You can always tell when there's cinematic magic in the air. From Harry Potter to Doctor Strange, audiences have never missed an opportunity to see what magical mysteries will show up on the big screen.
Perhaps it's the unusual power of witches and wizards that attracts audiences—a kind of escapism that lets us picture a life with wand in hand as we ourselves defend Hogwarts from an evil snake-looking villain.
Or, is it the wisdom? The vast counsel of a magical character like Gandalf, whose soft demeanor combined with his extraordinary power has the inexplicable effect of drawing you in towards him.
In any case, ever since the Wicked Witch tried to kill Dorothy, we've all been glued to the screen whenever there's literal magic to watch.
But throughout all the years of fantasy and magic in cinema history, who were the best witches and wizards in movies? Here are our picks!
7. Howl in Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
Although Sophie is the main character of Howl's Moving Castle, the story is just as much about Howl. In this film, a young woman is cursed by the Witch of the Waste. Sophie goes from youth to old age in an instant, and she sets off to find Howl to reverse her curse.
However, the person she finds is a wizard who's wise, powerful, and quite vain. She isn't allowed to tell him of her curse, but he senses it anyway—and he guides her through the film, knowing that the more she falls in love with him, the more she's turned young again.
His excessive use of magic, to the point where he struggles to return to human form, marks Howl as a reckless wizard. However, he's one who—like Sophie—needs to find his heart.
6. Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter Universe (2001–2011)
Albus Dumbledore is the ultimate headmaster. He's a wizard imbued with profound wisdom, who has the loyal support of (most of) his staff, and he guides his pupils through the hardest times with compassion.
Dumbledore and Harry have many grand adventures together, with Dumbledore often trying to keep Harry from danger, all while knowing that he's leading him to his death. However, in true all-knowing wizard fashion, Dumbledore also knows that Harry will have the chance to live again.
As kind-hearted old wizards go, Albus Dumbledore is the one you'd want watching over you. His power is no match for his keen ability to read the people around him, and because of that, Dumbledore somehow knows the future before anybody else does.
5. Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz (1939)
How does one describe Glinda the Good Witch? She's a person we'd all want as our fairy godmother. She's the favorite aunt, a protective force, who would set us off on a journey of self-discovery.
Her powers are in her wisdom, which she brings across with a kind of charm that no other witch has ever matched. She's the antithesis of the word "witch" and so she stands apart from the archetype. She's good, she's kind, and she's the quiet strength of Dorothy in Oz.
Glinda sets Dorothy off in search of the wizard of Oz, saves her from the poppy fields, and tells her how to get home. Glinda is the cinematic witch for all of us, the best of her sisters, and our hero throughout.
4. Merlin in The Sword in the Stone (1963)
Few wizards look as much the archetype of a wizard as Disney's Merlin. With his huge white beard and pointy hat, he's straight out of the fairy tales—along with his wise mentorship of Arthur.
A being of massive power, Merlin is able to show Arthur that he should aspire to more than simply being a squire. And despite not knowing what Arthur will grow to be, he knows that he will be important.
The kindly wizard is a friend and mentor, the kind any young hero needs to guide him on his quest. When Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, he calls for Merlin—and Merlin arrives at that moment, proud of Arthur and knowing that his prophecy has become reality.
3. Harry Potter in Harry Potter Universe (2001–2011)
The boy who lived. The boy who had to die to become free of evil. The boy lived again to fight—and defeat—Lord Voldemort.
Harry Potter is an icon in every sense of the word. He's stubborn, he's often foolish, but he always acts with the best intentions. Unfortunately, that's what always lead him into hell.
Harry is the every-wizard in all people. He's as flawed as much as anybody, but he's also the best version of ourselves when it comes to courage, bravery, and honor.
Harry is defined by his friendships with Ron and Hermione, a trio whose bond is forged by love—a love that saves him him from loneliness and provides him the family he never had but always yearned for.
Never the most powerful, the wisest, or the most profound... yet Harry is the kind of wizard you'd want to be friends with.
2. Doctor Strange in Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008–2019)
Marvel's most powerful wizard in time, even as he's yet to become the Sorcerer Supreme: Doctor Stephen Strange.
Doctor Strange became the center of attention during the gap between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. His final words to Tony Stark upon defeat—based on his foresight of all possible futures—made him the only one who knew how to defeat Thanos.
Starting off as an arrogant neurosurgeon, Stephen Strange lost the use of his hands in an accident, and that led him to the halls of Kamar-Taj and The Ancient One.
That fateful visit turned him into the wizard who set a plan in motion to save the entire universe, and the wizard who will one day become the most powerful version of himself.
1. Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings (2001–2003)
Gandalf is everything a great wizard needs to be and more. He's kind, gentle, powerful, and wise beyond comprehension.
Ian McKellen's portrayal of the iconic wizard is a note of perfect casting in the acclaimed Lord of the Rings film series. He transformed from Gandalf the Gray (the softer and more amiable version of the wizard) to Gandalf the White (the stronger and more battle-ready character).
His stand against the Balrog has become one of cinema's greatest sequences, with Gandalf falling in battle against the fire-bathed creature while the Fellowship watches in horror.
In the end, Gandalf is the wizard we'd all want next to us in battle AND the wizard we'd want to spend time with when we're just having fun. He's a friend, a warrior, and a force for good up to the very end.