Double Feature Duels: The Neverending Story vs. Legend

Legend and The Neverending Story represent (alongside a smattering of other films) the apex of the eighties fantasy movement. Both of them feature wild colors, charmingly synthetic scores, and enough dated mysticism to choke a Rockbiter.

Their receptions, however, were slightly different. The Neverending Story capture the imagination of an untold number of children. Legend kinda slipped through the cracks, though it enjoys a bit of a cult following today.

But the question before us for the next few minutes is… which one is better?

(For the purposes of this article, the Legend in question is the Director’s Cut.)


With both of these flicks, we’re in high fantasy territory, which means — broadly speaking — new worlds and monsters. Any fantasy movie worth its salt is going to go the extra mile to make sure these these two elements are both distinctive and believable.

First up, Legend. The movie revolves around Unicorns, which often just look silly (or at least awkward) in movies, but fortunately Ridley and his team sell these creatures very well.

Aside from the Unicorns, Legend delivers a colorful roster of familiar fantasy types. One of the most distinctive, the elf Honeythorn Gump, takes the shape of a boy but the voice of a woman — eerie stuff — but most of the creatures are typical riffs on the standard dwarves, goblins, and devils.

Which isn’t to say they aren’t well-designed. There are some detailed, visually dynamic creatures throughout. Darkness (played by Tim Curry underneath inches of prosthetic) deserves a mention all his own. The design team took the traditional horned devil to its logical extreme, forming the perfect visual representation of evil for this movie.

Good stuff. It’s just that the movie as a whole makes very few additions to the fantasy tradition, preferring to use familiar creatures for the vast majority of its cast.

Unfortunately for Legend, The Neverending Story has novelty and personality to spare. I swear, EVERY creature in this movie is something unique, cool, or simply compelling.

From the bizarre surprise of that giant turtle thing…

NSFW? Note to self: Check with Paul about Unreality image policy.

… to the iconic happiness of Falcor…

… to the sad silhouette of the Rockbiter…

My favorite.

The Neverending Story just demolishes the competition in the design category. Sure, they obviously aren’t executed to the depth that Legend’s creatures, but the inhabitants of Fantasia are much more memorable in the end. So they take this round.

But hey, it’s not just WHAT you have in your movie, it’s how you present it. So let’s take a look at…


As alluded to above, The Neverending Story doesn’t quite have the brilliant execution it needs to drive its fantasy ideas home. While the film is certainly distinctive, part of it’s charm is the slightly wooden look of its world and creations. Falcor is an icon, and his voice work is incredibly charming, but a convincing puppet he is not.

The visual effects and look in general follow that awkward-but-effective mold. For instance, the stagey nature of arenas like the Swamps of Sadness registers onscreen, but it doesn’t seem to adversely affect the scene’s emotional impact (as dozens of scarred children will attest).

I guess you could say that The Neverending Story embraces the slightly clunky style it seems to be saddled with. Creatures like a “Luck Dragon” and ideas like “The Nothing” seem rather at home in a world of obvious puppets and visible matte lines.

Conversely, Legend has the pedigree of Ridley Scott in its favor. While this is no Alien or Gladiator, it’s also no slouch in the tone department. Visually, Ridley Scott fills each and every corner of the frame with flora, fauna, light, and swirling snow (or leaves, or bubbles, or whatever). The world of Legend is rich, detailed, and much more immediately convincing than that of The Neverending Story.

Its visual effects and makeup are executed more smoothly, too. While that indefinable eighties sheen covers everything, the locations and creatures feel more lifelike and tactile than those in a lot of other movies that came about during the same time period.

Isn’t it remarkable what these people in the Eighties were able to get away with onscreen? Just look at the amount of glitter coating the set in something like Labyrinth. Legend has a scene where — all of a sudden, and for no reason — bubbles start falling like snow over the scene. Because magic. Crazy. But the real accomplishment is that no matter how wild and wacky Legend gets, it nearly always manages to convince us that it’s serious about it.

But what about the sonic style? In other words, how’s the music?

Well, all I have to say is this: The Neverending Story may have that awesome song…


… but Legend has Jerry Goldsmith. In other words, Legend wins.

In short, Legend might lack novelty for much of its runtime, but it compensates for that by executing its well-trod fantasy types with stylistic flair and great attention to detail.

But enough about the production side of things. Let’s cut to the chase and examine…


It always comes down to this, doesn’t it? Honestly, both of these movies are rather light on the subject. They’re both episodic, somewhat childish fantasy yarns, more concerned with the things we see along the way than with any greater plot concerns. That said, I think we can manage to find a victor here.

Let’s take Legend first. The plot is some nonsense about a Lord of Darkness wanting to plunge the land into an eternal night. He sends some minions out to kill two unicorns, harbingers of the light, so that his will may come to pass. Hijinks, as they say, ensue.

In The Neverending Story, a lonely boy loses himself in a story about a young man who has to find the means of destroying The Nothing. Wait, the what? Oh, The Nothing is a… force of darkness that intends on consuming everything. And yes, this is also followed by hijinks.

So, not a whole lot of plot in either case. And honestly, what plot there is sounds awfully similar.

But… one of them has a bit more oomph. To me, there are two things that put The Neverending Story ahead.

The first thing is its cast of characters. The reader, Bastian. Atreyu. Falcor. The Rockbiter. When compared to Legend, these characters leap of the screen and embed themselves into your memory far more immediately.

I can still picture Tom Cruise’s Jack, but I couldn’t describe his personality to you if I tried. In fact, and I alluded to this earlier, the only character I’d rank as truly distinctive from that movie is Tim Curry’s Lord of Darkness.

Another important aspect of the way The Neverending Story delivers its story is the design of the words and names it uses. From the memorable title onward, it’s an in-movie language that is almost impossible to forget. Remember The Nothing? The Swamps of Sadness? The Childlike Empress? Of course you do — how could you not?

Legend’s title is insanely generic. Its hero’s name is Jack; his love interest is Lili. Admittedly, Darkness is a cool name, but I still contend that The Nothing is a better one. See what I’m getting at? Legend just doesn’t have that ringing quality to its story and characters that The Neverending Story does.

I would also contend that placing Bastian in the role of the reader further enhances the fableistic (is that a word?) quality of The Neverending Story.

Point to The Neverending Story, and obviously we have our…

The Neverending Story

I’ve been sort of making the same point over and over here, so let me just go ahead and boil it down to one sentence:

The Neverending Story has a typical fantasy plot, but it imbues its characters, creatures, and locations with a sense of purpose and resonance that transcends its (admittedly thin) trappings. It’s a pop culture touchstone that deserves its status, both as a product of the eighties and as a family-friendly fantasy flick. Well done.

Similar Posts


  1. Great article. I loved The NeverEnding story because, not only did it define my childhood, it consisted of memorable characters and names. Pretty much…you summed it up.

  2. I have seen The Neverending Story countless times and I still love it. My favorite memory is how long the movie seemed to last when I was a kid… like I just got lost in every scene and time stopped.

  3. The Neverending story was a movie that brought incredible depth for something with a very thin plot. It also had the saddest and most frightening scenes from my childhood. When Atreyu loses Artax in the Swamp of Sorrows is by far one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen on screen. And when he confronts the Nothing. Oh my lord did they do an amazing job making a puppet terrifying. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. I’m actually a little sad that CGI has pushed puppets out completly. Movies like The Neverending Story, Labryinth, and The Dark Crystal are awesome because the puppets. I miss that.

  4. I grew up watching both of these movies, and i still do today (i own both of them on bluray :P) and they are two of my favorite movies of all time. my 3 year old even enjoys these old glories.

    am i the only one, however, who noticed the uncanny similarity between the movie Legend, and the original story/environment of The LEGEND of Zelda (circa NES)? Fairies. A boy hero from the woods dressed in green, trying to save the princess taken by the big evil guy with horns. I used to think that the game was actually based off the movie in a slap-dash sort of way, both in story, feel, and title as well. Or maybe im just going crazy… who knows…

    Great choice to compare thses two gems!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.