Ever since Disney Plus launched, fans of all ages have been able to relive classic films from their childhoods. But since it’s Disney, people can now watch Star Wars and Marvel movies with the click of a button. Disney Plus has films from decades ago, so it may feel a bit overwhelming to decide what you should watch next to become an even more informed Disney fan. But for our money, these are the best Disney Plus movies you can watch tonight.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas originated from Tim Burton’s childhood. He was obsessed with holidays growing up because he felt it gave time more texture. He developed the idea for the story while working at Disney but was later fired. He went on to direct successes like Beetlejuice, and the chance to bring The Nightmare Before Christmas was rejuvenated. In contrast to popular belief, he didn’t direct the film, but it’s forever associated with Burton’s unique sensibilities.
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2. Hocus Pocus
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally offered the lead role of Max in Hocus Pocus but turned it down to star in Who’s Eating Gilbert Grape. While it would have been an interesting origin story for the actor, the film remains a perennial favorite among millennials every Halloween season. It’s arguably the best-renowned Disney Channel original film that’s both fun and a little scary at times.
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Tim Burton made a live-action short film titled Frankenweenie in the ‘80s, which you can also watch on Disney+. Decades later, he got the chance to turn the tale of a boy who brings his dead dog back to life into a feature-length film. The theme of fear of the unknown permeates the movie, making it truly relevant to today’s world. It’s Burton back to doing what he does back: taking wacky tales with unique aesthetics and making them universal stories.
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T’Challa is the new king of Wakanda who must decide what kind of leader he will be. But the character who steals the show in Black Panther is the villain, Killmonger. Much has been said about how he’s arguably the best antagonist in an MCU film. And the reason for this is that in some scenes… you actually find yourself agreeing with him. He makes a lot of sense, and you could make an entirely new film with him as a protagonist. And it would probably work. It’s a more sophisticated kind of superhero film. Even if it does have some Marvel trademarks, it remains a distinctly Ryan Coogler film.
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Even with the success of This is Spinal Tap and Stand by Me, Rob Reiner still had a hard time getting The Princess Bride made. The result is one of the most wonderful fantasy films ever made. It’s arguably one of the most perfectly cast films ever with instantly quotable dialogue. There’s a reason you still see memes made from The Princess Bride.
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Beyoncé’s visual album Black is King has its origins when the singer researched her role in the live-action The Lion King. It was during this she discovered how Solomon Linda, a composer for the song “Mbubu,” which served as the basis for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” He didn’t receive any credit or royalties. Beyoncé wanted to make an entire film that told the stories of such forgotten Africans that didn’t rely on animation. The result is a spectacle for the eyes as native Africans are celebrated. From production design to costuming, Black is King is just as in-depth as any motion picture you’ll find out there.
CLASSIC MOVIES ON DISNEY+
A prominent problem with many streaming services is the severe lack of older films. It’s hard to find anything prior to the 1980s most of the time, which is why you should take advantage of classic films whenever they’re available. The Sound of Music, which was actually the highest-grossing film of all time from 1965 to 1970. It’s the last Rodgers/Hammerstein collaboration of the era, and it’s a lovely film that should be on every filmmaker’s watchlist.
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Monsters, Inc. went through various iterations before we got the movie we all know and love. In one version, the film followed a 30-year old man who deals with the monsters he drew as a kid haunting him as an adult. But considering the studio made children’s films, it just made sense to follow a child and the adolescent notion of there being monsters in the closet. Numerous other changes occurred, including the gender of the child and how the main monsters should look. Workshopping is a critical component of the filmmaking process, and no one knows that better than the folks at Pixar.
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Hamilton brings a 2016 performance with the original Broadway cast to the masses. The show won 11 Tonys and reignited people’s interest in musical theater. And you get a similarly thrilling experience watching a filmed version.
The way they filmed the show was to record two live performances and one where the camera crew could actually be onstage. Seeing the emotion on the actors’ faces makes you feel like you have a front row seat to the best show in town.
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Howard Ashman was an openly gay songwriter, who wrote the lyrics for beloved films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. He passed away in 1991 due to complications from AIDS. And if you look at the subtext, you can see his struggle with this disease in lyrics to his songs. Most notably, the song “Kill the Beast” could be seen as a metaphor for the general public lashing out at something they didn’t fully understand. Now, Ashman gets the tribute he so rightfully deserves in the documentary, Howard.
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It’s no surprise Disney has made some of the best animated movies of all time. So, why should you watch The Little Mermaid over other classics? For starters, the film will be one of the next from the Disney vault to receive a live-action adaptation, so it’s a good time to relive what made the original story so beloved.
Additionally, when the movie came out in 1989, it restored Disney’s status as a place for high-quality, prestigious animated films. All these years later, it will entrance kids and adults alike.
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Zootopia takes a clear stance on prejudice and stereotypes (as we discuss in our script breakdown). It’s not a perfect comparison to human relations. After all, tigers and rabbits are, in fact, biologically different from one another. But the broad strokes of accepting one another are applicable to everyone, regardless of age. And considering the racism in some of Disney’s earlier films, Zootopia seems like a step in the right direction for a more inclusive filmography.
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What makes the 1998 Mulan so much better than the live-action version? There are a lot of potential answers to this question. But one answer could be in how the original, Mulan is just a normal girl trying to do the right thing. She struggles and develops as an individual after joining the Imperial Army. In the 2020 version, Mulan is magical… for some reason. There’s no growth because she’s already as powerful as she possibly could be. Fortunately, the remake’s presence doesn’t take away from the wonderful original.
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Avatar deserves praise for what it did for motion picture technology. New motion capture filming techniques were utilized, and the film served as a breakthrough for stereoscopic filmmaking. It created the illusion of depth so incredibly well. Other films in the following years tried to hop aboard the 3D train, but none of them had the same care and precision as Avatar. We can’t wait to see how good the sequels look compared to the first one.
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In hindsight, it may seem like Pirates of the Caribbean was always destined for success. However, pirate movies were always a big gamble. None were really big moneymakers, and they’re notoriously expensive to make. Pirates of the Caribbean changed the game thanks to its performances, visuals, and score.
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Stop motion animation is one of the most difficult cinematic art forms to master. And yet, James and the Giant Peach makes it look easy. It’s one of the most unique, imaginative animated films to come out of the '90s. All these years later, the puppets still hold up and may just inspire your youngster to pursue stop motion in greater earnest.
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Christopher Robin takes a unique spin on the tale of Winnie the Pooh. While other live-action Disney adaptations pretty much parrot what came before, this film allows the titular character to grow up. He’s lost the magic he had as a child until he starts talking to Pooh and pals once again. It’s a heart-warming film that shows you don’t have to lose childhood magic just because you become an adult.
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A computer programmer gets trapped inside his own video game. The premise may be straightforward, but Tron was a landmark in visual effects when it came out in 1982. In fact, the reason why so many of the backgrounds in Tron are pure black is due to the fact it was easier to have instead of filling the entire frame with computer-generated effects. It may seem quaint today, but Tron helped push VFX forward.
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19. Queen of Katwe
You’ll find plenty of underdog sport stories on Disney Plus. But for one that’s a bit off the beaten path, you need to watch Queen of Katwe. The film tells the story of a young Ugandan girl who has a whole new world opened up to her when she’s introduced to chess.
The idea of redefining what an underdog sports movie could be guided the film throughout its production. Screenwriter William Wheeler stated as much saying, “Disney was very open to wanting to tell an aspirational story about someone from someplace that is not at all familiar to Western audiences.”
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The original book deals with some pretty heavy themes regarding animal imprisonment. The film functions as an interesting adaptation in how it kind of “Disney-fies” the source material to make it more family-friendly. But through it all, it’s still a tear-jerking affair with well-done CGI animals.
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21. Sister Act
Sister Act, a film about a lounge singer going into the witness protection program after witnessing a murder and becoming a nun, is pure fun. There’s a real kinetic energy to film from the jokes to the musical numbers. It’s the perfect family film to pass onto your own children, and it’s held up amazingly well.
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22. The Rocketeer
Before superhero movies were all the rage, The Rocketeer was viewed as a bit of a gamble. But the film ends up serving as a fun prototype for what the superhero movie would become. It’s good, old-fashioned fun, and it’s easy to see why director Joe Johnston was brought onboard to direct Captain America: The First Avenger.
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You won’t find every MCU film on Disney Plus. But you can watch the granddaddy of them all with Avengers: Endgame. There’s never been any other film like this in terms of scope and how it wraps up over 20 films all at once. It’s also the highest grossing movie of all time. If you want a rush of adrenaline, then just skip to the portals scene to feel invincible.
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While Onward was initially released in theaters, it quickly fell off people’s radars due to the COVID-19 pandemic shutting everything down, Disney knew precisely what to do. You may not have gotten the chance to see it on the big screen, but Onward remains a worthy addition to Pixar’s canon. And just as you would expect, it will make you tear up by the very end.
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Fantasia may seem quaint by today’s standards. But it was revolutionary at the time of its release in 1940. Over 500 animated characters had to be created, which resulted in over 1,000 artists and technicians coming onboard to work on the massive project. The combination of animation with classical music is still incredible to watch to this day. It’s essential viewing for any budding animator.
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26. The Mighty Ducks
The Mighty Ducks is must-watch viewing for any ‘90s kid. The film about an attorney who has to do community service by coaching a kids’ hockey team falls into many tropes of the genre. But if you want to relive your nostalgia with this classic sports movie that inspired two sequels and a very bizarre animated series.
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The 1990s were a great time for romantic comedies. Never Been Kissed is a cornerstone of the genre during this era. It follows Drew Barrymore as a reporter who goes undercover at a local high school to help make adults more aware of the lives of teenagers. It’s formulaic, but Barrymore’s charm helps carry the film and is the perfect film to watch when you want to feel all warm and gooey on the inside.
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The Trimaxion Drone Ship proved to be an interesting CGI feat. The ship needed to reflect the environment it was flying through. Nothing like it really came before. Considering this film came out in the 1980s, it’s impressive to see how much they were able to accomplish back then, all while delivering a thrilling sci-fi story kids could enjoy, too.
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29. The Muppets
Reviving a long-existing property is no easy feat. But The Muppets accomplishes just that. It takes what everyone loved about the Muppets in the first place but infuses newfound life. It proved the puppets had a place in the 21st century. Hopefully, there will be plenty more Muppet movies to come.
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Filming was intense on Holes. Inside the holes, temperatures would reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. It was a real life Camp Green Lake as the actors had to go through physical training to prepare for the shoot. No doubt those conditions contributed to the real anguish on display from the young actors. The film is incredibly faithful to the source material, and it actually makes you want to read the book afterward.
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It’s not every day you see an animated children’s movie where two characters have a lengthy discussion about public perception. But The Incredibles has always been something unique with Pixar’s canon. The sequel excels because it doesn’t merely take what works in the original. It pushes the characters in new, interesting directions. Plus, you can’t go wrong by having a baby beat up a raccoon.
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32. Treasure Planet
There are plenty of animated classics to watch on Disney Plus. You’ve likely already seen a lot of them, but one that may have flown under your radar is Treasure Planet. The film puts a science-fiction twist on the classic novel Treasure Island.
The movie flopped at the box office, but over the years, the film has found a new audience. It’s a prime example of how you should never write off a movie just because it didn’t initially do well.
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One of the most famous scenes in Who Framed Roger Rabbit almost didn’t happen. For the scene where Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny appear together, the studios would only license the characters if they had the same amount of screen time and same amount of dialogue.
It’s just one incredible scene in a movie that’s filled with them, and even all these years later, the animation is unmatched for the insane level of detail you’ll find. If you don’t believe us, just research the idea of “bumping the lamp.”
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34. Free Solo
To make sure the documentary crew didn’t get in Alex Honnold’s way, they had to develop a special recording device. Honnold kept this item in his chalk bag, so they could still capture every single sound. It’s an innovative solution and shows how even the most difficult to capture documentary subjects can still end up in gripping detail on camera.
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Directors John Musker and Ron Clements did research on the Polynesian demigod Māui and traveled to Tahiti, Samoa, and Fiji to brush up on Pacific Islander culture. The result is numerous accurate details to make Moana feel like it exists in a lived-in world, such as the scene where one islander receives a tattoo in the traditional manner in that part of the world. With songs from Hamilton scribe, Lin-Manuel Miranda, there’s something for everyone.
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Lee Unkrich felt an enormous responsibility when creating Coco to get Mexican culture as accurate as possible. This required a great deal of research as well as several trips to Mexico. That research eventually made its way into the Coco screenplay with Unkrich stating that making the script was the hardest part of the process. At one point, the film was much more musical with the central family being cursed to sing. But the story the movie ended up telling was far more powerful and a good reminder to remember those who came before you.
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One of the biggest selling points for Disney Plus was how all 30+ seasons of The Simpsons would be on it. For our money, you really just need to watch seasons three through nine and cap it off with The Simpsons Movie. Plans for a movie for the eponymous sitcom family have been around since the '90s, and the script went through over 100 revisions before it finally went into production. Revising your own script five or six times seems a lot more manageable by comparison.
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What should a good song in a musical do? In addition to being catchy and well-sung, it should also advance the plot. “The Other Side” in The Greatest Showman captures that perfectly with one verse being a sales pitch while the second is the rebuttal. P.T. Barnum and Phillip Carlyle show so much chemistry within the span of a few minutes, and anyone who wants to write a song for a musical just needs to watch that part to know how to structure lyrics memorably and in service of the plot.
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It’s probably going to be a while until we see the X-Men in the MCU proper. But due to Disney’s acquisition of Fox Studios, Disney Plus is able to showcase the old X-Men films on the streaming service, most notably X-Men: Days of Future Past.
There may not be a lot of continuity across the X-Men franchise, but this film does an admirable job of joining the casts from the original trilogy and new characters who were introduced in X-Men: First Class.
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So many adaptations of older properties try to mold them into modern reimaginings. But you don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. The Peanuts Movie sees Charlie Brown trying to win favor with the Little Red-Haired Girl, and Snoopy imagines himself as a legendary pilot. It takes what worked so well all those years ago and simply reintroduces these beloved characters to a new audience.
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The story of Rapunzel has never seemed quite so… magical. Tangled utilized a mix of traditional animation and computer-generated imagery to create a unique artistic style at the time of release. When all was said and done, the movie took six years and an estimated $260 million to bring to life, making it one of the most expensive films of all time. Frozen may have gotten a lot of the glory out of the new Disney animated renaissance we’re currently in, but Tangled deserves some special attention.
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42. Mary Poppins
Combining live-action with animation is no easy feat. But even back in 1964, Disney was up for the challenge. To accomplish this, the film relied heavily on rotoscoping. Mattes were created via Sodium Vapor screens. Extensive wire work required the film’s VFX team to take them out of the final frame. It was a marvel at the time, and one in which such care and precision is tough to replicate today.
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Most people have heard of Balto, the brave dog that helped in the transportation of medicine to help with an outbreak of diphtheria in a remote Alaskan town. But what got glossed over in history is the fact that the dog, Togo, took the medicine a majority of the way. A reporter simply got the story mixed up. Togo is a prime example of how movies can do more than entertain. They can educate and reveal insights into history we may not have known before.
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44. Toy Story
Toy Story went through numerous iterations. At one point, Woody was described as plainly “a jerk.” But the team at Pixar stuck with it and kept reinventing the story. All the while, they pretty much came up with a bold new animation style that no one had used for a feature-length film before. But of course, movie history was made instead.
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Thanks to Disney Plus, every Star Wars movie can now be found in one place. You can go back to where it all began in 1977 with Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. The original film is a perfect encapsulation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero's Journey.
Of course, watching the movie is a lot more entertaining than reading Campbell’s book. You’ve likely seen this film plenty of times already, but another rewatch may be precisely what you need when you’re trying to figure out how to crack your own Hero’s Journey.
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All you need is a few streaming services, and you can pretty much watch anything from the history of cinema. Once you’ve had your fill of superhero movies and animated films, check out what’s new on Netflix. From old classics to new icons, Netflix should be an integral tool in any filmmakers’ arsenal.