Disney's streaming service, Disney+, is on its way, and we are excited. Sure, yes, there are going to be a bunch of new shows and movies, but what we grown adults who grew up in the '90s and 2000s really want to use Disney+ for is to rewatch the classic Disney Channel Original Movies of our youth. With that in mind, I ranked the top 20 Disney Channel movies of all time. If every DCOM isn't available on Disney+, a lot of millennials are going to be sorely disappointed.
A few caveats here: First, I'm not including sequels on this list. For movies that became franchises, assume the sequels are lumped in. Second, I did not include movies that are technically Disney Channel Premiere Movies, like Wish Upon a Star, Susie Q, or The Paper Brigade (even though I love them). I also did not include Disney TV movies that didn't premiere on the Disney Channel, like the eternal classic Life Size. I'm sticking to official DCOMs. Third, this is my personal top 20 list, but I want to stress that I also believe it is universally correct. So there. Without further ado, the best 20 Disney Channel Original Movies of all time, ranked from best to least-best.
As someone who watched Halloweentown as a kid, a teen, and an adult, and will watch it over and over until I keel over, I can say with certainty that it ages like fine wine. Debbie Reynolds as a witch grandma with a bottomless bag? The DCOM Queen, Kimberly J. Brown in the starring role? An entire magical land where it's Halloween all year long? It's a total classic. Not to mention it's got two solid sequels.
Smart House (1999)
Katey Segal gives us an otherworldly performance as a sentient house robot in Smart House, a DCOM that could double as an episode of Black Mirror. It is a brilliant case of wish fulfillment gone wrong, but who among us wouldn't voluntarily live under the tyranny of an AI maid if she cleaned all our houses in under a minute? Plus, it stars Ryan Merriman, who was the DCOM King to Kimberly J. Brown's Queen in the late '90s and early 2000s.
The Luck of the Irish (2001)
Mr. Merriman is back in the spotlight in this DCOM about a kid who starts turning into a leprechaun, learns he comes from a long line of Irish Lucky Charms mascots, and then has to beat a rival leprechaun in a basketball game to save his lucky coin. It's a bit of an overdone premise (ha ha, JK, it's insane), but we love it anyway.
Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)
Zetus lapidus, Zenon is the best! Who knew that a movie about a teen living on a space station in the future would also give us a verified pop hottie in Proto Zoa. If you didn't put your hair in butterfly clips and get down to "Supernova Girl" in 1999, you're lying.
The Thirteenth Year (1999)
The Thirteenth Year was every 13-year-old's dream come true. A kid wakes up the morning after his 13th birthday, and he's turning into a merman? Yes, please. As a little girl who used to watch The Little Mermaid with a pillowcase over my legs so I could pretend to be a mermaid, this DCOM spoke to me.
Get a Clue (2002)
Lindsay Lohan. Brenda Song. The kid who played Alfalfa in The Little Rascals movie. Solving a missing person mystery?!?!?! It's all we could ever hope for. Kid detective stories were the best. Even thought this was sort of a "late" one in the first generation of DCOMs, it's a really good one. And it has a legitimately good performance by Amanda Plummer, who's great in everything!
Phantom of the Megaplex (2000)
What could be better than a loose Phantom of the Opera adaptation that takes place in a movie theater and co-stars Mickey Rooney? I rest my case. It is just the right balance of silly and spooky and spoke to all the kids who liked to hang out at the movie theater, even when they weren't watching movies.
Cadet Kelly (2002)
Hilary Duff and Christy Carlson Romano are at each other's throats in this military-school based DCOM, and that's pretty much all you need to know. It's a battle of the Disney Channel big sisters, and it's the best. Oh yeah, and Gary Cole plays Hilary Duff's stepfather, so.
Jumping Ship (2001)
The Lawrence brothers gave us several movies and TV shows in their time on the Disney Channel, but the best DCOM of theirs is by far Jumping Ship. It's technically a sequel to Horse Sense, but it's set on the water, and the boys' boat is taken over by pirates! It's a thrilling high seas adventure, and you see a lot of Joey Lawrence arm!
Rip Girls (2000)
In Rip Girls, Camilla Belle plays Sydney, who visits her birthplace of Hawaii years after her mother passes away. There, Sydney learns to surf, learns about her mother, and makes a new friend in Gia. I've gotten a lot of flak (specifically from my fiancé) for leaving Johnny Tsunami off this list, but in my mind, Rip Girls and Johnny Tsunami are very similar, and I liked Rip Girls better.
In conversations about people's favorite DCOMs, Brink! comes up almost every time. Personally, it doesn't rank quite as high for me as some others, but the Erik Von Detten inline skating movie pretty much encapsulates everything about the late '90s, so it does hold a special place in my heart.
High School Musical (2006)
I was too old for High School Musical when it came out, but that doesn't mean I didn't watch it and lament how good it actually was. I was convinced the golden age of DCOMs was over by then, but High School Musical revived them single-handedly. It was a cultural phenomenon, became a classic, and spawned a whole new era. So here I am, maybe a tad reluctantly giving it the credit it deserves.
A girl chops off all her hair and disguises herself as her twin brother to compete for him in a motocross competition? Yes please. I was a total tomboy growing up, and really any sports movie in which a girl proved that she could compete with the boys brought me to tears. This was no exception.
Gotta Kick It Up! (2002)
Sí se puede! Sí se puede! Sí se puede! I'd be lying if I said I don't still chant that to myself every once in a while. I wasn't a cheerleader or Latina, but this movie about a group of Latina cheerleaders had so much heart. It starred America Ferrara in one of her early roles and I just loved it.
Teen Beach Movie (2013)
I may have stumbled across Teen Beach Movie as an adult and got totally sucked in. I'm sorry; it's great. The premise is that teens go surfing, get swept away, and land on another beach where they have inexplicably entered the world of a 1960s musical teen beach movie. It's clever, the songs are catchy, and the performances, especially by the actors who are stuck in an old-fashioned beach movie, are simply great.
The Color of Friendship (2000)
I will admit that I have not watched The Color of Friendship in nearly two decades, so I have no idea how well or how poorly it has aged, but at the time, I truly thought it was profound. The story follows the friendship of two girls, Mahree, the white daughter of a racist South African policeman, and Piper, the black daughter of a congressman from Washington, D.C. during apartheid. Mahree stays with Piper's family in the U.S. as part of an exchange program. The girls eventually set aside their preconceived notions of each other, learn the truth about apartheid, and Mahree returns home evidently cured of her racism. When I was 11, I loved it.
The Cheetah Girls (2003)
I was too old for The Cheetah Girls, but my sister loved it, and I think these girls set a record for the most layers worn on screen in a single moment, so I had to include it. No, but really, this was the breakout DCOM for Raven-Symoné, and The Cheetah Girls went on to create a bunch of actual music!
Under Wraps (1997)
Under Wraps is technically the first Disney Channel Original Movie ever, so it deserves a spot on the list. Plus, who can forget the lovable mummy named Harold? It's a perfect companion piece to Halloweentown when you're craving something kid-friendly for the spooky season.
Alley Cats Strike (2000)
Alley Cats Strike's greatest accomplishment is that it actually managed to make bowling exciting. This movie has that classic "popular kid gets stuck hanging with the nerds and then they all learn to love each other" premise, and I gotta say, it works like an absolute charm!
Full-Court Miracle (2003)
As someone who was bat mitzvahed in 2002, I couldn't very well leave the only DCOM about Jewish kids off the list. Besides, it is inspired by a true story about a college coach who takes over training a team Jewish basketball players and leads them to victory. As far as movies about Jews that center around basketball, Full-Court Miracle is second only to Eight Crazy Nights.
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