Everyone has a favorite Disney animated classic. Across generations, geography, and cultural divides, Disney’s animated films have lit up the imagination of children and adults alike, ever since 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs kicked off the animation studio on a high note. But Disney’s also no stranger to live-action filmmaking, kicking off their live-action wing with 1950’s Treasure Island and establishing a tradition of adventure films and heartfelt family dramas that carries on to this day through films like the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and of course, their bustling business of live-action remakes.
The studio tested the waters of live-action remakes in the 90s with Stephen Sommers’ The Jungle Book (1994) and Stephen Herek‘s 101 Dalmatians (1996), and while those early entries found some success (including a Golden Globe nomination for Glenn Close‘s extravagant performance as Cruella De Vil,) the trend didn’t fully kick off until Tim Burton‘s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland stunned with billion-dollar box office. Since then, Disney has launched a full-on franchise approach to the subset of their live-action wing, releasing at least one live-action remake title a year since 2014.
There was some debate about what to include. What counts as live-action when there are all-CGI films like The Lion King in the works? What counts as a remake, when reimaginings like Maleficent and Christopher Robin abound? Do we count the sequels to remakes and re-imaginings, even if they aren’t technically remakes themselves? For the purposes of this article, we’re looking at every remake, reimagining, and subsequent sequel that Disney developed after the breakout success of Alice in Wonderland. Rather than get too specific with the definition, we just want to take a comprehensive look at the nostalgia-fuelled wave of (mostly) blockbuster hits Disney produced in the 21st Century.
So, without further ado, check out the best Disney live-action remakes ranked in the list below, and stay tuned as we update our picks with each new theatrical release.
1940’s Pinocchio is widely considered to be one of Disney animation’s greatest accomplishments nearly 75 years later. 2022’s Pinocchio, however, is the worst live-action update of Disney’s animated work so far, a nightmare to the senses, and disturbingly awkward in every way. It also doesn’t help that it came out in the same year as the Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, showing exactly how to update a timeless story. But in this remake, Pinocchio is at an all-time high on the annoying charts, Tom Hanks is over-the-top as Geppetto, and the ending makes for one of the most confounding diversions these films have ever made. You’ve got plenty of options when it comes to Pinocchio stories—this shouldn’t be one of them. —Ross Bonaime
17. Alice Through the Looking Glass
For a film centered around a villain obsessed with the wheels and cogs of time, Alice Through the Looking Glass never figures out what makes it tick. There’s lots of visual splendor, the returning cast who are willing as ever to go to operatic levels of high camp, and the strength of Lewis Carroll‘s fantastical inventions, but Through the Looking Glass fumbles from one scene to the next without building inertia or giving audiences much of a reason to care. There are still delights to be found in the vibrant chaos, wondrous creatures and wonderful absurdity (in rather too small doses) nestled into decadent production design, but no amount of rich colors or fuzzy creatures can quite absolve the film’s flaccid pacing and overcrowded action. Without Tim Burton‘s auteur eye, the indulgent visuals topple over themselves, crowding the screen and overtaking story; you’ll still have a pretty good time zipping through the scenery of Wonderland, but you’ll be checking your watch along the way, something that should never happen in a land so rich with, well… wonders. —Haleigh Foutch
16. Alice in Wonderland
The 2010 breakout hit that kicked off Disney’s live-action remake trend, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland suffers from similar style-over-substance problems that plague its follow-up, but it’s a bit tighter, more succinctly envisioned, and bursting with enough of Burton’s giddy oddball humor to make it less of a slog. But for all its strengths — that incredible, scenery-chewing cast first among them — Alice in Wonderland doesn’t really rank in the highlights of Burton’s or Disney’s oeuvre. For all his filmmaking might and rightfully celebrated knack for visual showmanship, Burton can’t quite capture the wonder of Wonderland, and while Mia Wasikowska has proven herself a compelling actress time and again, here, she plays Alice with such placid reserve, you can barely feel the character’s bursting wit and curiosity. Alice in Wonderland deserves its place in film history as the runaway hit that spawned a decade of live-action remakes, but since then, Disney has refined its formula (sometimes too much) and upped its game, and the film’s weaker elements just don’t measure up to what came after. —Haleigh Foutch
15. The Lion King
Ok, first things first — I hesitate to even put this title on the list because it definitely is not a “live-action” film, but for the purposes of putting together a complete list of this modern wave of Disney remakes, I relent. That said, Jon Favreau‘s The Lion King remake is a strange and fascinating experiment — an animated movie that embraced groundbreaking technology to look almost 100% photo-realistic and ends up feeling like the most expensive sing-a-long in cinema history. Furthering the technology he used on The Jungle Book, Favreau looks to recapture the magic of the beloved 1994 animated classic in the life-like terrain of the Pride Lands, but there’s power to the whimsy of the animated format, and anthropomorphizing photo-real animals just doesn’t have the same charm. —Haleigh Foutch
Mulan is a disappointing mixed bag, a film that doesn’t feel beholden to the animated original—which is usually a good thing!—yet in doing that, it loses so much of the joy and charm that made the animated film so great. Granted, musical numbers and an Eddie Murphy-voiced dragon don’t really have a place in Niki Caro‘s adaptation, but this Wuxia take on Mulan just isn’t that engaging on its own. There are nice touches, like the use of the fantastic costumes, and the discussions of men not being prepared for strong women, but Mulan shows that trying something different from the original doesn’t always make for a great update. —Ross Bonaime
13. Lady and the Tramp
Everyone likes cute dogs, and Lady and the Tramp certainly plays to that, as we watch the same basic story of the 1955 film, but with real dogs, voiced by Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson. It’s adorable and even the CGI’ed mouths of the dogs grow on you after a while. But like The Lion King, it’s hard to imagine who is going to prefer this over the animated version. Lady and the Tramp has its charms for sure, and at least it’s not trying to play off CGI dogs as real, so it’s got at least that paw up on The Lion King. —Ross Bonaime
12. Beauty and the Beast
There’s no denying that, for many folks, Disney’s 2017 remake of their 1991 Best Picture nominee Beauty and the Beast was a hit. It grossed a shocking amount at the box office, even by Disney’s lofty standards, to the tune of $1.2 billion — a benchmark usually reserved for animated hits and blockbuster franchises that firmly put it at the head of the pack as the highest-grossing live-action remake. But from this writer’s perspective, Bill Condon‘s Beauty and the Beast never justifies the jump in medium, with underwhelming set-pieces and visual flourish that underwhelm compared to the magic of animation, fairly tepid renditions of Alan Menken‘s gorgeous songs, and a bloated runtime that brings the fairy tale to a sluggish, overdrawn close. —Haleigh Foutch
11. Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is only the second sequel to be made for a live-action Disney remake, and it’s easy to see why. Mistress of Evil largely plays the hits of the original, but without the power that the original had. Joachim Rønning‘s film wants us to believe that maybe Maleficent (played by the great Angelina Jolie) could still be evil deep down, despite the first film already showing us that she isn’t. Beyond that, Mistress of Evil reiterates the first film’s message, but without the power of Maleficent’s origins that made the first film a lovely surprise. Disney had a good thing with the first Maleficent, maybe they didn’t need to keep going. —Ross Bonaime
Tim Burton’s take on Dumbo didn’t work for a lot of people and ultimately ended up being one of the worst-performing of Disney’s live-action remakes, but boy did it work for me. It’s fair to say that the film’s first act is a slog, and Dumbo is still some of the gnarliest emotional warfare Disney ever waged on its audience, but Burton piles his love for outcasts and oddballs into his riff on the animated classic, delivering a heartfelt family drama about embracing the quirks that make you special and the wonder of being weird. Dumbo is so earnest it teeters into deeply uncool territory more than once, but that’s part of its charm, as is the too-charming dynamic between Colin Farrell‘s one-armed retired rodeo star and Eva Green‘s fearless trapeze artist. Throw in whatever the heck Michael Keaton is doing as a very President Business owner of a corporate theme park, the strange self-own Disney does by skewering said corporate theme park, and all the touching/striking reimaginings of Dumbo‘s classic fantasy moments, and there’s a lot to love about this little weirdo movie. —Haleigh Foutch
Aladdin is fun and energetic, but it’s not much else. Aladdin is a touchstone Disney film for the peak-nostalgia millennial moviegoers, featuring arguably the best voiceover work in Disney history from Robin Williams as the Genie, so it’s exactly a shock that Disney stuck to the Beauty and the Beast playbook and played it safe with this remake. But that doesn’t make for a particularly interesting or satisfying film. There’s no denying Aladdin has a lot of fun to offer though, including a spectacular breakout performance from Naomi Scott as Jasmine, some enervating dance numbers and parkour scenes that show off Mena Massoud‘s physical performance skills, and an absurdly enthusiastic and delightfully hammy performance from Will Smith as the Genie. Williams’ shoes are impossible to fill, but Smith never takes the lazy way out, bringing endless energy to a movie that desperately needs it. But even Smithe’s endless zeal can’t make up for a film that’s fundamentally lacking in personality beyond reverence for the animated classic that inspired it, and ultimately, if the film has no vision for itself, it becomes little more than a calculated cash grab. It’s a pretty fun cash grab, all things considered, but the uninspired take on some of Disney’s best material isn’t exactly a wish come true. —Haleigh Foutch
8. The Jungle Book
Jon Favreau is a king of crowd-pleasers. He helped launch the MCU with Iron Man, made an all-time Christmas classic with Elf, and delivered an absurdly charming indie with Chef, so it shouldn’t be surprising that his 2016 adaptation of Disney’s 1967 animated film The Jungle Book is one of the most entertaining remakes to date. Boasting groundbreaking, Oscar-winning photoreal visual effects, Favreau’s remake is an immersive adventure through the heart of the jungle with surprisingly visceral action and some downright terrifying predators. It’s worth the price of admission alone just to hear Bill Murray and Christopher Walken chewing up iconic Disney songs like “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You,” respectively, but Favreau’s eye for tight, breezy action and moments of heart keep the film flowing along between the highlights, making the whole rollicking trip through the wild a delight from start to finish. —Haleigh Foutch
7. Peter Pan & Wendy
David Lowery, more than any other director, has proven how magical Disney’s live-action remakes can be. His latest update, Peter Pan & Wendy, is a smart update of a classic that has seen plenty of remakes already. Lowery keeps the core of what worked, takes out the problematic choices, and adds more heart and introspection. The real key to Peter Pan & Wendy is Jude Law‘s Captain Hook, whose history and his past with Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) becomes essential to bringing this story to the next generation. Lowery knows exactly how to update decades-old favorites, and hopefully we see more remakes from him in the future. —Ross Bonaime
Maleficent‘s take on one of the most iconic Disney villains is shockingly dark, truly unsettling at times, and it’s even more surprising that the film was a massive success considering all that. Maleficent gives us the origins of the title character, which are painful in their abuse, and reconfigures scenes from Sleeping Beauty and imbues them with far more meaning. Jolie, again, is excellent as Maleficent, and despite us knowing where her character goes, it’s hard to not at least be somewhat on her side. Maleficent falls prey to some of the same problems as other live-action remakes, like an unnecessary fight scene at the end, and an over-reliance on CGI, but Maleficent still remains one of the more fascinating explorations of Disney’s source material. —Ross Bonaime
5. The Little Mermaid
Like a lot of the films on this list, The Little Mermaid isn’t going to make people ignore the animated original, yet with the pleasant additions made to this Disney Renaissance-era story, it’s hard to be mad that it’s part of our world. Halle Bailey is incredible as Ariel, and any uncertainty will be washed away once she belts out “Part of Your World.” The rest of the cast is impeccable as well, including Melissa McCarthy as Ursula and Daveed Diggs as the voice of Sebastian. But the best part of The Little Mermaid are actually when the film isn’t under the sea, as The Little Mermaid fleshes out the bond between Ariel and Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King) in a way that makes this seem like much more than a flimsy case of love at first sight. —Ross Bonaime
If Maleficent explored the dark past of a classic Disney villain, Cruella manages to do the same, but have fun with it. From the too-needle-drop-heavy score to the Oscar-winning costume design and excellent cast that includes Emma Stone, Emma Thompson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Joel Fry, Cruella is a blast, and a rare major deviation from the story you know into something that is ridiculously fun and wild. Cruella certainly isn’t beholden to the animated original, and has a tone and style of its own that doesn’t feel like any other film on this list. Sure, Emma Stone isn’t killing dogs in this film, but would you really want that? Cruella tries to go for its own identity, and while that might be sort of confusing in the long run when tying it to the first film, this is still a hoot. —Ross Bonaime
3. Christopher Robin
The set-up for Marc Foster‘s Christopher Robin isn’t exactly inspired; a workaholic father returns to the childhood fantasy land he forgot to rediscover his youthful sense of joy — so you know, Hook. But the enduring loveliness of Winnie the Pooh overpowers the film’s too-familiar beats any time the tubby little cubby and his pals are on screen. Ewan McGregor makes for a charming grownup version of Christopher Robin, but the real charm lies in those little stuffed cuties living in the Hundred Acre Wood. There’s just nothing as pure or adorable in the world as Winnie the Pooh… and Tigger too, and all the rest, who still have just as much charm, loveable quirks, and life lessons to deliver after all these years. There will always be something winning and inspiring about hearing Pooh’s simple meditations on life, and seeing an actor with McGregor’s convincing warmth acting alongside them only enhances the warm fuzzy feelings. —Haleigh Foutch
Kenneth Branagh struck the perfect balance between reverence and reinvention with his 2015 remake of Cinderella, taking liberty with the exacts of the 1950 animated classic while staying pitch-perfect to the tone of the beloved fairy tale. Out of all of Disney’s animated fantasies, Cinderella was always the most whimsical head-rush of wish fulfillment, but Branagh’s spin on the story (from a screenplay by Chris Weitz) filled out the thin tale with a few more character moments and added even more romance to the magical equation, framing it all around the iconic tale of strength in kindness. And being a good person has never looked more glamorous, with extraordinary costume work from the great Sandy Powell and a deliciously wicked turn from Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother, not to mention the winning pair of Lily James and Richard Madden bringing some spark to the chambermaid and her prince. Cinderella is what it looks like when Disney’s live-action remakes knock it out of the park, honoring everything fans love about the original while embracing the full capacity of the live-action medium to translate the story to a new kind of wonder and beauty. —Haleigh Foutch
1. Pete’s Dragon
Peter Lowery‘s heartfelt spin on Pete’s Dragon didn’t garner the same attention and box office draw as Disney’s other recent remakes, but the touching family story stands is a lowkey standout in the bunch. Narrated by the great Robert Redford, Pete’s Dragon is an emotionally fuelled take on the somewhat obscure 1977 Disney film, and as someone who was obsessed with the original as the kid, it’s a welcome, if completely different reinvention of the material. Lowery ground the drama in a deep humanist undercurrent — and that’s extremely on-brand for the director behind genre-subverting character films like A Ghost Story and The Old Man and the Gun — telling the story of an orphan named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who happens to be a dragon. It’s gentle and sweet, subtle and sincere, and without the pressures of big-budget spectacle, Lowery takes time to settle into the characters and relationships while tugging at the heartstrings. —Haleigh Foutch