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When you see the famous Disney castle logo appear on the screen accompanied by the whimsical strains of "When You Wish Upon a Star", it can conjure up some major childhood memories of the films you used to watch growing up. From princess movies to major fantasies to Pixar classics, Walt Disney Studios has been putting out some of the most memorable animated and live-action movies of all time since they started in 1929.
The massive company acquired Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm along the way, which put the MCU and Star Wars film under their enormous umbrella (even Mary Poppins would have a hard time fitting all these iconic characters in her bag). However, for our list, we're leaving those out and focusing on the movies that were released by Walt Disney Studios, which thankfully includes so many of our Pixar faves.
And narrowing down this list to just 40, when there with nearly a hundred years of films to choose from was practically impossible in every way. Some childhood faves had to be cut to make room for more recent adventures (Sorry, Peter Pan). And much as the Disney song "Colors of the Wind" is iconic, Pocahontas didn't quite make the cut. While most classics are worth a watch, we found the ones that have a bit of extra Disney magic, and they will have the whole family under their spell for some family-friendly binge viewing.
From princess movies and major fantasies to Pixar classics, Walt Disney Studios has released some of the most memorable animated and live-action movies of all time. And for many of us, when we see the famous Disney castle appear on our screen, accompanied by the familiar tune of "When You Wish Upon a Star," childhood memories come flooding back.
Now, when we set out to pick 40 of our favorite Disney movies, we knew it would be hard—but we didn't expect it to be this hard. Narrowing down this list, when there are nearly a hundred years of films to choose from, felt impossible in every way. (Even Mary Poppins would have a hard time fitting all the iconic Disney characters in her bag!) Setting aside the more recently acquired Marvel and Star Wars films (that list is for another day), even some childhood faves had to be cut to make room for more recent adventures (sorry, Peter Pan). And as iconic as "Colors of the Wind" is, Pocahontas didn't quite make the cut. (But we'll give her honorary mention here!)
While most classics are worth a watch (you'll find so many on Disney+), we picked ones that we feel sprinkle a little extra Disney magic—and they'll have the whole family under their spell from the moment you press play.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Heigh-Ho! This first full-length Disney film kicked off the long-running princess legacy. Snow White is nearly killed by her jealous wicked stepmother, but she finds the charming personality-filled seven dwarfs and dreams of a day when her prince will come.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Duuuudeeeee...this undersea adventure is totally a sweet ride. It follows Marlin and the forgetful Dory as they attempt to rescue Marlin's son, Nemo, from aquarium life and the terrifying Darla. The lifelike water visuals will captivate you—and if you're fluent in whale, you'll also want to add the sequel, Finding Dory, to your must-watch list.
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
This tale as old as time finds Belle going to rescue her father from an enchanted castle owned by a beast and under a spell that can only be broken by true love. The pompous Gaston and the entertaining antics of Lumiere and Cogsworth make this much more well-rounded than many other classic princess films.
If you haven't seen this one yet, what can we say except...you're welcome? Moana is a determined princess who leaves the confines of her island to save her people and meets a Demigod with an inflated ego—voiced by none other than Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson–along the way.
The Parent Trap (1998)
Disney has released two versions of this film—and in a rare turn of events, the remake is slightly better than the original (thanks to the charm of Lindsay Lohan in her dual role). Lohan plays twins that were separated after their parents divorced. After one went to live in London with their mother and the other in California with their father, they are reunited by chance at summer camp and scheme to bring their parents back together.
Have some tissues on hand for this Pixar gem that follows Miguel as he travels into the Land of the Dead to find his long-lost grandfather. The vivid visuals and the tear-jerking song "Remember Me" make this an unforgettable watch.
If you've got kids who feel the need for speed, this hot-wheeling film follows race car Lightning McQueen as he ends up in the small town of Radiator Springs, making friends with the locals and learning about life. Ka-Chow!
Lilo & Stitch (2002)
This Hawaiian roller coaster ride follows alien experiment 626 (a.k.a. Stitch) as he crash lands on Earth, gets adopted by the plucky Lilo, and learns the meaning of Ohana. ("Ohana means family," of course.) There are a few sequels and an entire TV series if you want to keep riding this wave.
One of the most legendary princess movies features an iconic wicked stepmother (and some nasty stepsisters), talking mice, a fairy godmother, a pumpkin carriage, glass slippers, a makeover scene—and, of course, Prince Charming. The timeless tale has resonated for decades and shows no signs of stopping.
The Emperor's New Groove (2000)
This film might not have made a splash at the box office when it was released, but this is, hands down, one of the funniest Disney movies ever. You have to laugh when an emperor gets turned into a llama, and Eartha Kitt is perfection as the voice of the villainous Yzma. Make it a double feature with Kronk's New Groove to keep the giggles going.
Remember the Titans (2000)
You might not expect a serious biographical sports movie from the studio that released The Mighty Ducks, but this dramatic and important movie follows football coach Herman Boone (played by Denzel Washington) as he tries to integrate the T. C. Williams High School in 1971.
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Released under Disney's Touchstone Studios banner, this stop-motion fantasy is perfect fall viewing (though it might be a little spooky for really young kids). It tells the tale of Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king who longs to learn about holidays other than Halloween.
Disney has some seriously strong princesses, like Moana, Merida, and Rapunzel—but if you ask us, Mulan is the toughest of them all. She joins the army disguised as a man to keep her father from going to war and ends up becoming a powerful warrior. Plus, the movie gifted us with classic songs, like "Reflection" and "I'll Make a Man Out of You."
Toy Story 3 (2010)
We only had room for one Toy Story film on this list, and Toy Story 3 just really hit a new level, as the beloved toys are accidentally donated to a daycare when Andy goes off to college. Don't get us wrong, the first two Toy Story films are also excellent—the original truly put Pixar on the map and the second has the heartbreaking and Grammy-winning song "When She Loved Me."
There are so many beloved faves from the early days of Disney, like Dumbo, Peter Pan, Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and Lady in the Tramp—but we went with Pinocchio, which really stands the test of time. It tells the story of a puppet that wants to be a real boy, features the wise Jiminy Cricket, and gives us the song that is synonymous with Disney movies: "When You Wish Upon a Star."
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Turning Disney theme park rides into movies has had varying degrees of success, with the likes of the Haunted Mansion, Country Bears, and Jungle Cruise. However, the first Pirates of the Caribbean film launched an entire franchise, featuring Johnny Depp as the charismatic swashbuckler Jack Sparrow. The star-studded cast also includes Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, and Geoffrey Rush going to battle on the open seas.
This trash-compacting robot will steal your heart every time he whirrs out the name Eve in his mechanical voice. Set to clean up Earth after humans turned it into a wasteland, lonely Wall-E finds love with the mysterious Eve and ends up in space, trying to save the human race.
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
With special effects that were impressive for 1989, a quirky scientist accidentally shrinks his kids down to the size of a quarter. The kids then have to fight off oversized hazards as they work their way back to his lab. It's a comedy the kids will love, along with the sequels. And if they like those, check out other Disney comedies, like Flubber, George of the Jungle, and The Mighty Ducks.
Sleeping Beauty is a classic, but Angelina Jolie as the dark fairy Maleficent is a fine example of perfect casting, which makes this version a fave. This retelling of the classic tale, focusing on the "villain" seeking revenge against a former love, offers a whole new perspective on what exactly makes someone evil.
This visual symphony is a great way to introduce the entire family to classical music. Plus, the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment features one of Mickey Mouse's rare feature film appearances, as he attempts magic, brings mops to life, and creates general chaos.
The Muppets Take Manhattan came out before Disney acquired Henson Studios, but this 2011 attempt to revive the beloved Muppet characters on the big screen is also excellent. It features Kermit, Miss Piggy, and human performers—like Jason Segel and Amy Adams—trying to save the Muppet Theater from a dastardly developer. (This might be cheating, but you should also check out Muppets Most Wanted, Muppet Treasure Island...and, well, basically anything with Muppets in the title.)
The Princess Diaries (2001)
Mia Thermopolis is an ordinary high schooler (or so she thinks) who gets a quick makeover and sent to the European town of Genovia when her estranged father (a king!) passes away. There, she's given lessons by her grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi, on how to behave like the princess she just discovered she is. Bonus: The great news is that there's a sequel, because this film definitely leaves you wanting more Genovia.
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
When Wreck-It Ralph gets tired of being the video game villain, he decides to game hop when the arcade closes and befriends the adorable (and glitchy) Vanellope von Schweetz from the Sugar Rush racing game. The sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, is also charming and features an unforgettable scene with Vanellope hanging with the other Disney princesses.
The Disney Renaissance (the late '80s to the late '90s) was a landmark time for animated films, including Aladdin. This one makes the list mostly because it features the truly masterful vocal performance of Robin Williams as the genie. Not to mention amazing songs, like "A Whole New World" and "Friend Like Me."
If ever an actress were meant to be a Disney princess, it is Amy Adams. She plays Gisele, a cartoon princess who falls through a portal and lands in New York City. She's joined by a stellar cast, including Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Susan Sarandon, and a pre-Elsa Idina Menzel—and get ready to sing along to catchy original songs, like "Happy Working Song" and "That's How You Know." Pro tip: Do yourself a favor and skip the sequel.
We don't talk about Bruno, but we definitely talk about Encanto, the Oscar-winning film that follows the Madrigal family. All members have been blessed with special gifts, except for Mirabel, who desperately longs to fit in.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
With its Academy Award-winning score and song ("Under the Sea," of course), this classic kickstarted the Disney Renaissance for animated movies. It tells the story of mermaid Ariel who falls in love with a human and longs to live on land, so she sells her soul to a sea witch. It's too soon to judge if the new live-action movie will earn its own spot on this list, but we're certainly excited about it.
The Jungle Book (2016)
Most of Disney's attempts to make live-action versions of beloved animated classics fall a bit short, with a few exceptions, including this version of The Jungle Book. The cartoon version is a charming and beloved fave—but here, the life-like CGI animals are convincing, as they help human Mowgli find his way to civilization. Neel Sethi gives a terrific performance as the sole human among a cast of famous voices.
The Incredibles (2004)
Pixar is always pushing the boundaries of animation, along with storytelling that is as appealing to adults as it is to younger audiences, and that is on full display in this comic book movie. The story follows Mr. Incredible and his family of heroes as they band together to fight off their nemesis, Syndrome.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
It was a tough choice between this cult classic and Escape From Witch Mountain, but ultimately, the Sanderson sisters had us under their spell. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy comprise a trio of witches in Salem who use the life forces of children in order to maintain their youthful appearances.
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Hardworking Tiana has spent her life trying to achieve her dream of running her own restaurant, but after a frustrating turn of events, she finds herself wishing for a miracle. She meets a prince who needs her help, as he's been cursed and turned into a frog, and some wild things happen once she agrees to kiss him in frog form.
The Lion King (1994)
Inspired by Shakespeare's Hamlet, this beloved film follows young Simba from birth as he battles his uncle, Scar, for control of the Pride Lands. Prepare yourself to hear famous songs, like "Circle of Life," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," and "Hakuna Matata." If you've never seen it, no worries, now's your chance!
Mary Poppins (1964)
It's a jolly holiday when you sit and watch this film about a magical nanny who arrives by umbrella and captivates two young children with spoonfuls of sugar and nonsense words, like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Julie Andrews brings the title character to life, alongside the delightful Dick van Dyke—and despite being 70 years old, the blending of the real-life actors and the animated visuals is still pretty impressive to this day. This classic pairs well with others of the era, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
A kitchen with a rat in it is normally a bad thing, unless that rat is Remy. The tiniest master chef helps Alfredo Linguini by hiding in his hat and cooking up some delicious feasts...all without getting caught.
Inside Out (2015)
Head inside the mind of a tween girl whose life has just been uprooted after her family makes a major move. Each of her emotions are personified and led by Joy (voiced perfectly by Amy Poehler), as she struggles with sadness, loss of childhood memories, and anger.
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Mike Wazowski and Sully are the monsters that hide under your bed waiting to scare you (in order to power their monster world). But when a human child gets loose in their world, they realize that scaring might not be all it's cracked up to be. If you need more laughs, don't miss the follow-up, Monsters University.
No matter if you want to build a snowman or just let it go, this fantasy film not only features a Disney princess (Anna), but also a Disney queen (Elsa) and one of the best sidekicks around (Olaf). In it, the snow queen hides from her sister and duties to avoid letting the world know about her icy powers.
Some Disney princes tend to be a little one-dimensional, but that's not the case with Flynn Rider, who is funny and charismatic when he meets Rapunzel (and gets walloped by her trusty frying pan) in her tower. Together, they try and escape Mother Gothel to find Rapunzel's family.
We won't sugarcoat it: The first 10 minutes of this movie are absolutely heartbreaking. Once you dry your tears, you'll love the curmudgeonly Carl as he reluctantly befriends the eager Russell to form an unlikely friendship. Together, they adventure to Paradise Falls in a house powered by balloons.
Big Hero 6 (2014)
If you're looking for a little more action in your animated movies, Big Hero 6 has plenty and feels like a Marvel movie in cartoon form. After the death of his inventor brother, Hiro has to stop the microbot creations from falling into the wrong hands, with the help of marshmallow-like robot Baymax.
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