With Hogwarts Legacy out this weekend, those who grew up reading the Harry Potter books and movies might be itching to return to the Wizarding World. But with creator J.K. Rowling’s antagonistic commentary on gender identity souring a once fun premise for some fans. As such, many have chosen not to engage with any Harry Potter content, past or present, no matter how much they once loved it. Magic schools are a cool genre, though, and not an uncommon one.
Fantasy stories centered around young protagonists often use a school-like setting to establish the familiar while spinning up the fantastical. There are plenty of movies out there that check similar boxes, be they an off-kilter school setting, family-friendly fantasy with bright visuals, or magical and witchy vibes. So, if you’re staring at your television screen wishing for something that will scratch that specific itch, here are some movies that fit the bill.
The School for Good and Evil
One of the most recent entries in the magical school genre, The School for Good and Evil is a fantastical movie that revels in the fairy-tale genre that it aims to dissect. The movie follows two unlikely best friends, sullen Agatha and perky Sophie, who get swept away to a mysterious school for aspiring fairy-tale figures. But much to their surprise, Agatha gets tossed into the “good” school with the glamorous princesses and suave princes, while Sophie is chosen for the “evil” school, which is full of the children of storybook villains.
It’s a fun movie that just absolutely loves the world it’s set in, while also not letting old tropes go unchallenged. As I said in my review, The School for Good and Evil is exactly the sort of thing I would’ve written in the margins of my notes in middle school — and that’s a good thing. —Petrana Radulovic
The School for Good and Evil is streaming on Netflix.
In many ways, this is the superhero equivalent of The School for Good and Evil. A superhero comedy about a high school for teenage superheroes, Sky High has developed a bit of a cult following for its cheesy fun times and lighthearted spoofing of the superhero genre (right before the genre exploded into the all-encompassing blockbuster mainstay it is today). It stars Kurt Russell! There’s Mary Elizabeth Winstead, before she was famous! And it’s one of the only live-action projects to do stretchy powers well. —Pete Volk
Sky High is streaming on Disney Plus.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Tim Burton’s last truly great film might be Sleepy Hollow in 1999, so as a blockbuster cranked out by an aging visual artist running on steam, no, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not top-tier. But in an era of homogeneous superhero movies, it pops. Adapted from Ransom Riggs’ popular fantasy novel of the same name, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is basically X-Men for goths, following a group of superhuman children all taming their abilities under the eye of a shapeshifting headmistress (Eva Green). While the movie mostly drifts from set piece to set piece, Burton goes to town with special effects, macabre design, and even a bit of stop-motion to bring the world of quirky Peculiars and evil monsters to life. He even casts Samuel L. Jackson as a fanged, white-haired demon guy and lets him Go. To. Town. There are little gifts aplenty in this fantastical romp, even if the whole thing doesn’t gel. (We didn’t get a sequel for a reason.) —Matt Patches
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls
A perfectly spoopy movie that works even when it’s not Halloween, The House With a Clock in Its Walls does away with a magic school and instead assigns a specific magic tutor for one aspiring young warlock. That magic tutor is none other than Jack Black, who plays Uncle Jonathan, the owner of the titular house. His next-door neighbor and witchy best friend is played by Cate Blanchett. Right away, that’s a stellar cast, and they fully commit to their roles. Even though this is a family-friendly movie, there are still some pretty dang scary moments! Nothing too traumatizing for a younger audience, though (except maybe for baby Jack Black). —PR
The House With a Clock in Its Walls is available to rent on Prime Video, Vudu, Apple TV, and Redbox.
We Can Be Heroes
Honestly, any of Robert Rodriguez’s kid-tailored movies (Spy Kids, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl) could fit here, but We Can Be Heroes is (1) the most recent and (2) the one that is closest to a fun school setting. Now, the second generation of superheroes trapped in a classroom in this movie don’t get a chance to attend lessons or learn from kooky professors before disaster strikes. But they do bond together and figure out how to use their powers, with a lot of emphasis on being a second generation of heroes taking up the mantle. There is also a training montage! It’s a fun time — Spy Kids made the action genre approachable and kid-friendly in 2001, and We Can Be Heroes does the same thing for the superhero genre. —PR
We Can Be Heroes is streaming on Netflix.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals
Disney’s Descendants trilogy — which follows the children of famous Disney characters like Maleficent, Belle, and Ursula — is an obvious choice for anyone looking for a magical school movie. However, if you’re not a hardcore Disney fan, then your enjoyment of the Disney Channel Original Movie series might not be as strong.
Instead, I’ll offer Secret Society of Second-Born Royals as a solid alternative. This Disney Plus original is a bit more polished and high-budget than a DCOM, but still focuses on young protagonists combating the forces of evil by teaming up together and figuring out how to use their eclectic powers. It follows a second daughter of a fictional country who learns she — and other second-born royal children — have secret superpowers that they must use to protect the world. —PR
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is streaming on Disney Plus.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
In this reimagining of a Disney Fantasia short, Jay Baruchel and Nicolas Cage battle the forces of evil and awkward adolescence in a fizzy action-fantasy concoction. Directed by Jon Turteltaub of the National Treasure franchise, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice follows a sorcerer named Balthazar (Cage) and his reluctant apprentice, Dave (Baruchel), who’d rather be playing with his Tesla coils and romancing his childhood crush, Becky (Teresa Palmer), than waging war against a bunch of other occult beings. But when things get grim (this is a pun you’ll appreciate more if you take our recommendation), Dave steps up and into the “old man shoes” that are part of his new magical uniform.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is as sweet as it is strange, thanks to Cage’s surprisingly restrained performance — he was the driving force for the movie, so it could easily have gone off the rails — and Baruchel’s hangdog earnestness. This allows Alfred Molina to ham it up as the main adversary in a film that balances wonder and reason much better than its initial critical reception suggests. —Danette Chavez
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is streaming on Disney Plus.
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Studio Ghibli’s fourth feature film follows the plucky protagonist, Kiki, on a rite-of-passage trip for young witches. When she arrives in town, she finds a home by starting a flying service for a bakery. The film weaves witchcraft into the fabric of metropolitan life, taking fantastical themes and making them feel slice-of-life. The lovable cast of characters and wholesome story make it a great watch for any age, but it also has a mature core. In Kiki’s pursuit for a place in the world, Hayao Miyazaki beautifully captures that lonely middle ground between childhood and growing into independence. —Nicole Clark
Kiki’s Delivery Service is streaming on HBO Max.
In this 1998 Disney Channel Original Movie that absolutely holds up, a young girl and her siblings learn they are descended from a long line of witches and are transported to Halloweentown, an alternate dimension where supernatural creatures from across all planes of existence live together in harmony. There are ghosts and ghouls, witches and warlocks, goblins and werewolves, a wisecracking skeleton that drives a taxi cab, a giant jack-o’-lantern in the town square, flying broomsticks, a Willy Wonka-looking mayor pulling a lollipop out of his ear — need I go on?
The first movie is honestly the high point of the Halloweentown franchise, as everything after the sequel just goes downhill. Sure, one wouldn’t necessarily expect that a 1998 Disney Channel Original Movie ages well, but Halloweentown manages to stand the test of time. Debbie Reynolds is wonderful as the kids’ estranged grandmother Aggie, as is Kimberly J. Brown as the precocious apprentice witch Marnie. If you’re looking for a fun holiday-themed movie with eccentric characters, colorful sets, and some spooky-but-not-too-spooky thrills, Halloweentown is a sure bet. —Toussaint Egan
Halloweentown is streaming on Disney Plus.
The 2004 Anne Hathaway-led adaptation of the children’s classic tells the story of Ella, who is cursed at birth to follow any order another has given her, and who journeys to find the fairy godmother who might revert the spell. Ella Enchanted reimagines the fairy godmother trope into something both goofy and sinister, and the world is bursting with magic, from witches to elves to talking books. Truly, the movie has it all: action, adventure, romance, multiple dancing numbers, evil stepsisters, and a Heidi Klum cameo. Most importantly, it’s a coming-of-age story about a young woman learning to live for herself. —NC
Ella Enchanted is available to rent on Amazon, Apple, Google Play, and Vudu.
The Kid Who Would Be King
Fans of Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block did not show up for his long-awaited follow-up, which was dumped by 20th Century Fox shortly before the Disney acquisition went into effect. But anyone looking for the authentic revival of ’80s adventure movies like The Goonies should go back to find this low-key gem, which finds a 12-year-old boy inheriting Excalibur and leading an army of his pals in battle against Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Cornish knows that to entertain the whole family, a movie needs to be thrilling, wide-eyed, and a little scary. The Kid Who Would Be King fulfills the wish. —MP
The Kid Who Would Be King is streaming on Disney Plus.
This confectionary take on Snow White was completely overshadowed by 2012’s other Cinderella reimagining, the action-heavy Kristen Stewart vehicle Snow White and the Huntsman (which stinks btw). Starring Lily Collins (Emily in Paris) as the fair princess and Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, Mirror Mirror is all about storybook whimsy, as interpreted by the visual extremist Tarsem. There is whackadoo physical comedy courtesy of the dwarves (rightfully played by a cast of little people), there are Bollywood-style musical sequences, and there are lavish costumes courtesy of the legendary Eiko Ishioka, who was nominated for an Oscar for this eye-popping-but-forgotten film. There were few successors to The Princess Bride made after The Princess Bride, but with a light-footed approach, Mirror Mirror is one of them — but no one ever talks about it. —MP
Mirror Mirror is streaming on Starz and for free with a library card on Hoopla.