Best Movies to Watch on Disney Plus Right Now (May 2021)

Disney’s long-awaited streaming service Disney+ is here, and the volume of content available at your fingertips may feel overwhelming. Indeed, Disney Plus has launched with hundreds of movies and thousands of hours of TV shows to watch, all from Disney’s library of titles—and from Disney’s brand new, Disney Plus-exclusive content. The studio dug deep into its archives for this one, making available forgotten live-action films from the 60s, 70s, and 80s alongside a ton of Disney Channel Original movies. And that’s not to mention the catalogue titles from Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.

So with a robust lineup of movies available to stream on Disney Plus, we felt it necessary to help whittle down your choices of what to watch on the new streaming service. We’ve gone through the library and plucked out some of the best movies Disney+ has to offer, from animated classics to Marvel superhero movies to Star Wars films to even surprising live-action titles. There’s a little something for everyone in this list, further proof that Disney+ is not just programming for kids. They’re targeting the entire family. So below, peruse our list of the best movies to watch on Disney Plus.

RELATED: Every Disney Animated Movie Ever Made Ranked From Worst to Best


The Counselor Jerrys in Pixar's Soul

Image via Disney•Pixar

Disney+ had a great 2020 and Soul was handily our favorite Disney+ movie of the year. Originally intended for a theatrical release (following a splashy debut at the Cannes Film Festival), Pixar’s latest masterpiece instead debuted quietly on the streaming platform on Christmas Day. That actually made a lot of sense, because the movie covers universal themes of life, death, and what it truly means to find your spark. Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school band teacher in New York who loves jazz and dreams of playing with his favorite band. That opportunity arises on the same day that he accidentally falls down an open manhole. Winding up in the fanciful Great Before, he teams up with a precocious soul named 22 (Tina Fey), and together they embark to reunite his spirit with his body. Saying anything more would ruin the movie’s many surprises but rest assured that Soul is arguably one of Pixar’s greatest accomplishments; it’s visually stunning and deeply philosophical, beautifully directed by Pixar’s headiest filmmaker Pete Docter (the same mind behind Inside Out and Up). And unlike most Pixar films, which are relentlessly focused on the intricacies of the story, Soul allows itself to wander – to dip into a local barbershop for no discernable plot reason, except to hear snippets of dialogue from the neighborhood, or to occasionally cut away to jokes or gags that are seeming unrelated to what is going on in the narrative – in other words, it’s a movie about engaging with the messiness of life that actually allows for some of that messiness to seep into the film. Cue up the movie, crank up your sound system (all the better to hear Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ amazing score and the jazz compositions by Jon Batiste) and let Soul wash over you. – Drew Taylor



Image via Disney Plus

If you’ve ever seen the 1995 animated feature Balto (produced by Steven Spielberg through his short-lived Amblimation shingle), then chances are that you have at least a cursory awareness of a 1925 serum run to Nome, wherein several groups of sled dogs worked to relay precious medicine to a remote community beset by diphtheria. (There is also a statue in Central Park dedicated to this amazing accomplishment.) What most don’t know is that Balto wasn’t read the star sled dog; he was just the one who led the back on the last leg of the journey. The dog that covered the most distance, in truly horrendous conditions, was named Togo. Willem Dafoe stars as Leonard “Sepp” Seppala, an insanely interesting true-life historical figure who introduced the Siberian Husky to the English-speaking world and, following the events depicted in Togo, competed in the 1932 Olympics. Structured around the harrowing journey, Togo flashes back to see the relationship between Sepp and Togo, from when Togo was a precocious puppy to the relay itself, which was undergone while the dog was quite old and ill. Full of breathless action and suspense set pieces (you know they have to go across ice and you know it gets hairy), Togo slowly reveals itself to be about the unspeakable bond between man and animal, a wordless, hugely emotional connection that few films have dramatized as well as this one. Be sure you’re watching Togo with someone you’re comfortable crying in front of. – Drew Taylor

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Image via Lucasfilm

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story still kicks ass. The story of Rogue One’s production is now legendary (or perhaps infamous); after completing principle photography, the film was heavily reworked, with whole swaths of the movie rewritten and shot again, leading to one of the weirder promotional rollouts for a major studio movie wherein almost none of the footage from the early marketing materials actually made it into the final film. But despite all of that, the movie is a total triumph. Director Gareth Edwards brings a level of tactile realism that has been missing in the Star Wars movies since the original trilogy, fitting, perhaps, because this is a movie that is set right before the events of the first film. Featuring dazzling visual effects (the final battle on and above beach planet Scarif is one of the best in franchise history) and a cast full of wonderfully diverse talent, Rogue One clearly proved that there was inherent value in some of these side stories and led the way for the success of the similarly in-between-y Disney+ original series The Mandalorian. (Tellingly, Rogue One will soon be resurrected as a 12-episode Disney+ original series called Andor, set to debut in 2022.) Sure, you can occasionally see Rogue One’s seams, but it’s also undeniably one of the most exciting and emotionally resonant projects to come out of the Disney Star Wars era. – Drew Taylor

Ralph Breaks the Internet


Image via Disney

Directors: Rich Moore and Phil Johnston

Writers: Phil Johnston and Pamela Ribbon

Cast: John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Taraji P. Henson, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, and Bill Hader

While Wreck-It Ralph delved into the world of arcade and classic gaming to tremendous results, the sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet turns its focus to an entirely different kind of beast: the internet. In the mold of successful Disney sequels, this film maintains the core characters that mean so much to audiences while evolving and challenging them to compelling results. Here, we see Ralph and Vanellope potentially going separate ways as they enter the massive world of the internet, and the film explores themes of toxic masculinity and online culture—though never in a preach-y manner. There’s plenty of time for fun as well, and while one could see the Star Wars and Disney Princess references as shameless cross-promotion, that doesn’t mean they aren’t wonderfully delightful. Thankfully, this is a sequel with a story worth telling. – Adam Chitwood

Guardians of the Galaxy


Image via Marvel Studios

Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly, Glenn Close, Benicio del Toro

Snuck in among the many jokes in the MCU’s game-changing Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt forever changing how we see him) makes a comment that a black light examination of a room will result in a Jackson Pollock painting. That’s right, friends. In the middle of a Disney-funded, four-quadrant, PG-13 rated superhero blockbuster that every child in America will see opening weekend, is a gnarly riff about semen. That requires a basic understanding of art to understand. And now, you can stream it anytime you want on Disney+. What a time to be alive! To be fair, the many charms of Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t exclusively in the gutter. But director/co-writer James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman’s iconoclastic vision soars to the stars because it’s so rooted in the earth. We’re headed to outer space, where refreshingly brightly colored aliens blast the heck out of each other with lasers. But we’re centered by a capital H Human, who loves rock music, wisecracking, and dope/cheesy facial hair. It’s such a smart way to introduce a new tone into the MCU, and it’s such a smart way to ensure the film maintains one of the MCU’s most smartly self-contained pleasures. — Gregory Lawrence



Image via Disney

Director: Kenny Ortega

Writers: Bob Tzudiker and Noni White

Cast: Christian Bale, Bill Pullman, Ann-Margaret, and Robert Duvall

If you’re wondering why Christian Bale starred in a Disney musical, you’re not alone. When Bale originally signed on to star in Newsies, it was a straightforward drama—it was rather late in the game that Disney decided to Disney-fy the film by bringing in legendary musician Alan Menken to write original songs for the 1899-set movie. The story follows a group of teen and pre-teen newspaper hawkers barely scraping by in New York City whose livelihood is threatened when a rivalry breaks out between publishers. It’s an oddly political film for Disney, but of course all of that takes a backseat to the tremendously catchy musical numbers and dance sequences. The charm of Newsies remains, even if Bale himself still seems somewhat embarrassed by the mark on his filmography. – Adam Chitwood

Mary Poppins Returns


Image via Disney

Director: Rob Marshall

Writers: David Magee, Rob Marshall, John DeLuca

Cast: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Julie Walters, Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury, Colin Firth, Meryl Streep

Mary Poppins Returns is the Force Awakens of the Mary Poppins-verse, and I mean that as a sincere compliment. Emily Blunt steps into Julie Andrews’ iconic role as the nanny who can do literally anything with prim-and-proper playfulness, pivoting perfectly between tough love and whimsical singing on a moment’s notice. Rob Marshall’s widescreen compositions hearken back to the golden days of Disney’s live-action extravaganzas, and the script gives us musical set piece after set piece that, um, also happens to map over the original script and purpose of each set piece in the original. But when the craft is this good, the songs this catchy, and Lin-Manuel Miranda this “rapping in a cockney accent,” it is simply too fun not to allow yourself to be swept up in its earnest glory. Plus: The emotional underpinnings of the picture, and the familial strife going on with Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, and the younguns hits you hard, giving it the stakes it needs. I cry just thinking about Whishaw’s solo song in the attic. – Greg Smith

Tron: Legacy

Tron Legacy Garrett Hedlund

Image via Disney

Directed by: Joseph Kosinski

Written by: Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz

Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Olivia Wilde, Jeff Bridges, Michael Sheen

Tron: Legacy was, incredibly, released a little over 10 years ago and still feels totally futuristic. A long-overdue sequel to Disney’s cutting-edge but somewhat emotionally inert 1982 film Tron, this film follows Sam, the son (Garrett Hedlund) of the original film’s protagonist Flynn, a genius videogame designer who gets lost in his own computerized world (Jeff Bridges). When, after years of estrangement, Sam gets zapped into that world, he engages in a mission to save his father and the rest of the inhabitants of the realm, now ruled over by his father’s vicious doppelgänger/avatar Clu. Full of the kind of groundbreaking visual effects you’d expect from a sequel to Tron (including some embryonic digital de-aging techniques a literal decade before The Irishman), Tron: Legacy is more akin to a digital art installation than a narrative feature, full of long-stretches of gorgeous, mesmeric imagery set to a pounding, glittery electronic score by French dance music pioneers Daft Punk. Tron: Legacy, as the kids say, is a vibe. And it’s one that has remained as exciting and hypnotic as it was 10 years ago, thanks largely to the gorgeousness of the craft and the astoundingly assured direction by first-time filmmaker Joseph Kosinski. There should have been five more of these movies already. – Drew Taylor

The Black Hole


Image via Disney

While it had been in development for years before Star Wars took the world by storm, the 1979 release date of The Black Hole makes it feel like a direct response to George Lucas’ intergalactic adventure. And that makes The Black Hole seem even weirder. Originally intended as a kind of space-set Poseidon Adventure (which you can see in the oddball B-list grab-bag of the film’s cast), The Black Hole turned out much stranger. It’s concerned with space ship that docks at a space station, poised at the edge of the titular galactic anomaly, and the zealot in charge of the space station who definitely has some sinister plans of his own. It’s a movie you have to experience for yourself, not only for its admirably gonzo, WTF-worthy qualities but also just in terms of how Disney thought this was really going to compete with Lucas’ cheery juggernaut. (The Black Hole might have the strangest ending for any Disney movie.) Mercifully, the Disney+ presentation of The Black Hole maintains its static opening overture with John Barry’s breathtaking musical suite although you’ll have to search online for the even-bleaker alternate ending that was included in original home video editions of the movie. It’s worth falling into this Black Hole. – Drew Taylor

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas


Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Directed by: Henry Selick

Written by: Caroline Thompson

Cast: Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix, Paul Reubens, Ken Page, and Ed Ivory

It’s not fall/winter without Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which is technically a Disney movie (it was originally released through Disney’s Touchstone Pictures banner). The perfect film to transition from that Halloween spirit into the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, director Henry Selick’s macabre and lovely 1993 stop-motion animated film still stands as a classic today. Spooky but not scary, moody but not gloomy. The tone is pitch-perfect, and the songs are downright addicting, as Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of an outsider looking for a place to belong, but going about it in all the wrong ways. And while Jack Skellington may be the star of the movie, Sally is its beating heart. – Adam Chitwood

The Santa Clause


Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Director: John Pasquin

Writers: Leo Benvenuti and Steve Rudnick

Cast: Tim Allen, Wendy Crewson, Judge Reinhold, Eric Lloyd, Larry Brandenburg, and David Krumholtz

This 1994 family comedy is a staple of the holiday season, but it’s a swell watch at any time of the year. The Santa Clause stars Tim Allen as a single father who startles Santa Claus on his roof, killing him (in the most delicate of ways) and then inadvertently donning the suit to become the new Santa Claus. As hard as he tries to resist, his body begins morphing into Jolly Old Saint Nick as the elves at the North Pole try to ready the new Santa for his first Christmas. Along the way, he grows closer to his son and sheds some of the selfishness that made him kind of a crappy dad. It’s all in all a pretty heartwarming story with a really terrific Christmas spirit. There’s a reason it’s a holiday classic. – Adam Chitwood

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Wes Anderson

Writers: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach

Cast: George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson

Rarely has a filmmaker been more attuned to a specific medium than Wes Anderson and the world of stop-motion animation, as exemplified in his brilliant 2009 film Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Rushmore and Royal Tenenbaums filmmaker tries his hand at making a childrens film by way of a Roald Dahl adaptation, and the results are hilarious and delightful and slightly melancholy. The story of Fantastic Mr. Fox finds a fox (George Clooney) putting everything on the line to steal from three mean farmers, which in turn puts his family and friends in danger. The soundtrack is jubilant, the voice actors are perfectly dry, and the aesthetics are picturesque. This is one of Wes Anderson’s best films. – Adam Chitwood

Toy Story 4


Image via Disney-Pixar

Director: Josh Cooley

Writer: Andrew Stanton, Stephany Folsom

Cast: Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Keanu Reeves, Jordan Peele, Keegan-Michael Key, Annie Potts, Tony Hale

When we recently ranked the Toy Story films, shorts and holiday specials, Toy Story 4 came out on top. And for good reason – this is the most sophisticated, both technologically and from a storytelling standpoint, that the franchise has ever been. And yes, it will make you cry your eyes out. In the fourth installment, Woody, Buzz and the gang head out on a pre-school year road trip, an idyllic getaway complicated by the introduction of Forky (Tony Hale) a toy Bonnie made in orientation that is dealing with what it means to be a toy, and the reintroduction of Bo (Annie Potts), Woody’s long lost flame. Everything is more complicated and emotionally messy in Toy Story 4, including the villain (or is she?), an attention-starved antique doll (Christina Hendricks) who just wants to belong. With an insane cast of new supporting toys, including standouts Ducky and Bunny (Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key) and 70s Canadian stuntman extraordinaire Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves), some of the most amazing visuals Pixar has ever cooked up (in beautiful widescreen, a first for the Toy Story franchise) and a truly surprising ending that shifts the entire franchise into a different direction – for real this time, Toy Story 4 is (already) an unforgettable favorite. To infinity and beyond. – Drew Taylor

The Greatest Showman

Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Michael Gracey

Writers: Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, Rebecca Ferguson, and Zendaya

Who’d have thought a musical about P.T. Barnum would be one of the most joyously entertaining films of the last couple of years? Yes The Greatest Showman is wildly inaccurate and more than a little cheesy, but the original songs (by the songwriters behind La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen) are straight-up bops and Hugh Jackman is clearly having the time of his life singing and dancing alongside Zac Efron and Zendaya. Watch the circus musical, people! It’s a good time! – Adam Chitwood



Image via 20th Century Fox

Director: Bryan Singer

Writers: David Hayer, Tom DeSanto, and Bryan Singer

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn, Famke Janssen, James Marsden, Bruce Davison, and Anna Paquin

One of the most influential superhero movies ever made, 2000’s X-Men shocked comic book fans by opening not with a major superpowered set piece, but with a flashback to Auschwitz during World War II. That grounded, realistic foundation serves all the characters well, as this movie uses Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine – a mutant with no memory and little knowledge of other mutants – as an audience conduit when he’s brought into Charles Xavier’s circle. The cast is spectacular and this one holds up better than you might expect. – Adam Chitwood

National Treasure


Image via Buena Vista Pictures

Director: Jon Turteltaub

Writers: Jim Kouf, Cormac Wibberley, and Marianne Wibberley

Cast: Nicolas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha, Sean Bean, Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, and Christopher Plummer

If you’re looking for a movie that’s just undeniably watchable, look no further than National Treasure. This is a film that has no pretensions about what it is or what it wants to be. It knows the plot is kinda preposterous, but Nicolas Cage sells the heck out of it anyway. Cage plays an American historian and treasure hunter who, following a series of unfortunate events, ends up stealing the Declaration of Independence, which just so happens to include a secret treasure map that no one’s found over the last couple centuries. The film moves with a flighty, fun pace that’s reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven, and while history buffs may have qualms with some of the specifics, it’s undeniably a blast to follow these characters as they search for clues. – Adam Chitwood

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids


Image via Disney

Director: Joe Johnston

Writers: Ed Naha, Tom Schulman

Cast: Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland

There’s a reason a Honey, I Shrunk the Kids legacy sequel is a top priority when everything is back up and running (sets were being built when the shutdown happened). The original Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, based on a story by horror masters Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (Gordon bailed as director last minute after Jeffrey Katzenberg gave him a heart attack – literally), is still a total blast. The original film wound up being the directorial debut of animation and design master Joe Johnston, who brought a playfulness and visual sophistication to the story of the children of a mad scientist who accidentally shrink themselves down. (Phil Tippett’s jaw-dropping stop-motion effects were no doubt a Johnston call.) The other MVP of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, who will mercifully be returning for the new movie, is Rick Moranis. Moranis’ run in the 1980s, when he starred in two Ghostbusters movies, Streets of FireLittle Shop of Horrors and Spaceballs is totally unparalleled, and his performance in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids is often overlooked but just as electric and vitally alive as any of these other greats. From the opening moments of the movie, with that killer early CGI title sequence and dynamite James Horner score, you’ll be hooked … again. – Drew Taylor

Who Framed Roger Rabbit


Image via Disney

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Writers: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman

Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner

Robert Zemeckis’ Who Framed Roger Rabbit remains an absolute marvel, whether you’ve watched it a hundred times (guilty as charged) or have never seen it before (shame on you). Set in an alternate history Hollywood, 1947, where animated characters are living, breathing creatures that interact with humans and star in movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit follows hardboiled gumshoe Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), who hates “toons,” but finds himself involved in an increasingly conspiratorial mystery. The visual effects, combining animated characters with human performers, was cutting edge at the time and remains an impressive magic trick, conjured up by visual effects house Industrial Light & Magic and a small team of animators led by the persnickety (and legendary) Richard Williams in London. If you haven’t seen the movie in a while (or never watched it before), the complexity of the plot, the dimensionality of the characters (including Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom and Kathleen Turner’s animated sexpot Jessica Rabbit) and the dexterity of Zemeckis’ ever-moving camerawork, are sure to delight. And as an added bonus, you can watch one of the three Roger Rabbit-led short films that followed (“Trail Mix-Up”) – just be sure to click over to the “extras” tab. – Drew Taylor

Black Panther


Image via Marvel Studios

Director: Ryan Coogler

Writers: Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole

Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis, and Martin Freeman

Marvel Studios has an excellent track record of crafting supremely entertaining movies, but Black Panther marks the MCU’s most mature, ambitious, and thematically complete film yet. Creed and Fruitvale Station filmmaker Ryan Coogler digs into themes of nationalism and what it mean to be black in America within the context of an extremely exciting, visually enthralling superhero action film. That in and of itself makes Black Panther noteworthy, but the film also boasts terrific performances from folks like Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o, while Michael B. Jordan brings to life one of the MCU’s best and most emotionally complex villains to date. Black Panther is a stunning achievement for Marvel, and it’s one well worth revisiting just to soak in the attention to detail—both in terms of superheroics and compex themes—that Coogler threads throughout. – Adam Chitwood

Beauty and the Beast (1991)


Image via Disney

Beauty and the Beast is a masterpiece, through and through. The film marked the first-ever animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture, and deservedly so. It’s remarkably operatic and romantic at heart, featuring some of Disney’s most stunning animation to date. Decades of advances in technology still don’t hold a candle to some of the iconography achieved in Beauty and the Beast under directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise’s watch, as the animators knew the power of the silhouette that would permeate throughout the Beast’s dark and lonely castle.

Thematically, Beauty and the Beast treads the well-worn territory of being an outsider looking in, and longing for more out of one’s life, but the romanticism of the Belle and Beast relationship—and its pitch-perfect execution that gives Belle agency—is the beating heart of the film. It’s sweeping, it’s passionate, it’s fun, and as the song goes, it’s a tale as old as time. As such, it’s one that’s universally relatable, and that in concert with the film’s lush animation, tremendous score, unforgettable songs, and rich characters makes it Peak 90s Disney. – Adam Chitwood


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