As Harry Potter fans get all muggly over the release of the latest film, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” and the publication of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final book in J.K. Rowling’s series, we ponder the legacy of cinematic practitioners of the dark arts. Join us as we conjure up a countdown of our favorite movie wizards and sorcerers outside of Hogwarts.
10. Avatar in “Wizards” (1977)
In Ralph Bakshi’s animated postapocalyptic fantasy, Bob Holt provides the voice of Avatar, a portly, kind hippie wizard who must do battle with his evil twin, Blackwolf, a Nazi-worshipping wizard bent on controlling the world. The movie purports to deal with such issues as warfare, propaganda and technology, but it’s also, like, really a trip, man.
9. The Great and Powerful “Wizard of Oz” (1939)
True, “The Wizard of Oz” is one of the most beloved films of all time, but it’s so far down on our list for the simple reason that Oz turns out to be not so great and powerful after all, but rather a timid little man hiding behind a curtain. What keeps him on the list is the sheer terror that almost every kid experiences watching the movie for the first time, when that huge, looming green face yells at Dorothy and her motley crew for daring to disturb him.
8. Akiro in “Conan the Destroyer” (1984)
In 1982’s “Conan the Barbarian,” veteran Japanese character actor Mako is little more than comic relief as Akiro, the wizard companion to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sword-wielding Cimmerian. The sequel, while not as popular as the original, gives Mako more to do, as magic and monsters play a bigger part in the tamer, PG-rated follow-up. Still, we wish Akiro would’ve conjured some kind of diction-improving spell to make Arnold’s dialogue (such as it is) more comprehensible.
7. Miracle Max in “The Princess Bride” (1987)
Billy Crystal’s Jewish curmudgeon character has never been funnier than in the bizarre context of a fairy tale. As Miracle Max, the former wizard to the king who was fired by the evil Prince Humperdinck (Humperdinck! Humperdinck!), Crystal revives the “mostly dead” Westley (Cary Elwes) more out of spite than for the reduced $65 fee. Too much of Crystal’s mugging can make any film tiresome, so it’s nice that Miracle Max is a mere cameo in this movie.
6. Yen Sid in “Fantasia” (1940)
In “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of Disney’s classic collection of classical-music cartoons, Mickey Mouse “plays” the underling to a powerful wizard, who is unnamed in the film but nicknamed Yen Sid (read it backward). The lazy mouse uses Yen Sid’s magic hat to bring a broomstick to life in order to fulfill his water-carrying chores, but things quickly get out of hand. Maybe Yen Sid would’ve been better off outsourcing his chores!
5. Ulrich in “Dragonslayer” (1981)
Sir Ralph Richardson plays Ulrich, the last remaining wizard. He’s called upon to help defeat the last dragon, Vermithrax Pejorative (somewhere there’s gotta be a metal band with this name), who is holding the kingdom of Urland hostage. Sadly, Ulrich dies during a medieval pissing contest, and his untried apprentice (not Mickey Mouse) has to take his place. But as is often the case with wizards, death is not all that it seems, and Ulrich ultimately manages to save the day, even if the stupid king takes the credit.
4. Tim the Enchanter in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” (1975)
In scene 20 of the classic Python comedy, King Arthur and his knights come upon a sorcerer with ram’s horns on his head conjuring fireballs. Suitably impressed, Arthur asks the enchanter’s name. “There are some who call me… Tim!” If only the knights would’ve heeded Tim’s warnings as to the vicious, cruel, nasty rabbit with long, pointed teeth that guards the mouth of the Cave of Caerbannog!
3. Merlin in “Excalibur” (1981)
The most famous of all wizards has been brought to life in numerous filmed versions of Camelot, but never so memorably as in John Boorman’s lavish, ambitious “Excalibur.” Nicol Williamson plays King Arthur’s sorcerer with a slightly foppish yet regal detachment. He knows he’s the most powerful and suffers the fools of Camelot with amusement. The film is ultimately overreaching, but it’s well worth checking out for this saucy sorcerer.
2. The sorcerers of “The Raven” (1963)
Roger Corman’s “The Raven” has little to do with the Poe poem from which it takes its name, instead telling the tale of three 15th-century wizards. Dr. Craven (Vincent Price) is mourning his dead wife Lenore when he meets a smart-aleck raven that turns out to be a transformed Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a magician who was turned into a bird by the evil Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff). When Craven discovers that Lenore is still alive and shacking up with Scarabus, a battle of the dark arts ensues, and it’s as fun and funny as it is cheesy. With Jack Nicholson as Bedlo’s son Rexford, this comedy has the feel of a horror legends’ “Ocean’s Eleven.”
1. Gandalf in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (2001-2003)
Has there ever been a cooler wizard than Gandalf the Grey/ White, as so perfectly portrayed by Ian McKellen in Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy? Whether partying with hobbits or doing battle alongside the heroes of Middle Earth, Gandalf maintains an elegant dignity and friendly charm that belies his enormous power. McKellen’s performance in “The Fellowship of the Ring” earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, marking the only time a non-special-effects wizard was up for an Oscar.
One can only speculate which of these sorcerers would win an ultimate dark-arts duel and where Harry, Hermione and the rest of the Hogwarts alumni and faculty will fit into the pantheon of movie wizards. We’d love to see Tim the Enchanter take on Dumbledore!
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