A new contender in the great battle of the streamers has officially arrived. We’ll find out soon enough whether Disney Plus can go toe-to-toe with Netflix and actually survive the fight, but it sure is coming out strong. The doors to the Disney vault have been thrown open, with the service offering a potent mix of nostalgic throwbacks and recent hits. Whether you’re a parent desperate just to plop your kid in front of something bright and colourful so you can finally get a little peace or you’re a disenchanted millennial looking for a brief sojourn from the unrelenting brutality that is modern life – Disney Plus has got you covered. You can get your fill of The Parent Trap and Iron Man, all in one hit.
In fact, there’s so much content – including Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars – that it might feel a little overwhelming at first. Luckily, we’re here to guide the way, with our picks for the best movies on Disney Plus. Of course, the service will also be offering brand new (and exclusive) programming, like the new live-action Lady and the Tramp. But it’s far too early to tell which ones will be worth your time, so we’re just sticking to the service’s existing films. Without further ado, here are the best movies on Disney Plus streaming right now.
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30. Sister Act (1992)
The film: Lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier is present for a mob hit and ends up in the witness protection program. The last place her enemies would think to look? Saint Katherine’s Parish, a San Francisco convent, where she volunteers as its choir director. At first, Deloris clashes with the Reverend Mother, who disapproves of her throwing out traditional hymns in favour of gospel and rock stylings. Of course, by the time things wrap up, the two have developed a mutual respect.
Why it’s worth a watch: This is peak Whoopi Goldberg – a performance where she can be cutting without being callous. And, wow, can she sing. The film’s so feel-good and people-pleasing that it’s hard to be cynical about it, especially when the nuns start to cover '60s classics like ”I Will Follow Him” and “My Guy” (switched to “My God”). It’s a reminder that sometimes it’s the most simple concepts that work, like pitching a lapsed Catholic pitched against the strictest of religious institutions.
29. Hocus Pocus (1993)
The film: It’s sometimes a little too easy to forget that the Sanderson sisters are meant to be child-murdering villains in Hocus Pocus. After being accidentally resurrected in modern day Salem by young Max, the trio start to cause havoc in the local town. If they’re not stopped, they’ll suck the soul out of every child for miles in order to maintain their vitality and youth.
Why it’s worth a watch: It wasn’t much of a hit at the time (especially with critics), but Hocus Pocus has slowly grown in reputation and become a seasonal tradition. It was part of a refreshing wave of Halloween-themed movies that weren’t actually horrors, alongside The Addams Family and Caspar the Friendly Ghost. It’s a perfect film for people who want to celebrate the holiday but are also complete scaredy cats. And then there’s the Sandersons themselves – they’re bad, yes, but oh so glamorous and fun. Who could possibly resist Bette Middler cackling her way through “I Put a Spell on You”?
28. High School Musical (2006)
The film: It launched the careers of both Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, while also serving as the clear inspiration for Ryan Murphy’s Glee. Squeaky clean and totally sexless (the most scandalous thing here is a peck on the cheek), the film follows Troy (Zac Efron), a jock, and Gabriella (Vannessa Hudgens), a geek, as they discover their love of musical theatre and each other. Along the way, they break down the school’s “status quo” and fend off the rivalry of twins Sharpay and Ryan Evans.
Why it’s worth a watch: We’ve gone through an entire cycle of people unabashedly loving High School Musical, then pretending to hate it, then going straight back to openly loving it again. This film is ridiculous, but it’s aggressively feel-good and a lightning rod for every theatre kid who still knows the dance moves to “We’re All in This Together”. It’s even inspired a new meta-TV series, which focuses on a production of High School Musical held where the original film was shot. And it has the great title of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
27. Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3 (2003)
The film: The franchise is concerned chiefly with the adventures of scallywag pirate Jack Sparrow, as he crosses paths with his mutinous former first mate Barbossa, the fiercely independent Elizabeth Swann, and her bland, but altogether quite sweet, love interest Will Turner. Add to that, there are curses, krakens, maelstroms, British imperialism, and a tentacle-faced Davy Jones to keep things lively.
Why it’s worth a watch: People tend to disagree a little with how good Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End are in comparison to the first film (come on, though, how can you resist a giant Naomie Harris exploding into a thousand little crabs… it’s so weird it’s good). But there’s something to be said for the ingenuity of this franchise, which cranked out old-fashioned romanticism and colourful characters from what was a 15-minute Disneyland ride. Let’s just never speak of the fourth and fifth films ever again…
26. The Parent Trap (1961 and 1988)
The film: Both the original, with Hayley Mills and the remake, with Lindsay Lohan, pretty much follow the same basic plot: two girls staying at the same summer camp are a little weirded out because they look identical. That’s because they’re actually twins whose parents divorced when they were young and each took custody of one child. And so, naturally, the girls decide to trick their dishonest mama and papa (who actually did something pretty messed up) by switching places.
Why it’s worth a shot: No version of The Parent Trap could ever succeed without someone utterly charming at its centre. We all know how annoying child performances can get – now imagine having to watch the same performance twice and all in one go. Thankfully, both Mills and Lohan are adorable in these films, to the point that you can might even forgive the weird ethics going on here (were these privileged millionaires really never going to tell their children that they had a twin?).
25. Free Solo (2018)
The film: The winner of the 2019 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Free Solo follows Alex Honnold on his quest to free solo climb (that means no ropes, harnesses, or anything that might save you if you slip) the El Capitan, a perilous cliff face in Yosemite National Park.
Why it’s worth a shot: It’s as nail-biting, dizzying, and downright terrifying as you could imagine (anyone with vertigo, beware). But what’s more surprising is how it gets inside Honnold’s head, as the filmmakers try to understand not only the kind of person who’d have such disregard for their personal safety, but how his actions affect his relationships with others, including with his anxious girlfriend Sanni.
24. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The film: A true Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street is one of the films chosen to be preserved in the Library of Congress, due to it being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”. The movie sees the real Kris Kringle hired to play Santa at Macy’s flagship store in New York. No one believes him, so he sets out to convert the cynical, convince the city hidden he’s secretly a mystical, ageless being, and spread some much-needed holiday spirit.
Why it’s worth a watch: Forget about the '90s remake, this has everything you need. It takes a generous approach toward the season, acknowledging how easy it can be to get wrapped up in the rampaging consumerism and stress of last-minute presents shopping. But, at the end of the day, it seeks out something purer: the innocent thrill of a young child whose imagination has just been fired up. Miracle on 34th Street makes us all believe in the magic.
23. Fantasia (1940)
The film: Essentially a series of shorts set to classical music, the film takes us through all manner of imaginative scenarios: from the colourful world of centaurs and fauns, the extinction of the dinosaurs, to the monstrous reign of the demon Chernabog. The most famous sequence is set to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and sees an eager Mickey accidentally summon an unstoppable army of mops.
Why it’s worth a shot: It’s arguably the most unique and artistically ambitious entry in Disney’s entire library of animated movies. There’s nothing else like it. It’s not fixated on talking down to children or trying to coddle them, but whisks them through the classical greats with a sense of wit and sophistication. It can be weird, sweet, psychedelic and frightening – slipping between moods and emotions with ease. Even if it’s meant to be educational, it doesn’t feel like any ordinary music lesson.
22. The Incredibles (2004)
The film: Pixar takes its own spin on The Avengers, keeping it a strictly family affair. Public opinion has turned against superheroes. They’ve been accused of leaving behind too much collateral damage. And so, the Parrs have done their best to keep quiet and hide their powers, having settled down in an idyllic American suburb. But Bob, otherwise known as Mr. Incredible, is struggling to let go of the “glory days”. His actions end up dragging the entire family into a deadly confrontation with an embittered former fan.
Why it’s worth a watch: The Incredibles is a flawless blend of comic book movie stylings and earnest family comedy. For all the whizz-bang action, which easily rivals most live-action attempts at the genre, the film’s also rich with themes - it touches on bureaucracy, the family unit, and what it means to be exceptional. Less deep, but equally exciting is Edna Mode’s catchphrase, “No capes!”
21. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
The film: Adapted from the famous Jules Verne novel, it follows a trio of men (including Kirk Douglas’ temperamental harpooner) who have been sent out to investigate reports of a mysterious sea monster. What they discover is one Captain Nemo, the owner of the submarine Nautilus and a sort of steampunk pirate.
Why it’s worth a watch: Disney has done its best to revive their live-action adventures (the Pirates movies succeeded for a while, we’ll see how Jungle Cruise fares). But it’s hard to top 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a large-scale spectacle that possesses enough imagination to make transport you instantly to another world, one which is intricately constructed and packed with all the thrills of underwater exploration.
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