This topic refers to imaginary and fictional countries and continents that are said to exist within terrestrial realms. This should be differentiated from the topic Fantasy Otherworlds, which concerns lands such as Middle-Earth, Narnia and Westeros that exist in an isolated realm not connected to this world and in a universe that usually operates on an entirely different set of laws.
The casual rule of thumb in differentiating between the two might be if you could take a plane or sail to said country then it is an Imaginary Land, if it requires a magic portal or is not said to be connected to this world in any way then it is an Otherworld. For islands, which are often very different to imaginary and magical lands, and the way they are portrayed in Fantastic Cinema see Islands in Fantastic Cinema.
It should be noted that there are plentiful countries that fit the definition of Imaginary Lands in the real world. The most notable of these would be Atlantis, which has become widespread as an idea without any direct archaeological proof of its existence. It is given its own category here – see Films About Atlantis. There are a number other supposed lands such as Lemuria, Mu and more mythical places such as Lyonesse or Avalon of the Arthurian legends.
This would consist of countries that do not exist but could do so with a reasonable but not completely fantastical stretch of the imagination. In other words, they resemble countries in the real world and do not feature any magical or fantastical properties or happenings as in the Magical Lands section below.
Examples of fictional countries might include Ruritania in The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), the kingdom of Freedonia in Duck Soup (1931), Syldavia and Borduria in the Tintin stories, the kingdom of Moldavia in tv’s Dynasty (1981-9), the African kingdom of Zamunda in Coming to America (1988), the African kingdom of Bangalla in The Phantom (1996), Latveria in the Fantastic Four films, Krakozhia in The Terminal (2004) and in a more fantastical frame Wakanda in Black Panther (2018).
Fictional countries are often disguised counterparts for real world countries where it is too politically sensitive to name an actual country. Spy fiction of the 1960/70s is filled with fictional Eastern Bloc countries, while modern shows like The West Wing (1994-2006) and 24 (2001-10) feature fictional Middle Eastern nations. Genre examples might include the country of Merapolia who are threatening a world nuclear attack in Atomic Rulers of the World (1965), the former Soviet republic of Krazny turned near future war zone in Outside the Wire (2021) and the South American republic of Corto Maltese that gets undergoes revolution in The Suicide Squad (2021).
Few works actually concern themselves with visits to these countries – in most cases, they are the origin place of the resident villains. Some exceptions might include the fictional Soviet republic of Gudavia in The Gamma People (1956), the Middle Eastern kingdom of Kalid in Brain of Blood (1971) and the Caribbean island of San Monique in the James Bond film Live and Let Die (1973).
There have been several comedy films set around fictional countries. There was the charming Passport to Pimlico (1949) in which the London suburb of Pimlico causes chaos by declaring itself a nation. The world’s smallest country The Duchy of Grand Fenwick features in The Mouse That Roared (1959) where they declare war on the USA and accidentally win and in the sequel Mouse on the Moon (1963) where they accidentally become the first country to land on The Moon.
Laurel and Hardy’s last film Atoll K (1955) has them shipwrecked on an atoll that they then declare a republic Crusoeland only for problem to arise when it is found to have uranium deposits and everybody comes seeking these. The Bollywood film Joker (2012) concerns the Indian village Paglapar inhabited by former asylum inmates who declare themselves a nation and fabricate alien visitations to draw attention to themselves.
Perhaps the most fascinating example comes in The City & The City (2018), an adaptation of the China Mieville novel. This concerns itself with Beszel and Al Qoma, two cities that live as separate countries, even with their own languages and borders, while inhabiting the same geographic space (where even streets and public squares have invisible borders running through them) such that residents are strictly policed about not ‘seeing’ the other.
There should also be some room left in here for Films About Lost Worlds, which get a topic of their own. These are pockets of civilisation where holdovers from prehistory still remain. Good examples might be Skull Island in King Kong (1933), the continent of Caprona in The Land That Time Forgot (1974) and The People That Time Forgot (1977), and Dinotopia (2002).
Not included in this discussion are countries like Oceania and Eastasia in Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984) and the Republic of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale (2017- ), which should be regarded less as fictional countries and more future versions of existing countries that have simply been given a new name.
This refers to countries where the creators have made no effort to make them appear realistic and are inhabited by fantastical and outrightly magical creations. The two most famous examples would be the lands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag (inhabited respectively by very small people and giants) that appear in the assorted film adaptations of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) – see the likes of Gulliver’s Travels (1939), The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Gulliver’s Travels (1977) and Gulliver’s Travels (2010). The tv mini-series Gulliver’s Travels (1995) is the best of the adaptations and the only version that visits the other lands in Swift’s book, the Floating Island of Laputa and the Land of the Houyhnhnms.
Other famous examples might be the Land of Oz and its various countries and their colourful peoples that Dorothy Gale travels to via tornado in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and assorted sequels, or Never Never Land in the various versions of Peter Pan (1906) – see Peter Pan (1953), Peter Pan (2003) and assorted spinoffs. All are inhabited by colourful and magical peoples and creatures.
Other examples of magical lands on film might include the floating Sea Star Island in Doctor Dolittle (1967); Living Island in Pufnstuf (1970); the island of Naboombo inhabited by talking animals in Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971); the island of Sobor with its magic railways in tv’s Thomas the Tank Engine/Thomas & Friends (1984–2021) and the film Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000); the unnamed land in The Phantom Treehouse (1984); the Land of Hy-Brasil in Erik the Viking (1989); and the unnamed island in Where the Wild Things Are (2009).
These above listed films make no attempt to be realistic. Somewhat more within the realm of plausibility are the lands of Lemuria in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973) and Hyperborea in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977), both being based on supposed lands from mythology.
There is also Themyscira, the island of the Amazons and the home of Wonder Woman as depicted in Wonder Woman/The New Original Wonder Woman (1975-9), Wonder Woman (2009), Wonder Woman (2017), Wonder Woman: Bloodlines (2019) and Wonder Woman 1984/WW84 (2020).
In a category of its own might be the land of Mandragora where the sun never sets in Guy Maddin’s surrealist Twilight of the Ice Nymphs (1997).
- The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- Passport to Pimlico (1949)
- Gulliver’s Travels (1995)
- The City & the City (2018)
A full list of titles can be found here Imaginary and Magical Lands