From Frozen-inspired rides to attractions themed after Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you seemingly can’t turn a corner at one of the Disney Parks without walking smackdab into something based on one of Disney’s beloved films. Disney rides with movie adaptations, however, are a completely different story.
Although Disney has been bringing its iconic stories to life through theme park attractions ever since Disneyland’s opening day back in July 1955, the reverse – films inspired by fan-favorite rides, such as Pirates of the Caribbean or 2021’s Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson – is a relatively new phenomenon.
Grab some popcorn (with extra butter, please!) and keep reading as we look at all the Disney Park rides that became movies. And…action!
Disney Theme Park Rides as Movie Muses – Advertising at Its Best
Disney has long blurred the lines between its theme parks and the movie-making side of its business, using much-loved film characters, storylines, settings, and other intellectual property elements as inspiration for rides, shows, meet-and-greets, hotels, restaurants and more at Disney Resorts around the globe.
And for very good reason. This cinematic synergy – which was pioneered by Walt Disney himself on his Disneyland TV show as far back as October 1954, almost nine months before the program’s eponymous theme park would first open – essentially creates one very profitable feedback loop.
To some extent, you can even think of the Disney Parks as marketing tools on a truly massive scale. Fans fall in love with the characters and plot of a particular film or franchise, such as Star Wars, and wish they could experience that world themselves.
At Disney World, they can even set sail on the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, an immersive cruise ship-inspired hotel experience – all for an eye-popping price tag of $1,209 per person per night for a two-night experience. And don’t forget about all the merch!
But, that’s not all. Disney also uses Galaxy’s Edge to promote upcoming big-screen additions to the Star Wars universe, as well as small-screen installments on its streaming service, Disney+. What about those guests who experience Galaxy’s Edge without having ever seen Darth Vader embrace his dark side or Rey learn how to use the Force? Well, once they get home, don’t be surprised if they start a Disney+ subscription and binge-watch the entire space opera from beginning to end.
In short, *cue the music* it’s the (marketing) circle of life! And it moves us all (to spend ridiculous amounts of money on expensive theme park tickets) – through inflation despair and economic hope, through diehard fan faith and Disney love. Sing with me now!
However, every once in a while, the reverse happens. Rather than an attraction that lets guests ride the movies, Disney makes a movie that helps folks experience their favorite theme park ride in a whole new way: On the silver screen (or, in pandemic times, on Disney+).
First conceptualized by Jeffrey Katzenberg, then-chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, in the early 1990s and ultimately put into practice by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner close to a decade later, both television specials and entire feature-length films, complete with star-studded casts, were created as next-level advertisements for some of Disney’s best-loved attractions.
Sadly, in spite of the star power, these synergistic gambits don’t always work. With the exception of Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise more recently, Disney’s big-screen takes on various theme park attractions have typically been flops instead of blockbusters. Still, if Jungle Cruise 2, the resurrection of Pirates of the Caribbean with Margot Robbie, and Disney’s latest crack at a Haunted Mansion-inspired movie (third time’s a charm) are any indication, they won’t be stopping anytime soon.
From E-Ticket to Box-Office Ticket: Disney Rides That Became Movies
While many attractions at Disney Parks are based on popular films, cartoons or comics, some of the best Disney rides are so iconic that they decided to turn them into movies – to varying degrees of success. Here are all the rides-turned-movies at Disney Parks around the world.
Current Disney Attractions That Inspired Films
Though their film adaptations might have flopped at the box office (*cough* The Country Bears *cough*), these attractions are must-dos whether you’re a Disney movie buff or theme park fan.
Starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Emily Blunt, Disney’s new Mary Poppins, Jungle Cruise is the latest film adaptation of a classic Disney theme park attraction. Fittingly, the movie had its world premiere at the Disneyland Resort on July 24, 2021, 66 years and 24 days after the ride first made its debut on Disneyland’s opening day.
While the attraction, a slow-moving boat ride piloted by punny skippers, takes guests down some of the world’s wildest rivers past a menagerie of Audio-Animatronic animals, the film features The Rock as Frank Wolff, an enterprising skipper who runs sightseeing cruises down the Amazon. And just like the ride, it wouldn’t be the Jungle Cruise without plenty of dad jokes, which are based on puns from the skippers’ spiel on the ride, and some well-placed smoke and mirrors.
The Jungle Cruise movie was such a success that a sequel has already been announced, though there isn’t a release date just yet. However, if you can’t wait that long, you can always cruise the world’s jungle waterways at one of the versions of the ride at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom in Disney World, Hong Kong Disneyland or Tokyo Disneyland. For an especially jolly time, ride during the holidays when the Jungle Cruise becomes the Jingle Cruise.
Pirates of the Caribbean
When it comes to film adaptations of Disney rides, none are more successful than Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Originally opened at Disneyland in 1967 as a leisurely yet thrilling dark ride, featuring an all-out cannonball battle, a horde of marauding pirates, two drops in the dark and a ton of treasure, the swashbuckling adventure was so popular that iterations were also created for Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland (which is the best version of them all, in my opinion, closely followed by the original in Disneyland).
One of the last rides Walt Disney envisioned before his untimely death in December 1966, he sadly never got to see the attraction’s achievements for himself. However, his synergy-loving legacy lives on in the franchise adaptation’s enduring success.
Today, fans can follow the tale of Captain Jack Sparrow, starring Johnny Depp, in five different Pirates of the Caribbean films – The Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest, At World’s End, On Stranger Tides and Dead Men Tell No Tales. And while Johnny Depp has had some rather turbulent times of late, threatening to end the film franchise for good, at least one (possibly two) Pirates of the Caribbean sequels are in the works, with one set to star Margot Robbie. Will Captain Jack return to sail the seas once more? Only time will tell.
The award for the ride with the most movie adaptations – and theme park spinoffs, coincidentally – goes to the Haunted Mansion. With a 2003 film starring Eddie Murphy, a Muppets made-for-TV movie and a star-studded reboot coming in Fall 2023, has been trying to create a successful Haunted mansion movie for quite some time.
Although Eddie Murphy’s outing has since experienced some cult success, 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, which told of the doomed romance of Master Gracey and his love Elizabeth, was largely panned upon its release. Disney didn’t attempt another take until October 2021 with Muppets Haunted Mansion, a Disney+ original and an adorable bit of cross-branding. Hopefully, if the Muppets’ undeniable charm and fully stacked cast of the next iteration are any indication, 2023’s Haunted Mansion will finally see success on the silver screen.
The attraction, meanwhile, serves as a spooky sort of open house, touring through the manor’s mysterious rooms and past the 999 happy haunts who call it home. Guided by your Ghost Host from your Doom Buggie, this classic dark ride is more of a supernatural real estate tour than a spine-tingling haunted house. Along with Disneyland, replicas are located Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Tokyo Disneyland, with reimagined attractions in Disneyland Paris and Hong Kong Disneyland, Phantom Manor and Mystic Manor.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
One of the best Hollywood Studios rides, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is the first Disney attraction to inspire a feature-length film. Premiering on ABC as part of The Wonderful World of Disney in October 1997, a little over three years after the ride opened in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Tower of Terror features Steve Guttenberg as a tabloid journalist hellbent on unveiling the otherworldly secret of the Hollywood Tower Hotel and ultimately restoring his reputation, as well as his niece Anna, played by Kirsten Dunst.
Although there aren’t any nods to The Twilight Zone in this made-for-TV adaptation, the glorified feature-length advertisement for one of Hollywood Studios’ most popular rides was even filmed in part at the actual attraction. Sadly, you can’t even appreciate these snippets anymore as The Twilight Zone is completely unavailable – you can’t even watch it on Disney+. On the bright side, as of June 2021, Disney was in talks with Scarlett Johansson and Taika Waititi about a reboot. So, keep your fingers crossed.
As for the ride itself, guests can experience the thrill of the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris and Tokyo DisneySea. While there was previously a version at California Adventure Park, it has since been reimagined into Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout!
Country Bear Jamboree
While the Country Bear Jamboree may be beloved by Disney Parks fans for its old-fashioned charm and quirky band of musical bears, its movie adaptation, The Country Bears, is probably one that Disney would rather forget. Released in 2002, the film failed to perform at the box office and was widely panned by critics, leading Disney to ultimately abandon the movie’s previously announced sequel.
Though you can watch The Country Bears on Disney+, your best bet is to go straight to the source and see the show in person. Unfortunately, Disneyland’s version closed back in September 2001 (before the movie was even released, strangely enough). However, you can still tap your toes to some bear-y catchy country tunes at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.
“We’re not gonna make it! We’re not gonna make it!” While Dinosaur, previously known as Countdown to Extinction, takes riders back to the Late Cretaceous to rescue a wayward Iguanodon from certain destruction, its film adaptation follows that same Iguanodon, from being raised by a family of lemurs to ultimately having a family of his own.
Unlike some of Disney’s other rides-turned-movies, Dinosaur was relatively successful with both viewers and critics, and was praised for its realistic computer animation. Although the film is more about stunning visuals than edge-of-your-seat thrills, it does share the same Big Bad as the ride: a rampaging Carnotaurus.
Dinosaur, renamed to promote the film, is only available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World. However, Disney has recently hinted that Dinoland USA, where the ride is located, will be replaced at some point in time with a Moana or Zootopia-themed land. So, if you’re hoping for your own prehistoric adventure, you’d better act quick.
Tomorrowland is one of Disney’s most well-loved theme park lands, with iterations in six Disney Parks around the world. Sadly, enduring affection for this futuristic corner of the parks was not enough to make Tomorrowland, with its star-studded cast featuring George Clooney and Hugh Laurie, a success.
Where Tomorrowland the place feels like a retro version of a future that will never be, Tomorrowland the movie is about a sci-fi world in decay. Why? Well, people, of course. Although the film stumbled at the box office, theme park fans will appreciate several theme park-inspired Easter eggs, from “it’s a small world” and the 1964 New York World’s Fair to songs like “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” and “It’s a Small World (After All).”
“it’s a small world”
While there isn’t a film adaptation of “it’s a small world” (yet – previous pitches were ultimately rejected), Disney did give the greenlight to It’s a Small World: The Animated Series, a nine-episode online exclusive in partnership with Rosetta Stone.
Like the attraction itself, the series is centered around a multicultural group of friends that tours the world meeting new people, learning different languages and discovering unique customs. And, the show’s theme song was even written by Richard Sherman, who, along with his brother, composed the original titular earworm.
Well, that’s a wrap on our list of Disney rides that are so good they made them into movies. Which Disney theme park attraction with a film adaptation is your favorite? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how to save on your next family vacation with our discounted Disney tickets.