At this point, no one can deny the influence Disney has had in the entertainment industry and in the lives of millions of people all over the world. Throughout a century of operations, the company has been treating audiences to stories of all kinds, cementing its position as one of the powerhouses of film and television. Since the premiere of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs back in 1937, Disney has not ceased to produce memorable animated and live-action films that grew into childhood animated classics for many, earning an impressive number of accolades.
Although Disney is primarily known for its iconic animated films, in recent years, the company has worked extensively on producing live-action remakes of its classic movies, to the point of becoming a bit dependent on them. And while one can’t deny that some of these remakes are pretty good, audiences often crave stories that are new and unique. Indeed, here are 20 live-action Disney movies that aren’t remakes.
20 The Haunted Mansion (2003)
2003 marked the release of The Haunted Mansion, a horror comedy by Rob Minkoff inspired by Disney’s theme park attraction of the same name. It stars Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers, a workaholic realtor who, on his way to a family vacation, stops at a mansion he wants to sell and ends up trapped with his family within the haunted walls of the property. While the film did not get favorable reviews from critics, it managed to become a well-loved production by audiences, which prompted the release of a reboot two decades later.
The Right Mix of Thrills and Frights
The Haunted Mansion is the ultimate movie for families who enjoy funny yet slightly terrifying stories. Its tone is appropriate for all ages, and it features a story that is sure to keep any fan entertained from start to finish with hilarious performances from the cast. Stream on Disney+
19 The Princess Diaries (2001)
Anne Hathaway has worked in many, many films throughout her career. But many fans still remember her as Mia Thermopolis, the young American girl who, out of the blue, discovers she is heir to the throne of a kingdom she didn’t even know existed. 2001’s The Princess Diaries was directed by Garry Marshall, based on Meg Cabot’s novel of the same name, and besides becoming Hathaway’s first feature film, it also starred Julie Andrews, Héctor Elizondo, and Heather Matarazzo.
Launching Anne Hathaway to Stardom
The Princess Diaries is a film that, while proving predictable, certainly entertains audiences with a coming-of-age story that is both funny and heartwarming, which is why it became such a box-office hit so many years ago. It also served to launch Hathaway to stardom and reunite Andrews with Disney after she starred in the iconic 1864 film Mary Poppins. Stream on Disney+
18 Hocus Pocus (1993)
Back in the day, no one would have expected the 1993 film Hocus Pocus to become a worldwide hit. Still, the wicked and rather clumsy Sanderson sisters gradually established themselves among the audience’s favorite characters, which prompted the release of a sequel, Hocus Pocus 2, nearly 30 years later. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy star in this Kenny Ortega cult classic that, over the years, has become an all-time Halloween staple. They play witches who are accidentally resurrected by a teenager, who must find a way to stop them before the sacrifice the town’s children in order to stay young.
A Cult Classic That Came a Long, Long Way
Hocus Pocus is beloved by audiences mainly because it evokes nostalgia for childhood and Halloween celebrations. While its story is not tremendously groundbreaking, it is humorous enough to entertain kids and grown-ups alike, and thrives on the tremendous work of Midler, Parker and Najimy as its trio of witches. Stream on Disney+
17 Into the Woods (2014)
If a movie features stars like Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt in its cast, it’s bound to become a hit. That’s what happened with Into the Woods, Rob Marshall’s 2014 musical film based on Stephen Sondheim’s stage musical of the same name. This movie, following a childless couple on their quest to reverse a witch’s curse, draws inspiration from several popular fairy tale characters, like Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella, and also features James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, and Johnny Depp.
A Brilliant Adaptation of a Stage Musical
Naturally, the most acclaimed feature of Into the Woods is its wonderfully talented cast, more precisely, the performances of Streep and Blunt. But the movie also managed to adapt the musical to the silver screen very faithfully, with stunning production design and masterful skills in switching seamlessly from comedy to drama. Stream on Disney+
16 Sky High (2005)
- Release Date
- July 29, 2005
- Mike Mitchell
Sky High is a 2005 superhero comedy film directed by Mike Mitchell, and stars Michael Angarano, Kelly Preston, and Kurt Russell, among other actors. It follows Will, son of two of Maxville’s most acclaimed superheroes, who enrolls in a special school for teenage heroes, albeit with a problem: his powers have not yet developed. The film performed decently at the box office and, over the years, became one of Disney’s greatest cult classics.
A Fresh Twist on the Superhero Genre
Any fan of superhero movies will undoubtedly love Sky High, not only because it revolves around heroes and villains, but also for its unique concept and fresh approach compared to other films in the genre. Plus, it’s a movie packed with diverse characters that will appeal to audiences of all ages. Stream on Disney+
15 Holes (2003)
- Release Date
- April 18, 2003
2003 marked the premiere of Holes, an adventure comedy-drama directed by Andrew Davis that landed Shia LaBeouf one of his first major roles in the industry. In this movie, also featuring Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight and Tim Blake Nelson, Labeouf plays Stanley Yelnats, a young boy from a family under an ancient curse, who ends up in a juvenile labor camp for a crime he did not commit. Once there, the boy is sentenced to dig holes with his new comrades, a seemingly futile task that eventually leads to a great treasure.
A Faithful Adaptation Driven by Great Performances
Holes is inspired by Louis Sachar’s 1998 novel, and upon its release, it earned rave reviews and established itself as a box-office hit. Much of its success stems from its accurate adaptation, with Sachar serving as screenwriter, as well as the performances of the cast, who brought the characters to life showing an undeniable on-screen chemistry. Stream on Disney+
14 The BFG (2016)
Among the best film adaptations of Roald Dahl’s work in recent years is The BFG, a 2016 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. It follows Sophie, an orphaned girl who embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, helping a friendly giant defeat not-so-friendly creatures that threaten to invade the human world.
The Adventure of a Lifetime
Even though it did not perform very well at the box office, The BFG earned high critical acclaim upon its release for a number of reasons. Among the major ones, we can mention its impressive visual effects, its ability to portray the magical world of the original work almost to perfection, and Spielberg’s superb direction. Stream on Disney+
13 Miracle (2004)
- Release Date
- February 6, 2004
2004 marked the release of Miracle, a sports movie inspired by true events that recreates the tale of the American ice hockey team that won the gold medal at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Kurt Russell leads the cast of this Gavin O’Connor production as coach Herb Brooks, joined by Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, and Sean McCann, among other actors. Miracle performed very well at the box office and earned rave reviews from critics.
A Moving Story Anchored by Kurt Russell’s Performance
The uplifting story featured in Miracle touched the hearts of many people in the audience. Among the most acclaimed features of this production is its thrilling and faithful portrayal of ice hockey, as well as Russell’s performance, which was praised by critics and audiences alike. Stream on Disney+
12 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Walt Disney himself produced 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the 1954 film that brought Jules Verne’s popular story to the silver screen for the second time in history. This movie, following Professor Aronnax and his assistant Conseil on their journey across the ocean after being kidnapped by Captain Nemo, was directed by Richard Fleischer and, in addition to becoming a box-office hit, it won two Academy Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Special Effects.
A Major Pioneer of the Steampunk Genre
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is credited as one of the pioneers of the steampunk genre in cinema, which already positions it among Disney’s most important movies ever. But, apart from that, this 1950s film is worth watching for its avant-garde special effects, its impeccable setting, and for accurately adapting Verne’s story to film, making a few changes without sacrificing the essence of the original work. Stream on Disney+
11 Saving Mr. Banks (2013)
Mary Poppins is one of Disney’s most iconic films, and Saving Mr. Banks hit theaters in 2013 to enlighten audiences on how Walt Disney came to own the rights to this P. L. Travers story. This biographical drama film, set in the 1960s, was directed by John Lee Hancock and starred Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks in the roles of Travers and Disney, respectively. In addition to becoming a box-office hit, the film received nominations and awards of all kinds.
Behind the Scenes of One of Disney’s Greatest Classics
Saving Mr. Banks is an excellent piece for any Disney fan, as it allows us to witness a lesser-known story related to one of Disney’s most iconic movies. The film’s great success stems primarily from its outstanding setting, its balanced tone and, of course, its stars’ terrific performances. Stream on Disney+
10 The Rookie (2002)
2002 marked the premiere of The Rookie, another one of Disney’s top sports dramas inspired by true events. This John Lee Hancock film stars Dennis Quaid as Jim Morris, a baseball coach who enters Major League Baseball at the age of 35, proving that it is never too late to fulfill a dream. Joining Quaid in the cast are Rachel Griffiths, Jay Hernandez, and Brian Cox.
Highlighting the Importance of Persevering and Believing in Oneself
Like Miracle, The Rookie has inspired many people around the world by reflecting on perseverance and life’s second chances. Its emotional story, family-friendly tone, and the cast’s performances, particularly Quaid’s, have earned it high praise and the appreciation of audiences around the world. Stream on Disney+
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl made its way to theaters in 2003, kicking off a popular adventure franchise while landing Johnny Depp one of his most iconic roles. This Gore Verbinski film is based on Disney’s theme park ride of the same name, and follows Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp) and blacksmith’s apprentice Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) on their mission to rescue the governor of Port Royal’s daughter, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), from the clutches of Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) and his crew, who are out to put an end to an age-old curse.
An Instantly Iconic Movie Character
This film is a must-watch mainly for one reason: Johnny Depp. The actor excels immensely in a role that seems to have been created just for him, earning not only the affection of the audience, but also critical acclaim. Furthermore, the movie is perfect for those who enjoy thrilling adventures, and it features fights and action scenes executed to perfection. Stream on Disney+
8 Old Yeller (1957)
- Release Date
- December 25, 1957
- Robert Stevenson
- Dorothy McGuire , Fess Parker , Jeff York , Chuck Connors , Beverly Washburn , Tommy Kirk
Old Yeller is a 1957 film based on Fred Gipson’s novel, published only a year prior. It is directed by Robert Stevenson and follows the adventures of a boy and a stray dog in late-1860s Texas. Tommy Kirk and dog actor Spike lead the cast, joined by Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, and Kevin Corcoran.
A Classic That Had Everyone in Tears
Old Yeller worked its way into the hearts of audiences by featuring, arguably, one of the saddest scenes in cinema. It was lauded for the performance of the cast, especially its younger actors, and for its themes of loyalty and bravery that turned it into a timeless classic. Stream on Disney+
7 Flight of the Navigator (1986)
1986 marked the premiere of Flight of the Navigator, an adventure film that, over the years, earned cult classic status. This Randal Kleiser production features Joey Cramer as David, a Florida boy who comes home after disappearing for eight years following an accident in the woods. But there’s a twist: David doesn’t seem to have aged at all, and an alien spacecraft found in his area may prove to be the key to solving the mystery.
A Must-Watch That Paved the Way for CGI
Flight of the Navigator is a piece of the sci-fi genre that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, featuring an original story that thrives on the performance of its lead actor and the rest of the cast. But perhaps the most interesting thing about this production is that it was one of the first feature films to use CGI, becoming a pioneer in the industry. Stream on Disney+
6 Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
Bridge to Terabithia is a 2007 film by Gábor Csupó that brought Katherine Paterson’s 1977 story to the silver screen. Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb star as Jesse and Leslie, two teenage friends who create an imaginary world brimming with fantastical creatures to cope with their real-life challenges.
Sweeping Audiences Into a Fantastical World
This 2007 production not only became a box-office hit, but also earned rave reviews and almost all of the awards for which it was nominated. Part of its success stemmed from its impressive visual effects (which swept the audience into a world of fantasy), the performances of its young stars, and the thoughtfulness with which they adapted Paterson’s novel for the silver screen. Stream on Disney+
5 The Parent Trap (1961)
1998’s The Parent Trap is one of Disney’s most iconic films, and the one that brought Lindsay Lohan to stardom when she was just a child. But what many people don’t know is that this production is actually a remake of David Swift’s 1961 movie. In it, Hayley Mills plays twins Sharon and Susan, two girls separated at birth who, upon reuniting at summer camp, plot to bring their divorced parents back together.
Great Performances in a Family-Friendly Production
Like Lohan did back in 1998, Hayley Mills was highly praised following the premiere of The Parent Trap for her ability to play two totally different characters to perfection. Moreover, the film was acclaimed for its funny premise that managed to entertain both children and adults, becoming a company classic. Stream on Disney+
4 Freaky Friday (1976)
Similarly to The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday is another story that may have been popularized by Lindsay Lohan in 2003, but wasn’t the first adaptation of Mary Rodgers’ 1972 novel. That honor goes to the 1976 eponymous adaptation, directed by Gary Nelson and starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster. They play Ellen and Annabel Andrews, respectively, a mother and a daughter who couldn’t be any more different from each other, but are forced to cooperate when a wish on Friday the 13th leads them to switch bodies. Reversing the switch is both blunt and tricky: they have to understand one another.
Great On-Screen Chemistry and Powerful Themes
Freaky Friday became an absolute box office hit with rave reviews. Among the most praised elements of the film stand out the performances of its stars, who exhibited an undeniable chemistry performing as both mother and daughter. Also, the film managed to win over audiences for its familiar tone and its exploration of mother-daughter relationships, emphasizing on empathy and understanding differences. Stream on Disney+
3 The Muppets (2011)
After several years without starring in feature films, The Muppets hit the silver screen again in 2011, directed by James Bobin and accompanied by Jason Segel and Amy Adams. This seventh film in the franchise follows Walter, a Muppets fan who, along with his human brother and the latter’s girlfriend, sets out on a mission to help Kermit the Frog and the rest of the gang stage a show to save their beloved theater from an evil businessman looking to demolish it.
Reinventing a Beloved Franchise
The main achievement of The Muppets was bringing these lovable characters to a new and younger audience that didn’t know them too well, while still retaining their signature essence that made them so well-loved over time. The movie is perfect for families to enjoy, plus it features catchy songs and cameos from industry stars that make it even more entertaining. Stream on Disney+
2 Enchanted (2007)
Technically, the 2007 movie Enchanted has a few animated scenes. Still, it is one of the best live-action films in the studio’s history, one that also parodies and pays homage to its own classic Disney princess films. This Kevin Lima production features Amy Adams as Giselle, a princess cast out of her kingdom, who winds up stranded in the crowded streets of New York City, a totally bewildering world in which she is bound to experience the romance of a lifetime.
A Hilarious Homage with Catchy Tunes
Enchanted makes fun of itself while drawing on the most familiar clichés of classic Disney stories, which contributed greatly to its success with critics and audiences. Its combination of live-action and animated sequences made it tremendously appealing to people of all ages, as did its soundtrack and Adams’ work as lead actress. Stream on Disney+
1 Mary Poppins (1964)
- Release Date
- August 27, 1964
- Robert Stevenson
Closing this list is 1964’s Mary Poppins, which is not only one of Disney’s best live-action films, but one of its most iconic classics ever made. In this legendary film by Robert Stevenson, based on Travers’ work, Julie Andrews plays Mary Poppins, the world-famous magical nanny who shows up at the home of Jane and Michael Banks to change their lives forever. Besides becoming many people’s favorite film, Mary Poppins garnered an enormous number of awards and continues to inspire filmmakers around the world to this day.
Everyone’s Favorite Magical Nanny
Mary Poppins is a classic among classics that still maintains its status today, and much of this stems from Andrews’ performance in a role that not only became one of her most acclaimed, but also landed her, her feature film debut. But that’s not all: the Disney movie was lauded by audiences and critics alike for its inspirational themes and catchy musical score, which many still remember to this day. Stream on Disney+