Legendary magician Harry Houdini plays small but pivotal role in this fantasy adventure, about two young girls who claim to have taken pictures of real-life fairies. Houdini (played by Harvey Keitel) is brought in to prove it's a hoax. The movie claims the fairies were real - even though in real life, Houdini was proven right - but it's still a sweet little story, filled with hope and wonder.
The better-than-expected remake of the classic 1985 horror comedy co-stars David Tennant as a Las Vegas stage magician who discovers that vampires are real. It's a clever subversion of the "skeptical magician" trope we usually see in fiction, in a film that was already exceptionally funny, thrilling and smart.
Uli Edel's Houdini is technically a TV mini-series, but it's so handsomely crafted that we won't hold that against it. Adrien Brody stars as the iconic escape artist, whose most elaborate tricks and most dangerous escapes are presented like blockbuster action sequences. Houdini is about as fun as biopics get.
Not to be confused with the Edward Norton film of the same name - which was also about stage magic, but which isn't quite as good - Sylvain Chomet's heartbreaking animated feature tells the story of a little girl who thinks magic is real, and the sleight of hand artist who sacrifices everything to avoid proving her wrong. You will weep.
One of Clive Barker's most popular films stars Scott Bakula as Harry D'Amour, a private detective hired to investigate a stage magician who might have had actual supernatural powers. The investigation spirals into madness and horror, and although the film is pure pulp, it's the good kind of pulp. (Track down the director's cut if you can; it is the superior version.)
Anthony Hopkins gives one of his finest performances in the disturbing drama Magic, about a magician who turns to ventriloquism, and gradually loses himself to multiple personality disorder. "Fats" is one of the most disturbing horror characters ever put on celluloid.
Woody Allen's shameless but effective My Fair Lady riff (which was itself a Pygmalion riff), is one of the filmmaker's better films in recent years. Colin Firth plays a stage magician who is enlisted to prove that a psychic (Emma Watson) is a fraud. But then he actually starts to believe in the unknown and turns his life around until... oh, that would be telling...
Tyrone Power gives one of his best performances in Nightmare Alley, a film about a small-time hustler with big-time dreams. Power steals a priceless mind-reading scam off of a fellow carnival worker, builds himself a reputation, and then gets in WAY over his head. Nightmare Alley is an impossibly grim film noir, with a horrifying conclusion that was only "saved" by a last minute, somewhat hopeful denouement, courtesy of the skittish studio heads.
The second Now You See Me is a lot of fun, but the novelty is more exciting in the original film, about a group of stage magicians who pull off a series of elaborate heists. The highlight: Dave Franco using sleight of hand to amplify his kung fu skills, in one of the weirder and more entertaining fight scenes in recent memory.
Purists scoffed, but Oz the Great and Powerful turned out to be an intriguing film about the nature of showmanship, with the shyster "wizard" arriving in Oz, only to discover that his trickery has consequences. It's a smart statement about the nature of this prequel: a distractingly colorful CGI fantasy that obfuscates a somewhat subversive commentary about the nature of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking, and the irony of the theatrical concept of "prestige."
Speaking of prestige, Christopher Nolan's sumptuous period piece The Prestige marvels at its own cleverness, pulling the rug out from the under the audience many times over the course of the film. But the story - about two rival magicians destroying each other, repeatedly - holds up long after you know how the trick got pulled. It's an inventive but sad story about the tireless pursuit of applause.
This 1980 slasher is better than most films of its ilk, with a solid cast, gorgeous lighting and a somewhat clever screenplay. But best of all is a young David Copperfield, more or less playing himself, wowing the cast with his close-up illusions and trying to trick the audience into thinking he's anything more than a red herring. (OR IS HE...?)