On the one hand, it’s easy to see Disney’s upcoming Disney+ streaming service as one more example of a greedy corporation contributing to the further balkanization of entertainment and the ever-increasing number of streaming services out there. Or you might find it troubling that one company now owns and controls so many beloved franchises and titles. (And that’s to say nothing of Disney’s sequestering classic Fox movies away in their vault, thus preventing theaters from screening them and removing potential box office competitors to Disney titles.)
On the other hand, have you seen the list of Disney+ launch titles?! Star Wars! Marvel! Pixar! Classic Disney movies and TV series! The Simpsons! There’s even more to come in the following months and years (and they won’t be going away). Indeed, so much is coming on day one alone that you might not know where to start — or even what some of the titles are. So here’s a handy guide to some of the best and most noteworthy titles that’ll be available on Disney+ when it launches on November 12 (in the United States, anyway).
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
This adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel stars Kirk Douglas as a harpooner hired to kill a sea monster that’s been attacking ships in the Pacific. The monster turns out to be an advanced submarine commanded by the brilliant Captain Nemo (James Mason). The movie’s award-winning special effects — especially during the battle with a giant squid — still hold up pretty well, six decades later, and the Technicolor cinematography is still stunning.
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
If I had to pick my favorite classic Disney animated film, I’d have to go with Sleeping Beauty. During production, Walt Disney insisted that the animation be as lifelike as possible, which increased the scale, complexity, and cost of the film’s production. Though Sleeping Beauty’s status has grown in recent years, it received a mixed reaction upon its release, leading to Disney having to lay off numerous animators.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
The Robinson family are traveling to the island of Guinea when their ship is blown off course during a storm, causing them to land on a deserted island. But thanks to their faith, ingenuity, and inventiveness, they begin a new life on the island. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to live in a treehouse like the Robinsons’. That, and fight off pirates with coconut grenades.
Robin Hood (1973)
Another one of my favorite Disney movies as a kid, Robin Hood retells the story of Sherwood Forest’s most famous citizen, only with animals. It’s been criticized for swiping some of its animation from 1967’s The Jungle Book, and the juxtaposition of Southern music and accents and the Merry Olde England setting doesn’t always work, but Robin Hood is still fun to watch with the kids.
The Apple Dumpling Gang (1975)
You can watch The Apple Dumpling Gang for the heartwarming story of a gambler who finds himself warming up to a couple of orphans and changing his wayward ways in order to provide them with a family. Or you can watch it for comedic exploits of Don Knotts and Tim Conway, a couple of bumblers who try — and consistently fail — to be dangerous outlaws.
The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Jake may look like an ordinary cat, but he’s actually Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4 – 7, a super-intelligent alien whose ship has crashed on Earth. He only has a few days to fix the ship, and so he enlists a disgraced scientist to help him make the repairs. The film stars Ken Berry, Sandy Duncan, Harry Morgan, Roddy McDowall, and McLean Stevenson.
The Black Hole (1979)
When a group of astronauts discover a ship orbiting a black hole, they think they’ve made an amazing discovery, only to discover that their lives are in danger from a madman (and his malevolent robot). Disney’s first PG film (due to language and violence), The Black Hole can be strange and portentous at times (e.g., the bizarre, hellish final sequence). But it also boasts a sense of scale and atmosphere unlike any other Disney film.
Back in the early ‘80s, computers weren’t nearly as widespread as they are now, and so they often seemed magical — something that Disney clearly banked on when they produced Tron, which imagined an entire world inside your computer. When a rebellious programmer is sucked into that computer world, he finds himself fighting, not just for his life, but for the freedom of all programs enslaved by the evil Master Control Program.
Flight of the Navigator (1986)
I’ve written much about my love for Flight of the Navigator elsewhere; suffice to say, I’ve probably watched this movie more than any other Disney movie. Its first half is particularly effective and suspenseful, as the young David Freeman tries to figure out how he’s woken up eight years in the future without having aged a day — and why the government wants him so badly for their experiments.
When Disney+ was first announced, I joked that I’d only sign up if the original DuckTales series was one of its offerings. Well the joke’s on me, so I’ve got to put my money where my mouth is. Not that I mind, because DuckTales still holds up after all these years, from its ultra-catchy theme to its fun, globe-trotting adventures featuring Scrooge McDuck and his wily nephews. (Note: I believe the first season of the recent DuckTales reboot will also begin streaming at launch.)
The Simpsons (1989)
What can be said about The Simpsons that hasn’t been said already? It’s a cultural icon, the longest-running sitcom in American television history. I’m particularly excited to revisit some of the classic episodes, like “Homer at the Bat,” “Marge vs. The Monorail,” and “Itchy and Scratchy Land.”
The Rocketeer (1991)
In this throwback to ‘50s action movies and serials, a young pilot finds himself in possession of an experimental rocketpack that was stolen from the U.S. government by Nazis. The Rocketeer was overlooked by audiences at its release, which is a shame, because it’s a fun action/adventure movie in its own right. The movie stars Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin, and Timothy Dalton, and director Joe Johnston would later direct Captain America: The First Avenger, which taps into some of the same nostalgia as The Rocketeer does.
This updated retelling of the classic Arabian Nights tale contains what might be the most inspired casting in all of Disney history, that of the legendary Robin Williams as the wise-cracking genie of the lamp. Williams’ manic personality and sense of humor elevates the film — which certainly has plenty of other strengths, like the musical numbers and animation — to a whole ‘nother level.
X-Men: The Animated Series (1992)
I watched this show all the time when it premiered on Fox back in the ‘90s. It felt so much more mature than most of the animated fare I watched on Saturday mornings. Not only was the artwork and animation style more intense, but the series — as is the X-Men’s wont — explored weighty themes like hatred, bigotry, and even, thanks to the character of Nightcrawler, religion and faith.
Over the years, Gargoyles has attracted a cult following thanks to its complex storylines and mythology centered on a group of magical gargoyles from medieval Scotland who reawaken in modern-day New York and become the city’s protectors. It probably didn’t hurt that the series featured the voice talents of numerous Star Trek alum, including Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, Nichelle Nichols, Marina Sirtis, and Brent Spiner.
Silver Surfer (1998)
As I’ve written elsewhere, the Silver Surfer is my favorite superhero, so as a kid, I was thrilled that he finally got his own series. With a style influenced by the great Jack Kirby (who helped create the Surfer with Stan Lee), the series delved fully into Marvel’s cosmic side, with appearances by Uatu the Watcher, Ego the Living Planet, Adam Warlock, and Thanos as the series’ primary baddie.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Before he was the Joker, Heath Ledger was Patrick Verona, a mysterious bad boy hired to win the heart of Julia Stiles’ Katarina in this modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. While it could’ve been little more than a ‘90s high school rom-com, 10 Things I Hate About You shines thanks to a smart script and a wonderful cast that includes Ledger, Stiles, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, and Larry Miller as the Stratford sister’s over-protective father.
The Incredibles (2004)
My favorite Pixar movie, The Incredibles finds a superhero family navigating their greatest challenge yet: trying to live normal, mundane lives after superheroics have been outlawed by the government. Though you can enjoy it as a fun action/adventure film packed with Mid-century modern style, The Incredibles also contains poignant — and pointed — observations concerning parenting, family, and American corporate culture.
In the hands of a lesser director, a movie about a young boy whose visions of Catholic saints help him figure out what to do with a bag of stolen money could’ve easily become mawkish and precocious. But in the hands of a master like Danny Boyle — yes, the same Danny Boyle who directed Shallow Grave and Trainspotting — Millions is a truly heartwarming and inspirational tale of child-like faith.
Phineas and Ferb (2007)
“I know what we’re going to do today!” With those simple words, Phineas and his brother Ferb opened an infinity of possibilities for their summer vacation, building crazy inventions in their backyard, going on adventures across time and space, and thoroughly exasperating their older sister, Candace. And that’s to say nothing of the adventures of their pet secret agent platypus or the series’ many delightful songs (e.g., “You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart,” “Candace Party”).
Iron Man (2008)
This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe began, with Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr.‘s take on the ol’ Shellhead. Downey, with his blend of irreverent smart-ass humor and pathos, revealed that he was more than capable of sustaining not just a superhero franchise, but an entire cinematic world. The movie’s blend of thrilling action, top-notch special effects, and humor helped set the template for the MCU in the years to come.
TRON: Uprising (2012)
Set between the events of the first Tron movie and Tron: Legacy, the animated Tron: Uprising series follows a young rebellious program who takes on the mantle of Tron to overthrow the oppressive régime that currently rules the Grid. The series is noted for its highly stylized designs and animation, somber tone, and voice cast, which includes Elijah Wood, Lance Henriksen, Mandy Moore, and Bruce Boxleitner.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
Based on the Marvel comic book, Big Hero 6 is set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. Young Hiro Hamada is a genius robotics inventor who spends his time in illegal robot rights. But when his older brother is killed in a lab accident, and his latest invention is stolen, Hiro joins forces with his brother’s robot to solve the mystery. Big Hero 6 was 2014’s highest-grossing animated film, which isn’t a surprise given the film’s colorful artwork, delightful characters, and heartfelt storyline.
Inside Out (2015)
One of Pixar’s best and most moving films, Inside Out takes us inside a young girl’s head to see how her emotions — as voiced by the likes of Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and Lewis Black — handle major life changes, including moving to a new city, and growing family stress. Directed with a sure hand by Pete Docter, Inside Out is by turns hilarious and heart-breaking, and far wiser and more deeply human than you might think.
The Mandalorian (2019)
Pedro Pascal stars as the titular bounty hunter in the first Star Wars television series, which is being billed as a “space western.” It’s set between the events of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and follows the bounty hunter as he travels the outer reaches of the galaxy in search of his quarry. The series also stars Nick Nolte, Giancarlo Esposito, Carl Weathers, Gina Carano, Taika Waititi, and Werner Herzog.
Given the embarrassment of riches represented in the above list, it’s a bit silly to whine about what’s missing. Still, there are some curious omissions, including Tarzan (1999), National Treasure (2004), Sky High (2005), Up (2009) and most of all, the tragically overlooked Condorman (1981). And then there’s Disney’s various anthology titles, like The B.R.A.T. Patrol (1986), The Last Electric Knight (1986), and Exile (1990).
But Disney has made it clear that they plan to continually add new titles to the service, so it may only be a matter of time before they start streaming the adventures of Condorman and Laser Lady.
Read more about Disney+.
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I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.