For decades, Disney has successfully drawn upon the sub-genre of “princess” movies in its drive towards box office glory and critical acclaim, going all the way back to 1937 when Snow White became the first Disney Princess as the main character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But when looking at Disney’s line of princesses, you might also notice a disproportionate amount of the characters have come from the past two decades. That’s because during that time, Disney has managed to find continued success in the niche-genre that is all the more clear from the smash success of Frozen — a film that is still going strong in theaters. Here’s a look at how the past eight Disney princess films have fared over the past two decades and why Disney isn’t likely to move away from the niche anytime soon.
8. The Princess and the Frog (2009) — $104.4 Million
Released in 2009, The Princess and the Frog made headlines for being the first animated Disney film to feature an African-American princess. Loosely based on E. D. Baker’s The Frog Princess, which is in turn based on on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale The Frog Prince, the Disney animated film takes place in 1920s New Orleans, Louisiana and tells the story of hardworking waitress Tiana who is turned into a frog and sets off on a journey to find the voodoo priestess that can make everything right.
The Princess and the Frog would go on to earn $104.4 million at the domestic box office along with $162.6 million overseas for a worldwide total of $267 million. The film is considered a turning point for Disney’s animated division, which returned to making animated musical films based on well-known stories often rooted in fairy tales. The film would later be nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Animated Feature Film, but missed out on all three.
7. The Little Mermaid (1989) — $111.5 Million
The release of The Little Mermaid in 1989 is often pointed to as the starting point of what is called the Disney Renaissance — the period between 1989 and 1999 in which Disney regained its stature as a successful animation studio with films based on well-known stories. Based on the Danish fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen, The Little Mermaid tells the story of a beautiful mermaid who dreams of being human.
The original theatrical run for The Little Mermaid would go on to gross $84.3 million, but re-releases would eventually push that number up to $111.5 million. With an overseas gross of $99.8 million, the final tally on The Little Mermaid’s worldwide gross is $211.3 million. Both a financial success as well as a hit with critics, the film earned three Academy Award nominations and won two for Best Original Song and Best Original Score. For Disney’s animated division, the Academy Award nominations marked the first nominations for a Disney animated film since 1977′s The Rescuers.
6. Mulan (1998) — $120.6 Million
One of the last films of the Disney Renaissance, Mulan arrived in 1998 and is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. Set in China during the Han Dynasty, the film tells the story of Fa Mulan, the only daughter of a older warrior Fa Zhou, who impersonates a man in order to take her father’s place in the defense against the fictional Hun invasion by Shan Yu.
Mulan would go on to earn $120.6 million at the domestic box office and was a strong performer overseas where it earned $183.7 million. Altogether, the film grossed $304.3 million worldwide and continued Disney’s strong run with critics, eventually being nominated for Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score.
5. Pocahontas (1995) — $141.6 Million
Released in 1995, Pocahontas was the first animated Disney film to be based on real historical figures and actual historical events. Using folklore and legends surrounding the Native American woman Pocahontas, the animated film revolves around a fictionalized account of her encounter with John Smith and the settlers from the Virginia Company.
Upon release, Pocahontas was the source of notable controversy related to its depiction of Native Americans, gender stereotypes, and historical inaccuracies, but the bad press didn’t affect box office performance, which reached $141.6 million domestic. Together with the $204.5 million the film earned overseas, Pocahontas would become one of Disney’s biggest animated hits with a worldwide total of $346 million. The relatively poor critical reception would also prove to not have an effect on Academy voters who awarded the film with two Academy Awards: Best Original Song and Best Original Music Score.
4. Tangled (2010) — $200.8 Million
Along with The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s 2010 computer-animated film Tangled is considered another strong entry in the studio’s newest animation renaissance. Based on the German fairy tale Rapunzel from the Brothers Grimm, Tangled tells the story of a lost princess with magical hair who escapes her secluded tower with the help of a stranger.
Tangled would go on to become one of Disney’s biggest animated hits of all time with a $200.8 million domestic gross and a $390.9 million overseas gross for a worldwide total of $591.7 million. But considering the sizable budget for the film, it wasn’t nearly as profitable as it could have been had spending been reigned in. That’s because the film’s budget of $260 million, which snowballed out of control due to a six-year production and cutting edge animating technology, makes Tangled the most expensive animated film ever made and the second most expensive film of all time period. But with strong reviews and an Academy Award for Best Original Song, a potential disaster was averted once the film was finally released.
3. Beauty and the Beast (1991) — $219 Million
If The Little Mermaid was the film that kicked off the Disney Renaissance, it was Beauty and the Beast that established Disney as force to be reckoned with once again. Based on the French fairy tale of the same name by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, Beauty and the Beast tells the story of the relationship between a the beautiful young woman Belle and the Beast — a prince transformed into a monstrous beast as punishment for his selfishness.
Beauty and the Beast would go on to earn $145.8 million domestic in its original theatrical run before re-releases pushed the domestic total up to $219 million — numbers equal to about $274.1 million and $355.6 million when adjusted for inflation. With an additional $206 million earned overseas, Beauty and the Beast’s worldwide total stands at $424.9 million. With a glowing critical reception that compared the film favorably to some of the greatest films in Disney’s history, Beauty and the Beast would be nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture — the first time an animated film had ever been nominated for the award and the only time an animated film was nominated before the category was opened up to ten films. The film would ultimately go home with the Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Song for “Beauty and the Beast.”
2. Brave (2012) — $237.3 Million
Brave was released in 2012 and is the only film on this list to not be produced through Walt Disney Animation Studios, instead being produced through Pixar Animation Studios. Because the film was produced through Pixar, Brave is also the only film on this list whose story is not borrowed from a well-known legend or story. Conceived by writer-director Brenda Chapman, Brave takes place in the Scottish Highlands and tells the story of a princess who defies the age-old custom of being betrothed, inadvertently throwing the entire kingdom into chaos.
In what’s become typical of Pixar films, Brave was a strong hit at the box office with $237.3 million earned domestically and $301.7 million earned overseas for a worldwide total of $539 million. While the film earned a strong reception from critics, many critics noted that the film didn’t necessarily rank among its recent critical hits. Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, writing that, “The good news is that the kids will probably love it, and the bad news is that parents will be disappointed if they’re hoping for another Pixar groundbreaker. Unlike such brightly original films as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Up, this one finds Pixar poaching on traditional territory of Disney.” However, the film would later go on to win the Best Animated Feature Film of the Year at the Academy Awards.
1. Frozen (2013) — $318 Million
It says something about the enormous success of Disney’s Frozen that it’s already the most financially successful Disney princess film of all time and is only slightly behind Finding Nemo as the most successful animated film in the studio’s history — a record that seems destined to be broken considering Frozen is still going strong at the box office. Loosely based on the fairy tale The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen tells the story of a princess who sets off on a journey to find her estranged sister who has put the entire kingdom in eternal winter with her ice powers.
As of January 13, Frozen has earned $318 million at the domestic box office and $394.6 million overseas for a worldwide take of $712.6 million. But with Frozen managing to take second place at the weekend box office last weekend with $14.7 million after eight weekends in theaters, the film is showing no signs of slowing down. With glowing reviews from critics who have compared Frozen to some of the greatest films in Disney’s history, the film appears poised to garner the kind of nominations that haven’t been seen since Beauty and the Beast.
With a win for Best Animated Feature at the Golden Globes under its belt, Frozen is pretty much a lock for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. But the question is whether Frozen will also be nominated for Best Picture making it the fourth animated film in history to be nominated in the overall category following in the footsteps of Beauty and Beast (1991), Up (2009), and Toy Story 3 (2010).