While new streaming services have struggled to establish a foothold, Disney+ has had no such trouble, as evidenced by the company announcing on Aug. 4 that it has more than 60 million subscribers already, about four years earlier than it thought it would. With a household name, a library loaded with classics, movies from the Star Wars and Marvel universes, and enticing original programming, it's no surprise that Disney+ is as big a hit as it is.
But what should you watch? Before option paralysis burns the Disney+ menu into your screen, take a look at our list of shows and movies available on Disney+ to watch. We've picked through the animated classics, the best of the Disney Channel Original Movies, the new Disney+ originals, and more to trim the mountain of possibilities into a manageable stack, emphasizing variety so everyone has something to watch.
Remember the short-lived 2015 ABC series The Muppets? Jim Henson's gang of goofs returned to television with a more adult-oriented sitcom, and some people hated it. They didn't want to see Kermit and Ko. talking about grown-up stuff. Muppets Now is not that show, finding a way to come back in the modern age — they're trying to start a new streaming show (how meta!) — while also staying true to its roots as a beloved family-friendly property. It's really zany in all the good ways, like when the Swedish Chef tries to make Caribbean curry but ends up ordering delivery and smashing bananas on it instead. Classic Swedish Chef!
If you never got tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, and the rest of the original cast — and chances are you didn't, because tickets cost about as much as a year of tuition at a state university — this is the next best thing. This film version of the epochal musical about the life of founding father Alexander Hamilton was constructed from live performances taped in June 2016, and was supposed to be released in theaters, but that didn't happen. Instead, it went straight to Disney+, which will cost you just a few dollars a month. You may know the songs from listening to the soundtrack, but now you can have the visual accompaniment, minus two f-words that are being edited out to keep the musical from getting an R rating. -Liam Mathews
Disney dropped Onward, the newest Pixar film, onto Disney+ months before it normally would have because of the coronavirus. And it's a good thing too, because it's exactly the kind of film we need right now. It is set in a world where magic exists but people — the elves and centaurs and manticores and other mythical creatures who make up this vivid world — have forgotten how to use it because of advances in technology. The only folks who care about magic are nerds like Chris Pratt's Barley, who embarrasses his younger brother, the self-conscious Ian (Tom Holland), with his obsession and general lack of social graces. But when Ian's 16th birthday hits and he receives a gift from the father who died before he was born, he and Barley find themselves on a wild quest, one that will lead them both to learn a lot about who they are and their relationship. It's funny. It's cute. You'll probably cry. In other words, it's a normal Pixar film. -Kaitlin Thomas
Have you heard of this one? A bunch of superheroes get together and fight a guy with a big jaw who wears a fancy glove? It's here, earlier than expected. But find a comfortable place to watch: It's over three hours long.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited our ability to venture outside of our homes, Disney is releasing the highly anticipated sequel to the uber popular movie Frozen on Sunday, March 15, which is much earlier than expected. The movie, which finds Elsa traveling to the enchanted forests and dark seas beyond her kingdom after haring a mysterious voice calling out to her, was not expected to arrive on the streaming service for another three months.
Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Nowadays, kids all over movies and TV have psychic powers, but Escape to Witch Mountain was ahead of its time. The 1975 film focuses on two orphaned siblings whose powers of telepathy and telekinesis draw the attention of a weird millionaire (this was back when a million dollars was a lot) who wants their abilities. What separated this from most of the movies Disney was making at the time was that it was a bit darker than the others, a departure for the company.
Bold statement: It's quite possible that Gravity Falls is the best animated series that Disney Channel ever aired. The show follows siblings Dipper and Mabel on their summer vacations in the fictitious Oregon town of Gravity Falls, where they go on adventures that dabble in the supernatural and unexplained. Gravity Falls is weird enough to stand out from the rest of Disney's animated series, while also retaining the poignancy of the best family cartoons.
This 1991 film starring Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly, and Alan Arkin has it all! Set in the 1930s and based on the comic book character of the same name, The Rocketeer tells the story of a former stunt pilot who finds a jetpack and decides he's gonna use it to do some mighty heroic things. His actions naturally attract the attention of Howard Hughes and the FBI, who are looking for the missing jetpack, as well as some Nazis, because this movie is in the 1930s. There's also an aspiring actress, some mobsters, and plenty of proof that Marvel hasn't always been behind Hollywood's best superhero flicks. — Kaitlin Thomas
This charming DCOM was technically a pilot for a series that never got made, which is kind of weird because though it wasn't good enough for a TV show, it apparently was good enough to become a three-movie franchise (all of which are on Disney+). The 1999 film is set in the year 2049 and centers on a 13-year-old girl named Zenon who lives on a space station that orbits the Earth. After some mischief, Zenon is sent to Earth as punishment, where her space slang, space fashion, and space name do not sit well with the Earthling kids. I hope I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Zenon and the Earth kids learn to respect each other's differences and gravity.
Inline skating has never been cool, but there was about a three-month period when we thought it was cool. It was during this period that some Disney executive gave the green light to Brink!, one of a handful of films in existence to cover the sport. The 1998 Disney Channel Original Movie follows a young aggressive inline skater who joins a sponsored skating team to make ends meet, despite his moral objection to skating for anything but the fun of it. Yes, it's a movie about someone who sells out by making a few hundred bucks a week to rollerblade. It's aged like milk, which makes it a fun watch that will help us learn from our miskates. I mean mistakes!
Thanks to Disney's deep pockets and aggressive market absorption, Disney+ gets more than 300 hours of exclusive content from Fox's animated series alone. Sure, The Simpsons has been available online for a while now, but it's never been this easy to watch or integrated into a service that you already use. Fair warning: Currently, older episodes are cropped to fit today's standard 16:9 aspect ratio. It's OK to have a cow, man.
A Goofy Movie
This animated feature starring Goofy was a departure for Disney at the time, which was focused on retelling classic stories in films like Pocahantas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Critics didn't care for it — perhaps it was too different — but most of those critics were old people who had no business reviewing this movie anyway. The young folks loved it, and its story of single dad Goofy trying to reconnect with his teen son through a bonding road trip was surprisingly progressive for the time.
Look, we could put any Pixar movie on here with no regrets (except The Good Dinosaur, that movie sucks), but we went with Wall-E, the 2008 sci-fi film that turned kids into environmentalists. Like a select handful of Pixar movies, Wall-E has been hard to stream unless you have a Starz account, but with a Disney+ account, your kids have the source material to lecture you about irresponsible recycling.
X-Men: The Animated Series
One well publicized element of the Fox buyout was Disney acquiring Fox's Marvel library, which includes illustrious lush superhero GIN GENIE... and also the X-Men. We're obviously more excited about the latter, because it brings the legendary '90s animated series to Disney's streaming platform. This iteration of mutants most closely models Jim Lee's early '90s comics, considered by some to be the benchmark, and while it features all of the typical trappings of a Saturday morning action-cartoon, it also hits on many of the serious societal themes that makes X-Men great while still being digestible to the kiddos. Marvel also managed to make this series when the company was practically broke, a feat in and of itself. — Tony Maccio
Gargoyles was uncommonly erudite for a Saturday morning cartoon, chock-full of references to Shakespeare and medieval Scottish history, with complex, serialized storylines. It prepared kids for prestige TV. We're still hoping Jordan Peele does a live-action adaptation someday. — Liam Mathews
Waking Sleeping Beauty
No disrespect to The Great Mouse Detective, but the 1970s and 1980s weren't great for Disney animation. The documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty looks at the "Disney Renaissance," the era from 1989 to 1999 when Disney revived its animated presence with hits like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. This is for hardcore Disney fans, which is pretty much everyone.
This adventure film came out during the mid-'80s, which was the heyday of kids-doing-things-they-shouldn't-be-doing movies like The Goonies, The Last Starfighter, and Explorers. When a Henry Thomas circa E.T.-looking kid named David is knocked unconscious and wakes up eight years later, scientists discover he has a ton of celestial charts in his head, and David discovers he has a inexplicable link to a crashed UFO. Turns out he can fly the ship and has to help its robotic resident get home.
Based on the show's name, we know what you're thinking. More saccharine future teen idols dancing and singing and holding hands? But did you notice all the colons in the title? That should give you an idea of this mockumentary's tone, which features fourth wall-breaking confessionals like The Office. It's both a sly send-up and homage to High School Musical, following a new production of the hit film at the fictional school where High School Musical was filmed. This is the show for people who grew up earnestly enjoying the original films, but also recognize the corniness behind them.
Anna Kendrick decks many halls alongside Bill Hader in this new original holiday movie, but unlike those Hallmark films, there will be no romance involved. Well, there better not be, because they play brother and sister, and the children of Santa Claus. Hader's character is next in line to take over as Santa, but he chickens out, leading Kendrick's Noelle to find him to save Christmas.
If you didn't see Incredibles 2 in theaters, then you might have missed this Pixar short that ran before it (and was nowhere to be found when Incredibles 2 reached Netflix). It's about an aging woman who gets a second chance at motherhood when a steamed bun (a bao) comes to life. Bao is one of Pixar's best shorts, which is saying something, and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short film at last year's Oscars. For more Pixar shorts, check out SparkShorts, a collection of short films from Pixar artists.
For most people, The Mandalorian is worth the seven bucks a month a subscription costs and the rest of the Disney+ library is just there to fill time between episodes of the Star Wars series. Game of Thrones' Pedro Pascal plays the titular character, a bounty hunter from the same planet as Boba Fett. The best thing about this big-budget, big-effects show? It's being described as a "space Western." The first episode premieres on launch day, and new episodes debut every Friday.
Free Solo has been streaming on Hulu since earlier this year, but it moves to Disney+ as National Geographic is one of Disney's many properties. The film follows
total psychopath pro climber Alex Honnold as he attempts to free climb — read: no ropes or safety gear — Yosemite's El Capitan, a sheer rock face that turns knees to jelly. Settle in, pop some Dramamine, and prepare to be wowed by his remarkable achievement.
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Arguably the most attractive part of Disney+ is the treasure trove of Disney animated classics that will be readily available to stream for the first time, and at the top of the list is the 1951 film Alice in Wonderland. For some reason, the film flopped in theaters when it was first released, but it found a second life after it moved to television in the mid-1950s and a third life in the early '70s when everyone was whacked out on LSD. It has a talking caterpillar who sucks on a hookah, so, uhhh, yeah, man, that tracks.
It would be easy enough to say that yeah, Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back are good movies and should be on this list, but we agree and just figured you knew that already. Instead, we're adding this animated Star Wars series set between the films Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Six seasons aired starting in 2008, and the beloved cult show was revived for a seventh and final to air exclusively on Disney+ beginning in February.
Disney+ is available for $6.99 per month.