In recent years, Disney has had plenty of success in betting on its past to build its future. Live-action remakes of classic Disney films like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast have experienced box-office success, while upcoming reboots of The Mighty Ducks and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids similarly find inspiration in the studio’s vast library of beloved franchises.
With a library of more than 200 films dating back to 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, there’s plenty of source material for Disney to draw from, and plenty of fan-favorite films that could benefit from a fresh interpretation, modern effects, or simply another chapter in the story they tell. Here are 10 movies that Disney would be smart to revisit.
Jules Verne’s 19th-century novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea inspired Disney’s 1954 film, which starred Kirk Douglas and James Mason and went on to earn a pair of Academy Awards. The original film was praised for its groundbreaking special effects at that time, so a new adaptation of that classic story with modern visual effects makes a lot of sense. 20,000 Leagues is considered one of the formative works of the steampunk genre, and surprisingly, it hasn’t been remade or otherwise adapted countless times over at this point. At a time when spectacle rules the box office, this thrilling undersea adventure is begging for a modern, IMAX-friendly interpretation.
Speaking of spectacle, Disney’s 1979 deep-space disaster film holds the distinction of being the studio’s first PG-rated movie, but failed it to win over audiences despite some breathtaking (for the time) visual effects and cinematography that earned it a pair of Academy Award nominations. The dark (and occasionally quite frightening) film follows the crew of a spaceship that encounters another, mysterious ship hovering outside a massive black hole. Their investigation of the ship eventually pits them against an insane scientist whose obsession with the black hole could spell doom for everyone.
Another underappreciated gem of the Disney movie library, 1981’s Condorman sought to capitalize on superhero stories by following the adventures of a comic book creator who gets entangled in some Cold War-era espionage, and must rely on real-world versions of his fictional character’s arsenal of gadgets to save the day. At a time when superhero movies are all the rage but often tend to take themselves a little too seriously, a modern remake of Condorman could manage to carve out a unique niche in an increasingly crowded genre.
Once regarded as one of Disney’s most controversial films, The Devil and Max Devlin cast Bill Cosby as Satan, which was scandalous at the time for a completely different reason than it would be now. In the film, Cosby’s devilish alter ego tasks a recently deceased slumlord with convincing three people to sell their souls in order to save himself from eternal torment in the afterlife. The plan backfires, of course, and the man ends up learning what it means to be a decent human and redeems himself in the end. It’s a story that has plenty of potential to be a modern feel-good Disney hit — particularly with a pair of popular actors in the lead roles.
Disney went all-in on the sword-and-sorcery genre with this 1981 film that followed a young magician’s apprentice who finds himself tasked with killing a 400-year-old dragon that has been terrorizing a medieval kingdom. If Disney is interested in capitalizing on the post-Game of Thrones interest in the fantasy genre, the studio need only look to this lesser-known gem from its vault. With its dark tone and high stakes, Dragonslayer tested the boundaries of the studio’s family-friendly banner at the time, but a remake would seem right at home alongside similar, more adult-themed fare like the Pirates of the Caribbean films.
It took Disney a while to take credit for this 1980 film, which flopped at the box office but turned into a cult-favorite film years later. The movie follows several groups of college students recruited for a dusk-to-dawn scavenger hunt around Los Angeles by an eccentric grad student. A blend of Animal House and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the film’s weird spin on the scavenger hunt theme is just begging for a 21st century makeover with a talented ensemble cast.
Disney dove into the horror genre with a 1983 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name. The story follows a pair of young boys who suspect that a mysterious carnival that arrived in town could pose a sinister — and possibly supernatural — threat to their families, neighbors, and friends. Much like Dragonslayer, a modern spin on Something Wicked is likely to push the boundaries of what we’ve come to expect from a Disney film, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It’s easy to see the family-friendly comedy potential in a remake of Swiss Family Robinson, Disney’s 1960 film about a family forced to make a new life for themselves on a tropical island after a shipwreck leaves them stranded. Given all of the modern conveniences a family would leave behind in such a scenario now, there’s plenty of humor to mine in a fresh take on the story’s castaway-family theme.
Disney’s very first live-action film is past due for a retelling — whether in the form of a faithful period piece or a modern reimagining of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson saga. The film follows the adventures of young Jim Hawkins, who gets caught up in an expedition to recover a pirate’s long-lost buried treasure on a remote island. The 1950 film inspired countless swashbuckling adventure films in the years following its release — including Disney’s own Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. A clever spin on the tale could put it back in the spotlight.
Possibly the weirdest movie ever made by Disney, this 1980 supernatural horror film was far from the typical, watered-down scary movie for young audiences. The plot involves a missing girl, a supernatural entity in the forest, and occult worship, with some alien abduction elements tossed in for good measure, too. Critically panned when it premiered, The Watcher in the Woods deserves a second pass by Disney — if only to prove how much weirder it could be with modern filmmaking resources behind it.
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