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The movies that get magic right

Australia’s greatest magicians, and the team behind this summer’s BEST TRICK EVER, break down the films that do magic justice

Sydney Opera House

We all love a bit of magic in the movies, but sleight of hand and spine-tingling tricks can be hard to capture believably on film. To help narrow down our summer watch-list, we've recruited the expert cast of James Galea's BEST TRICK EVER to recommend titles that get a sorcerer's genuine stamp of approval...  

Dom Chambers

I have an unusual answer for this: Matilda.

This is the perfect portrayal of magic – not in the sense of being a magician, or of magic as an art form, but rather what magic would look like, and be used for, if it were real (at least, the type of magic that I like to imagine).

There are no wands, secret potions, or satanic rituals - just a cute girl, who controls the things around her with a point of the fingers. And how does she use her powers? To improve her life and the lives of those around her.

This was my favorite movie growing up, and one of the reasons I fell in love with the idea of magic.

As for a movie that best captures the real-life world of magic and illusion: The Prestige. The worst: Now You See Me. That movie is terrible.

Ramond Crowe

In Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film The Circus, the tramp character is enlisted to help set up “Bosco the Magician’s” magic act in the circus ring. What follows is a wonderful parody of a magic act of that time.

Many acts then were using purely mechanical tricks, apparatus that was sold to anyone wishing to enter show biz. All you needed was the money and very little talent.

Chaplin, having grown up in the music hall variety shows, would have seen many of these types of performers and would have known how easy many of their tricks worked and how poorly skilled many of the acts were. These acts would have been seen as an insult to the artists that had spent years perfecting their crafts.

This is not to say all these magicians were unskilled, in fact the top conjurers in magic of that time developed illusions and skills that are still in use today, we owe them much… but we owe Chaplin thanks as well for sending us up.

Helen Coghlan

The movies with magic I love most are the Harry Potter films.

What do you mean that’s not real magic? Try telling that to the millions of children (and their Harry Potter-loving parents) whose imaginations were completely caught up in the phenomenon of these films.

Imagine with the wave of a magic wand and the incantation of ‘wingardium leviosa’ you could make objects levitate or fly! The 'Cloak of Invisibility' would render the wearer invisible; ‘expecto patronum’ would conjure a strong positive force which protects from the Dementors.

It might just be movie magic but, if these movies can brighten your day, that’s magic enough for me.

Vincent Kuo

John Bell in The Merchant of Venice

Well, I don't love many magic movies. Magic cliches are common, and it's not easy to represent magic well. But there is one movie that I thoroughly enjoyed: The Prestige. Not necessarily because of the tricks, but the ending speech. It goes something along the lines of:

"Why did we do magic?... The audience knows the truth, the world is simple, miserable, solid all the way through. But if you can fool them, even for a second... then you can make them wonder. Then you got to see something very special... it was the look on their faces."

This scene gives me chills. The feeling of evoking true wonder to someone, seeing their eyes light up. There's no feeling like it. Both for the performer, and the spectator. 

James Galea

So many films and TV shows get it so wrong, but when the right care is taken, it truly is magic.

I think my favourite showcase of magic in the movies, isn’t even seen as a magic movie, more a grifter film (the greatest grifter film, most would say). The Sting does everything right. Perfectly cast, acted, directed, scored, and designed. One of my favourite scenes has…well, you see for yourself in the clip above. Here’s a brilliant Paul Newman and Robert Redford in their prime… (magician John Scarne was a technical advisor on the film and it’s his magic hands you’re seeing double for Newman’s in the scene)

I’ll also add The Prestige for one of the best magic representations in film  (thanks to the great Ricky Jay) The film also gets extra points cause it’s got Hugh in it. 

Lastly, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone for a good magic laugh.

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