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THE B-LIST: These fairy tales are definitely darker than Disney

Live-action fantasy films with a bit more bite

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy Disney. I grew up during the animation juggernaut's "Renaissance" — the era of "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid" and "Aladdin."

All great films, introducing a new generation to classic fairy tales.

But by my teen years, I found myself drawn to the darker, more mature source material that those watered down, G-rated adventures drew from. Complex tales that were more than mere warnings to behave. Stories with blood and passion, where the princess often had to take up arms to cleave out her happy ending.

Society tends to hold the Brothers Grimm up as the end-all, be-all of fairy tales. But most of their stories were taken from even older wives' tales, heavily sanitized and leavened with Christian morality.

To get the really juicy, more feminist takes on cursed princesses, enchanted castles and talking beasts, you need to go to France. Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve is largely credited with the first cohesive "Beauty and the Beast," while Charles Perrault gave us everything from "Sleeping Beauty" to "Bluebeard" and "Little Red Riding Hood."

(Of course, I'm completely neglecting the legends of Asia, Polynesia and Africa, which remain woefully under-represented in Western film and fiction. Most of us know about the African spider God Anansi and Chinese luck dragons — but there's so much more out there.)

If Disney whetted your appetite but didn't fully satiate it, here are a few other fairy tale films to check out:

7. "SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR" (1997). Sigourney Weaver is the witchy queen willing to perform sacrificial rites to bring her stillborn son to life; that alone should ensure admission. After escaping a murderous plot, the lovely Lilli (Monica Keena) falls in with seven outlaws (and falls in love with one of them) before confronting her wicked stepmother to save her bewitched father (Sam Neill).

6. "THE COMPANY OF WOLVES" (1985). A collection of loosely connected vignettes based on Angela Carter's brilliant book "The Bloody Chamber," "The Company of Wolves" feels like a seductive fever dream as it smashes werewolves and "Little Red Riding Hood" together with bloody abandon.

5. "LEGEND" (1985). Who cares about a young, unibrowed Tom Cruise in chainmail hot pants when you've got Tim Curry as the impressive, sultry Darkness? Probably the only movie featuring unicorns and buckets of glitter that isn't sickeningly twee — I'll always envy Lily (Mia Sara)'s ultra-goth look as the tempted princess.

4. "LA BELLE ET LA BETE" (1946 & 2014). The original was a marvel in terms of practical special effects — hands stretching through walls, smoke-breathing cherubs wreathing the fireplace — and the recent remake is even more visually stunning. Josette Day and Lea Seydoux are equally magnetic as the spirited Beauty, while Jean Marais and Vincent Cassel are broodingly perfect as the Beast. Forget the Emma Watson version. Watch this much more faithful, more beautiful take on my favorite French fairy tale.

3. "EVER AFTER" (1998). Still the best version of "Cinderella." Drew Barrymore is fiery and luminous as Danielle, who has a brain as well as beauty. Anjelica Houston chews the scenery flavorless as the evil stepmother. Leonardo da Vinci is inexplicably there. This has heart, humor and beauty galore. And, in the end, Danielle saves herself, which is always a plus in any fairy tale.

2. "THE PRINCESS BRIDE" (1987). What can I say that hasn't already been said? This is one of the most beloved films of the last 30 years — certainly one of the most quotable. Cary Elwes is the definition of debonair charm as the swoony, romantic Westley, while Andre the Giant's pun-cracking Fezzik and Mandy Patinkin's revenge-obsessed Inigo stand out in a cast rife with colorful characters. "The Princess Bride" proved fantasy could break the fourth wall, be snarky as all get out and still deliver the whimsy and wonder expected from fairy tales.

1. "LADYHAWKE" (1985). Look past the synth-heavy, ultra '80s soundtrack. If you find Matthew Broderick annoying, just ignore him. This is all about Rutger Hauer as the tortured knight Navarre and Michelle Pfeiffer as the angelic Isabeau, cursed by a lustful bishop to transform into a wolf (him) and hawk (her) with the dawning and setting of the sun. This story elevates romantic pining to a painfully perfect plateau, and is made even prettier by the Italian countryside standing in for medieval France. An all-time favorite that I never tire of rewatching.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at

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