Disney Plus isn’t just about fawning over Baby Yoda. The Disney streaming service is also home to a huge back catalogue of classic Disney movies. Between Disney animation, DCOMs, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, and 20th Century Fox, there’s something for everyone to love, whether you grew up watching the Disney Channel or Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals.
In this list, we’re diving deep to bring you some of the absolute best and lesser-seen films on the platform. You don’t need us recommending the best of Star Wars and Marvel movies, or animated classics like Aladdin or The Lion King. Instead, we’re highlighting great films that don’t get the marquee placement on the service. And we’ll be updating this post regularly as Disney Plus’ library continues to expand.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire was supposed to change the face of Disney animation, but it ended up quietly disappearing. Following plucky academic Milo Thatch who dedicates his life to finding the lost city of Atlantis, Atlantis: The Lost Empire is a riveting adventure with a fun and colorful cast. It’s action-packed with a lot of humor and heart that just operates by the rule of cool with its lumbering steampunk/dieselpunk aesthetic and gorgeously rendered ancient civilization. This hidden gem mesmerized a generation of kids who grew up watching it on home video and now it’s right here on Disney Plus. —Petrana Radulovic
Big Hero 6
Buried beneath the hullabaloo of Frozen, Moana, and Zootopia, Big Hero 6 is a quirky film with a poignant exploration of grief at its core. Based on the lesser-known Marvel comic of the same name, the movie follows young inventor Hiro Hamada who, after his brother Tadashi’s death, discovers a healthcare robot companion named Baymax. Together, they band with Tadashi’s friends, each with their own STEM-specific superpowers, to avenge Tadashi’s death. Big Hero 6 takes place in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo, an amalgamation of Japanese and American aesthetics that render a bright, technicolor metropolis. With scenes like Hiro and Baymax soaring through clouds above the city’s skyline, one wonders why more superhero movies aren’t animated. —Petrana Radulovic
The Black Hole
The Black Hole is three things: The kind of science fiction movie cash-in that studios funded the first Star Wars movie, a long and beautiful mess yanked kicking and screaming out of development hell, and — most of all — a ‘50s-style haunted house story. No joke: The Black Hole starts with a space storm that forces our heroes to pull over and knock on the door of a wild-eyed scientist’s space mansion.
It’s slow. It’s a little ponderous. It’s often beautiful. It’s genuinely creepy. It’s not great, but I kind of love it anyway. Less than great things deserve love, too. You could do a lot worse than sitting back and letting the movie wash over you for a couple hours. And just wait until you see the ending. Jiminy. —Dave Tach
Black is King
On the experimental, sumptuous wavelength of her visual album Lemonade, Beyoncé’s Black Is King is the best remake of The Lion King that Disney’s ever made (mostly because the literal one stiiiinnnnnks). The music, choreography, and costuming would be enough to make the 85-minute film swirl, but as Jaelani Turner-Williams examined in her write-up at the time of release in 2019, there are potent ideas about Black life and Beyoncé’s own art tucked into all the nooks and crannies if you know where to look. Here’s a snippet from our review at the time:
Having progressed into Black feminist activism since the release of BEYONCÉ, the singer makes room for female collaborators, friends, and family in Black Is King. Tierra Whack, Jessie Reyez, Tiwa Savage, and more segue from their work on The Lion King: The Gift into the new film. For “Brown Skin Girl,” Beyoncé revamps the visuals from intimate home videos to an African debutante ball with appearances from her eldest daughter, Blue Ivy, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o and former Destiny’s Child groupmate Kelly Rowland. The statuesque posing of women throughout the film also frames them as an honorable, royal council upholding Black lineage. Along with vibrant wardrobes, the women of Black is King don elaborate natural hairstyles — in varying parts of the film, Beyoncé wears 30 feet of towering box braids as she stands atop a ladder, while in a later scene, Himba women have their hair covered with red clay.
The first Cars never quite worked or me is because it is too rooted in reality. I found myself questioning every little world-building detail: If you are born a truck, is your destiny just to ferry cars around inside your body till the end of time? Why do cars lock themselves if their insides are their organs? Why are there restaurants and cafes if all they consume is oil?
But with Cars 2, there is so much chaos and unbelievable plot elements that I can safely just tuck all the aforementioned overarching world-building questions in the back of my mind and just relish in its absurdity. The setup of Cars 2 already lends itself to humor: after accompanying racer Lightning McQueen on an international racing tour, goofy Mater finds himself caught up in a James Bond-esque spy mission, where suave agent Finn McMissle believes Mater to be an American spy in deep, deep undercover. Cue the hijinks, cue the hilarity, cue the really cool action sequences.
It’s all the delight of a spy movie, but with the added fact of Oh right, they’re all cars! This means that Finn McMissile launches wires from his tires in order to suspend himself over a secret meeting on a far off oil rig! That the cars have giant guns built somewhere into their bodies! That the car chase sequences are honestly the best car chase sequences I’ve seen in action movies, because the stakes are so much higher! Yes, there is a Pope, which once again raises questions about the greater Cars universe, but Agent Holley Shiftwell just sprouted wings and a jet engine, so I’m more focused on how cool that is.
I am going on record to say that Cars 2 is the superior Cars movie. It might not make you think deeply like Pixar films often do, but it will help you embrace your inner child’s boundless imagination. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride (ha). —Petrana Radulovic
The Fantasia movies are notorious for being big, gorgeous creative risks that never really financially paid off for Disney. But economic legacy be damned, Fantasia 2000 is an exuberant celebration of animation and music. Each of the shorts follows a different piece of classical music, telling a specific story in a variation of animation styles — sometimes wildly departing from what one would expect. For instance “Pines of Rome” by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi becomes a tale of flying whales and graduation classic “Pomp and Circumstance” is now Donald Duck as Noah herding animals onto an arc. But even the tales that don’t subvert expectations, like a beautiful take on George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” are evocative and memorable. —PR
Frank and Ollie
Walt Disney possessed imagination and ambition, but there’s no Disney magic without Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Members of the company’s original “Nine Old Men” group, Thomas and Johnston were there as Walt dreamed up the first feature-length animated film, Snow White, and hand-animated classic moments in the features that would establish the studio as an all-ages juggernaut. Frank and Ollie takes viewers behind the scenes of the film and let’s the duo tell their own story in rare interviews. Having been a tough DVD to track down over the years, the film’s finally available with the click of a button. —MP
Free Solo, the winner of the 2018 Academy Award for best documentary, is definitely a movie about scaling El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without a rope. But it’s also a movie about love and passion. The scenes of Alex Honnold, the main subject, climbing mountains with nothing to stop him from falling off are dizzying and beautiful. And the movie cares just as much about the quiet parts of climbing. We see Honnold carefully plan every step and handhold he’ll use on his climbs — no move is a guess. But the real brilliance of the documentary comes in the way it handles Honnold as a person, and questions what drives someone to pursue a passion that’s likely to kill them. —Austen Goslin
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson’s most recent animated film provoked some reasonable controversy over its depiction of Japanese characters and culture, but the artistry involved makes this Disney Plus addition worth a watch. Starring Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, and Ken Watanabe, the movie tracks the cross-country mission of a pack of dogs looking to return a lost boy to home. Rendered in exquisite stop-motion with Anderson’s usual attention to details, not to mention a rousing score from Alexandre Desplat, the movie brings a more subdued, meditative energy than just about any animated feature of the last 10 years. —MP
The Kid Who Would Be King
Fans of Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block did not show up for his long-awaited follow-up, which was dumped by 20th Century Fox shortly before the Disney acquisition went into effect. But anyone looking for the authentic revival of ’80s adventure movies like The Goonies should go back to find this low-key gem, which finds a 12-year-old boy inheriting Excalibur and leading an army of his pals in battle against Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Cornish knows that to entertain the whole family a movies needs to be thrilling, wide-eyed, and a little scary. The Kid Who Would Be King fulfills the wish.
The Love Bug
Most people know Herbie the Love Bug — would you be surprised if Lindsay Lohan’s Herbie: Fully Loaded holds a place in young millennial hearts? — but fewer and fewer people know The Love Bug, the quintessential mid-20th-century Disney family feature in which the automotive character first came to life. Disney Plus is filled to the brim with disposable, 90-minute adventures with a dash of magical realism, but the rambling tale of a Volkswagen Beetle with a mind of its own is as fleshed out and genuine as they come. Dean Jones stars as Dean, a down-in-his-luck racer who finds new purpose in life (not to mention love in the form of Michele Lee’s mechanic Carole) when he sticks up for Herbie and drives him in the legendary El Dorado race. Herbie’s full of tricks, and they remain satisfying 50 years later. —MP
National Treasure is a cult favorite among a passionate audience of moviegoers craving a spelunking archaeologist action adventure with a premise that’s somehow more harebrained than stealing the Ark of the Covenant away from Nazis. Nicolas Cage stars as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter who must race to steal the Declaration of Independence and decipher a set of clues left behind by the Freemasons in order to prevent his former colleague Ian Howe (Sean Bean) from stealing the treasure himself. If squirting lemon juice on the back of a 100-year-old historical artifact isn’t crazy enough for you, there’s also a scene of Ben using a water bottle as a magnifying glass to track down Benjamin Franklin’s super secret cipher glasses. —TE
A story of love, regret, violence and line-dancing, 1955’s Oklahoma! is based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical of the same and one of the best movie musicals of the era. Starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones — who had a killer run with this, Carousel, and The Music Man (then went on to star in The Partridge Family!) — the film follows a cowboy Curly McLain as he works up the courage to finally profess is love to farm girl Laurey. His hesitation frustrates Laurey, who finds romantic revenge by pairing off with hired hand Jud Fry at the local dance. As the music swings and laments, the criss-crossed drama cuts deeper than one might expect — complete with a 15-minute dream ballet in the middle of the runtime in which Laurey imagines herself torn between the men. In 70mm, it’s all cinematic magic.
The Peanuts Movie
There are tons of animated classics on Disney Plus, but one easily underestimated fun time is this 2015 update of the Peanuts cartoons from Fox’s go-to, now-defunct animation studio Blue Sky. In a nod to Charles Schulz’s comics and the classic TV specials, the plot is simple and down-to-earth, with Charlie Brown trying to win the heart of the Little Red-Haired Girl while his friends scramble to find their place in the schoolyard cosmos. But the real charm comes from Blue Sky’s innovative animation style, which blends Schulz’s 2D designs with 3D CG dimension. In a medium that’s become so homogenized in the West, the look is a welcome change of pace. —MP
There is a reason to be skeptical of the Disney remake machine: The Lion King … Aladdin … Beauty and the Beast … OK, there are many reasons to be skeptical of the Disney remake machine. But Pete’s Dragon, an update of the 1977 boy-and-his-invisible-beast musical, works at a totally different level. Despite the presence of a giant, fluffy dog dragon, writer-director David Lowery (A Ghost Story, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) grounds the story in the brisk reality of the Pacific Northwest. The visual effects work fades away as a feral Pete is rescued from the woods and reconnects with society. When the movie goes big, Lowery summons the energy of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin films, bringing as much heart as spectacle. —MP
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
OK, look, we get that Captain Jack Sparrow commanded the attention of audiences when the Pirates of the Caribbean movies first came out, but the real gem here is Elizabeth Swann. Jack’s swagger is funny, but Elizabeth drives the heart of the movies and at the end of the day, they serve as one, big, pirate-zombie, sea-faring, swashbuckling coming-of-age for the governor’s daughter destined for more. The main trilogy, which focuses on Elizabeth and dreamy Will Turner, is stronger than the Jack-focused spinoffs for this reason. And the first movie, which tosses us into this lush world and its splendid mythos, is the strongest of them all. —PR
The Princess Bride
The Princess Bride has it all — swashbucklers, epic adventures, incredibly quotable humor, Cary Elwes, and a lovely romance that ties it all together. It’s a fairytale fantasy that plays with familiar tropes and breathes new life into them. The amount of pop culture references and quotes birthed from this movie is frankly inconceivable. Witty, funny, and deeply romantic, The Princess Bride is a fun fantasy romp with a very sweet framing device of a grandfather reading his grandson a bedtime story, which preserves the narrative of the William Goldman book a little better than a straightforward adaptation. —PR
Raya and the Last Dragon
Co-directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting), Walt Disney Animation Studios’ newest computer-animated action fantasy adventure Raya and the Last Dragon follows the warrior princess Raya, voiced by Star Wars: The Last Jedi star Kelly Marie Tran, as she embarks on a journey to find the mythical last dragon Sisu ( Awkwafina) and rescue her shattered homeland of Kumandra from a dark malevolent threat.
The Simpsons Movie
Matt Groening’s animated sitcom The Simpsons has been a ubiquitous pop cultural touchstone since the series first premiered as a short on the Tracey Ulman show in 1987. The Simpsons Movie follows Homer, Marge, Lisa, Bart, and Maggie Simpson as the family flees their hometown of Springfield after Homer accidentally pollutes the town’s lake, sparking an ecological disaster. As the villainous head of the EPA prepares to wipe Springfield from existence in order to contain the damage, it falls to the Simpson family to come up with a solution and save the day. —TE
Andrew Stanton’s science-fiction odyssey, set in 2185, is a triptych of disparate stories glued together with feels. There’s the dystopian tale of a worker bot tidying up a busted, deserted world that could easily stand alone as a short; there’s the love story of two robots, a pure blend of Asimov and Disney; and there’s the rescue mission, a galactic journey that whisks WALL-E to the Axiom mothership for an encounter with a HAL 9000-like A.I. Our li’l robot friend, brought to life through the beeps and boops of Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, beholds every narrative jump with binocular-eyed wonder. So do we.
Elegiac and eerie, WALL-E is a love letter to everything Stanton would miss about Earth (Hello, Dolly! chief among them) and an impassioned plea for us slovenly earthlings to do what we can to save it before it’s too late. We’ll see if humanity can get its act together, but even if we’re destined to decimate the planet and float around in hover chairs on a rocket-powered shopping mall for the rest of our days, we’ll always have WALL-E and EVE dancing among the stars, an ode to the beauty that once was. As is the ongoing mission of Pixar, WALL-E conjures romantic truth. —MP