Fairytales have become such a large part of our culture, it’s hard to find any piece of fiction that isn’t influenced by at least one fantastical narrative. Isn’t every rags-to-riches story really just an adaptation of Cinderella? And doesn’t every story about jealousy pull from Snow White in some way? In fact, there are fairytale influences hiding in sources you’d never even think to consider, including tons of modern-day movies.
Adaptations of classic stories are absolutely necessary. When people change, so too must the literature those people are subjected to. Archetypal fairytale princesses are great and all, but we can do a lot better in the role model department. Give me alien-killing astronauts over dressed-up royals any day — they are fully capable of taking care of themselves, and their clothes are probably a lot comfier.
In light of our changing society and because I’m in a particularly feminist mood today, here are 12 modern-day movies that are unexpectedly similar to some of our most beloved fairytales. You’ll be surprised just how much these edgy updates have in common with their spellbinding predecessors. Here are modern-day movies that are really fairytales:
1. Cinderella = Pretty Woman
The fairytale: Cinderella, due to the mistreatment of her stepfamily, spends her days sweeping floors and dreaming of a better life. In a magical twist of fate, her fairy godmother appears and gives her a beautiful dress to wear to a ball being thrown in her kingdom. Her beauty outshines that of every other attendee, capturing the attention of the prince. However, she must leave the ball at midnight per the fairy godmother’s instructions. The prince tracks her down, and they live forever in marital bliss.
The movie: Vivian, due to the unequal distribution of wealth in America, spends her nights prostituting herself and dreaming of a better life. In a magical twist of capitalism, a rich businessman appears and gives her a new wardrobe to wear to all of his corporate functions. Her vivaciousness outshines that of every other boring bourgeois, capturing the attention of the businessman. However, she must leave his penthouse per the terms of their arrangement. The businessman tracks her down, and they kiss on her rusty fire escape.
2. Mulan = She’s the Man
The fairytale: Hua Mulan lives in war-torn China with her family. When her father gets enlisted to serve in the army, she cuts off all of her hair, dresses up like a man, and signs up in her dad’s place. She goes on to be one of the greatest warriors in the Chinese army, therein becoming a symbol for gender equality. However, she refuses any sort of reward and happily returns home to live a quiet life.
The movie: Viola Hastings attends high school with a misogynistic soccer coach. When her twin brother gets called up to play soccer at a renowned boarding school, she gets a wig, dresses up like a man, and attends in her brother’s place. She goes on to be one of the greatest soccer players at the school, therein becoming a symbol for gender equality, and happily makes out with Channing Tatum at a debutante ball.
3. Jack and the Beanstalk = The Hunger Games
The fairytale: A young boy named Jack lives with his widowed mother and beloved milk cow. His family eventually runs out of food and money, so Jack sacrifices his cow for some magical beans. He ends up becoming a thief and murderer, even acquiring the nickname “The Giant Slayer.” But his sins don’t seem to phase him, and he lives happily ever after.
The movie: A teen girl named Katniss lives with her widowed mother and beloved little sister. Her family and District run low on food and money, so Katniss sacrifices herself to fight in the Hunger Games. She ends up becoming a hunter and murderer, even acquiring the nickname “The Mockingjay.” Her sins continue to haunt her, but she goes on to live a normal, relatively happy life.
4. The Little Mermaid = Dirty Dancing
The fairytale: A teenage mermaid spends her days wishing she could be part of the human world, much to the dismay of her family. After falling in love with a handsome prince, she sells her voice to a Sea Witch in exchange for human legs. The prince finds the now-human mermaid to be mesmerizing and especially loves watching her dance. However, he soon marries a princess from a neighboring kingdom, and the mermaid is heartbroken. She throws herself into the ocean, and her body dissolves into sea foam.
The movie: A teenage girl spends her vacation wishing she was cool enough to hang with the working-class entertainment staff at her resort, much to the dismay of her father. After developing a crush on a handsome dance instructor, she trades her innocence in exchange for Mambo lessons. The dance instructor finds the girl intriguing and especially loves watching her dance. However, he soon leaves after getting in trouble with the resort’s owner, and the girl is heartbroken … but he returns! She throws herself into his arms during a climactic dance scene, and the audience dissolves into applause.
5. Beauty and the Beast = Edward Scissorhands
The fairytale: Belle is a pure-hearted beauty who lives among terrible people, including a pair of wicked sisters. She begins living in a Beast’s palace as a prisoner, but soon discovers her captor’s pure and caring heart. Her jealous sisters trick her into returning home, and the Beast nearly dies of heartbreak. Belle weeps over him and professes her love, causing the Beast to turn into a prince. The two get married.
The movie: Kim is a pure-hearted beauty who lives in a town of terrible people, including her violent boyfriend. She begins living with a new houseguest, the scary looking Edward Scissorhands, and soon discovers her cohabitant’s pure and caring heart. Her jealous boyfriend attacks Edward, and Edward kills him. Kim professes her love to Edward, causing literally nothing to change. The two never see each other again.
6. The Red Shoes = Black Swan
The fairytale: Karen is a relatively normal girl — until she gets a pair of fancy red shoes. She then becomes vain and obsessive, and her new shoes take over her life. Before she knows it, she is cursed to dance for eternity. She chops off her feet in an act of desperation, but it isn’t until she begs an angel to have mercy on her (aka kill her) that she finally is at peace.
The movie: Nina is a relatively normal girl — until she gets cast as the lead dancer in Swan Lake. She then becomes psychotic and obsessive, and the Black Swan role takes over her life. Before she knows it, she is hallucinating. She stabs herself with a shard of broken mirror in an act of desperation, but it isn’t until she finishes her dance with perfection (aka dies) that she finally is at peace.
7. The Little Match Girl = Pan’s Labyrinth
The fairytale: A poor girl who makes a living selling matches in the street lives in fear of her abusive father. One freezing night, she escapes her dire situation by envisioning Christmas trees and her loving grandmother. She lights match after match to keep her visions alive, but when she runs out of lights, she dies. Her grandmother carries her to heaven, where she won’t be hungry or cold anymore.
The movie: A young girl who is obsessed with fairytales lives in fear of her Fascist, militaristic stepfather. Over the course of several days, she escapes her dire situation by envisioning a faun who asks her to perform several tasks. She performs task after task to keep her visions alive, but her stepfather shoots her and she dies. Her soul travels to the underworld, where she is reunited with her true parents and crowned a princess.
8. Alice in Wonderland = Coraline
The fairytale: Alice is bored with her typical life. She discovers a rabbit hole that leads her to the enigmatic and exciting Wonderland. She finds all the adventure she had been craving, but soon runs into the evil Queen of Hearts. The Queen refuses to let Alice leave and even tries to execute her. Luckily, Alice wakes up in time to find that it had all just been a dream and goes back to her mundane life.
The movie: Coraline feels neglected by her working parents. She discovers a hidden door that leads her to the enigmatic and inviting Other World. She finds all the attention she had been craving, but soon discovers the evil nature of Other Mother. Other Mother refuses to let Coraline leave and tries to sew buttons over her eyes. Luckily, Coraline escapes and destroys the entrance to Other World, returning to her real family.
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs = All About Eve
The fairytale: The Queen is the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, although she needs constant reassurance. She takes on a lovely girl named Snow White as a stepdaughter, but the princess soon begins to threaten everything the Queen holds dear. The Queen attempts several times to murder Snow, revealing herself to be a true villain. She finally creates a new identity in order to get Snow to eat a poisoned apple. Snow’s dwarfs and beloved prince discover the truth, and together they take the Queen down.
The movie: Margo is the most famous actress on Broadway, although she fears how aging might affect her career. She takes on a young fan named Eve as an assistant, but the ingenue soon begins to threaten everything Margo holds dear. In a shocking plot twist, Eve reveals herself to be the true villain. She had been acting under a false identity the entire time in order to rise to fame. Margo’s friends discover the truth, and together they take Eve down.
10. Hansel and Gretel = Moonrise Kingdom
The fairytale: Hansel and Gretel are a pair of siblings who get abandoned by their wicked stepmother. They join forces to trek through the woods together. Hansel soon finds himself in the captivity of a wicked witch who wants to fatten him up and eat him. He and Gretel use their wits to escape, throwing the witch into a furnace, and they return home to find their father happily waiting for them.
The movie: Sam and Suzy are a pair of friends who make plans to run away from home (or camp, in Sam’s case). They join forces to trek through the wilderness together. Sam soon finds himself on the run from Social Services who want to send him to juvenile refuge and give him electroshock therapy. He and Suzy use their wits to escape, sending Social Services away. Suzy returns home, and Sam gets adopted by the police captain.
11. Pinocchio = A.I. Artificial Intelligence
The fairytale: Geppetto creates Pinocchio, a boy-like puppet, to be the son he never had. Pinocchio proves to be dishonest and gullible during his series of adventures, but the Blue Fairy promises to turn him into a real boy — if he can redeem his ways. Much time passes, and Pinocchio learns many lessons and stops his disobedient ways. He wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a real boy, and he happily goes about his life.
The movie: A family adopts David, a human-like robot, to replace their sick son. When the couple’s son regains his health, David is cast out and goes on a series of adventures to find his “Blue Fairy,” the one who can turn him into a human boy. Thousands of years pass, and David discovers that he will never become human. However, he is able to reunite with his former mother for 24 hours, and he happily falls asleep at the end of the day.
12. Rumpelstiltskin = Terminator 2
The fairytale: After enlisting the help of Rumpelstiltskin years ago, a lovely princess now finds herself facing the imp once more. This time, he has come to collect her son as payment. The princess uses her smarts, as well as the resources of an entire kingdom, to defeat Rumpelstiltskin and save her son.
The movie: After defeating a cyborg bounty hunter years ago, Sarah Connor now finds herself facing an even more advanced adversary. Only this time, the cyborg is out to kill her son. Sarah uses her smarts, as well as T-800’s gun power, to destroy the murderous cyborg and save her son.