How far can Disney’s remake magic go?
This weekend’s Beauty and the Beast was the latest Disney live-action reboot to cast a spell over the box office — $174.8 million domestic, a March record — and it won’t be the last. We’ll be seeing remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings for the foreseeable future.
But even Disney has its limits, right? With so much of its success built on existing intellectual property, and given the pace at which they’re burning through their top IP right now, is it possible they’ll eventually just … run out?
We dug in for a closer look at Disney’s past, present, and future to see which properties are still kicking around (setting aside Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar — those brands are their own, self-perpetuating juggernauts.)
That meant combing through Disney’s animated catalogue, theme parks, older live-action movies and even TV channels to imagine what’s most likely due for the cinema. What we found is that, yes, Disney’s already skimmed much of the cream of the crop — but it’ll be a long time yet before that well completely runs dry.
When Alice in Wonderland raked in $1 billion worldwide in 2010, it gave Disney ideas.
Ever since, its catalogue has proven to be one of its most reliable cash cows. Not every one is a smash (Alice Through the Looking Glass tanked hard last year), but the numbers for Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book and now Beauty and the Beast suggest there’s plenty of gold to be mined.
That’s six live-action remakes in eight years, and Disney is showing no signs of slowing — in fact, that pace is picking up. The Jungle Book and Maleficent already have sequels in the works, while new takes on Mulan, Aladdin, The Lion King, 101 Dalmatians, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh and The Little Mermaid are all expected out in the next few years.
That’s six live-action Disney remakes in the past eight years, and the pace is picking up
Meanwhile, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, The Sword in the Stone and even Fantasia all have live-action adaptations in various stages of development. There’s no guarantee all of those will move into production, but it tells us Disney is looking hard at its animated stable to see which films are due for an upgrade.
The Princess and the Frog: Though the original was only released in 2009, Disney Animation’s final 2D, hand-drawn feature feels much older — and ripe for a remake. As of now, the studio seems wary of rebooting anything newer than the Disney Renaissance era, which ended around 2000. If their fairy tale winning streak keeps up, though, don’t count this one out.
Pocahontas, Hercules and Tarzan: Even as most of the Disney Renaissance films have gotten snapped up for live-action remake treatment, these have been left on the shelf — and might remain there for the time being. Tarzan and Hercules both went live-action in recent (non-Disney) releases that did middling business, so there’s no urgency here. Pocahontas doesn’t have that problem, but its racial politics (like Tarzan’s) have not aged well in the past 20+ years.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame: The Victor Hugo adaptation is kind of an odd duck in the Disney catalogue. It’s more mature than most of their kid-friendly filmography, but not grown-up enough to fully reckon with the source material’s dark themes. While it’s got its fair share of fans, it’s got nowhere near the broad appeal of, say, a Beauty and the Beast. Disney could still get around to redoing this one someday — but we’re guessing it’s not high on their list of priorities.
Robin Hood, Bambi, Lady and the Tramp and The Aristocats: All stone cold-classics, but will the animal-centric casts work in “live-action”? Disney has the technology, as demonstrated in The Jungle Book. However, whether anyone really wants to see a realistic-looking fox as a dashing rogue, is another question.
Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast: Kenneth Branagh’s 2015 Cinderella was a critical and commercial success, but if Disney has plans to sequelize or otherwise extend this property, they haven’t announced them. (Which is fine by us, honestly — not every hit movie needs a follow-up.) Likewise, it remains to be seen whether Disney will leave Beauty and the Beast alone, or try to spin it into some kind of ongoing franchise.
Alice in Wonderland: The first one kickstarted this whole “live-action fairy tale remake” trend, but the second was a dud. Don’t expect a third Alice movie to arrive anytime soon.
Tangled and Frozen: These adaptations of Rapunzel and The Snow Queen, respectively, would seem like perfect live-action fantasy material save for one thing: they’re too new. Disney’s still raking in the dough from both of these animated properties, with a TV series coming up for Tangled and an sequel in development for Frozen. But by the mid-2020s, these are both back in play.
Others: The Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Treasure Planet are all recognizable titles, but it’s not at all clear that they’ve got the nostalgic name-brand appeal to justify a remake. Beyond that, we’re starting to get to the bottom of the barrel: who’s really clamoring for a live-action do-over of Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons or Bolt?
The Rocketeer, Tron and Enchanted: Don’t look now, but Disney’s already hard at work trying to flesh out these franchises with a sequel, a reboot, and a sequel, respectively. Whether these films will actually make it to the big screen or fall apart in development, though, is another question.
The Muppets: Disney’s put out two Muppets movies and a TV series in the past few years, but despite the characters’ blue-chip appeal, none of them seem to have stuck. The films made money, but it’s telling that there’s been little to no movement on a threequel, and the TV series was axed after just one season. Maybe it’s time to put this property back on ice for now.
National Treasure, The Mighty Ducks, The Princess Diaries and Hocus Pocus: What do all of these properties have in common? They’re beloved enough that fans and journalists keep hounding the talent about potential sequels or reboots, year in and year out. None is confirmed to return, but there’s just too much nostalgia waiting to be milked. Don’t be surprised if Disney gets one of these going again in earnest before too long.
Pete’s Dragon: This one already got a remake last year, and while it did OK business and earned critical raves, there’s no good reason to believe it’s headed for a sequel. The story ended exactly where it needed to — not a bad thing.
Mary Poppins: The practically perfect nanny returns next year for a sequel which pulls from P.L. Travers’ other Mary Poppins books (i.e., not the ones that inspired the 1964 film). If it takes off the way Disney hopes it will, there seems to be a decent chance they’ll try and use up the rest of the remaining source material in future films.
Witch Mountain: Witch Mountain is actually a very long-running franchise for Disney, spanning from 1975 to 2009. That last installment was only moderately successful, but maybe that just means Disney has the opportunity to try another soft reboot.
Flight of the Navigator: Disney’s made some efforts to get a Flight of the Navigator remake off the ground, but it’s been a few years since anyone’s heard anything about it. This project is probably grounded for now.
Dragonslayer: While a box office dud at the time, Dragonslayer has since amassed a cult following. Now that it actually has a fanbase, could Disney give it another shot? In a post Game of Thrones world, it seems a like a better bet.
Oz the Great and Powerful: The 2013 Wizard of Oz prequel wasn’t an out-and-out flop, but it wasn’t really a hit, either. James Franco probably won’t be going down that yellow brick road again.
John Carter and The Lone Ranger: Here lie two recent attempts to turn old properties into new franchises. Both of these films have plenty to recommend them, and both have attracted a small but vocal fanbase, but neither managed the kind of broad, mainstream success needed to launch a full-fledged franchise. Never say never, but we don’t recommend holding your breath.
Others: Disney’s been such a formative part of so many people’s childhoods that they’ll probably never run out of properties with nostalgic appeal. Now seems as good a time as any to relaunch, say, Herbie or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, or re-remake Freaky Friday or Flubber. Air Bud? Cool Runnings? Beverly Hills Chihuahua? We’re not saying they’re definitely coming back, but the last few years have shown that studios seem willing to try and make any movie happen as long as the brand name is a recognizable one.
Pirates of the Caribbean may be the only real smash hit to come out of the “theme park attraction turned movie” concept, but it pulled in so much booty that the series is still going today. And Disney hasn’t given up hope of striking gold again, with Dead Men Tell No Tales coming in May.
The Jungle Cruise: Disney has spent over a decade trying to mount an adaptation of their riverboat-style ride The Jungle Cruise, and the project seemed to pick up steam in 2015 when it attracted a brand name even more familiar than the ride itself: Dwayne Johnson. But it’s been treading water since then, and it’s not clear how Johnson might fit it into his jam-packed schedule.
Magic Kingdom: There’s more than one way for Disney’s film division to capitalize on its theme parks. Magic Kingdom isn’t based on a ride — it’s about Disneyland itself, and what happens when the attractions come to life (Night at the Museum with Disney characters, obviously.) Mouse House fave Jon Favreau’s been attached to direct this one since 2010, and as of last year was still on board — but with both The Jungle Book 2 and The Lion King also on his to-do list, it may be a while before Magic Kingdom really gets going.
Haunted Mansion: This is another Disney ride movie that’s been in development for what seems like forever. As of last year, Guillermo del Toro was insisting that The Haunted Mansion was still on — but he’s got plenty on his plate already, and he’s somewhat notorious for getting involved with high-profile projects that fail to come to fruition under his watch. (See also: At the Mountains of Madness, Justice League Dark, Hellboy 3, that Hobbit thing) None of which fills us with much confidence that we’ll see this one anytime soon.
Tower of Terror and It’s a Small World: Both of these rides have movies in development — Tower of Terror had a treatment as of 2015, and It’s a Small World hired two screenwriters in 2016. But that’s as far as either of them have gotten so far. At this point, neither has a director, a star, or a release date. Maybe they’ll happen eventually, but there’s an equally good chance they’ll stall out in development.
Tomorrowland: Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland looked like a potential franchise-starter until it actually hit theaters, at which point it promptly fell flat on its face. It’s tough to imagine Tomorrowland getting a direct sequel anytime soon, but the theme park attraction remains a big enough brand that it’s not inconceivable for the studio to revisit it in the more distant future.
Space Mountain: Around 2012, there were rumblings that Disney had picked up two separate pitches for potential Space Mountain projects, but as of now both projects are effectively dead. How come? Two words: Star Wars. Why go through the trouble of launching a new space sci-fi adventure franchise when they’ve already got one with billion-dollar brand name appeal?
Others: Like Tomorrowland, The Country Bears and Mission to Mars both made the jump to the big screen but then failed to take off. Still, there’s always the possibility Disney will find them again down the line. There have also been attempts to turn Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Matterhorn Bobsled into film or TV properties, although all of those seem stuck in development hell at the moment.
So far, Disney has shown little interest in turning its small-screen hits into big-screen franchises — and to be clear, they don’t have any plans to right now that we know of. That doesn’t mean they’ll never try.
Sofia the First and Elena of Avalor: If any current Disney TV property seems ready for its close-up, it might be this one. Sofia and Elena (who exist in the same continuity) could easily slip in alongside Belle and Ariel in the Disney Princesses lineup. Not only that, they’d be the studio’s first Latina characters to do so.
Descendants: This one’s probably better off remaining a small-screen spinoff of Disney’s big-screen franchises (i.e., all their fairy tales), if only because it get confusing to have multiple versions of the same Disney characters running around all at once. But its cute concept — the offspring of Disney villains attend school together — isn’t the worst idea for a movie. Maybe once Disney’s live-action remake tank runs out of gas, they’ll consider this one.
On the other hand, we’ve just run down about a million other properties Disney could try and live-action-reboot first. It’ll probably be a while before they get there.