In the game known as the streaming wars, Disney+ came out swinging, bringing with it a massive library of movies and TV shows—with new ones being added all the time. Watched everything on Netflix? Disney+ has a seemingly endless selection of Marvel movies and plenty of Star Wars and Pixar fare, too. Problem is, there’s so much stuff that it’s hard to know where to begin. WIRED is here to help. Below are our picks for the best films on Disney+ right now.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indy is back, baby! Look, it may be impossible to reach the heights achieved by timeless classics like Temple of Doom or Raiders of the Lost Ark, but this latest installment in the franchise puts the whip back in Harrison Ford’s hands, letting him fight Nazis and finally get (maybe) some closure to his artifact-hunting life. The new Indy movie, directed by James Mangold, also gets some fantastic humor and verve from Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who plays Helena, the daughter of an old ally of Indy’s who has perhaps less-than-pure interest in the Dial of Destiny, an ancient time-travel device that Dr. Jones, of course, thinks belongs in a museum.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
Finally! It has been seven months since the whole slate of Spider-Man movies made their way to Disney+—but Far From Home was the lone holdout. Now it’s right there on the streaming service, nestled among its fellow web-slinging features. This one, which stars Tom Holland as the Spandex-wearing superhero, is notable for being the first film in Phase Four of the MCU—and the first character we see attempting to pick up the pieces following the events of Avengers: Endgame. For Peter Parker, that means taking a boring old class trip to Europe, which turns into anything that but when Earth is attacked by a villainous group of Elementals, which Spidey can only fight with the help of the mysterious—and appropriately named—Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Is Justin Simien’s Haunted Mansion going to forever change the landscape of cinema as we know it? No. Will it stop people from wondering what Guillermo del Toro—who was initially attached to write, direct, and produce the picture when it was first announced back in 2010—would have done with a theme park ride as his source material? Again, no. But if you’ve exhausted your Tim Burton collection, or are looking for something new to watch with the whole family, Haunted Mansion makes for a fun enough diversion. Mostly because of its stacked cast, which includes LaKeith Stanfield, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, and Danny DeVito—and that’s just for starters.
Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) is a lightly employed voice actor and devoted dad of three who has just been dumped by his wife and is only allowed to see his children one day per week. So he does what any rational person would do: asks his brother, who just happens to be a makeup artist, to dress him up as an older woman and applies to become a nanny working for his ex-wife Miranda (Sally Field). That Miranda doesn’t realize the person she has entrusted her children with is the man she was married to for more than a decade might speak more about her character. Ignore the ridiculous setup and instead enjoy more than two hours of Robin Williams going full Robin Williams. Bon appétit!
Teenager Josh Baskin (David Moscow) wishes on a Zoltar machine that he could grow up overnight—and comes to find his older self (Tom Hanks) staring him back in the mirror the next morning. In an effort to hide his fast-forwarded body, Baskin hides out in New York City, where he falls backward into his dream job at a toy company and meets the woman of his dreams (Elizabeth Perkins). Big is the movie that made Tom Hanks, well, Tom Hanks (it also marked his first Oscar nomination). But it’s Robert De Niro who was originally set to star; when he was forced to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, Hanks stepped in.
Nemo (Alexander Gould) is a young clown fish with an imperfect fin and a dad (Albert Brooks) who worries endlessly about his son’s safety. Which is forgivable, given that Nemo’s mom—and all his siblings—were victims of a barracuda shortly before their eggs hatched. So when Nemo is captured while the duo are swimming in the Great Barrier Reef, it’s up to Marlin to find and save his only son. With an all-star cast of voice actors—led by the always-perfect Brooks, and Ellen DeGeneres as a forgetful blue tang named Dory (who would go on to star in her own adventure)—Finding Nemo is part of the heyday of Pixar filmmaking where each film seemed to surpass the absolutely perfect one that preceded it.
The Princess Bride
Rob Reiner directs this adventure-comedy-fairytale, written by William Goldman (the legendary screenwriter who once famously said of Hollywood that “nobody knows anything”) from his own novel. The ever-quotable tale tells the story of a young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright) who is engaged to marry a prince (Chris Sarandon) but is really in love with former farmhand Westley (Carey Elwes), who she believes was killed in a pirate attack. When Buttercup is kidnapped just days ahead of her wedding, a chain of events proceed to possibly reunite the in-love couple, or spell death for one (or both) of them. Goldman was famously critical of his own work, but didn’t mind taking credit for two of his movies. The Princess Bride was one of them (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was the other).
The Little Mermaid
Does the live-action version of The Little Mermaid improve upon the beloved 1989 animated classic? Of course not. But Disney is on a tear when it comes to reimagining the movies you loved as a kid, and this is one of the Mouse House’s better efforts. Oscar nominee Rob Marshall (Chicago, Mary Poppins Returns, Into the Woods) is behind the camera for this tale of a young mermaid who longs to be (sing it with us) “part of your world.” Yet it’s Halle Bailey, delivering a powerhouse performance as Ariel, who truly makes The Little Mermaid worth watching.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Whether you think of Henry Selick’s imaginative stop-motion adventure as a Halloween film or a Christmas movie doesn’t really matter, as there’s never a bad time to add The Nightmare Before Christmas to your watch (or watch-again) list. When the mischief-makers in Halloweentown, including pumpkin king Jack Skellington, discover the magic of Christmas, they decide to kidnap Santa Claus and claim both holidays for themselves. Even in today’s CGI-soaked world, the artistry behind The Nightmare Before Christmas remains painfully impressive—and the macabre yet kid-friendly tone makes it a fun watch for the entire family.
In case you don’t know the story: After Cinderella loses her beloved mother, her father marries a nasty woman with two equally nasty daughters. While they spend their days tormenting the kind-hearted Cinderella, Prince Charming, the most eligible bachelor in all the land, only has eyes for her. Nearly 75 years after its original release, Cinderella remains a Disney classic for a reason. Now it’s back with an impressive 4K restoration that has been several years in the making.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
While no one expected James Gunn’s (presumed) MCU swan song to top the giddiness of his first entry in the series, few people expected it to be so damn depressing either. In addition to giving us Rocket Raccoon’s gut-wrenching backstory, which could have easily been set to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” the third Guardians film is also one of the only Marvel movies to delve into the psychological effects Thanos’ Snap had on the universe. Enjoy!
Avatar: The Way of Water
One week before Avatar hit theaters (for the first time) in late 2009, James Cameron announced his intention to turn the movie into a full-on franchise. But the director took his sweet time in following through. Avatar: The Way of Water—which checks in on blue lovebirds Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña), now married with children—was released in late 2022, a full 13 years after the original made its debut. But Cameron smartly bought himself some time by setting the film 16 years after the events of Avatar. And while the critical reviews were mixed, it still ended up becoming the third-highest-grossing movie of all time, proving yet again that Cameron has some sort of Midas touch.
The Incredible Hulk
To Marvel fans, Mark Ruffalo is the only Bruce Banner. But that’s only after Eric Bana tried on the supersized superhero’s tiny purple pants in 2003’s Hulk—and then passed them on to Edward Norton for this 2008 flick, which had the misfortune of hitting theaters just one month after Iron Man. The MCU has always had a messy timeline, but audiences shouldn’t be too quick to write this movie off, particularly those looking to kick back with a solid summer popcorn flick. Norton may lack Ruffalo’s effortless charm, but he’s got the Doc Green part of the character down. While the movie has largely (and wrongly) been forgotten, it’s making headlines once again, both because it has finally arrived on Disney+ and because Liv Tyler will find her way back into (the new) Bruce’s arms when she reprises her role as love interest Betty Ross in 2024’s Captain America: Brave New World.
The Skeleton Dance
Fans of classic animation got some stellar news earlier this year when Disney announced it would be adding more than two dozen freshly restored old shorts to the Disney+ library. One of the most exciting titles among them is The Skeleton Dance, which revolutionized cartoon culture in 1929. Walt Disney himself wrote, directed, and produced this macabre comedy in which a group of resurrected skeletons rise from their graves and, yep, dance. This is actually much funnier and/or more impressive than it sounds.
Easily the most recognizable name in comics, Stan Lee has had an impact on the medium—and on pop culture broadly—that simply can’t be overstated. Director David Gelb’s documentary about “The Man” delves into not only his legacy, but also his history. Tracing the comics maestro’s life from his early years in New York City to his work cocreating iconic characters like Spider-Man and Black Panther to his time as everyone’s favorite Marvel movie cameo, Stan Lee is essential viewing for any fan.
Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
On June 30, audiences finally got to see Harrison Ford throw on his fedora and pull out his bullwhip for another last go at playing Indiana Jones. After you’ve seen The Dial of Destiny, go back and witness Indy’s origins in Steven Spielberg’s classic 1980s adventure film, which sprang partly from the mind of George Lucas. The film, set in 1936, sees a seemingly quiet archaeology professor turned adventurer duking it out with Nazis in an attempt to recover the Ark of the Covenant. Indy’s follow-up adventures—The Temple of Doom (1984), The Last Crusade (1989), and (if you must) The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)—are all available too.
While Disney+ is known as a Marvel lover’s paradise, the streamer has been strangely devoid of live-action Spidey content (short of the Avengers movies). Fortunately, that has now changed as all of Tom Holland, Andrew Garfield, and Tobey Maguire’s turns as the web-slinger are now available. While Sam Raimi’s movies predate the official MCU, the famed director really set the stage for what that future universe would look like, with its mix of solid storytelling, genuine laughs, and impressive visuals. Maguire is perfectly cast as the awkwardly charming Peter Parker, who—having just discovered his superhero powers—is learning to harness them.
Venom may not have been a hit with critics, but WIRED senior editor Angela Watercutter nailed exactly what the movie was when she called it “a bad movie with great cult-movie potential.” While it rivals Doctor Strange for its stacked cast of serious talent—Tom Hardy in the lead, with Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed costarring, plus Zombieland’s Reuben Fleischer as director—the end result was, well, a bit of a jumbled mess. Nonetheless, it somehow manages to be compelling, even if you just turn it on to watch Hardy mumble, eat Tater Tots, and almost literally chew scenery for 112 minutes.
The Original Star Wars Trilogy
Naturally, Star Wars is one of the big attractions on Disney+. And it goes without saying, or at least it should, that the films that comprise the original trilogy are the best of the bunch—and the only Star Wars movies you should watch if you’re opting not to binge all dozen or so features. The caveat for pickier fans is that these are the versions that have been messed with by George Lucas post-release. Some things, like the improved visuals in and around Cloud City, are thoughtful additions, but others are more controversial.
The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
More than 20 years after Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope (aka simply Star Wars) helped to define the Hollywood blockbuster, George Lucas returned to the space opera well with an all-new trilogy for an all-new generation of moviegoers. It went about as well as you’d expect. We won’t pretend that The Phantom Menace (1999), Attack of the Clones (2002), and/or Revenge of the Sith (2005) have even an ounce of the heart, humor, or heroism of the original films. But they’ve become essential pop culture viewing, and a rite of passage for sci-fi fans, if only to get what all the Jar Jar Binks hate is about.
The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy
When Disney purchased Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, it was essentially George Lucas handing over the keys to the Millennium Falcon. While fans were rightly skeptical about whether the Mouse House would be able—or even want—to recapture the slightly countercultural environment in which the series was originally created, one hopeful thought united them all: Whatever Disney concocted could not be worse than the Prequel Trilogy. And they were right. By giving the reins to J.J. Abrams (The Force Awakens), Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi), then Abrams once again (The Rise of Skywalker), the series became more of a love letter to the original films and the generations of filmmakers—and fans—they inspired. Happily, actors Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, and Adam Driver proved worthy successors to the smugglers, scavengers, Jedi masters, and Sith Lords who preceded them.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
As WIRED senior writer Jason Parham wrote in his review of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, this movie is haunted by the absence of Chadwick Boseman, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s original King T’Challa who died following a battle with colon cancer in 2020. To that end, writer-director Ryan Coogler had to make a much different kind of superhero film, one that addressed the loss of its main character while also pushing Marvel’s cinematic storyline forward into its next phase. “It’s rare for MCU films to channel the turbulence of grief with such unflinching focus,” Parham wrote. “Coogler has equipped his sequel with a changed vocabulary: It speaks equally from a place of loss as it does triumph. Grief is its mother tongue.” To that end, the director uses the death of T’Challa to usher in a new Black Panther as well as new heroes (Ironheart) and adversaries-turned-allies (Namor).
Mei Lee is a 13-year-old with a problem: Whenever she’s overcome with any sort of overwhelming emotion, which is just about every emotion at that age, she transforms into a giant red panda. Eventually, Mei comes to learn that it’s an inherited family trait. And while there are people who would like to exploit her supernatural powers, she slowly learns that only she has the power to control them. Think of this as a spiritual sequel to 2015’s Inside Out, which explored the complex inner workings of an 11-year-old’s constantly changing emotions.
If These Walls Could Sing
Abbey Road Studios is best known as the place where the Beatles recorded some of their most iconic albums, including 1969’s Abbey Road. But the hallowed halls of this legendary music studio have played a much bigger role in the music industry, as it has hosted the likes of everyone from Elton John, Pink Floyd, and Aretha Franklin to Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga, Radiohead, Adele, Oasis, Kate Bush, and Frank Ocean. This documentary, which comes on the heels of Peter Jackson’s docuseries The Beatles: Get Back (which is also streaming on Disney+ and is highly recommended), is directed by Mary McCartney—daughter of Sir Paul—who practically grew up in the studio and, as such, is able to treat her subject with the reverence it deserves.
James Cameron’s Avatar was all anyone could talk about when it was released in theaters in 2009 and promptly went on to make more than $1 billion, becoming the cinematic iceberg that sank another Cameron epic, 1997’s Titanic, from its place as the highest-grossing movie of all time. For a movie that made so much bank, it never occupied a huge space in the cultural conversation about movies. Like so many of Cameron’s works, much of its innovation came from the technology that essentially had to be invented to make it possible.
The MCU has produced more than two dozen films since 2008, yet the very first of them—Iron Man—remains one of the best. It’s almost hard to believe how hard director Jon Favreau had to fight to get Robert Downey Jr. the leading role, as he’s arguably one of the MCU’s most beloved figures. Before there was a whole franchise plus a shared TV universe, Downey, as Tony Stark/Iron Man, was just allowed to do his thing. It was a gamble that paid off for all involved.
West Side Story
From Martin Scorsese to Spike Lee, pretty much every great director has made—or at least tried to make—a grand Hollywood musical, perhaps one of the toughest genres to successfully pull off. Steven Spielberg made the task even more difficult when he decided to adapt Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, and Arthur Laurents’ West Side Story—which Robert Wise already did to great acclaim in 1961. But, Spielberg (being Spielberg) managed to create an updated take on the story of Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler), two love-struck teens caught in the middle of an escalating rivalry between two street gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. The update gives nods to the original (like casting Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her role as Anita in Wise’s film) while improving on some of its controversial aspects (like casting Natalie Wood in the role of a Puerto Rican teen).
Lady and the Tramp
Sure, you can watch the live-action/CGI version that Disney+ released shortly after it launched, but why bother when the 1955 original is here too? Put aside the rather vulgar stereotypes that were common at the time (the movie now comes with a warning) and Lady and the Tramp remains one of the most iconic Disney animations, and a love story for the ages. When a spoiled cocker spaniel named Lady finds herself competing with a new baby for the attention of her parents, she ends up getting loose and befriending a mangy but charming mutt named Tramp. Ultimately, Lady needs to choose the pampered life she’s always known with Jim Dear and Darling, or a life of spaghetti dinner discards with the hopelessly romantic Tramp—unless there’s another way.
The Muppet Movie
Between The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, Jim Henson and the Muppets were everywhere in 1979. Their first big-screen outing serves as more of a prequel, as it follows Kermit the Frog’s journey from a swamp in Florida to Hollywood, where he’s headed to pursue his dreams of becoming a movie star. Along the way, we get to witness where and how he meets the fellow members of his felt-made crew, from Fozzie Bear to Miss Piggy. Hijinks ensue when a restaurateur named Doc Hopper doesn’t take too kindly to Kermit turning down his offer to serve as the official legs of his chain’s famous fried frog legs, and follows the frog in order to seek revenge.
Enrico Casarosa’s Luca earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2022 for its sweet and soulful story about a young boy named Luca who is hiding a dark secret: He’s a sea monster living in a town on the Italian Riviera that absolutely despises his kind. Ultimately, Luca is a moving coming-of-age film about friendship, family, and overcoming our own prejudices—and truly one of Pixar’s best features.
Marvel’s biggest mistake in the entire MCU canon (so far) was not commissioning Captain Marvel sooner. The film, set in the past, sees the rise of Marvel (Brie Larson) as she discovers her origin story and develops her powers. The film, the first entry in the Marvel universe with a female lead, channels the spirit of the 1990s both in its setting and in style, with heaping spoonfuls of Samuel L. Jackson and all the plot and subtlety of a blockbuster action movie. Larson adds a healthy dose of sarcasm to undercut her character’s immense power, and Jackson is eerily brilliant, making for a super fun 123 minutes. The movie’s sequel, The Marvels, is in theaters now.
Who doesn’t love a heist movie? Paul Rudd’s MCU debut acted as something of a palate cleanser after the heavy, literally Earth-shattering events of Age of Ultron. Rudd plays Scott Lang, a reformed criminal who teams up with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter (Evangeline Lily) to keep Pym’s shrinking technology from falling into the wrong hands. The film’s depiction of quantum physics wouldn’t hold much water at CERN, but it’s terrific fun—thanks in part to Michael Peña’s star turn as Lang’s former cellmate Luis and, of course, Rudd’s legendary likability. If you want to make it a Rudd-athon, both Ant-Man and the Wasp and this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania are streaming, too.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and its shutdown of almost the entire movie industry, Disney decided to try something new with its live-action version of Mulan by making it available to Disney+ subscribers instead of releasing it in theaters. The film itself is one of the latest in Disney’s recent string of live-action remakes and sees Liu Yifei in the title role, with reviews praising the cast, visuals, and action sequences.
There’s a moment in the event-movie-to-endgame-all-event-movies when you realize that writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus have gone full Harry Potter and the Cursed Child all over the MCU. Once you get past the rather glum beginning, you can settle in for what you have come to expect from any Avengers movie: Tony Stark cracking wise; Doctor Strange doing weird things with his hands; Professor Hulk explaining the science of what’s going on; and Black Widow and Captain Marvel kicking ass, both emotionally and physically. It’s a messy but epic baton-pass in the form of an angsty portal-powered mega-battle. And we’re not going to lie: We’ve watched those audience reaction videos, and they too are a thing of joy.
This foul-mouthed superhero movie marks a definite departure from the vanilla content that was available on Disney+ in its first couple years of operation. Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool, who has the ability to heal from pretty much any injury—and is an angry, violent, wisecracking mercenary tasked with protecting a young mutant from a time-traveling soldier.
If you only know Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical from the obscenely high ticket prices and snippets of the soundtrack, here’s your chance to find out what all the fuss is about. A version of the production, recorded via a six-camera setup over two performances by the original Broadway cast, was put on Disney+ after plans to release it in cinemas were scrapped. Aside from a couple of censored swear words and the fact that it’s directed (by Thomas Kail), it’s essentially the same show—an energetic, empathetic, witty, quippy hip-hop musical about US founding father Alexander Hamilton.
All the Pixar Shorts
Now’s the time for a Pixar short sesh. You could do as the studio intended and pick out the correct short to watch before the main animated showing, or you could head to the Shorts tab and go wild with Pixar, Disney, and new Sparkshorts. WIRED’s faves are Lava (8 minutes), Bao (7 minutes), Purl (12 minutes), Smash and Grab (8 minutes), La Luna (6 minutes), Sanjay’s Super Team (7 minutes), and Day and Night (7 minutes). Out (9 minutes) is one of the latest, and for a slice of Pixar history, check out 1997’s Geri’s Game (4 minutes) and see if you recognize the chess player.
One of the potential answers to “What, oh, what to put on after Frozen and Frozen 2?” Moana is in fact better than Frozen. By that we simply mean better soundtrack, better heroine, better visuals, and better side quests. There’s also 100 percent more Dwayne Johnson as a tattooed demigod and Jemaine Clement as a giant crab doing a Bowie impression. Set thousands of years ago on the fictional, Polynesia-inspired island of Motunui, Moana’s hero’s journey is fairly classic, but the sumptuous animation and Lin-Manuel Miranda tunes are top-tier Disney. (Sure, we’d love to see Taika Waititi’s original script, but we can live without it.)
If your friend told you they’d decided to solo-climb up the sheer 3,000-foot granite El Capitan wall in Yosemite, California, with no rope, you’d think they had gone mad. But that’s exactly what Alex Honnold set out to do back in 2017. Honnold’s quest to climb the vertical wall was documented by his two director friends, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, as he took on the ascent to become the world’s first person to free-climb El Capitan. But it’s not just about the ascent, it’s also about Honnold’s complicated life, his emotional issues, and all the things that have driven him to pursue one of the most dangerous missions ever attempted by any free climber. The cinematography in Free Solo is also dizzyingly beautiful, and the entire thing will have you gripping the arm of your chair in terror.
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis) is an experimental inventor who creates an electromagnetic shrinking machine. Naturally, he accidentally shrinks his own children (if you didn’t already guess that from the title), plus the kids from next door, then unwittingly throws them in the trash. To have any chance of becoming their normal size again, the teeny tots must navigate their way across the family’s (now seemingly gigantic) yard and back to the house. It’s something fraught with peril when you’re half the size of an aspirin.
Toy Story (All of Them)
While it might have seemed that Pixar could never make anything as good as the original 1995 Toy Story, each of the three subsequent films add depth to the franchise’s canon. All of the movies are critically acclaimed—and they’re all available on Disney+. When combined, the four films tell a story about growing up and how everything in life, inevitably, changes. Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang go from learning how to deal with new people to understanding loss. It’s something that’s also followed the cast: In Toy Story 4, the voice of Mr. Potato Head was created through archive recordings after Don Rickles, as the man behind the voice, died ahead of the film’s release.
The Lion King
Remember the terrifying wildebeest stampede in the 1994 version of The Lion King? That was actually computer animated, because drawing them by hand would have taken a long, long time. Special attention was taken to blend it into the cel-shaded backgrounds, and this was all before Toy Story came out the following year. Which is all to say that not only is the ’90s version a perfect movie that had absolutely zero need for a charm-deficient 2019 remake (which is also streaming on Disney+ in case you want to compare), it’s also the best Lion King to use CG animation.
10 Things I Hate About You
Heath Ledger singing “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” on the bleachers. That’s the iconic scene in this top-caliber high school romcom. The plot is taken from The Taming of the Shrew, the cast—including Ledger, Julia Stiles, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt—are all adorable, and the late ’90s nostalgia is potent. Offering some much-needed variety from the sci-fi and animation that dominates the Disney+ launch catalog, 10 Things I Hate About You is as good as comfort-food movies get.
Tron & Tron: Legacy
Tron and its modern sequel, Tron: Legacy, aren’t your typical Disney films. The original sees a programmer (Jeff Bridges) become trapped inside a computer system where he meets and befriends programs, including the eponymous hero Tron, who are resisting the power of a growing artificial intelligence, the Master Control Program. It became a sci-fi cult classic, leading to the creation of a modern sequel that continues the story and features an epic score cowritten by Daft Punk. Both are watchable distractions, even if the sequel feels a little thin in places.
Another nostalgia fest, this time for fans of ’80s fantasy. Willow is a family-friendly, mythic quest that’s best seen as George Lucas and Ron Howard’s fun, $35 million Tolkien fan fiction. The story of a farmer tasked with protecting a magic baby from an evil queen is not exactly the most original story in the world, but that hasn’t stopped this from becoming a classic, with Warwick Davis as Willow Ufgood and Val Kilmer waving a sword around. Classic Sunday afternoon fare.
This sugary sweet animation tells the story of Ralph, a villain from an 1980s arcade game who wants to be something more than just the bad guy throwing debris off the top of an 8-bit building. One day, he goes AWOL from his game and ventures into the wider arcade—encountering a mish-mash of video game characters loosely based on your childhood favorites—from Hero’s Duty (a combination of Halo and Call of Duty, so basically Gears of War) to Sugar Rush (a weird mash-up of Mario Kart and Candy Crush), where he strikes up a friendship with a young girl racer.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Winter Soldier is among the best Marvel movies. It makes time for quieter character moments, and the action, while still spectacular, feels a little more grounded and real than the CGI-fueled shock and awe of the mainline movies. In this outing, Captain America faces off against a rogue element of SHIELD led by Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce.
The first two Thor films were among the worst in the whole series—Chris Hemsworth’s thunder god was dour and charmless. But here, director Taika Waititi injected some much-needed color into the proceedings, borrowing heavily from the Planet Hulk storyline from the comics. Thor finds himself stranded on a bizarre planet, ruled over by Jeff Goldblum (who is pretty much playing himself). There, he crosses paths with Bruce Banner’s Hulk, who has been missing since the events of Civil War. It’s hugely funny, and arguably the best film of the series.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The newer Star Wars one-off films attract strong opinions, and Rogue One is no different. But while it has its issues, it fills an important hole in the universe and features some of the best action sequences in the entire saga. Its main black mark is the rather iffy CGI recreation of Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin, but it’s still a fun romp that lacks the narrative baggage of the new trilogy.
Black Panther had a huge cultural impact. It was refreshingly unusual to see a blockbuster superhero film with such a diverse cast—and the Afrofuturist setting was unlike anything Marvel had ever done before. Michael B. Jordan steals the show as Killmonger, who returns to his father’s home to claim the throne from T’Challa (the late Chadwick Boseman).
Released in 2008, a time when, for many, the climate crisis felt like a distant, abstract threat, WALL·E is classic Pixar. It’s a love story—sort of—that focuses on two robots. But it’s also a story about survival, believing in yourself, and dancing through the vacuum of space propelled by a fire extinguisher. The animation, especially on the desolate, barren Earth, is a sight to behold. The opening scenes of the film are also basically a silent film, with the score and robotic sound effects doing a fantastic job bringing out the emotion and drama of what’s happening.
Don’t cry. But also cry. A lot. Inside Out is the perfect realization of what every Pixar film strives to achieve. On the surface, it’s a comedic look at human emotion, the complexity of a child growing up, and the delicate balance of family life. But by literally getting inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, the film finds a way to bring emotion to life in a way that is at once comedic, profound, and often ingenious. A sequel, featuring a new slate of emotions, is scheduled for release in June 2024.
Pixar’s Up can claim one of the most moving opening scenes of any movie. Despite being released more than a decade ago, in 2009, the animation hasn’t aged or lost any of its charm. In a little over 90 minutes, director Pete Docter takes us on the journey of Carl, an old widower who is seeking out Paradise Falls. Carl’s trip in his flying house is made in memory of his wife, Ellie, who had always wanted to visit the falls. The film won two Oscars—Best Animated Feature and Best Original Score—but was also nominated for three more. These included Best Picture, which at the time made it only the second animated film to have received the nomination (1991’s Beauty and the Beast—which is also streaming on Disney+, and most definitely worth a rewatch—was the first).
The Straight Story
David Lynch has built a career on being wonderfully bizarre and surreal. But the strangest thing he might have ever done was to make this G-rated family drama for Disney, which seemed to fly way under the radar. Richard Farnsworth earned a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role as stubborn—and ailing—old man Alvin Straight, who decides to reconnect with his estranged brother (Harry Dean Stanton) after a decade of not speaking. So Alvin hits the road, on his riding lawn mower, to make the 300-mile journey.
The Jungle Book
Whatever mood you’re in, Disney+ has The Jungle Book to suit it. The streaming service has both the 1967 animated classic, with its catchy soundtrack and moments of humor, plus the live-action version released in 2016. The two films couldn’t be more different. If you want to go for full family entertainment, pick the original, but if you’re after something a little darker, the modern remake is where you should head. (Bonus fact: The entire live-action film was shot in a warehouse.)
Guardians of the Galaxy
The first volume of Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t burst into the MCU until 2014, which is relatively late considering Phase One began with Iron Man in 2008. However, it’s become a firm fan favorite, providing some of the Universe’s most memorable (and important) characters. Quill, Rocket, Groot, Gamora, and Nebula are all distinctive and in many ways more likable than other key MCU characters. Guardians is worth returning to if you want to remember a slightly simpler time before Thanos’ Snap.