25 Fairytale Films for Grown Ups

by - Friday, March 29, 2013

This post features 25 of my favourite fairytale films to watch when the children are in bed. Far from pleasant bedtime stories, these films present adult themes, grim situations and a healthy dose of horror more akin to the gruesome tales of the original Brothers Grimm.

From contemporary re-workings of "Red Riding Hood" and "Beauty and the Beast" through to suggestions of Pied Pipers and a futuristic Pinocchio, these films speak of a darker side to the fairytale genre we grew to love as children.

This is a follow-up post to my list of 25 family-friendly fairytale movies which are suitable for younger audiences.

Little Otik (aka. "Greedy Guts)

A twisted re-telling of the Czech fairytale, Otesanek, Little Otik  is set in a lock of flats in modern day Czechoslovakia where a childless couple long for a baby of their own. When Karel digs up a tree stump resembling the form of a baby, Bozena convinces him to assist in faking a pregnancy so they can "adopt" the wooden figure and pass it off as a real baby.

Magically, the stump is brought to life by Bozena's maternal desire, but not without consequence. Little Otik has an insatiable appetite for blood, devouring first the cat then a social worker and postman before Karel locks the monster in the cellar...

Release date: 2000
Classification: 15
Starring: Veronika Zilková, Jan Hartl, Jaroslava Kretschmerová


Kyle Kingson is a high school student who has no respect for his classmates. Despite his narcissism and bigotry, he manages to be elected as a representative for his classmates. When he plays a prank on the outcast Kendra, she curses him to be as ugly on the outside as he is within, resulting in his "beastly" appearance.

In likeness to the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast, Kyle must experience the love of another within one year if he ever hopes for his curse to be lifted.

Release date: 2011
Classification: 12
Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Vanessa Hudgens, Mary-Kate Olsen

Hard Candy

Not for the faint-hearted, Hard Candy subverts the fable of Little Red Riding hood so that the little girl becomes the predator of the wolf.

Fourteen-year old Hayley agrees to meet Jeff - a man more than twice her age - at a coffee shop, and after a little flirting he invites her back to his home. Unfortunately for Jeff, it soon emerges that the apparent victim had a sadistic plan of her own from the beginning...

Release date: 2005
Classification: 18
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ellen Page, Sandra Oh


American ballet student, Suzy Bannion, attends a prestigious ballet school on the edge of the German Black Forest. Strange noises and occurrences lead her to the realisation that the school is operated by a coven of witches. Incidentally, the films gothic grandeur was inspired by Disney's Snow White, though the reality of this classic movie is far more sinister.

Release date: 1977
Classification: 18
Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

The Company of Wolves

A classic re-telling of Red Riding Hood, complete with Angela Lansbury as an archetypal grandmother, this film explores the sinister adult undertones of the original fairy tale. The wolves here are not merely changeling animals but sexual predators, while the story is one of adolescence metamorphosing into adulthood, with a hefty loss of innocence and horror along the way.

Release date: 1984
Classification: 18
Starring: Angela Lansbury, Sarah Patterson, David Warner

The City of Lost Children

Krank is a scientist in a dystopian vision of the future who steals the dreams of children in order to stave off a curse which causes him to age rapidly.

One is a circus strongman whose younger brother, Denree was kidnapped by Krank's men. He sets off on a quest to find Denree and with the assistance of a young girl, Miette, he soon arrives in La Cite des Enfants Perdus (The City of Lost Children).

Release date: 1996
Classification: 15
Starring:  Gilles Adrien, Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Pan's Labyrinth

In the fascist Spain of 1944, Ofelia is a young girl obsessed with fairy tales who travels with her mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army.

Ofelia encounters a fairy who takes her to the centre of the labyrinth where she meets an old faun. He tells her she's a princess, but must prove her royalty by surviving three gruesome tasks. If she fails, she will never prove herself to be the the true princess and will never see her real father, the king, again.

Release date: 2006
Classification: 15
Starring: Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, Sergi López


As the light fades and the city goes to sleep, two forces emerge. They are invisible except for the power they exert over us in our sleep, battling for our souls through dreams. One force delivers hope and strength through good dreams; the other infuses the subconscious with desperation through nightmares. John and Emma, Father and Daughter are wrenched into this fantastical dream world battle, forced to fight for John's soul and to save Emma from an eternal nightmare.
Release date: 2009Classification: 15Starring: Christopher Soren Kelly, Quinn Hunchar, Jessica Duffy

The Lovely Bones

The big-screen adaptation of The Lovely Bones has been described as a "fractured fairy tale" in which fourteen-year-old Suzy Suzy Salmon watches from purgatory as her family come to terms with her disappearance after she is murdered by a neighbour.

Release date: 2009
Classification: 12
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Saorise Ronan

The Fall

The Fall is a fantasy drama set in 1920s Los Angeles in which a little girl called Alexandria lays in hospital with a broken arm. The man in the bed adjacent to hers is an injured Hollywood stuntman named Roy Walker who befriends her and begins to tell her a series of vivid, fantastical tales centred around five heroes - an Indian, an ex-slave named Ota Benga, an Italian explosives expert, a masked bandit, and Charles Darwin - all of whom unite to fight a common enemy, Governor Odious.

As time goes by, fiction and reality start to intertwine, and the hospital staff begin to appear as characters in Roy's stories.

Release date: 2009
Classification: 15
Starring: Lee Pace, Catinca Utaru, Justine Waddell


Tideland is about a little girl whose imagination becomes her refuge when first her mother dies of a drug overdose, then her deadbeat father follows suit, leaving her alone in a house surrounded by endless fields and lurking lunatics. In many ways, this film reflects the themes of Alice in Wonderland, and at one point our young heroine literally falls down a rabbit hole, bringing the audience in with her.

Release date: 2005
Classification: 15
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Jodelle Ferland

Black Swan

A ballet dancer wins the lead in "Swan Lake" and is perfect for the role of the delicate White Swan - Princess Odette - but slowly loses her mind as she becomes more and more like Odile, the Black Swan.

Throughout this film metaphorically exposes the relationship between the characters and the fairy tale background of the ballet they are to perform. It is a beautiful yet haunting movie with very adult themes.

Release date: 2011
Classification: 15
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassell

The Lady in the Water

Apartment building superintendent Cleveland Heep rescues what he thinks is a young woman from the pool he maintains. When he discovers that she is actually a character from a bedtime story who is trying to make the journey back to her home, he works with his tenants to protect his new friend from the creatures that are determined to keep her in our world.

Release date: 2006
Classification: PG
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffrey Wright

Sleepy Hollow

Based on the classic American folk tale, this adaptation of Sleepy Hollow is not a film suitable for children!

At the beginning of the 19th Century, New York pathologist Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is sent to the remote town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the gruesome deaths of a number of the community's figureheads. Despite his attempts to find a rational explanation for the decapitated bodies that continue to turn up with alarming regularity, Crane comes to the conclusion that the killings are the work of an axe-wielding headless horseman.

Release date: 2007
Classification: 15
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Walken

AI (Artificial Intelligence)

A.I. is a futuristic fairy-tale, an enchanting story of a boy mechanoid ("mecha") called David who embarks on a journey because he wants to be loved by the woman he calls his mother. With parallels to the story of Pinocchio, this movie takes us on a spellbinding exploration of love, hate, friendship, prejudice and ultimately what it is to be human, and what it is to be without humanity.

Release date: 2011
Classification: 12
Starring:  Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O'Connor

Sleeping Beauty

Quietly reckless, Lucy is a young university student who takes a job as a "Sleeping Beauty". In the Sleeping Beauty Chamber old men seek an erotic experience that requires the subjects to be drugged, comatose, and absolutely submissive. This unsettling task starts to bleed into Lucy's daily life as she develops an increasing need to know what happens to her when she is asleep.

Release date: 2011
Classification: 18
Starring: Emily Browning, Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie

The Phantom of the Opera

A disfigured musical genius, hidden away in the Paris Opera House, terrorizes the opera company for the unwitting benefit of a young protégée whom he trains and loves.

Gaston Leroux's classic story may well be seen as a re-telling of the Beauty and the Beast fairytale; for me the latest big screen adaptation is the most enjoyable yet.

Release date: 2004
Classification: 12
Starring: Gerard Butler, Emily Rossum, Patrick Wilson

The Crow

A Gothic fairytale set against a dystopian vision of the near future, this film presents the story of Eric Draven who - after being murdered with his fiancée on Devil's Night - is resurrected by a mysterious crow to enact revenge.

Release date: 1994
Classification: 18
Starring: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott, Rochelle Davis


A twisted take on 'Little Red Riding Hood' with a teenage juvenile delinquent on the run from a social worker travelling to her grandmother's house and being hounded by a charming, but sadistic, serial killer/paedophile.

Release date: 1996
Classification: 18
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Kiefer Sutherland, Bokeem woodbine

Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal Patik is an eighteen year old street kid from the slums of Mubai who has reached the final question on India's version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". In this rags-to-riches fairy-tale, our hero is being interrogated by the Police as to how he came to know the answers to the twenty preceding questions and explains how the terrible circumstances of his life up to that point had led him to know them through experience.

Release date: 2009
Classification: 15
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Saurabh Shukla

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

Release date: 2012
Classification: 12
Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly


With dark fairytale elements woven into the scheme of a stark thriller, Hanna is a film the Grimm Brothers would be proud of.

Hanna has been trained from childhood, apart from the real world,  to become the ultimate assassin. The turning point in her adolescence is a sharp one; sent into the world by her father on a mission, Hanna journeys stealthily across Europe while eluding agents dispatched after her by a ruthless intelligence operative with secrets of her own.

Release date: 2011
Classification: 12
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana

No Such Thing

Beatrice is a young reporter who is asent to Iceland in search of a film crew who had gone missing after investigating reports of a monster in the area. After a series of unfortunate events, Beatrice eventually reaches the island where she discovers the mythical beast to be real.

Yet another revision on the Beauty and the Beast theme, with plenty of modern clichés thrown in.

Release date: 2001
Classification: 18
Starring: Sarah Polley, Robert John Burke, Helen Mirren

The Sweet Hereafter

With it's strong themes of "The Pied Piper of Hamelyn" throughout, The Sweet Hereafter tells a tragic story about the incident and aftermath of a bus crash which killed fourteen children in a small American town.

Release date: 1997
Classification: 15
Starring: Ian Holm, Sarah Polley, Caerthan Banks

A Tale of Two Sisters

A Tale of Two Sisters is based on the old Korean folk tale 'Jangha and Hongryun'. Su-Mi and Su-Yeon return home from a period of hospitalisation in a mental institution following the death of their mother to live with their father, Mu-Heon and despised stepmother Eun-Ju. No sooner have they returned than disturbing and inexplicable events start to occur: inanimate objects start to move of their own accord, and Su-Mi suffers from terrifying hallucinations, becoming convinced that the obsessive and unhinged Eun-Ju is keeping an awful secret from her and her sister.

Release date: 2003
Classification: 15
Starring: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim

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Which are your favourites?

Have you particularly enjoyed any of the films in my list? Did I miss out your favourite adult fairytale movie?

Please feel free to leave your own suggestions or comments by using the form below.

Photo credit: glis.glis, via Flickr

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  1. I came over here from the Britmums post of the week, I was interested in the fairytale angle. A lot of these films are too scary for me but you forget how scary the original fairy tales actually are!

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