Every Movie Based on a Disney Theme Park Attraction, Ranked

All of the fun, none of the lengthy wait times


Turning Disney theme park attractions is a relatively new-ish concept, but the movies based on Disney attractions vary wildly in quality.

The story goes that Dick Cook, who at the time was running the Disney film studio with Nina Jacobson, had originally come up with the idea to “mine the theme parks for movie ideas” (as James B. Stewart put it in “Disney War”). They had made “The Country Bears” and were working on projects based on classic Disney attractions Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion. At the time, Pirates was envisioned as a direct-to-video cheapie, more along the lines of “Tower of Terror,” which debuted as an inexpensive TV on “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

But during a meeting about whether Disney should invest in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” an expensive Peter Weir movie starring Russell Crowe (they declined), the idea was hatched to make the Pirates of the Caribbean project a big, expensive event movie. They pitched the idea to producer Jerry Bruckheimer who, according to Stewart, told Cook: “It’s not a movie I’d go see.” Considering Bruckheimer was behind some of the most entertaining, popular movies of all time (among them: “Top Gun,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “The Rock”), Disney took notice.

At Bruckheimer’s suggestion, they took the screenplay (credited to Jay Wolpert) to Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who had already pitched Disney on a pirate project (they’d passed) and worked on Disney’s “Aladdin” and what would eventually be known as “Treasure Planet.” Their idea (recycled from their previous pitch): make the pirates cursed; in the moonlight their skeletal forms would be revealed.

Bruckheimer was in. And what’s more – he went to meet with Johnny Depp in St. Tropez. “Bruckheimer stressed that this wasn’t going to be a conventional pirate movie, especially if Depp took the lead role of the renegade pirate, Jack Sparrow. Bruckheimer wanted to reinvent the genre,” wrote Stewart. According to Stewart, once Bruckheimer had enticed director Gore Verbinski (who he had been chasing since “Con Air”), Verbinski met to woo Depp: “This could be the end of our careers, but let’s have fun.”

The rest, as they say, is history – the movie would become a blockbuster, inspire four (!) sequels, overtake Disney theme parks worldwide and net Depp an Oscar nomination for his roguish turn as Captain Jack Sparrow. And in two decades that followed, Disney has been chasing that same high, working on similar projects that never saw the light of day (including movies based on Space Mountain and the Matterhorn) and attempting to keep the Pirates franchise afloat.

“Haunted Mansion,” out this week, marks their latest attempt to recapture the theme-park-to-movie magic. And we thought that we’d rank every Disney movie based on one of their theme park attractions. Please keep all hands, arms and legs inside the vehicle.