans were delighted to watch young master Potter grow up and gain new spells and new problems as he attended the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. If Voldemort is this generation's Darth Vader, then Harry is this generation's Luke Skywalker, Though there is controversy surrounding the Harry Potter franchise these days, there's no question that Daniel Radcliff's Harry Potter will live on for a long time to come.


Wizard Focus of Choice: Wand



DOCTOR STEPHEN STRANGE (Doctor Strange, 2016)


While Doctor Strange might be new to many people who haven't followed Marvel Comics for years, the iteration played by Benedict Cumberbatch for the MCU is now very well-known and a household name. Making his debut appearance in the titular film Doctor Strange in 2016, Doctor Strange helped the Avengers defeat the immense threat of the mad titan, Thanos. Cumberbatch plays an exhausted and dry Doctor Strange that will most likely keep making appearances in the upcoming Phase 5 of the MCU and who has become a fan favorite for going toe-to-toe with Thanos himself and helping to save the universe.


Wizard Focus of Choice: His Hands



GANDALF (Lord of the Rings, 2001)


If you don't know Gandalf, who was portrayed by Sir Ian McKellan back in 2001's Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, then you've been living under a rock. Gandalf is the wizard standard and all wizards who have come since must stand in his badass shadow. Ian McKellan gives a stellar performance as the battle mage, and now his version of Gandalf is the most well-known and fondly remembered even though there have been lots of copycats over the years. Protecting Middle Earth and enlisting the aid of the Baggins family for two generations, Gandalf is a warrior wizard who is at once a sage as well as a swordsman. No other wizards come close.


Wizard Focus of Choice: Staff


Anyway, these are in no real particular order and they are all just my opinion, but feel free to weigh in on your own and list some live-action wizards I may have forgotten. Thanks for reading! - Joe




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