Throughout the history of the entertainment industry, few companies can claim the pop cultural impact or success of The Walt Disney Company. From its earliest black-and-white cartoons to its latest computer-animated films, the Mouse House is among the most trusted names in family entertainment. Its films account for some of the most beloved movies ever made, including those involving Pixar Animation Studios.
Although compiling a definitive list of the company’s best films is an unenviable task, we’re attempting to do so anyway. For this list, we’ll only be considering films released by Walt Disney Pictures and disqualifying releases by Disney-owned subsidiaries like Marvel and Lucasfilm or other studio banners like Touchstone Pictures. That being said, don’t expect The Avengers, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, or The Nightmare Before Christmas to be included.
In addition, we’re leaving out Pixar films, since we’ve already compiled a list of the best Pixar movies. The following 10 movies represent a balance of both animated and live-action films from Disney that have endured over the years and remained popular.
1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Any list of the best Disney films would be incomplete without the animated classic that started it all. The first feature-length animated film in history, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs still stands among the highest-grossing films of all time when adjusted for inflation, and it serves as the foundation upon which all future Disney films would be built.
2. Cinderella (1950)
The first few fully animated Disney movies comprise a large number of the studio’s most popular films (Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, etc.). However, we’re giving Cinderella the edge, seeing as it remains perhaps the definitive version of a fairy tale. Disney itself even went back to successfully translate this film to live-action in 2015.
3. Old Yeller (1957)
The first live-action film on our list, Old Yeller is, of course, memorable for its famous tearjerker ending, but it also makes our list for the way in which it offers a dramatic tale that families can enjoy in equal measure. For many, the film is a cultural landmark, and amid the sea-faring adventure films Disney released in the ’50s (Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), it stands apart.
4. Mary Poppins (1964)
Disney musicals don’t get much more iconic than this. Julie Andrews won an Academy Award for her indelible turn as the magical nanny with a penchant for breaking into song. Both the film’s brilliant music and its visual effects continue to delight generations of viewers. A perennial favorite, Mary Poppins is being revisited with the upcoming 2018 sequel starring Emily Blunt.
5. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
Rick Moranis plays an inventor who accidentally shrinks his children to microscopic size in this blockbuster hit that spawned an entire franchise of films. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids became the highest-grossing live-action Disney film ever at the time and is one of the landmark films for an entire generation. Charming and filled with family-friendly adventure, it holds up surprisingly well.
6. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This classic was the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. It cemented the arrival of the Disney Renaissance that kicked off with the release of The Little Mermaid two years earlier. Even 25 years later, Beauty and the Beast‘s popularity remains strong, thanks to a subsequent stage production and several direct-to-video followups. A live-action version of the movie — starring Emma Watson as Belle — is set for release in 2017.
7. The Mighty Ducks (1992)
At first glance, The Mighty Ducks might seem like just another kid-friendly sports film. After all, there were quite a few in the ’90s (including Disney’s own Angels in the Outfield and Air Bud, both of which spawned franchises). However, The Mighty Ducks still remains cherished by its target audience and led to sequels, an animated television series, and the creation of a real-life hockey team named after the film (Anaheim Ducks).
8. The Lion King (1994)
Is there really anything we need to say about this one? A box office phenomenon and undisputed classic, The Lion King represents the apex of the Disney Renaissance as far as both cultural relevance and box office success. Disney is still keeping the franchise alive with the current animated series The Lion Guard and with good reason. The film is still one of the studio’s biggest and most popular hits to date.
9. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Johnny Depp went from underrated leading man to international superstar with his quirky take on the morally shifty Captain Jack Sparrow. Though the film’s sequels haven’t performed as well, the original still has a sense of swashbuckling adventure and excitement that few films have achieved. Moreover, the fact that Disney was able to build such an iconic character and money-making franchise off of a theme park attraction makes the Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon even more impressive.
10. Zootopia (2016)
Frozen may be the biggest hit Disney has had in recent years, but we consider this film to be the creative pinnacle of the second Disney Renaissance. With multifaceted characters, rich subtext, and a compelling mystery, Zootopia is a film that we’re betting will only become more and more popular as years go by. It easily stands as the best animated film Disney has released since The Lion King more than 20 years earlier.
BONUS: Flight of the Navigator (1986)
We’re betting some of you haven’t even heard of this sci-fi family film. However, we’re hoping that we can get you to check it out before the in-development remake gets off the ground. Joey Cramer stars as a young boy who accidentally travels eight years into the future when he goes missing. The film stands as one of the most egregious underrated gems in the Disney catalog.
- Pinocchio (1940)
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
- The Parent Trap (1961)
- Aladdin (1992)
- Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
- Frozen (2013)
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