Best Movies on Disney Plus Right Now

Disney’s own streaming service Disney+ is here, and the volume of content available at your fingertips may feel overwhelming. Indeed, Disney Plus launched with hundreds of movies and thousands of hours of TV shows to watch, all from Disney’s library of titles—and from Disney’s brand new, Disney Plus-exclusive content. The studio dug deep into its archives for this one, making available forgotten live-action films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s alongside a ton of Disney Channel Original movies. And that’s not to mention the catalog titles from Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm and the growing library of new original films you can only find on Disney+.

So with a robust lineup of movies available to stream on Disney Plus, we felt it necessary to help whittle down your choices of what to watch on the new streaming service. We’ve gone through the library and plucked out some of the best movies Disney+ has to offer, from animated classics to Marvel superhero movies to Star Wars films to even surprising live-action titles. There’s a little something for everyone in this list, further proof that Disney+ is not just programming for kids. They’re targeting the entire family. So below, peruse our list of the best movies to watch on Disney Plus.


This article was last updated on April 15th to include Lady and the Tramp

RELATED: Every Disney Animated Movie Ever Made Ranked From Worst to Best

Turning Red

Image via Disney

Director: Domee Shi

Writers: Julia Cho and Domee Shi

Cast: Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and James Hong

Pixar has shown us time and time again that they know exactly how to push the right buttons to move us, to make us cry, to devastate us. But what Turning Red is doing might be even more impressive, a bright story that doesn’t skimp on the moving sentiments, but provides these emotions in a lovely, fun, and largely optimistic story of self-discovery and the first steps into womanhood. Turning Red can do all this in a film packed with panda transformations, ridiculous boy bands, needy Tamagotchis, and absurd first crushes. Turning Red proves that a Pixar film can be cheery, positive, and light, while also leaving a touching and powerful impression. — Ross Bonaime

Watch Turning Red on Disney+

Free Guy

Image via 20th Century Studios

Director: Shawn Levy

Writers: Matt Lieberman and Zak Penn

Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, Joe Keery, Lil Rel Howery, Utkarsh Ambudkar, and Taika Waititi

As years of attempts have shown, it’s hard to make a video game movie that works. But Free Guy might be one of the few successful video game films simply because Shawn Levy‘s film is creating its own world, full of references and homages to games we know, while also telling an effective story about the non-player character Guy (Ryan Reynolds) realizing he’s part of a video game. While Free Guy nails the logic and physics of this type of game, the film is equally effective at showing the real world, as arguably the best relationship in the film takes place between two programmers (Jodie Comer and Joe Keery), who have given up their video game creation to a much larger company, run by Taika Waititi‘s Antwan. As always, Reynolds is charming, while Comer and Keery shine in this action film with heart. Free Guy‘s blend of video game craziness and real-world relationships certainly makes it one of the best video game movies so far. — Ross Bonaime

Watch Free Guy on Disney+

Sleeping Beauty

Image via Disney

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Eric Larson, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Les Clark

Writers: Milt Banta, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Joe Rinaldi, Ted Sears, and Ralph Wright

Cast: Mary Costa, Eleanor Audley, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen, Bill Shirley, Taylor Holmes, and Bill Thompson

Sleeping Beauty easily remains one of the best animated movies Disney has ever made. Yes, there are films more important to Disney’s history like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Dumbo and there are films that revitalized Disney like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. But arguably the greatest animated film Walt Disney ever produced was his 1959 fairy tale about Princess Aurora, who was cursed to sleep by the wicked Maleficent and rescued by Prince Phillip. The animation on display is absolutely stunning with Disney taking full advantage of the Super Technirama 70 widescreen process. When you consider that Disney didn’t have the advantage of computers like they would in the 90s, the 2D animation here is even more impressive and helps to sell the romanticism of the story. This would also be the last gasp of this kind of animation as Disney moved into xerography with its features across the 60s and 70s. – Matt Goldberg

Watch Sleeping Beauty on Disney+

A Goofy Movie


Director: Kevin Lima

Writers: Jymn Magon, Chris Matheson, and Brian Pimenthal

Cast: Bill Farmer, Jason Marsden, Jim Cummings, Kellie Martin, Rob Paulsen, Wallace Shawn, and Pauly Shore

When A Goofy Movie was released in 1995, the film received a lukewarm response from audiences and critics. Jump forward a few decades and A Goofy Movie has earned a cult following greater than most Disney animated movies. Following Goofy and his son Max on a road trip across the country, A Goofy Movie is full of charm, heart, self-aware references, and arguably one of the Disney’s best soundtracks. It took quite some time for A Goofy Movie to get the attention it deserves, but at this point, A Goofy Movie stands out above the crowd. — Ross Bonaime

Watch A Goofy Movie on Disney+


Image via Pixar

Director: Pete Docter

Writers: Pete Docter and Bob Peterson

Cast: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, and Christopher Plummer

Look past the first ten minutes. While the first ten minutes get all the attention of Pixar’s 2009 film Up, look past that rollercoaster of a prologue and look at the film as a whole and you’ll see one of the best adventure movies of the 21st century. The story of a curmudgeonly old man who decides to fly his house to South America using balloons only to get a young “wilderness explorer” along for the trip is a terrific yarn about finding new adventures and learning to let go of the past to find new relationships. It’s a beautiful story from start to finish packed with thrilling action, terrific humor, and lovely visuals. The first ten minutes are the best and worst thing that ever happened to Up, but look at the whole film and you’ll see why it’s among Pixar’s best. — Matt Goldberg

Watch Up on Disney+

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Image via Disney

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Writers: Tab Murphy, Irene Mecchi, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Jonathan Roberts

Cast: Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, Kevin Kline, Paul Kandel, Jason Alexander, Charles Kimbrough, David Ogden Stiers, and Mary Wickes

It’s not the best film of the Disney Renaissance, but it’s arguably the most interesting of the bunch. The film adapts the incredibly dark source material of the same name, but then tries to make Quasimoto beautiful on the inside as opposed to a monster whose ugliness is a reflection of his character. But that simple message of “You’re beautiful on the inside,” is wrapped in a film that’s not only visually sumptuous, but also has one of the most memorable Disney villains in Frollo, a character who’s wrestling with his lust for the female lead, Esmerelda. The film doesn’t entirely come together as it tries to blend more mature elements like this with kiddie jokes provided by characters like the talking gargoyles, but it still makes for a fascinating watch, and a necessary one for anyone interested in this period of Disney Animation’s history. — Matt Goldberg

Watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame on Disney+

Captain America: The First Avenger

Image via Marvel Studios

Directors: Joe Johnston

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell, Sebastian Stan, Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, Derek Luke, and Stanley Tucci.

While many Marvel fans will swear by Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I’d counter that The First Avenger is not only the superior Captain America movie, but also the best Marvel movie. If you’re looking to make a movie about superheroes, then maybe it’s a good idea to understand heroism and in no Marvel movie is that better encapsulated than The First Avenger. While other Marvel movies have heroes who learn to be better people, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) leads by example, and the film makes a meal not of his action scenes, but of his smaller, more human moments like diving on what he thinks is an active grenade or his inability to talk to women. Anyone who says a good-hearted character can’t be interesting has never given this film a fair shake, and see why the MCU has never done heroism better than this movie. — Matt Goldberg

Watch Captain America: The First Avenger on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Kevin Lima and Chris Buck

Writers: Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White

Cast: Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, Brian Blessed, Lance Henriksen, Wayne Knight, and Nigel Hawthorne

If you haven’t seen what largely qualifies the end of Disney’s second Golden Age, the film is absolutely worth a re-watch. The film follows the traditional story of Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn)–a man raised by apes who is then torn when the chance to rejoin humanity presents itself in the person of the charming Jane (Minnie Driver). The stakes still feel worthwhile–which family will Tarzan go with–while also using some of the most stunning animation of the era. The Phil Collins songs, which are used non-diegetically as opposed to musical tunes of previous 90s Disney movies, are also bops and give Tarzan a unique personality that makes it stand out among its peers. — Matt Goldberg

Watch Tarzan on Disney+

John Carter

Image via Disney

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, and Michael Chabon

Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Moton, Mark Strong, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Ciaran Hinds, and Bryan Cranston

Make no mistake, John Carter is a flawed movie—but it’s a deeply interesting one. Initially billed as the first live-action Pixar movie (director Andrew Stanton made WALL-E and Finding Nemo and co-writer Mark Andrews made Brave), the film ambitiously adapts Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novels, which focus on a Civil War soldier who is transported to Mars, which is populated by various races that are embroiled in war. While the result is somewhat muddled, the world-building remains tremendous, and there’s a lot of charm throughout. This one’s worth revisiting if you weren’t crazy about it on first viewing, or if you’ve never seen it and like light, colorful sci-fi fantasy epics, give it a whirl. – Adam Chitwood

Watch John Carter on Disney+

Hidden Figures


Director: Theodore Melfi

Writers: Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi

Cast: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirstin Dunst, and Jim Parsons

If you’re looking for an inspirational movie to watch with the whole family, Hidden Figures is both entertaining and enlightening. Based on a true story, the film follows three Black female mathematicians who were integral to solving problems at NASA that paved the way for the U.S.’s space race dominance. These women faced adversity and racism at almost every turn, regardless of their talent or capability, and the film chronicles how they overcame these struggles to stand tall regardless. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Hidden Figures on Disney+


Image via Disney

Director: Craig Gillespie

Writers: Dana Fox and Tony McNamara

Cast: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, Joel Fry, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong

Cruella is certainly one of the stronger Disney live-action remakes so far, largely because it delights in doing its own thing versus trying to feel too much like its animated predecessor. The film is an origin story for Cruella de Vil set in 1980s London, as Emma Stone plays an orphaned small-time crook with a passion for fashion who gets a dream gig working for renowned designer the Baroness (Emma Thompson). While Cruella begins to show promises, secrets come to light that recontextualize the life she’s led up until now – all while dealing with a demanding boss. The film has strong overtones of The Devil Wears Prada, but wears its influences on its sleeve. Charismatic performances and a rocking soundtrack make this one tons of fun. And while Cruella originally debuted as part of Disney+’s Premier Access, it’s now available to stream free of extra charge. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Cruella on Disney+


Director: Enrico Casarosa

Writers: Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Emma Berman, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, and Sacha Baron Cohen

The 2021 Pixar film Luca is a sweet, summery delight. Inspired by director Enrico Casarosa’s childhood, the movie takes place in 1950s-60s Italian Riviera where a young sea monster named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) gets his wish to meet humans when he goes to the surface, only to discover he transforms into a human boy when out of the water. Together with a more ambitious and daring sea monster named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), he meets new friends and learns that there’s much more life outside his insular home. This is a refreshingly intimate and small-stakes story for Pixar, and the film is even more rewarding when read as a story about queerness. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Luca on Disney+

Summer of Soul

Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Exploring the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival that look place for six weeks, first-time documentary director Questlove proves himself to be an incredible chronicler of this oft-forgotten event with Summer of Soul. Not only does Questlove present massive chunks of these performances from artists like Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, and many more, but he also shows the historical importance of these bands, the impact these performances had on the guests in the audience, as well as the members of the bands themselves. But Summer of Soul also shows the power that simply having one’s story can have not only on the individual, but on the cultural at large. Summer of Soul is a blast, but it’s also a tremendous reminder of how important it is for everyone’s story to be heard. – Ross Bonaime

Watch Summer of Soul on Disney+


Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Bryan Singer

Writers: Michael Dougherty, Dan Harris, and David Hayter

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Anna Paquin, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Rebecca Romjn, Famke Janssen, Brian Cox, and Alan Cumming

One of the best X-Men movies ever made, 2003’s X2 is a fairly epic sequel that delves deeper into Wolverine’s (Hugh Jackman) past while also fleshing out the world of the X-Men with a story involving mutant-hating General William Stryker (Brian Cox) and a program designed to target mutants all over the world. This one boasts some big, colorful action and committed performances from its cast, and holds up quite well. – Adam Chitwood

Watch X2 on Disney+

Isle of Dogs

Image via Fox Searchlight

Director/Writer: Wes Anderson

Cast: Koyu Rankin, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Akira Ito, and Tilda Swinton

Thanks to Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox, Wes Anderson’s two stop-motion animated movies (distributed by Fox Searchlight) are streaming on Disney+. You’ll find a blurb for Fantastic Mr. Fox further down the page, but Anderson’s 2018 film Isle of Dogs is also well worth checking out, and a treat for all dog lovers. Set in the fictional city of Megasaki, an outbreak of canine influenza results in all dogs being banished to Trash Island. When a young boy sneaks onto said island to search for his dog Spots, he begins an adventurous journey full of whimsy and comedy. The highlight of Isle of Dogs is seeing the likes of Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton voicing adorable dogs, and as always Anderson’s eye for production design and detail is immaculate. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Isle of Dogs on Disney+

The Kid Who Would Be King

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director/Writer: Joe Cornish

Cast: Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Tom Taylor, Rebecca Ferguson, Patrick Stewart, and Angus Imrie

One of the good things about Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Fox is that it can now showcase films that got a bit lost in the shuffle on its big fancy streaming service. That’s certainly the case with The Kid Who Would Be King, an excellent younger-skewing fantasy adventure film that was released by Fox in 2019. Inspired by Arthurian legend, the story takes place in the London suburbs and follows a young boy who finds King Arthur’s sword Excalibur and is thrust into an adventure that finds him squaring off against an enchantress who threatens to destroy the world. What sets The Kid Who Would Be King apart is writer/director Joe Cornish, who previously helmed the excellent Attack the Block and brings a degree of authenticity to the proceedings. The movie feels tactile, but from an aesthetic perspective but also an emotional one. This is an inspiring, exciting, fantastical story that will play particular well for young adults. – Adam Chitwood

Watch The Kid Who Would Be King on Disney+

Raya and the Last Dragon

Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Director: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada

Writers: Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim

Cast: Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Alan Tudyk

While Raya and the Last Dragon kind of flew under the radar given the circumstances of its pandemic release, now’s a great time to catch up with what is honestly one of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ best films in the last few years. This is an epic fantasy story with incredible world building, as it revolves around a young woman named Raya who journeys to find a missing dragon and undo a cataclysmic event that fractured the world of Kumandra into five separate tribes, each with their own territory. It’s not only fun and thrilling, but really funny as well thanks to Awkwafina’s co-starring role as the dragon Sisu. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+

Queen of Katwe

Image via Disney

Director: Mira Nair

Writer: William Wheeler

Cast: Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong’o, Esteri Tebandeke, Peter Odeke, and Sheebah Karungi

2016’s Queen of Katwe is a bit of a hidden gem, as this true-story drama flew almost completely under the radar and was one of the last theatrically released “live-action drama” movies from Disney. The story follows a young girl living in Uganda who learns to play chess and becomes a Woman Candidate Master. It’s precisely the kind of feel-good sports drama the world could use more of, but it’s made with tact and emotional complexity as director Mira Nair simultaneously captures the harsh realities of life in a Kampala slum. The film is also incredibly emotional, and is also anchored by a pair of terrific adult performances from Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Queen of Katwe on Disney+


The Counselor Jerrys in Pixar's Soul
Image via Disney•Pixar

Director: Pete Docter

Writers: Pete Docter, Mike Jones, and Kemp Powers

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, and Angela Bassett

Disney+ had a great 2020 and Soul was handily our favorite Disney+ movie of the year. Originally intended for a theatrical release (following a splashy debut at the Cannes Film Festival), Pixar’s latest masterpiece instead debuted quietly on the streaming platform on Christmas Day. That actually made a lot of sense, because the movie covers universal themes of life, death, and what it truly means to find your spark. Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school band teacher in New York who loves jazz and dreams of playing with his favorite band. That opportunity arises on the same day that he accidentally falls down an open manhole. Winding up in the fanciful Great Before, he teams up with a precocious soul named 22 (Tina Fey), and together they embark to reunite his spirit with his body. Saying anything more would ruin the movie’s many surprises but rest assured that Soul is arguably one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments; it’s visually stunning and deeply philosophical, beautifully directed by Pixar’s headiest filmmaker Pete Docter (the same mind behind Inside Out and Up). And unlike most Pixar films, which are relentlessly focused on the intricacies of the story, Soul allows itself to wander – to dip into a local barbershop for no discernable plot reason, except to hear snippets of dialogue from the neighborhood, or to occasionally cut away to jokes or gags that are seeming unrelated to what is going on in the narrative – in other words, it’s a movie about engaging with the messiness of life that actually allows for some of that messiness to seep into the film. Cue up the movie, crank up your sound system (all the better to hear Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ amazing score and the jazz compositions by Jon Batiste) and let Soul wash over you. – Drew Taylor

Watch Soul on Disney+

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Image via Lucasfilm

Director: Gareth Edwards

Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story still kicks ass. The story of Rogue One’s production is now legendary (or perhaps infamous); after completing principle photography, the film was heavily reworked, with whole swaths of the movie rewritten and shot again, leading to one of the weirder promotional rollouts for a major studio movie wherein almost none of the footage from the early marketing materials actually made it into the final film. But despite all of that, the movie is a total triumph. Director Gareth Edwards brings a level of tactile realism that has been missing in the Star Wars movies since the original trilogy, fitting, perhaps, because this is a movie that is set right before the events of the first film. Featuring dazzling visual effects (the final battle on and above beach planet Scarif is one of the best in franchise history) and a cast full of wonderfully diverse talent, Rogue One clearly proved that there was inherent value in some of these side stories and led the way for the success of the similarly in-between-y Disney+ original series The Mandalorian. (Tellingly, Rogue One will soon be resurrected as a 12-episode Disney+ original series called Andor, set to debut in 2022.) Sure, you can occasionally see Rogue One’s seams, but it’s also undeniably one of the most exciting and emotionally resonant projects to come out of the Disney Star Wars era. – Drew Taylor

Watch Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Disney+

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Image via Disney

Directors: Rich Moore and Phil Johnston

Writers: Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribbon

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, and Bill Hader

While Wreck-It Ralph delved into the world of arcade and classic gaming to tremendous results, the sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet turns its focus to an entirely different kind of beast: the internet. In the mold of successful Disney sequels, this film maintains the core characters that mean so much to audiences while evolving and challenging them to compelling results. Here, we see Ralph and Vanellope potentially going separate ways as they enter the massive world of the internet, and the film explores themes of toxic masculinity and online culture—though never in a preach-y manner. There’s plenty of time for fun as well, and while one could see the Star Wars and Disney Princess references as shameless cross-promotion, that doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderfully delightful. Thankfully, this is a sequel with a story worth telling. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Ralph Breaks the Internet on Disney+

Guardians of the Galaxy

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, and Benicio del Toro

Snuck in among the many jokes in the MCU’s game-changing Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt forever changing how we see him) makes a comment that a black light examination of a room will result in a Jackson Pollock painting. That’s right, friends. In the middle of a Disney-funded, four-quadrant, PG-13 rated superhero blockbuster that every child in America will see opening weekend, is a gnarly riff about semen. That requires a basic understanding of art to understand. And now, you can stream it anytime you want on Disney+. What a time to be alive! To be fair, the many charms of Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t exclusively in the gutter. But director/co-writer James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman’s iconoclastic vision soars to the stars because it’s so rooted in the earth. We’re headed to outer space, where refreshingly brightly colored aliens blast the heck out of each other with lasers. But we’re centered by a capital H Human, who loves rock music, wisecracking, and dope/cheesy facial hair. It’s such a smart way to introduce a new tone into the MCU, and it’s such a smart way to ensure the film maintains one of the MCU’s most smartly self-contained pleasures. — Gregory Lawrence

Watch Guardians of the Galaxy on Disney+


Image via Disney

Director: Kenny Ortega

Writers: Bob Tzudiker and Noni White

Cast: Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margaret, and Robert Duvall

If you’re wondering why Christian Bale starred in a Disney musical, you’re not alone. When Bale originally signed on to star in Newsies, it was a straightforward drama—it was rather late in the game that Disney decided to Disney-fy the film by bringing in legendary musician Alan Menken to write original songs for the 1899-set movie. The story follows a group of teen and pre-teen newspaper hawkers barely scraping by in New York City whose livelihood is threatened when a rivalry breaks out between publishers. It’s an oddly political film for Disney, but of course all of that takes a backseat to the tremendously catchy musical numbers and dance sequences. The charm of Newsies remains, even if Bale himself still seems somewhat embarrassed by the mark on his filmography. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Newsies on Disney+

Mary Poppins Returns

Image via Disney

Director: Rob Marshall

Writers: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep

Mary Poppins Returns is the Force Awakens of the Mary Poppins-verse, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Emily Blunt steps into Julie Andrews’ iconic role as the nanny who can do literally anything with prim-and-proper playfulness, pivoting perfectly between tough love and whimsical singing on a moment’s notice. Rob Marshall’s widescreen compositions hearken back to the golden days of Disney’s live-action extravaganzas, and the script gives us musical set piece after set piece that, um, also happens to map over the original script and purpose of each set piece in the original. But when the craft is this good, the songs this catchy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda this “rapping in a cockney accent,” it is simply too fun not to allow yourself to be swept up in its earnest glory. Plus: The emotional underpinnings of the picture, and the familial strife going on with Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, and the younguns hits you hard, giving it the stakes it needs. I cry just thinking about Whishaw’s solo song in the attic. — Greg Smith

Watch Mary Poppins Returns on Disney+

The Black Hole

Image via Disney

Director: Gary Nelson

Writers: Gerry Day and Jeb Rosebrook

Cast: Maximillian Schell, Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Joseph Bottoms, Ernest Borgnine, Roddy McDowall, Yvette Mimieux, Slim Pickens, and Tom McLoughlin

While it had been in development for years before Star Wars took the world by storm, the 1979 release date of The Black Hole makes it feel like a direct response to George Lucas’ intergalactic adventure. And that makes The Black Hole seem even weirder. Originally intended as a kind of space-set Poseidon Adventure (which you can see in the oddball B-list grab-bag of the film’s cast), The Black Hole turned out much stranger. It’s concerned with space ship that docks at a space station, poised at the edge of the titular galactic anomaly, and the zealot in charge of the space station who definitely has some sinister plans of his own. It’s a movie you have to experience for yourself, not only for its admirably gonzo, WTF-worthy qualities but also just in terms of how Disney thought this was really going to compete with Lucas’ cheery juggernaut. (The Black Hole might have the strangest ending for any Disney movie.) Mercifully, the Disney+ presentation of The Black Hole maintains its static opening overture with John Barry’s breathtaking musical suite although you’ll have to search online for the even-bleaker alternate ending that was included in original home video editions of the movie. It’s worth falling into this Black Hole. – Drew Taylor

Watch The Black Hole on Disney+

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas

Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Directed by: Henry Selick

Written by: Caroline Thompson

Cast: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, and Ed Ivory

It’s not fall/winter without Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is technically a Disney movie (it was originally released through Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner). The perfect film to transition from that Halloween spirit into the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, director Henry Selick’s macabre and lovely 1993 stop-motion animated film still stands as a classic today. Spooky but not scary, moody but not gloomy. The tone is pitch-perfect, and the songs are downright addicting, as Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of an outsider looking for a place to belong, but going about it in all the wrong ways. And while Jack Skellington may be the star of the movie, Sally is its beating heart. – Adam Chitwood

Watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on Disney+

The Santa Clause

Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Director: John Pasquin

Writers: Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick

Cast: Tim Allen, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, Eric Lloyd, Larry Brandenburg, and David Krumholtz

This 1994 family comedy is a staple of the holiday season, but it’s a swell watch at any time of the year. The Santa Clause stars Tim Allen as a single father who startles Santa Claus on his roof, killing him (in the most delicate of ways) and then inadvertently donning the suit to become the new Santa Claus. As hard as he tries to resist, his body begins morphing into Jolly Old Saint Nick as the elves at the North Pole try to ready the new Santa for his first Christmas. Along the way, he grows closer to his son and sheds some of the selfishness that made him kind of a crappy dad. It’s all in all a pretty heartwarming story with a really terrific Christmas spirit. There’s a reason it’s a holiday classic. – Adam Chitwood

Watch The Santa Clause on Disney+

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach

Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson

Rarely has a filmmaker been more attuned to a specific medium than Wes Anderson and the world of stop-motion animation, as exemplified in his brilliant 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums filmmaker tries his hand at making a childrens film by way of a Roald Dahl adaptation, and the results are hilarious and delightful and slightly melancholy. The story of Fantastic Mr. Fox finds a fox (George Clooney) putting everything on the line to steal from three mean farmers, which in turn puts his family and friends in danger. The soundtrack is jubilant, the voice actors are perfectly dry, and the aesthetics are picturesque. This is one of Wes Anderson’s best films. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox on Disney+

Toy Story 4

Image via Disney-Pixar

Director: Josh Cooley

Writer: Andrew Stanton and Stephany Folsom

Cast: Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Annie Potts, Tony Hale

When we recently ranked the Toy Story films, shorts and holiday specials, Toy Story 4 came out on top. And for good reason – this is the most sophisticated, both technologically and from a storytelling standpoint, that the franchise has ever been. And yes, it will make you cry your eyes out. In the fourth installment, Woody, Buzz and the gang head out on a pre-school year road trip, an idyllic getaway complicated by the introduction of Forky (Tony Hale) a toy Bonnie made in orientation that is dealing with what it means to be a toy, and the reintroduction of Bo (Annie Potts), Woody’s long lost flame. Everything is more complicated and emotionally messy in Toy Story 4, including the villain (or is she?), an attention-starved antique doll (Christina Hendricks) who just wants to belong. With an insane cast of new supporting toys, including standouts Ducky and Bunny (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) and 70s Canadian stuntman extraordinaire Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), some of the most amazing visuals Pixar has ever cooked up (in beautiful widescreen, a first for the Toy Story franchise) and a truly surprising ending that shifts the entire franchise into a different direction – for real this time, Toy Story 4 is (already) an unforgettable favorite. To infinity and beyond. – Drew Taylor

Watch Toy Story 4 on Disney+

The Greatest Showman

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Michael Gracey

Writers: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya

Who’d have thought a musical about P.T. Barnum would be one of the most joyously entertaining films of the last couple of years? Yes The Greatest Showman is wildly inaccurate and more than a little cheesy, but the original songs (by the songwriters behind La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen) are straight-up bops and Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life singing and dancing alongside Zac Efron and Zendaya. Watch the circus musical, people! It’s a good time! – Adam Chitwood

Watch The Greatest Showman on Disney+

National Treasure

Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Writers: Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, and Marianne Wibberley

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Plummer

If you’re looking for a movie that’s just undeniably watchable, look no further than National Treasure. This is a film that has no pretensions about what it is or what it wants to be. It knows the plot is kinda preposterous, but Nicolas Cage sells the heck out of it anyway. Cage plays an American historian and treasure hunter who, following a series of unfortunate events, ends up stealing the Declaration of Independence, which just so happens to include a secret treasure map that no one’s found over the last couple centuries. The film moves with a flighty, fun pace that’s reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, and while history buffs may have qualms with some of the specifics, it’s undeniably a blast to follow these characters as they search for clues. – Adam Chitwood

Watch National Treasure on Disney+

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Image via Disney

Director: Joe Johnston

Writers: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman

Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland

There’s a reason a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids legacy sequel is a top priority when everything is back up and running (sets were being built when the shutdown happened). The original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, based on a story by horror masters Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (Gordon bailed as director last minute after Jeffrey Katzenberg gave him a heart attack – literally), is still a total blast. The original film wound up being the directorial debut of animation and design master Joe Johnston, who brought a playfulness and visual sophistication to the story of the children of a mad scientist who accidentally shrink themselves down. (Phil Tippett’s jaw-dropping stop-motion effects were no doubt a Johnston call.) The other MVP of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, who will mercifully be returning for the new movie, is Rick Moranis. Moranis’ run in the 1980s, when he starred in two Ghostbusters movies, Streets of Fire, Little Shop of Horrors and Spaceballs is totally unparalleled, and his performance in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is often overlooked but just as electric and vitally alive as any of these other greats. From the opening moments of the movie, with that killer early CGI title sequence and dynamite James Horner score, you’ll be hooked … again. – Drew Taylor

Watch Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on Disney+

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Image via Disney

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner

Robert ZemeckisWho Framed Roger Rabbit remains an absolute marvel, whether you’ve watched it a hundred times (guilty as charged) or have never seen it before (shame on you). Set in an alternate history Hollywood, 1947, where animated characters are living, breathing creatures that interact with humans and star in movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit follows hardboiled gumshoe Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who hates “toons,” but finds himself involved in an increasingly conspiratorial mystery. The visual effects, combining animated characters with human performers, was cutting edge at the time and remains an impressive magic trick, conjured up by visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic and a small team of animators led by the persnickety (and legendary) Richard Williams in London. If you haven’t seen the movie in a while (or never watched it before), the complexity of the plot, the dimensionality of the characters (including Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom and Kathleen Turner’s animated sexpot Jessica Rabbit) and the dexterity of Zemeckis’ ever-moving camerawork, are sure to delight. And as an added bonus, you can watch one of the three Roger Rabbit-led short films that followed (“Trail Mix-Up”) – just be sure to click over to the “extras” tab. – Drew Taylor

Watch Who Framed Roger Rabbit on Disney+

Black Panther

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman

Marvel Studios has an excellent track record of crafting supremely entertaining movies, but Black Panther marks the MCU’s most mature, ambitious, and thematically complete film yet. Creed and Fruitvale Station filmmaker Ryan Coogler digs into themes of nationalism and what it mean to be black in America within the context of an extremely exciting, visually enthralling superhero action film. That in and of itself makes Black Panther noteworthy, but the film also boasts terrific performances from folks like Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o, while Michael B. Jordan brings to life one of the MCU’s best and most emotionally complex villains to date. Black Panther is a stunning achievement for Marvel, and it’s one well worth revisiting just to soak in the attention to detail—both in terms of superheroics and compex themes—that Coogler threads throughout. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Black Panther on Disney+

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Image via Disney

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Writer: Linda Woolverton

Cast: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Rex Everhart, and Jesse Corti

Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece, through and through. The film marked the first-ever animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, and deservedly so. It’s remarkably operatic and romantic at heart, featuring some of Disney’s most stunning animation to date. Decades of advances in technology still don’t hold a candle to some of the iconography achieved in Beauty and the Beast under directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s watch, as the animators knew the power of the silhouette that would permeate throughout the Beast’s dark and lonely castle. Thematically, Beauty and the Beast treads the well-worn territory of being an outsider looking in, and longing for more out of one’s life, but the romanticism of the Belle and Beast relationship—and its pitch-perfect execution that gives Belle agency—is the beating heart of the film. It’s sweeping, it’s passionate, it’s fun, and as the song goes, it’s a tale as old as time. As such, it’s one that’s universally relatable, and that in concert with the film’s lush animation, tremendous score, unforgettable songs, and rich characters makes it Peak 90s Disney. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Beauty and the Beast on Disney+

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Image via Disney

Directors: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Writer: Tab Murphy

Cast: Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, and Leonard Nimoy

Released after the so-called Disney Renaissance, Atlantis: The Lost Empire was an attempt by Disney Animation to do something more muscular and action-oriented. In the words of the filmmakers, the company had made a bunch of Fantasyland movies; they wanted to make a movie for Adventureland. And they succeeded. Atlantis follows a plucky cartographer named Milo (voiced by a squeaky Michael J. Fox), who sets out to uncover the lost civilization of Atlantis. Instead of the cracked ruins, Milo and his accompanying team (led by a villainous James Garner) discover a vibrant city, full of people and magic and creatures. Initially the project, directed by Beauty and the Beast filmmakers Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale, had a harder edge, but even as it softened, Atlantis remained separate from the other animated features from Disney (or anywhere else), with strong design work (some of it courtesy of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola), energetic pacing, and a distinct lack of musical numbers. (Wise and Trousdale drew on things ranging from Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, for inspiration.) While not the company’s biggest smash upon initial release, it has steadily grown a cult following, and is now seen as something of an unsung gem. (Or maybe an unsung glowing Atlantean crystal.) If you’ve never seen it, you should definitely give it a shot. It’s a rip-snorting adventure. – Drew Taylor

Watch Atlantis: The Lost Empire on Disney+

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Image via Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Director: Don Hahn

Writer: Patrick Pacheco

Cast: Roy E. Disney, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, Howard Ashman

Don Hahn was a prominent producer at Walt Disney Animation during what is commonly referred to as the Disney Renaissance. After he left, he decided to tell the story of that period – the executive infighting, jockeying for power, and diminishing returns – and, amazingly, Disney actually released it. Using archival footage and new audio interviews with those involved (including Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy E. Disney and various filmmakers), Hahn vividly recreates the wild, exuberant energy of the period that brought the company’s mothballed animation unit back from the brink, as well as the fussiness and self-sabotage that nearly collapsed it once more. If you adore the Disney Renaissance movies, this will give you an incredible new perspective, exposing the high highs and low lows behind modern masterpieces like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. It also acts as a prequel of sorts to Hahn’s new documentary about songwriter Howard Ashman, whose involvement was instrumental in the success of the Disney Renaissance movies (and whose life was cut tragically short by AIDS), premiering on Disney+ later this summer. — Drew Taylor

Watch Waking Sleeping Beauty on Disney+

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Image via Lucasfilm

Director/Writer: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Oscar Isaac, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern, Benicio Del Toro, Gwendoline Christie, and Andy Serkis

Love it or hate it, you have to admit Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a bold film. It’d have been easy for Looper filmmaker Rian Johnson to simply craft a fan service-y Force Awakens sequel that follows all the expected storytelling beats, but instead he leaned hard into character POVs—specifically those of Rey and Kylo Ren, telling a story mostly through their eyes. The result is a wildly thrilling, wholly original, and surprising sequel that delivers entertainment and thematic heft in equal measure. It’s a story about self-doubt, growth, and the spark of a rebellion, and it’s lovingly crafted with show-stopping, iconic visuals like the Throne Room set piece and Holdo’s gasp-inducing moment. Whether you’re watching The Last Jedi for the first for 15th time, you’re getting a whole meal of a movie. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi on Disney+

The Little Mermaid (1989)

Image via Disney

Directors/Writers: Ron Clements and John Musker

Cast: Jodi Benson, Christopher Daniel Barnes, and Kenneth Mars

This November marks the 30th anniversary of the movie that had every little girl desperately hoping to be “part of that world.” The Little Mermaid’s heroine Ariel (voiced by Disney legend Jodie Benson) created a legion of feisty young women who knew what they wanted and went for it. All of it originally based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson where the said mermaid becomes seafoam at the end. The Little Mermaid was the brainchild of Ron Clements and John Musker, the helmers of the 1986 feature The Great Mouse Detective. The Little Mermaid’s success would ensure Clements and Musker would be Disney royalty, later directing Aladdin, Hercules, and Moana (all of which will also be on Disney+). The last picture to use hand-drawn animation on celluloid, The Little Mermaid was a hit despite fears that it being a “girl’s film” would alienate audiences and won two Academy Awards, a first for the company since the ‘70s. — Kristen Lopez

Watch The Little Mermaid on Disney+

Hocus Pocus

Image via Disney

Director: Kenny Ortega

Writers: Neil Cuthbert and Mick Garris

Cast: Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Omri Katz, Thora Birch, and Vinessa Shaw

If you’re ready to start Spooky Season now (and we wouldn’t blame you), Hocus Pocus is a Halloween classic for a reason. The Disney film originally began as a much darker, scarier script before it was morphed into the kid-friendly version that exists today. The merging of the spookier aspects with the Disney brand is kind of part of Hocus Pocus’ cheesy charm, as the film tells the story of a trio of witches who are resurrected centuries after they were hanged and set out to… eat children. Shenanigans ensue. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Hocus Pocus on Disney+

Flight of the Navigator

Image via Disney

Director: Randal Kleiser

Writers: Michael Burton and Matt MacManus

Cast: Joey Cramer, Paul Reubens, Veronica Cartwright, Cliff De Young, Sarah Jessica Parker

This charming, wholly underrated family sci-fi film from Grease director Randal Kleiser, stars Joey Cramer as David, a young kid who is abducted – but in a nice way – by an alien spacecraft and returned to earth several years later, Flight of the Navigator is the sort of inverse of E.T. And it works, mostly. The shock of David returning so many years later, even though he hasn’t aged a day, still packs a wallop, and Paul Reubens aka Pee-wee Herman (credited here, for some reason, as “Paul Wall”) is an absolute hoot as the robotic host of the spaceship. (Bonus Disney trivia: it was this role that persuaded Imagineer Mark Eades to hire Reubens as the voice of RX-24 aka “Rex,” the first pilot of Star Tours.) Sure, it gets a little draggy, especially when David is sequestered in a government facility, flirting with Sarah Jessica Parker, but that doesn’t hinder it too much. Flight of the Navigator, with its aggressively 80s synth score by Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, delivers solidly enjoyable out-of-this-world fun. – Drew Taylor

Watch Flight of the Navigator on Disney+

Marvel’s The Avengers

The Avengers (2012)
Image via Marvel Studios

Director/Writer: Joss Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Cobie Smulders, Samuel L. Jackson, Clark Gregg, and Tom Hiddleston

There’s nothing quite like the first time, and while 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers may be a bit scrappier and smaller in scale than the Marvel team-up films that followed, it remains an incredibly fun and thrilling superhero adventure. This was the first time we saw Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye all working together towards a common good, and Joss Whedon‘s crackerjack humor makes the entire proceeding an absolute blast. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Marvel’s The Avengers on Disney+

The Rocketeer

Image via Disney

Director: Joe Johnston

Writers: Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo

Cast: Billy Campbell, Timothy Dalton, Alan Arkin, and Jennifer Connelly

No, we’re not talking about the long-gestating sequel that was announced back in 2016, but the original 1991 cult classic that’s been delighting fans with its mix of old school elegance and thrilling action. The Rocketeer follows Cliff Secord (Bill Campbell), a young stunt pilot in 1938 who finds a secret jetpack developed by Howard Hughes. Cliff uses it to become The Rocketeer, putting him on a collision course with Nazi secret agents. The film has an amazing cast that includes Alan Arkin as Cliff’s best friend, Peevy, Jennifer Connolly as the beautiful Jenny and Timothy Dalton (fresh off James Bond) as an Errol Flynn baddie. Though the film was a commercial disappointment in 1991 it’s garnered a legion of fans who have followed Cliff’s adventures via podcasts and comic books. If you missed out on the movie before, now is the perfect time to get acquainted. Now, if Disney could get back to work on that remake. — Kristen Lopez

Watch The Rocketeer on Disney+

Black Is King

Image via Disney+

Director: Beyoncé

Writers: Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Clover Hope, and Andrew Morrow

Cast: Beyoncé, Folajomi Akinmurele, and Connie Chiume

Shrouded in mystery, Beyoncé’s Black Is King landed this summer with a seismic concussion. Ostensibly a “visual album” utilizing songs from Beyoncé’s companion album The Gift, released alongside Jon Favreau’s newfangled Lion King last summer, in many ways it feels like the Lion King remake we should have gotten, full of sound and fury and a vibrant, almost kaleidoscopic celebration of the Black diaspora. It is incredible. One reviewer called it a mixture of Black Panther and The Tree of Life, which is pretty apt – it is both kick-ass and cosmic. The storyline, as much as there is one, loosely follows the storyline of The Lion King, as a young African boy (our stand-in for Simba) has to learn what it takes to be a man. But this time Scar is a villainous warlord/drug dealer and at one point Beyoncé and Jay-Z sit down to eat a TV dinner in a luxuriously gilded mansion. Beautifully photographed in Africa and elsewhere (it was supposedly completed during the quarantine lockdown) and backed by some truly incredible music, it cements Beyoncé as a truly unparalleled multihyphenate who commands unparalleled artistry in whatever she does. We didn’t know how much we needed Black Is King until we had it. – Drew Taylor

Watch Black Is King on Disney+

Star Wars: A New Hope

Image via LucasFilm

Director/Writer: George Lucas

Cast: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, and Alec Guinness

A key component of Disney+ will be the complete Star Wars series, and what better way to celebrate than by discussing the film that started it all? In 1977, George Lucas took audiences on their first adventure to a galaxy far, far away to meet Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher). When the film was released in 1977, Lucas was initially terrified the movie would bomb, especially in comparison to other summer fare like Smokey and the Bandit. But the film was such a huge success it left home studio 20th Century Fox scrambling to fill the massive demands. Toy companies, infamously, missed out on making money off the Star Wars name, with the few companies that did license merchandise falling short of demand. Star Wars: A New Hope has birthed an entire industry, with analytical texts, more merchandise than one can ever own, an entire extended universe, and now its own land at two Disney theme parks. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Star Wars on Disney+

The Lion King

Image via Disney

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Writers: Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton

Cast: Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, and Rowan Atkinson

By the early 1990s, Disney had done talking animal movies to death. However, with 1994’s The Lion King came the opportunity to put a new, epic twist on this tired trope, and by mixing this with a dash of Shakespeare, a true classic was born. For a film that features laughing hyenas and talking lions, The Lion King tackles some of the most adult material in Disney’s filmography. The death of Mufasa is right up there with the death of Bambi’s mother as one of the most heartbreaking sequences in cinematic history, and indeed the rest of The Lion King deals with issues like mortality, legacy, and duty. It’s a film about sometimes owning up to the fact that life is going to be hard, but in the end, the reward is hopefully worth it. It’s easy to sit around all day and do as little as possible, but to what end? Who bears the fruit of a selfish life? The Lion King tackles these incredibly tough issues with ease, while also weaving in some of the best Disney songs ever made thanks to Elton John and Tim Rice. From the opening sequence it’s clear this Africa-set story is going to be big, and indeed beyond songs like “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King”, Hans Zimmer’s original score lends a vast, sweeping quality to the proceedings. — Adam Chitwood

Watch The Lion King on Disney+


Image via Disney

Director: Thomas Kail

Writer: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, Philippa Soo, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Jones, Christopher Jackson, Anthony Ramos, and Jonathan Groff

When Disney won the rights to Hamilton (for a whopping $75 million), it wasn’t a huge surprise. After all, Lin-Manuel Miranda has had close ties with Disney – writing the songs for animated hit Moana, appearing in Mary Poppins Returns, providing a song to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens cantina scene, acting on the Duck Tales reboot (all of the above available now on Disney+!) and working on a forthcoming Disney animated feature set in Colombia. But what was a surprise was when the company announced that, instead of a planned October 2021 release, it would now be coming out on the Fourth of July holiday weekend on Disney+. What a move. Instantly, this filmed Hamilton (directed, like the stage show, by Thomas Kail) became the reason to subscribe to Disney+. It’s brilliant and electric, a biography of a dusty historical figure brought to life in singularly spectacular fashion. Suddenly, your couch became the best seat in the house. If you’re a die-hard Hamilton head or new to the phenomenon, you’ll be moved just the same. And it’s made all the more powerful by being released in this turbulent time in the history of our nation. (Historical accuracy be damned; all of the characters are played by actors of color.) To watch Hamilton is to love Hamilton. – Drew Taylor

Watch Hamilton on Disney+

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Director: Chris Columbus

Writer: Craig Titley

Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, and Uma Thurman

What if you found out your dad was the Greek god Poseidon? That’s the plot of the first film in the Percy Jackson franchise, The Lightning Thief, as Logan Lerman plays a demigod who is introduced to an entire world he never knew existed. If the plot sounds a bit similar to Harry Potter, well, it is – but it also helps that the director of The Lightning Thief is Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets director Chris Columbus. And while the Percy Jackson franchise wasn’t successful enough to really get going (they only made two movies), this first film remains a pretty delightful family watch. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief on Disney+


Image via Disney Plus

Director: Ericson Core

Writer: Tom Flynn

Cast: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl, and Richard Dormer

If you’ve ever seen the 1995 animated feature Balto (produced by Steven Spielberg through his short-lived Amblimation shingle), then chances are that you have at least a cursory awareness of a 1925 serum run to Nome, wherein several groups of sled dogs worked to relay precious medicine to a remote community beset by diphtheria. (There is also a statue in Central Park dedicated to this amazing accomplishment.) What most don’t know is that Balto wasn’t read the star sled dog; he was just the one who led the back on the last leg of the journey. The dog that covered the most distance, in truly horrendous conditions, was named Togo. Willem Dafoe stars as Leonard “Sepp” Seppala, an insanely interesting true-life historical figure who introduced the Siberian Husky to the English-speaking world and, following the events depicted in Togo, competed in the 1932 Olympics. Structured around the harrowing journey, Togo flashes back to see the relationship between Sepp and Togo, from when Togo was a precocious puppy to the relay itself, which was undergone while the dog was quite old and ill. Full of breathless action and suspense set pieces (you know they have to go across ice and you know it gets hairy), Togo slowly reveals itself to be about the unspeakable bond between man and animal, a wordless, hugely emotional connection that few films have dramatized as well as this one. Be sure you’re watching Togo with someone you’re comfortable crying in front of. – Drew Taylor

Watch Togo on Disney+

Thor: Ragnarok

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Taika Waititi

Writers: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, and Christopher Yost

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Cate Blanchett, Tessa Thompson, Tom Hiddleston, Karl Urban, Taika Waititi, and Jeff Goldblum

Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best MCU films of the bunch, which is kind of a miracle considering as a franchise, Thor wasn’t in great shape after the first two films. But spurred by Chris Hemsworth’s desire to lighten things up, he and filmmaker Taika Waititi worked to essentially reboot the character with a Flash Gordon-like cosmic adventure that teams Thor up with Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk. Tom Hiddleston is in fine form as Loki again, and there’s even some nice closure to Thor and Loki’s contentious relationship. Meanwhile, Tessa Thompson is fantastic as new addition Valkyrie, and Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett chews the scenery as the film’s primary villain. There are some fun twists to be found, but this remains one of the best and most rewatchable films in the MCU. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Thor: Ragnarok on Disney+

Inside Out

Image via Disney

Director: Pete Docter

Writers: Pete Docter, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley

Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Lewis Black, Bill Hader, Mindy Kaling, Diane Lane, and Kyle MacLachlan

After tickling our funny bones with Monsters Inc. and breaking the world record for “earliest you’ve ugly-cried in a movie” with Up, filmmaker Pete Docter’s third Pixar movie tackled a large abstract idea with an unsurprising amount of compassion and intelligence. The Oscar-winning Inside Out anthropomorphizes the emotions of a young pre-teen girl named Riley struggling with conflicting feelings about moving to a new city, as Joy (Amy Poehler) works overtime to keep overwhelming feelings of Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), and Anger (Lewis Black) from irreparably changing the personality of Riley. But what makes Inside Out go from good to great is that it understands that change is necessary, life is messy, and it’s perfectly normal and even healthy to feel sad or angry or anxious sometimes. It’s an important message told in a tremendously entertaining (and, yes, emotional) way, and as a bonus you get a magnificent originals core by Michael Giacchino. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Inside Out on Disney+


Image via Walt Disney Animation Studios

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker

Writers: Ron Clements, Jon Musker, Terry Rossio, and Ted Elliott

Cast: Robin Williams, Scott Weinger, and Linda Larkin

The iconic 1992 animated film Aladdin still works incredibly well today. The story chronicles a lowly street rat who falls for a princess then gets a genie to help him pretend to be a well-to-do gentlemen of note, in order to make her fall in love with him. It’s incredibly charming, aided by gorgeous animation, excellent songs by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice, and of course an unforgettable Robin Williams performance. It’s a classic for a reason. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Aladdin on Disney+

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Image via Disney

Directors: David Hand, William Cottrell, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen

Writers: Ted Sears, Richard Creedon, Otto Englander, Dick Rickard, Earl Hurd, Merrill De Maris, Dorothy Ann Blank, and Webb Smith

Cast: Adriana Caselotti, Lucille La Verne, Harry Stockwell, Roy Atwell, and Pinto Colvig

The film that started it all, no list of great Disney features would be complete without Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Before Walt turned to singing dwarfs and poisoned apples, he’d wanted to do an animated adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with silent film queen Mary Pickford. When another studio announced their own plans for a live-action take, Walt decided to shelve the project (which would eventually make it to theaters in 1951 and will also be available on Disney+) and move on to what would become his first animated movie, and the first feature-length animated movie in film history. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs remains immortal today for its delicate animation and sweet happily ever after storyline. Without it Disney would still be something we’re “wishing” for. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on Disney+

Avengers: Infinity War

Image via Marvel Studios

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Chris Evans, Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Carrie Coon, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Sebastian Stan, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong, Letitia Wright, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Richard Marquand

Avengers: Infinity War is so much movie, it shouldn’t exist at all. Just look at that cast list! Movies aren’t mean to have that many stars! But Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo pulled off the impossible by putting the focus on their big bad, Thanos, and swinging him across the galaxy like a wrecking ball that scatters the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and all of the MCU’s biggest heroes in an epic battle to save half of all life. Literally all life. Like, even your dog. Talk about stakes. Infinity War is as episodic as movies get, and it’s at its best when it leans into the character dynamics and crazy thrills of seeing all these heroes together on one screen. There’s a lot of joy in watching wizards fly through the streets of Manhattan and seeing Spider-Man zip through Doctor Strange’s portals on a far-off planet. Infinity War marks the culmination of a decade spent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its just as insanely jam-packed with quips and action-packed superhero mayhem as that tall order demands. — Haleigh Foutch

Watch Avengers: Infinity War on Disney+

Avengers: Endgame

Image via Marvel Studios

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Writers: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Chris Hemsworth, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, and Jeremy Renner

Obviously the biggest movie of all time has to be on this list. When Iron Man first arrived in 2008 there was no way audiences could have predicted the relationship between Marvel and Disney that would eventually flourish, let alone the heights to which the Marvel Cinematic Universe would soar. This final showdown with all the original Avengers sees them not just right wrongs but setting a course for the bevy of spin-offs that will eventually air on Disney+ (hey there, WandaVision, Hawkeye, etc.). Avengers: Endgame is a film that defies explanation, an operatic three-hour opus that gives audiences a satisfying ending to nearly all of their favorite characters (sorry, Black Widow’s exit will always irk me). Now known as the highest grossing movie in history, with a marketing budget that surpassed any feature in the Marvel canon, Avengers: Endgame remains one of the most epic movies to come down the pike in awhile and it’ll be great to have the entirety of the Marvel universe, from beginning to end, available. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Avengers: Endgame on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Ron Clements and Jon Musker

Writer: Jared Bush

Cast: Auli’I Cravaho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jermaine Clement, and Alan Tudyk

Riding a wave of a resurgence for Walt Disney Animation Studios, the 2016 feature Moana is a triumph of emotional storytelling, stunning visuals, and incredible music. The story follows a young girl named Moana, the strong-willed daughter of a Polynesian chief who sets out on an oceanic adventure to reunite a mystical relic with an ancient goddess, all to protect her people and their way of life. Moana is notable for being a Disney “princess” movie without a prince—there’s no love story or potential romantic partner for Moana. Instead, she’s joined by the demi-god Maui as her trusty sidekick, pulling off most of the heroics herself. This movie is joyous and sneakily emotional. And did I mention the music? – Adam Chitwood

Watch Moana on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Jared Bush and Byron Howard

Writers: Charise Castro Smith and Jared Bush

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitán, Diane Guerrero, and Wilmer Valderrama

Especially in the history of Disney animated classics, there has never been a film quite like Encanto. Even though Stephanie Beatriz’s Mirabel Madrigal leads this journey, Disney’s 60th animated feature is primarily a family affair, telling the story of a family with special gifts. But Encanto also avoids having a villain, or a major love interest, and even pokes fun at previous Disney Princesses through Mirabel’s sister, Isabela. But Encanto is also a vibrant, beautiful tale of family, with a fantastic soundtrack by Lin-Manuel Miranda. We might not talk about Bruno, but Encanto is sure to be in the conversation of great Disney animated films for decades to come. — Ross Bonaime

Watch Encanto on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directed by: John Musker and Ron Clements

Written by: John Musker, Ron Clements, Donald McEnery, Bob Shaw, and Irene Mecchi

Cast: Tate Donovan, Susan Egan, Danny DeVito, James Woods, Rip Torn, Frank Welker, Bobcat Goldthwait, Amanda Plummer, Paul Shaffer, Wayne Knight, Keith David, and Hal Holbrook

Hercules came at an interesting time for Walt Disney Animation Studios, which was still trying to recapture the same zeitgeist-commanding fame of films like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And while Hercules isn’t a home run like those early 90s Disney films, it’s a pretty delightful double. The animated retelling of the Hercules story is incredibly funny and colorful as we follow the young Hercules trying to find his place in the world, knowing he was meant for something greater. It’s almost something of a Superman remake, but with gods instead of superheroes. The songs are fantastic, and Megara is a refreshingly independent female lead. Who puts the glad in gladiator? – Adam Chitwood

Watch Hercules on Disney+

The Parent Trap (1961)

Image via Disney

Director/Writer: David Swift

Cast: Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, and Brian Keith

Since Disney has been in business they’ve thrived on a stable of child stars. But before the Zac Efrons and the Lindsay Lohans, you had British actress Hayley Mills. Mills would star in six movies throughout her teenage years for Disney and her second is revered by people everywhere. The Parent Trap is a divorced kid’s fantasy film wherein Mills plays twins, separated at birth, who reunite at summer camp and scheme to get their parents back together. The legalities of their separation will always be kooky but the film was a hit upon release in 1961 with the theme song, “Let’s Get Together” still played during Disney tributes. The feature saw three sequels starring Mills throughout the ‘80s (though it’s not known whether Disney will be putting those on the streaming service) and was famously remade in 1998 with Lindsay Lohan. So you can watch both the original and the remake back-to-back on Disney+. — Kristen Lopez

Watch The Parent Trap on Disney+

10 Things I Hate About You

Image via Touchstone Pictures

Director: Gil Junger

Writers: Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith

Cast: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Larisa Oleynik, and Andrew Keegan

Yes, really! The 1999 film 10 Things I Hate About You was released by Disney’s more adult-centric arm Touchstone Pictures, and Disney has seen fit to stick this delightful and sneakily sharp teen romance on Disney+ for your viewing pleasure. Loosely based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the film stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a new student named Cameron who is smitten with a girl named Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), but who needs to find a way to get around her father’s strict rules for dating—which state that Bianca can start dating once her older, more “alternative” sister Kat (Julia Stiles) does. Cameron’s fix? Hire the school bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to go out with Kat. Things take a turn when Patrick turns out to be a mighty fine gentleman, Bianca turns out to kind of suck, and Patrick and Kat genuinely hit it off. The movie’s sweet, funny, and boasts a killer 90s soundtrack, so do yourself a favor and throw this one on for nostalgia’s sake. – Adam Chitwood

Watch 10 Things I Hate About You on Disney+

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Image via Disney

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writers: Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio

Cast: Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, and Zoe Saldana

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl is a weird movie, and it’s a movie everyone assumed would fail. Disney seemed to be going for a pure cash-grab with a film based on an amusement park ride, but director Gore Verbinski—fresh off the success of The Ring—embraced the high seas aesthetic and supernatural overtones, and backed a unique performance from Johnny Depp to result in one of the most purely pleasant moviewatching experiences in recent memory. Pirates is fun, flightly, strange, creepy, and rousing. The set pieces are thrilling, the performances are genuinely good, and Verbinski and cinematographer Dariuz Wolski capture the whole thing with an absolutely gorgeous aesthetic. Basically this is a good “anytime” movie. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl on Disney+

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Image via Disney

Director: Gore Verbinski

Writers: Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio

Cast: Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Naomie Harris, Jack Davenport, Stellan Skarsgard, and Tom Hollander

While nothing can match the pure euphoria of Gore Verbinski’s first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, his two sequels—which he shot back-to-back—get a bad wrap. At World’s End is a bit bloated, but Dead Man’s Chest is a huge, weird blast. Verbinski doubles down on his ambition and takes this franchise to strange places, but it mostly works. The visual effects are incredible, especially as they relate to Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones, and visually this movie is just stunning to look at. If you remember disliking it, give it another shot without the impossible expectations set by the first movie. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest on Disney+

The Sword in the Stone

Image via Disney

Director: Wolfgang Reitherman

Writer: Bill Peet

Cast: Rickie Sorenson, Carl Swenson, and Junius Matthews

The 1960s was a bizarre time in Disney history, particularly since Walt Disney himself passed away in 1966, leaving the company to try and decide which features he would have supported. But even before his death the company was struggling to cut down on costs and production time, employing a process known as xerography (a dry photocopying technique) that fans either love or hate. The Sword in the Stone was one such film to employ that process and is one of the more ambitious features to come out during this decade. Based on T.H. White’s 1938 novel of the same name, The Sword in the Stone is the story of Arthur and how he pulled the sword from the stone to become the future King of England. The film was helmed by long-time Disney animator Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, and while reviews were mixed, the feature was a hit in 1963. Younger fans probably don’t know much more about it, outside of seeing Merlin at the Disney parks every now and then, which makes its appearance on Disney+ (along with the other animated films of the ‘60s) such a treat. — Kristen Lopez

Watch The Sword in the Stone on Disney+

X-Men: First Class

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Matthew Vaughn

Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, and Matthew Vaughn

Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Rose Byrne, Jennifer Lawrence, January Jones, Oliver Platt, and Kevin Bacon.

Arguably the best non-spinoff X-Men movie to date, X-Men: First Class saw that the franchise was going to keep struggling after the disappointing X-Men: The Last Stand, and wisely decided to go back to the past to see the formation of the super team. The 1960s setting gives the film a personality that’s wholly distinct from any other superhero movie, and the film benefits from an outstanding cast that includes James McAvoy as Charles Xavier, Michael Fassbender as Magneto, Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique, and Nicholas Hoult as Beast. Also, by making Xavier and Magneto the leads, it’s easier to put their ideological differences at the forefront of the story. While the sequels would drastically decline in quality, First Class still stands tall. – Matt Goldberg

Watch X-Men: First Class on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Byron Howard and Rich Moore

Writers: Jared Bush and Phil Johnston

Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba, Nate Torrence, J.K. Simmons, Bonnie Hunt, and Octavia Spencer

Walt Disney Animation Studios found itself lagging behind when Pixar’s track record was pristine, but look no further than Zootopia for evidence that the tables have turned. While Pixar is more hit-or-miss nowadays, Disney Animation is on a roll with 2016’s Zootopia proving to be a pleasantly surprising hit both commercially and critically. While talking animal stories have been done to death, Disney dared to use the colorful, vibrant, and diverse world of Zootopia to tackle issues of inherent bias and racial prejudice head on, resulting in a viewing experience that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. The movie is funny and gorgeous, with top-notch world building, but it also has something to say, which ensures that it’s much more than a lazy cash grab. With any luck, this one’s gonna have a lengthy shelf life. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Zootopia on Disney+

Lady and the Tramp

Image via Disney

Director: Charlie Bean

Writers: Andrew Bujalski and Kari Granlund

Cast: Justin Theroux, Tessa Thompson, Kiersey Clemons, Thomas Mann, and Yvette Nicole Brown

Disney+ is also preparing a bevy of original features that will be available on day one, including their next live-action (kinda) remake. Originally produced by Disney as an animated feature in 1955, Lady and the Tramp tells the story of a cocker spaniel named Lady (in the remake voiced by Tessa Thompson) who falls for a mutt named Tramp (voiced by Justin Theroux). The remake was the first feature to be announced exclusively for Disney+ last year, although unlike other remakes like The Lion King this will be a blend of live actors (Lady’s family will be played by Kiersey Clemons and Thomas Mann) and CGI. Alongside recreating the famous “la belle notta” scene, Lady and Tramp’s friends will feature the voice cast of Sam Elliot and Janelle Monae. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Lady and the Tramp on Disney+

Iron Man

Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Jon Favreau

Writers: Art Marcum, Hawk Ostby, Matt Holloway, and Mark Fergus

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, and Terrence Howard

The one that started it all. Truth be told, there’s a handmade quality to Iron Man that makes it somewhat endearing. Years before Marvel had perfected its formula, and well before the Marvel Cinematic Universe officially existed, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. were just trying to make a good movie. They more than delivered, and Iron Man still holds up as an incredibly fun and surprising origin story—and Jeff Bridges still stands as one of the MCU’s best villains. It’s a bit shaky to be sure, and yes Terrence Howard was recast for the sequel, but there would be no MCU without Iron Man, and the foundational film still stands as an excellent piece of entertainment. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Iron Man on Disney+

The Great Mouse Detective

Image via Disney

Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker, Dave Michener, and Burny Mattinson

Writers: Pete Young, Vance Gerry, Steve Hulett, Clements, Musker, Mattinson, Bruce Morris, Michener, Mel Shaw, and Matthew O’Callaghan

Cast: Barrie Ingham, Vincent Price, Val Bettin, Susanne Pollatschek, and Frank Welker

Made during a particularly volatile time at Walt Disney Feature Animation, while the unit was recovering from the disastrous response to the costly The Black Cauldron and adapting to the installation of outside executives at the head of the company, The Great Mouse Detective still managed to be a minor creative and commercial triumph. And it’s only gotten better, and more distinctive, over the years. Based on a series of novels that imagined a mouse living in Sherlock Holmes’ London flat with the same personality traits of the famous detective, the movie featured the inaugural direction work of Ron Clements and John Musker, who would go on to powerfully shape the next two decades (and beyond!) of Walt Disney Animation, as well as the first use of computer generated imagery. (The animators were annoyed that, partly through production, they changed the name from Basil of Baker Street to the much more literal The Great Mouse Detective, and circulated a fake memo dictating the renaming of several classic Disney animated fables.) And Vincent Price, as the villainous Ratigan (the rat equivalent of Moriarty), is an absolute showstopper – his musical number is dynamite. — Drew Taylor

Watch The Great Mouse Detective on Disney+

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century

Image via Disney Channel

Director: Kenneth Johnson

Writer: Stu Krieger

Cast: Kirsten Storms and Raven Symone

Where’s the line when it comes to DCOMs (Disney Channel original movies)? Are they television movies and thus stuck on TV or are they feature films? For the purposes of this article we’re sticking them on the film side. Disney+ announced at D23 that every single DCOM would be available to stream on their service, so prep to party like it’s 1999, we present one of the earliest films: Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Originally conceived as a pilot for a TV show, the film follows Zenon Kar (Kirsten Storms), a 13-year-old girl living in a space station in the year 2049. With a penchant for getting in trouble, Zenon pushes her luck one too many times and ends up “grounded” on planet Earth. The fish-out-of-water story takes a turn when Zenon discovers an evil plot made by some corporate bigwigs to crash the space station. Zenon was incredibly popular upon its debut on the Disney Channel in 1999. So much so that it inspired two sequels: 2001’s Zenon: The Zequel and the 2004 feature Zenon: Z3. Much like A Goofy Movie its fictional band, Protozoa, took off with a catchy song you’re probably already humming to yourself as you read this writing. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century on Disney+


Image via Disney/Pixar

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon

Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, and Sigourney Weaver

One of the best Pixar movies ever made, WALL-E is a masterpiece of visual filmmaking. The largely silent first act works like a charm thanks to director Andrew Stanton’s attention to detail and intense study of cinematic language, and I will staunchly defend the film’s final two acts as Good, Actually. At heart, WALL-E is a love story. The romance between robot trash compactor WALL-E—spending his days on an abandoned Earth cleaning up garbage—and EVE, an unmanned probe sent from one of many human colonies floating out in space to see if Earth is still uninhabitable. Their journey continuously tries to keep them apart, but the dogged perseverance of WALL-E and his big, warm heart bring them together again and again. It’s incredibly sweet, often hilarious, and genuinely one of the best onscreen romances in movie history. – Adam Chitwood

Watch WALL-E on Disney+

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

Courtesy of Disney

Director: Irvin Kershner

Writers: Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett

Cast: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Frank Oz, and David Prowse

The Empire Strikes Back is not only one of the best sequels ever made, it’s also one of the most influential. The “dark second chapter” has become a staple of nearly every major franchise trilogy, with filmmakers aplenty cribbing from the structure, tone, and bummer ending of George Lucas’ sequel. It’s a thrilling film in many ways, expanding the scope and deepening the characters introduced in A New Hope. It took multiple drafts of the script before Lucas hit upon the earth-shattering twist that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and Empire is proof positive that sometimes to find the best story, you just have to work through it—it can’t all be planned out from the beginning. In any event, The Empire Strikes Back is surely one of the best, most exciting, and most important films ever made. – Adam Chitwood

Watch The Empire Strikes Back on Disney+

Pete’s Dragon

Image via Disney

Director: David Lowery

Writers: David Lowery and Toby Halbrooks

Cast: Bryce Dallas Howard, Oakes Fegley, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, Oona Laurence, and Robert Redford

Before Disney’s live-action remakes began to resemble recreations more than reimaginings, filmmaker David Lowery (A Ghost Story) put his stamp on Pete’s Dragon with a lovely, compassionate 2016 update. This new version of the “boy and his dragon” story bears little resemblance to the previous adaptation, which makes it all the more effective.. The film manages to be extraordinarily sweet and heartfelt without coming off as either cynical or cloying, telling a story about belonging and family through the eyes of a young boy who found himself alone in the Pacific Northwest, only to be raised by a dragon. Visually this thing soars as Lowery refuses to go for the obvious camera placement or move, opting instead to keep the POV on the young Pete while realizing the dragon Elliott in a way that’s both slightly cartoony but nonetheless “real”-looking. This is a fantasy family film that is wholly devoid of cynicism or “biting wit”, instead hanging its hat on genuine emotion and warmth while at the same time managing to avoid saccharine or trite sentiments. That’s an incredibly tough balance to manage, but Lowery shines and the film is all the better for it. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Pete’s Dragon on Disney+

West Side Story

Rachel Zegler in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story 2021

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Tony Kushner

Cast: Rachel Zegler, Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, and Rita Moreno

It makes seem like a fool’s errand to try and remake the West Side Story, but if anyone could improve upon a classic, it’s Steven Spielberg. His take on West Side Story is just as vibrant as the original, making slight tweaks to this beloved tale that make this version an improvement in many ways. But the real power of West Side Story comes from its fantastic cast, which includes Ariana DeBose in a star-making performance as Anita, Mike Faist as Riff, and Rachel Zegler as Maria. Some might say that classics shouldn’t be remade, but with West Side Story, Spielberg proves that even the greatest stories can be improved. — Ross Bonaime

Watch West Side Story on Disney+


Image via Disney-Pixar

Director: Lee Unkrich

Writers: Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjmain Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, and Edward James Olmos

Although Pixar isn’t the unstoppable force it once was, they can still put together a great movie from time to time and Coco is definitely the studio operating at the top of its game. While it certainly falls into the familiar Pixar tropes—a buddy movie where two characters go on a trip of some kind—Lee Unkrich’s film stands apart due to its deep and abiding love for Mexican culture and putting the importance of family at the core of the story. The movie boasts excellent music, a heartwarming story, memorable characters, and eye-popping design as its leads traverse the Land of the Dead on Dia de Los Muertos. Although I thought the film would be enjoyable, I didn’t expect it to eventually move me to tears. This is a movie you need to see with your family. – Matt Goldberg

Watch Coco on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Samuel Armstrong, James Algar, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen, David D. Hand, Hamilton Luske, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Norman Ferguson, and Wilfred Jackson

Writers: Joe Grant and Dick Huemer

Cast: Leopold Stokowski and Deems Taylor

Fantasia remains one of Disney’s most ambitious and highly interesting projects. A pet project of Walt Disney’s starting in 1936, the film blossomed into a feature-length movie focused on the beauty and whimsy of classical music. The highlight is the presentation of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” wherein Mickey Mouse decides to have a little fun with the hat of his sorcerer master and ends up getting into a mess of trouble with sentient brooms. Other stories include a presentation of the “Nutcracker Suite” with a host of fairies, fish, mushrooms, and flowers; “The Dance of the Hours” with a hilarious cast of hippos and alligators and the terrifying “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence where Chernabog, a demon from Hell, summons evil spirits. The film premiered in 1940, but its roadshow presentation, complete with special “Fantasound” speakers, prohibited it from making a profit. Fantasia saw several re-releases throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The 1969 release saw the movie promoted as a psychedelic experience which probably did wonders to entice children. After being fully restored for its 50th anniversary the film eventually garnered a sequel, Fantasia 2000 in, you guessed it, the year 2000. — Kristen Lopez

Watch Fantasia on Disney+


Image via Disney

Directors: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Writer: Jennifer Lee

Cast: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, and Santino Fontana

First of all, if you’re a parent and you want to hide the fact that Frozen is on Disney+ from your children, we won’t blame you. The megahit 2013 film revitalized Walt Disney Animation Studios, kicking off a string of animated films that would finally give Disney-owned Pixar a run for their money. But Frozen success also led to kids wanting to watch the film again and again and again, much to the chagrin of their parents. Still, this movie is great. It’s a princess story with a fantasy angle all crafted from a modern female point of view. It’s the tale of two sisters, of the baggage of feeling like an outsider than can hinder ongoing relationships. It’s honestly kind of deep stuff for a Disney movie. And now’s the perfect time to refresh your memory with Frozen II due to hit theaters very soon. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Frozen on Disney+

Free Solo

Image via National Geographic

Directors: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

If you’re in the mood for something of the non-fiction variety, check out Best Documentary Feature Oscar-winner Free Solo. The 2018 film chronicles rock climber Alex Honnold’s attempt to free solo climb El Capitan. “Free solo” means climbing without ropes or any type of support system, and is not only dangerous but is also a controversial practice in the world of rock climbing. The film digs deep into why Honnold would possibly want to put his life at such an intense risk for an athletic accomplishment, with insight gleaned from a burgeoning relationship Honnold strikes with a young woman named Cassandra “Sanni” McCandless. The film serves as both an excellent (and intense) sports documentary and a fascinating attempt at analyzing what makes some humans put their lives at risk for mere accomplishments. Watch this one on a big TV. – Adam Chitwood

Watch Free Solo on Disney+

The Emperor’s New Groove

Image via Disney

Director: Mark Dindal

Writer: David Reynolds

Cast: David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, and Patrick Warburton

I don’t know whether it’s because of or despite the production being a total mess, but what started out as the musical epic Kingdom of the Sun turned into a buddy comedy, and came out incredibly sweet and weird in equal measure. The story of a bratty prince who gets transformed into a llama and has to partner with a farmer to get his kingdom back from a witch is the cult film in Disney Animation Studios’ modern filmography. It’s past the Second Golden Age but before they started aggressively moving into CG, but tonally The Emperor’s New Groove an incredibly charming movie that has a nice story about friendship while also having Patrick Warburton voicing a character who can talk to squirrels. – Matt Goldberg

Watch The Emperor’s New Groove on Disney+

Toy Story

Image via Pixar

Director: John Lasseter

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Joss Whedon, Joel Cohen, and Alex Sokolow

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, and John Ratzenberger

Before Disney bought Marvel, and before Disney bought Lucasfilm, they bought Pixar. But before Disney even bought Pixar, the cutting-edge animation studio was making history with the 1994 film Toy Story. Released by Disney but produced independently by Pixar, Toy Story was the brainchild of John Lasseter and imagined a world in which toys were sentient and interacted with one another when you were n’t looking. The film tells a fish-out-of-water buddy story wherein Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) gets added to a kid’s toy collection, but he’s the only one who doesn’t know he’s a toy. Butting heads with the toy room’s head honcho Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz works to learn more about the world he lives in. Both Toy Story and Toy Story 4 will be available on Disney+ on Day One, but we suggest starting with the one that built Pixar’s reputation in the first place. — Adam Chitwood

Watch Toy Story on Disney+


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About The Author Best Movies on Disney Plus Right Now

Jake Nichol

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