Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Disney Channel
Take it from someone who just watched every single Disney Channel Original Movie on Disney+: You think you want to revisit a Disney Channel Original Movie from your youth. You don’t. To paraphrase Matthew Broderick in Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret, which is about teens but very much not a Disney Channel Original Movie:
Márgarét, áre you beaming
Over Cheetah Girls now streaming?
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
I warn you: You’re not nostalgic for Disney Channel Original Movies. You’re nostalgic for a time when you were young and thought DCOMs were good, a time when you watched Wizards of Waverly Place at the rate at which you now watch presidential addresses (which is to say daily, unfortunately). Some of them hold up wonderfully or are at least great examples of Y2K fashion. But most DCOMs walk like a movie and talk like a movie and yet feel like an uncanny species of sub-movie. They are paced strangely and slowly and follow kid logic or, rather, a TV executive’s idea of kid logic. I say this from a place of love; I host a Disney Channel Original Movies podcast. Like, for fun. But if theatrical releases are Oreos, DCOMs are Hydrox. They’re their own thing.
Of course, there are exceptions. The works of Disney’s greatest living auteur, Kenny Ortega, for one. The works of Raven Symone, for another. Generally, if a DCOM is about learning to express yourself creatively, it plays better than the dead-parent ones, or the sports ones, or the ones about a protagonist learning to respect the differences between them and their bully/crush/townies. The fantasy ones are hit or miss; the science-fiction ones usually slap.
But good or bad, nearly all of them are available to stream on Disney+, making them easier than ever for you to revisit. So we’ve gone ahead and ranked all of them to help guide you through the catalog. Maybe you’re watching these out of nostalgia or boredom; maybe you have kids at home and are looking for all-ages content to play during quarantine. They need to learn their history. They need to learn about Smart House.
105. Radio Rebel (2012)
A DCOM so bad, Disney has more or less disowned it. The real reason why Radio Rebel isn’t available on Disney+ probably has less to do with shame and more based on distribution rights, due to it being a co-production with Canadian kids network YTV. Based on the original trailer, Radio Rebel was produced by third-party producer MarVista Entertainment and distributed by the DCOM machine after the fact. That would explain the decidedly unheimlich vibes of this Debby Ryan disasterpiece, about an awkward girl who’s secretly the most popular underground radio DJ in all of Seattle. The performances by Ryan and the background actors alike have become something of a TikTok meme recently, singled out and mimicked in cringe compilations. If the Gen-Z culturati has decreed that Radio Rebel should be singled out and ridiculed, who am I to argue? Radio Rebel should consider itself lucky. In 2010, Disney aired another MarVista Debby Ryan original in conjunction with a different Canadian kids network, and didn’t even grant it entry into the DCOM pantheon at all. That’s right: 16 Wishes is not DCOM canon.
104. Freaky Friday (2018)
This did not have to be done. Why was this done? It very much did not have to be. There is nothing wrong with remaking a classic for a new generation. Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis proved that when she remade the 1970s Jodie Foster Freaky Friday for the 2000s. This 2018 version makes some grave mistakes, though. It is a musical with terrible, lazy music, the kind that people who think they hate musical theater think all musical theater is. For another, the leads are deeply unpleasant, though not for lack of so much effort. Cozi Zuehlsdorff is a semi-unpleasant lead. Where Lindsay Lohan was punky and rebellious in Freaky Friday, Cozi’s Ellie is just sorta unhygienic and inconsiderate? The dreadful biology-class number, “Oh, Biology,” is probably the moment when this movie tipped over from cringeworthy and mediocre to genuinely offensive: The “over-40 soul” in a teenage body sings about getting horny for a young boy, with lyrics like “Why can’t my grown-up brain control my teenage parts?” and “I’m not in control and hunger has its say and hormones have their way” and “Though we’re both 15, he’s much too young.” Lock this movie in the Disney Vault and then set the vault on fire.
103. Geek Charming (2011)
Watching every single Disney Channel Original Movie, I started to notice a dispiriting trend. As the decades rolled on, the movies started to get way worse when it came to gender. In the ’90s movies about ragtag groups of siblings or bowling enthusiasts, boys and girls were friends without too much comment, and female characters were allowed to be tomboyish, nerdy, or girlie without morality judgments one way or the other. Then we hit the height of aughts fabulousness, the indulgent, beautiful, unapologetic over-the-top butterfly-clip goodness of Lindsay and Hillary and Raven. Geek Charming features DCOM gender politics at their worst, though: All girls are inherently catty, shallow, and cruel, and boys are dopes of substance. Sarah Hyland plays popular girl Dylan, who is a grating affectation machine. She pronounces one-syllable words like two (“ga-ROSSE”), peppers her speech with a whole lot of “beaucoup” and “magnifique” and “d’accord,” and spells things out before she says ’em (“O-V-E-R, over”).
Her terrible secret is that she’s good at math, even though she’s a girl. She ends up befriending and giving a makeover to a mini–Mark Cohen high school documentarian and film geek who wants to shoot a doc “about the revolution of robot voices in the science-fiction genre,” but ends up making a home movie about how even girls can be deep when they’re not busy being so shallow. The main character is rude to her maid, the female best-friend characters are all props, and there are “jokes” (in 2011!) about how sushi is yucky raw fish. Heathers has better teen role models, and it’s about murder.
102. You Lucky Dog (1998)
Kirk Cameron stars in this caper about a fraud dog psychic whose body gets possessed sometimes by a dog who is also an heir to a fortune. There has never been a kids’ movie with so few actual kids; it’s all grown-ups acting snooty and an adult Kirk Cameron acting like a dog.
101. Dadnapped (2009)
In 2009, Disney was trying pretty hard to break Emily Osment out from under Miley Cyrus’s shadow. Disney was really trying to make the Hannah Montana sidekick and sibling to Haley Joel happen, you know? So they gave her this DCOM, which takes the plot of Misery, makes it kid-friendly, and gives the kidnapped novelist a scrappy daughter. It’s as unpleasant as that sounds.
100. Bad Hair Day (2015)
The plot of this movie is that on the day of the prom, prom-queen hopeful Laura Marano gets swept into a rote buddy-cop comedy with an adult PI played by Leigh-Allyn Baker, all while taking her driving test and having a very bad hair day. There’s something that feels very aimless and lost in translation about Bad Hair Day, like it was a neutered Melissa McCarthy project that went through rounds of rewrites before becoming a DCOM. The characters never totally mesh in this unfunny Ride Along. Above all, though, main problem here is the filmmakers were so effective at making Marano’s hair day so bad, it upsets me to look at. It’s very, very greasy and the word “crispy” gets thrown around and I couldn’t finish this movie because I didn’t want to look at it.
99. The Poof Point (2001)
Tahj Mowry’s parents Benjamin Button themselves, and the whole thing is impossibly cringe.
98. Under Wraps (1997)
Under Wraps earns points for being the first-ever Disney Channel Original Movie, and loses points for being less of an in-mouse production. The movie was produced by Hallmark Entertainment and it the rights are now held by Universal, which would explain why it’s not available on Disney+. This movie about kids who discover a mummy and reunite it with its lost-mummy-love is a decent first effort, but it pales in comparison to Disney Channel’s later kiddie-macabre fare. Mummies just aren’t vampire or mermaid-tier monsters.
97. Hatching Pete (2009)
The tagline is “Cock-a-doodle-WHO??” and it’s the best thing about this movie. Disney Channel helmet-haired fixtures Jason Dolley and Mitchel Musso play friends who switch places as their school’s chicken mascot because Musso is allergic to the feathers. Typical misunderstandings ensue. There’s a lot of “bare-minimum comedy” at work here, as though the writers assumed chicken suits and fake sneezing were good enough for discerning Disney Channel audiences. Fun fact: Mitchel Musso and Tiffany Thornton released a single for this movie called “Let It Go,” so up until 2013, if someone mentioned “that Disney song ‘Let It Go,’” they were talking about a track by the kid who played Oliver on Hannah Montana. Know your history.
96. The Other Me (2000)
Andrew Lawrence clones himself and I’m thoroughly bored.
95. Can of Worms (1999)
Here’s what I liked about Can of Worms: Puppets. Practical effects. A talking dog with a C-3P0 accent. Here’s what I didn’t care for: Can of Worms. As you’ll see, there are movies on this list that do Space Teen better as a genre.
94. Alley Cats Strike (2000)
Disney Channel has made movies about every possible sport. Some sports warrant multiple movies, like how every other DCOM is about basketball. Even so: Who was the audience for this movie about a bunch of teens who listen to doo-wop music and are into bowling to a humorless degree in the year 2000? Tell me who!
93. The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000)
Tiny Brenda Song stars in this forgettable Christmas movie about two friends who steal Santa’s weather machine to make it snow in L.A. The premise is cute-enough kid stuff, but the grown elf-men in lederhosen are thoroughly disturbing, if never as funny as they’re intended to be. Lots of Disney Channel Original Movies feature food fights or people falling into goop. The goop can range from frozen yogurt to mud, Jell-O to alien slime. Here, it’s a vat of chocolate in a chocolate factory. I assume this is a reference to the Joker’s origin story? Hard to say.
92. Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas (2011)
I had phased out of Disney Channel by the time the sitcom Good Luck Charlie came around, but it’s about a family with a baby named Charlie. Most Disney sitcoms are about teens with powers and/or double lives. This is far too thin a premise. Not enough dogs, not enough blogs. Good Luck Charlie is the first DCOM adaptation of a Disney Channel series on this list, because it is the worst, because it is based on the worst, most boring show.
91. Return to Halloweentown (2006)
The Sinister Sisters walked so the Weird Sisters could run, sure, but replacing Kimberly J. Brown with Sara Paxton was so rude I don’t even want to finish this sentence.
90. Jumping Ship (2001)
This sequel to the much better Lawrence-brothers vehicle Horse Sense takes them away from the horsies, which is already a point against it. Watching this made me wonder: How many DCOMs take place on a tropical island? Thirty?
89. Invisible Sister (2015)
Rowan Blanchard turns her popular older sister invisible. Then they have to switch places? It’s too similar a premise to Katherine Heigl’s Wish Upon a Star, which you’ll read more about shortly.
88. Double Teamed (2002)
This children’s movie is called Double Teamed, which is insane. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to the name. It’s about hypercompetitive twin sisters who are supposed to be 14 at most but who I believe are played by non-twin non-sister actors who are maybe 29 and who I believe were cast not for any acting ability but for being tall. They are bullied at school because they are tall, but they are also 29-year-old women who look nothing alike, surrounded by kids. It’s like that girl who plays Elle Woods in the most important YouTube video of all time, “Legally Blonde: ‘Omigod You Guys’ feat. All-Star Cast.” It is also about basketball.
87. Phantom of the Megaplex (2000)
This one’s a classic, but it’s so, so strange. A kid who doesn’t even appear to like movies all that much loves his job as the general manager of a movie theater. His passion is not for movies but for managerial skills, spreadsheets, and ordering people around. One fateful night, when important movie execs are there, a “Phantom of the Megaplex” sows chaos. The phantom turns out to be Mickey Rooney, and it’s kind of sad to watch, honestly?
86. Kim Possible (2019)
Like lesser animated classics Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, the thing about the Kim Possible series is that it’s a perfect art object as is, and is in no way served by a live-action adaptation. Sure, this DCOM has Patton Oswalt and Alyson Hannigan, who are both about as A-list as most DCOM grown-ups get, but there’s not nearly enough Christy Carlson Romano to make it worthwhile.
85. Frenemies (2012)
This movie stars Zendaya and Bella Thorne; therefore, it should be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the movie is broken up into three intertwining stories, and only the second one concerns this collab of a lifetime. It’s a pass.
84. Motocrossed (2001)
When a red-state DCOM doesn’t even have pretty horsies? Honey, what is the point.
83. Twitches Too (2007)
The sequel to Tia and Tamera Mowry classic Twitches is so very overladen with such a tiresome plot: In the magical land of Coventry, there is a shadow from the shadow realm attacking other shadows. But also, their wizard-dad (not their adopted Muggle-Dad) is dead but also trapped in shadow-land. When the dark lord Thantos is released, the Twitches put a stop to him by making him fall down a well. Spoiler alert, but there’s a happy ending where the annoying servant-sidekicks get married and don’t kiss. Despite watching it, I can barely tell you what actually happens. The Wikipedia page says that Twitches Too had a $26.5 million budget. Not a dollar went to the special effects.
82. Buffalo Dreams (2005)
Look, it is cool and majestic to see buffalo (the animal, not the city) on film. This is undeniably true. But everything you need to know about what makes Buffalo Dreams a little sus for 2005 is in this line of its plot summary: “In recognition of his bravery, Josh is made an honorary member of the Navajo tribe with the name Rides With the Wind.” Oof.
81. Genius (1999)
A small nerdy child loves hockey and physics, which are two things I have never been able to bring myself to care about. When he takes a TA job lecturing at a college because he’s Doogie Howser–style smart, he decides to reinvent himself at the local high school as “cool kid” Chaz. But a tiny Emmy Rossum is the love interest, and she figure-skates, and that’s fun.
80. Quints (2000)
A very early DCOM that asks, “What if there were five babies?” Kimberly J. Brown of Halloweentown fame narrates the whole thing in a Clarissa Explains It All–style fourth-wall break. I never thought I’d say this, but: Five babies is too darn many.
79. The Suite Life Movie (2011)
Dylan Sprouse plays slacker Zack and Cole Sprouse plays nerdy Cody in this movie adaptation of the Suite Life franchise. Where this one loses the mark for me is that it’s a sci-fi caper about a plan to mind-control sets of twins. But there is a subplot about all-time baddie and icon London Tipton (Brenda Song) talking to dolphins, which is very good, because it’s much more in the kooky spirit of the series.
78. Wish Upon a Star (1996)
Katherine Heigl is the cool big sister, and Danielle Harris is the dorky little sister. That is, until they trade places. Now we’re stuck watching Katherine Heigl play a dork. I was going to put this movie lower, but Hunter Harris said, “How was I supposed to learn what a hickey was without that movie,” which is as good a justification for it as any! In fact, it’s what a DCOM should do, we say.
77. Zapped (2014)
Zendaya’s phone can control boys! This movie falls into a bit of the “girls are like this and boys are like this” trap, but it’s so much better than it would have been if it didn’t star Zendaya.
76. Princess Protection Program (2009)
Demi Lovato is a princess of an off-brand Genovia who must go into hiding with regular American tomboy Selena Gomez in her Louisiana swamp home. Along the way, there’s a super-secret spy agency that gives princesses makeovers, a devious scheming designer named Mr. Elegante, and more of those annoying, terrible gender politics about how a girl’s worst enemy is other girls, unless they’re a down-to-earth girl, who you can always tell apart from the other (evil shallow) girls by their flannel shirts. Also, the basic premise of PPP is fundamentally hilarious to me because it’s about how a wealthy princess in the 21st century is clueless, sheltered, and innocent, when in reality she’d be partying in Ibiza. The fantastic thing about this movie is that Cousin Greg is in it.
75. ’Twas the Night (2001)
Bryan Cranston plays a criminal who out of desperation drags his family into his seedy misdeeds. Only it’s not Breaking Bad; it’s a Christmas DCOM from 2001 where he has to be Santa for a night. This is one of those DCOMs like You Lucky Dog or Bad Hair Day that has way too much grown-up business.
74. Johnny Kapahala: Back on Board (2007)
The original Johnny Tsunami was predicated on a brilliantly simple premise: What if a tropical surfer dude became a snowboarder? It works. Also, Brandon Baker was adorable as the plucky lead. The sequel was filmed an inexplicable eight years later, and finds Johnny … mudboarding? I’m good, luv.
73. Phineas and Ferb: The Movie (2011)
DCOM adaptations of live-action Disney Channel series usually feel like distinct works, because they switch from the sitcom multicam to a more cinematic single cam. In contrast, the Phineas and Ferb movie feels like a supersized episode of Phineas and Ferb. Which is good news for Phineas and Ferb fans, which I’m sure many of you are! I personally think it’s a sub–Dave the Barbarian–tier Disney cartoon that hit huge because it came out in an era when “random” automatically meant “funny,” but didn’t have the artistry of its far wackier Cartoon Network contemporaries or the sincerity of earlier Disney Channel cartoons and … Oy. Never mind. It’s about the boys discovering the truth about Perry the Platypus. Fine.
72. Gotta Kick It Up! (2002)
This one had so much potential. “Susan Egan coaches America Ferrera in a Latina spin on Bring It On” sounds like DCOM gold, but where Bring It On had jokes, this has blandly inspiring Disney Channel halfwayism. What a shame.
71. You Wish! (2003)
The sidekick from Even Stevens and the sidekick from Lizzie McGuire join forces in a sidekick jamboree about a boy who wishes his little brother, Spencer Breslin, went away. It ends up being a meditation on the terrible realities of child stardom, which is especially fucked up considering, you know, Disney Channel.
70. Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie (2009)
Selena Gomez and her wizard family go on vacation to the Caribbean, and it’s pretty watchable and funny enough.
69. Zenon: The Zequel (2001)
NOBODY replaces Raven.
68. How to Build a Better Boy (2014)
Mae and Gabby are unpopular nerds at their high school, which is confusing because whoever did the costume design for this went off and made them look pretty cool. Mae has a crush on Noah Centineo, but mean girl Nevaeh wants him for herself, so Mae and Gabby basically build a Westworld host to take Mae to the dance instead. The Pentagon gets involved. This movie is probably a shade too kooky for its own good, but how can I be mad at a DCOM about teens who build a bioweapon prom date and face off with a shadowy arms dealer? Also, Centineo’s name is “Jaden Stark.”
67. Zombies (2018)
Zombies live on the rough side of town. Humans go to a preppy school where they follow the rules and fear the zombies. What happens when the zombies go to human school? Love and musical numbers!
66. Descendants (2015)
Disney villains live on the bad side of town. Good guys go to a preppy school where they follow the rules and fear the villains. What happens when the villains go to good-guy school? Love and musical numbers! This is kind of a fever dream, but it edges out Zombies because Kristin Chenoweth plays Maleficent and Kathy Najimy plays the Evil Queen, and those casting decisions are huge for me, personally. Like Zombies the DCOM, Descendants was an absolute phenomenon when it came out. But unlike the deteriorating-flesh monsters, this franchise only gets better with time.
65. Girl vs. Monster (2012)
Olivia Holt is a fifth-generation monster hunter in this spooky Halloween DCOM. Disney Channel has its fair share of supernatural Halloween movies, and this one isn’t the strongest, but what really matters in Girl vs. Monster are the bops! “Monster Mash” who?
64. Starstruck (2010)
A celebrity superstar falls in love with just a regular girl. The celebrity superstar is played by Sterling Knight, who looks like a wax figure. His sidekick is played by Brandon Mychal Smith, a.k.a. Sam from You’re the Worst, who elevates every Disney Channel product he touches. This movie is very “just fine.” It will roll right off your quarantine-smoothed brain like water off a duck’s back.
63. Miracle in Lane 2 (2000)
Frankie Muniz stars in the true story of a boy with spina bifida who finds a passion for soapbox-derby racing. This film mostly stuck with me from childhood because there’s a scene where God(?) shows him a glimpse of heaven(???) and it’s full of dead children in wheelchairs with wings, flying around(??!?!??!??!?!). I understand the message it is trying to impart, but that doesn’t make it not scary.
62. Cloud 9 (2014)
This Dove Cameron movie about competitive snowboarders falling in love at a lodge feels like some sort of missing link between DCOMs and more mature, mellow Hallmark romance movies. And that’s a good thing! Still, there are better snowboarding movies on this list.
61. Go Figure (2005)
A figure skater gets a hockey scholarship so that she can train with a renowned Russian skating coach who is very mean, so you know she’s good. Kristi Yamaguchi cameos as herself. There’s a Brie Larson song on the soundtrack. Why is hockey such a mainstay in so many DCOMs? Is it because the majority of them film in Vancouver and Toronto neighborhoods that ably pose as American suburbs, and so the child actors and extras are all preternaturally talented at hockey? Maybe so.
60. Minutemen (2008)
This DCOM about time-traveling teens gave us “Like whoa” from Aly & AJ. It also gave us Nicholas Braun in a leather jacket on a motorcycle. His character’s name is “Zeke,” as this DCOM was released in the era when there had to be at least one character per film named “Zeke.” Time travel is always a minefield, but Minutemen has a fun, solid take on it that holds up.
59. Now You See It … (2005)
Now You See It is a hat on a hat on a hat. It is about a teen magician competition. But it’s also a teen magician competition reality series. But it’s also a teen magician competition reality series where the producers, camerapeople, and boom operators are also teens. And it’s also a semi-mockumentary about the “making of” the teen magician competition reality series, by one of the teen producers, Aly Michalka. I take it back. It’s not too many hats. More hats, please!
58. Hounded (2001)
Smart Guy’s Tahj Mowry is bullied at prep school by Shia LaBeouf, whose dad is the headmaster and also Ed Begley Jr. This should be reason enough to watch, but if you still need convincing, most of the action centers around a Chihuahua named Camille.
57. Don’t Look Under the Bed (1999)
Don’t Look Under the Bed was so scary, apparently, that it got a rare PG rating and eventually stopped being played on Disney Channel altogether. The concept of there being a whole world under the bed where the bogeyman lives is a good one; it’s a shame that they saved it for the last 20 minutes of the movie. Also: “Larry Houdini.”
56. Den Brother (2010)
A hockey-loving teen (because what else?) becomes a Girl Scout troop leader in order to win the affections of the popular girl. The rival scout-leader mom is a perfectly played-to-11 villain in an otherwise sweet, low-key movie.
55. Read it and Weep (2006)
The premise is kind of like Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets A Million Little Pieces meets Carrie Bradshaw’s book launch. Make sense? No? Hm. Okay: Jamie is an awkward teen who writes doodle-filled wish-fulfillment diaries about a fictionalized version of herself, and the diary becomes a best seller. Here’s the real mind trip, though: Jamie and her fantasy alter ego Isabella are played by sisters Kay and Danielle Panabaker, who have each appeared in multiple DCOMs and who I thought were the same person until literally now.
54. Ready to Run (2000)
Like the David Milch series Luck, only without all the horse death … that we know of. Jason Dohring plays a rodeo clown in a shirt that I would very much like to own in this story of a girl who wants to be a jockey in a sport dominated by small men. She soothes a skittish horse using noise-canceling headphones. I’m sure this movie will go over big in a household of horse girls, but I expected revolutionary things from a movie named after an S-tier Dixie Chicks song.
53. Tiger Cruise (2004)
Hayden Panettiere is a Navy brat who’s on a “Tiger Cruise” for military kids on an aircraft carrier on September 11, 2001. It’s the most Bush-era rah-rah DCOM there is, but it was filmed on actual U.S. Navy supercarriers and therefore a cool watch for kids who are into ships ’n’ planes ’n’ things.
52. Rip Girls (2000)
A sweet, earnest DCOM about a tween who moves back to the Hawaiian island where she was born and learns about herself, her heritage, and surfing. There’s an evil-colonizer–resort-developer subplot.
51. Up Up and Away (2000)
Up Up and Away was the original Sky High, and nobody can tell me otherwise. An average, powerless tween deals with his family of superheroes whose only weakness is tinfoil.
50. Stepsister From the Planet Weird (2000)
This movie ranks as high as it does for having the wildest sci-fi graphics I have ever seen in any movie, Disney Channel Original or otherwise, before or since. It only happens for a brief sequence, but when we see the alien sister’s home planet and she tells her family’s story, it’s so Y2K chic it defies explanation.
49. Life Is Ruff (2005)
Best in Show meets Cory in the House. A combo you didn’t know you needed, until now.
48. Halloweentown High (2004)
Before zombies went to human high school or villains went to good-guy high school, the Halloweentown franchise arranged an exchange program for some monster kids, including some High School Musical backbenchers like Lucas Grabeel and Olesya Rulin. Finn Wittrock plays the love interest! I loved this movie as a kid, but upon rewatch, it makes less than no sense and the plot is writing special-effects checks that its budget can’t catch. This is the last Halloweentown movie with the dream team of Debbie Reynolds and Kimberly J. Brown, though, so it’s a significant milestone in DCOM history.
47. Horse Sense (1999)
Joey and Andrew Lawrence pet pretty horsies and build the perfect treehouse in this very good-enough DCOM. The “spoiled kid learning humility and good ol’ American values through farm work” thing is similar to Cow Belles, but this is a much mellower breed of movie.
46. Descendants 2 (2017)
The sequel to Descendants replaces Kristen Chenoweth with an actual lizard(?) and it didn’t have those big Najimy bucks either, but it’s an all-around better movie, centering around a bunch more villain kids who try to ruin Dove Cameron and the Son of the Beast’s happily ever after. Namely, Ursula’s daughter Uma puts a love spell on the Son of the Beast, and eventually turns into a massive sea witch, recreating the climax of The Little Mermaid. The sons of Captain Hook and Gaston are her guylinered, ripped lackeys, and Lady Tremaine’s granddaughter runs an eeeeeevil hair salon and is played by Anna Cathcart, Kitty from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. If all this sounds like a fevered Once Upon a Time spec script, that’s because it very well may be one.
45. Avalon High (2010)
I love Arthurian nonsense, and so I’m all for this Meg Cabot adaptation about a daughter of medieval-studies professors whose high school is tied to the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
44. Teen Beach 2 (2015)
This sequel couldn’t have possibly lived up to the impossibly high expectations I had for it. Anyone who has ever been cornered by me at a party knows that I think Teen Beach Movie is a masterpiece of postmodern cinema. The sequel, which does the obvious thing of “You’ve seen these modern kids in ’60s movie world, now let’s see the ’60s movie kids in the modern world” that was teased in the original Teen Beach post-credits. But any of the sly gender subversion at play in the first movie gets done to death far too bluntly in the sequel. And “These movie characters don’t know what a phone is!” jokes don’t make me laugh quite as hard as “these Gen-Zers don’t know who Gidget is!” jokes, because the former are done to death and the latter are patently insane. I admire how Teen Beach 2 commits to its high-stakes ending for the leads. Ultimately, though, the songs just aren’t as good, and that’s kind of the whole appeal of the first one.
43. Mom’s Got a Date With a Vampire (2000)
Caroline Rhea plays the titular mom, and Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny is the titular vampire. The kids elicit a big shrug, but the adults are fun.
42. The Thirteenth Year (1999)
A young merbaby is abandoned by his mermom at birth and grows up in the human world, unaware of his origins, and a fan of competitive swimming. The decision to make this puberty parable about a merman instead of a dime-a-dozen mermaid is what tips The Thirteenth Year over into iconic. The 1999 special effects on his mertail and his glamorous telepathic mermom are icing on the mercake.
41. Going to the Mat (2004)
Andrew Lawrence is back, and this time he plays a blind teen with a passion for drumming who gets very into competitive wrestling. Watching this as a kid, I had never seen a blind character in this sort of active, protagonist role, and it definitely stuck with me. Kudos for that.
40. Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama (2005)
Now this is how you do a feature-length Kim Possible DCOM.
39. The Even Stevens Movie (2003)
Tim(!) Goddamn(!!) Meadows(!!!) plays a scheming reality-TV producer who tricks the Stevens into going on a tropical vacation that’s actually the set of a reality show that they’re totally unaware they’re participating in. But it turns out Tim Meadows was being pranked all along by a different reality show. Even Stevens was so good, you guys.
38. Tru Confessions (2002)
Shia LaBeouf has his Leo–in–What’s Eating Gilbert Grape breakout moment as a teen with developmental disabilities. Instead of Johnny Depp, though, his sibling is a girl who escapes into a sitcom fantasy life, Abed Nadir style. It’s not a perfect DCOM by a long shot, but kudos for ambition.
37. Cheetah Girls: One World (2008)
We’ll say this for Cheetah Girls: One World — there isn’t another DCOM like it. The threequel finds the pop group traveling to India to compete against each other for the lead role in a Bollywood film called “Namaste, Bombay.” Raven Symone left the project, though, and her absence is certainly felt.
36. Right on Track (2003)
Did you know there was a period of time that doesn’t get talked about in American-history class, when if you put Beverly Mitchell and Brie Larson side-by-side in a movie, Mitchell was the more famous of the two? In 2003, they starred in a movie about the kind of drag race I don’t normally go for. But hey, the cars vroom-vroom real fast, and as with Ford v. Ferrari, that counts for something.
35. Cow Belles (2006)
Mid-aughts power sibs Aly and A.J. Michalka play dairy heiresses who have to learn about responsibility by doing farm work. This fun, frivolous response to The Simple Life has an Aly & A.J. soundtrack that do slappeth, a cow-birth, and a hunky farmhand.
34. Adventures in Babysitting (2016)
This 2016 remake of the 1987 sleepover classic is the 100th DCOM ever made, and therefore some sort of milestone for terrible freaks (me). It’s … totally fine! Sabrina Carpenter always makes Disney Channel shows and movies more watchable than they have any right to be, and the scope of it feels slightly larger than similar DCOMs. There’s a laughably bad rap-battle scene that bumps this up a few spots.
33. Twitches (2005)
Twitches really plugs into the teen fantasies of finding a long-lost identical twin sister and learning that you’ve got a magical destiny in another land. What doesn’t make total sense is that the twin witches in question are 21 and not, you know, tweens. So much of this movie stops making sense when you realize that Tia and Tamera Mowry were almost 30 when they made this. (And they were 30 when the sequel came out.) The characters act like teens, and the plot feels so much more like teenage wish fulfillment. Why wasn’t Twitches made in the ’90s, when Tia and Tamera were at the height of their Sister, Sister powers and Sabrina the Teenage Witch made witches a whole thing? Oh, well. As a Harry Potter–obsessed tween, I remember liking Twitches a whole lot. And that’s who it’s for, after all, even if it’s about adults.
32. Eddie’s Million Dollar Cook-Off (2003)
A classic, this was a classic. Fourteen-year-old Eddie has to balance his love of baseball with his passion for cooking. He’s the star player on a ragtag Little League team that has a college scout coming to visit it. The team needs Eddie, but he wants to compete in the titular Million Dollar Cook-Off, which angers his father, who’s constantly spewing little microaggressions. There’s definitely a queer reading that could be made of Million Dollar Cook-Off: Eddie’s confused about his identity and what cooking means at a pivotal age; his father shuns him and is furious with him for doing something feminine while his mother understands. He’s ostracized at school for “cooking,” and he has a crush on Bobby Flay, who makes a cameo as himself. There’s lots of talk of how when dads and coaches say things like “You throw like a girl,” it’s perpetuates really hateful stuff: The kids have an “I am Spartacus” moment about this. It’s basically Free to Be You and Me, 2003. Still, by the second or third food-fight scene, I was over it. Watch this while you’re teaching your kids to cook on Week 200 of quarantine.
31. Zenon Z3 (2004)
Where Cheetah Girls: One World casts Raven aside, the Zenon threequel cleverly brings her back. Now, Zenon is competing to win the title of Galactic Teen Supreme, until she has to save Earth from a moon goddess! Incredible.
30. Let it Shine (2012)
Tyler James Williams from Everybody Hates Chris plays the son of a pastor who calls rap “the devil’s music” (in the year 2012, can you imagine). He ends up writing and performing on behalf of his untalented friend, who plays the music off as his own to get with Roxie Andrews, a character named after the greatest rapper of all time. If you couldn’t tell yet, the premise is supposed to be a hip-hop teen version of Cyrano de Bergerac. The main character is even named Cyrus DeBarge. Brandon Mychal Smith steals scenes yet again as a rival rapper.
29. Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (2011)
Can a movie not premiere on Disney Channel and still be a Disney Channel Original Movie? Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure can. This spinoff of the High School Musical franchise is the first Disney Channel Original Movie to be released straight to home video. Watching the movie, I would wager that Disney shunted it to the Walmart DVD bin because it taints the relative prestige of the HSM trilogy. In the spinoff, Ashley Tisdale’s spoiled theater girl Sharpay Evans moves to New York to try her shot at Broadway, shot on location in beautiful downtown Toronto. When her dog named Boi (insane) auditions for a dog musical (in-sane), he falls in love with a rival dog named Countess. Long, lingering dog-glances ensue while Ashley Tisdale stomps around saying things like “Daddy, the reason why I buy such expensive shoes is to take monumental steps,” and “Daddy, you know how I feel about carb references.” Austin Butler plays an NYU student who follows her around with a camera, because that’s Disney Channel’s No. 1 favorite romantic trope. For better or worse, this is the sort of high camp DCOM that I like. I watch movies like this and say “This is good” out loud. Sorry.
28. Luck of the Irish (2001)
This coming-of-age story about an Irish-American kid who hits puberty and becomes a leprechaun is a purely cuckoo-bananas venture in the vein of Thirteenth Year, bless its heart. His hair turns red and his ears turn pointy and he becomes very small, which is a problem because he plays basketball, and his grandfather is an evil leprechaun named Reilly O’Reilly, and … actually, is this movie super-offensive to Irish-Americans? Feels like it, but it’s worth it.
27. Ring of Endless Light (2002)
Mischa Barton can talk to dolphins in this masterpiece.
26. Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam (2010)
In some ways, Camp Rock 2 is better than the first movie. It’s much goofier in tone, it features that great sequence where they’re all marching in a line chanting “Camp Rock!” and doing that hand-choreo, and it operates more like an actual musical, with songs that tiptoe on that touchy diegetic performance line. Lots of funny cutaway stuff with Kevin, too.
25. Camp Rock (2008)
But Camp Rock original flavor ultimately has the upper hand. It has an equally meme-able moment in Alyson Stoner’s impromptu DJ set, and nothing in the sequel reaches the musical heights of Demi Lovato and Joe Jonas singing “This Is Me.”
24. The Swap (2016)
This 2016 girl-boy body-swap comedy is way funnier and more watchable than almost any other DCOM of its 2010s ilk. What it lacks in originality (we didn’t need another hockey movie) it makes up for in good performances by leads Peyton List and Jacob Bertrand, good jokes, and rhythmic gymnastics.
23. The Proud Family Movie (2005)
A quadruple-long episode of Proud Family? In which Penny Proud actually gets to wear more than one outfit for once? Yes, please. A peanut-obsessed mad scientist named Dr. Carver voiced by Arsenio Hall? I mean!!!!!!!
22. Halloweentown (1998)
Debbie Thee Reynolds plays the Miss Frizzle–esque grandma to three children who learn they’re part of a powerful magical family in an alternate dimension called Halloweentown. Their mom has renounced magic for the real world, but the kids connect with their roots to save the day from an evil(?) mayor(??). The effects are corny, the costumes goofy, but it’s so sincere and full of heart that it’s the rare nostalgia-bomb that works every time. Pairs well with fun-size candies and rainy weather.
21. The Scream Team (2002)
Before I set out to make this list of DCOMs, I had never heard of The Scream Team, but it’s somehow an even better Halloweenie movie than Halloweentown (the first one, anyway). It has an arch sense of humor and a cast of comedy heavy hitters that elevate the material. Sex and the City Bat Mitzvah–girl era Kat Dennings stars alongside Eric Idle, Tommy Davidson, and Kathy Najimy, who are ghosts. If you thought Disney kept its Mickey gloves off the world of the dead, save for the contractually obligated dead parent that every other DCOM protagonist has, you thought wrong. Scream Team is all about a band of kids venturing to the afterlife to visit their late grandpa, aided by the help of a corpse bride and disgraced arson ghost. It’s very much in the spirit of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland: It’s Baby’s First Macabre Memento Mori. This would make an excellent double feature with Hocus Pocus or the Hillary Duff Casper, neither of which, shockingly, are DCOMs.
20. Descendants 3 (2019)
Lunacy, just lunacy. Descendants 3 completes the descent into madness initiated in the two prequels, but has the best musical numbers of the three by a wide margin. Cheyenne Jackson plays Hades, who is Maleficent’s ex-husband, which is fine if you don’t think too much about it. Dove Cameron gets transformed into an old crone. Son of Beast turns into an effects-makeup nightmare of a demi-beast. Cinderella’s daughter (or something, who cares) sings a song that’s really feeling its Hamilton zhuzh, and there’s this whole breakdance number with possessed suits of armor that has to be seen to be believed/reviled. The gay undertones between the sons of Jafar and Gaston are overtones. Mulan becomes captain of the school fencing team. Bobby Moynihan voices a talking dog named “Dude.” There is a teen wedding. This also was the first Cameron Boyce posthumous release after his untimely death at age 20, so it’s a little bittersweet. May Kenny Ortega continue to direct wacky shit forever and ever.
19. Johnny Tsunami (1999)
A young teen with a passion for surfing moves from Hawaii to chilly Vermont, where he takes his skills to the slopes as a snowboarder. The snobs-vs.-slobs, preps-vs.-townies dynamic at play between the private-school skiers and the public-school boarders is an old formula done well, and the whole thing is aided by its lead’s sweet, cheery, performance. Good DCOM.
18. Lemonade Mouth (2011)
Hayley Kiyoko! In a DCOM! About a very G-rated, musical version of the Breakfast Club! Misfits meet in detention and start a counterculture rock band that releases a bop called “Determinate.” What’s their revolutionary cause? Saving the lemonade machine in the school basement! It lands them in jail, folks. This movie is played so earnest that it will win you over if you let it. It’s streets ahead of Camp Rock, even without Demi’s star power.
17. Jump In! (2007)
Corbin Bleu plays a boxer who enters the world of competitive double Dutch and joins forces with Keke Palmer. Unlike some other sports-centric DCOMs, Jump In is fun to watch because competitive double Dutch is mesmerizing. And unlike other DCOMs in general, the performances and filmmaking are actually good.
16. Brink (1998)
The Dimes Square VFiles sk8r-boi aesthetic owes eeeeeverything to Brink! And Erik von Detten should demand credit where it’s due. This story about SoCal inline-skating teens and dueling sponsorship offers is just a whole cheerful mood and will take you out of your 2020 woes to a simpler time, when pop punk reigned.
15. The Color of Friendship (2000)
I defy you to name a better children’s movie about South African apartheid. Based on a true story, this DCOM about a girl from South Africa who stays on exchange with an African-American family is a startlingly clear look at racism. It’s a DCOM that’s not afraid to go allllll the way there.
14. Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior (2006)
After years and years of playing the sidekick, Brenda Song finally got her leading role. And what a role it was! A charming, popular girlie-girl who becomes the “chosen one,” a Yin warrior who has to fight off an ancient dragon demon. It’s my favorite formula, which is to say, the Buffy one. Add a subplot about getting back in touch with your heritage as a third-generation Chinese-American girl, and Brenda Song having to juggle warrior training with campaigning for homecoming queen, and you’ve got a rock solid DCOM.
13. Get a Clue (2002)
Yet another top-20-worthy Brenda Song joint, but one where even she, the queen of DCOMs, is overshadowed by Lindsay Lohan, who in 2002, by my recollection, was more famous than the actual moon. Lohan plays Lexy Gold, a precocious tween who wears Prada to class in middle school and has the scoop on everyone’s business as the school newspaper’s advice columnist. Basically a mini Manhattanite Cher Horowitz with Brenda as her Dionne, the two get all up in the adults’ business and solve a $10 million scandal. There is a chair shaped like a giant stiletto and too much fabulous early-2000s tech.
12. Halloweentown II: Kalabar’s Revenge (2001)
This Halloweentown sequel is, I’ll say it, even better than the first one. When Halloweentown is blasted with a spell that makes everyone boring, the Piper siblings and Debbie Reynolds have to save the day. They do this by reenacting the Buffy episode where everyone is turned into their Halloween costumes.
11. Full-Court Miracle (2003)
Full-Court Miracle is straight-up S-tier iconic because it’s literally one of the only movies in the history of American cinema to depict modern Jewish day school. Like Uncut Gems after it, Full-Court Miracle dares to ask the question: What is it with Jewish boys and basketball? Also, and this is what always got me, it acknowledges the blunt reality that it would take a literal Hanukkah miracle for a team of Jewish kids to beat literally any other middle school in basketball. Between Full-Court Miracle and the phenomenal Ramadan and Kwanzaa episodes of Proud Family, early 2000s Disney Channel led the charge on the “Did you know there are holidays besides Christmas?” front.
10. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)
Zoom, zoom zoom! This movie about a girl who lives on a space station with her best friend, Raven, in the distant 21st century is Alpha Major. Can you believe the writers of this movie really thought that in the 21st century, students would learn on screens, via remote teaching? What a concept. The space station at the center of Zenon is like sci-fi Hogwarts, with kids running around restricted rooms full of bleeps and bloops and using pre-iPad iPads (space magic!) to pre-FaceTime FaceTime with a cute Earth boy. The plot about the pitfalls of private-company-owned space exploration (hi, Elon) and British boy-band fandom still rings true today Space in general terrifies me, but Zenon made it seem like an endless sleepover. The real frighteningly vast frontier where no one can hear you scream, at least in Zenon, is Vancouver.
9. High School Musical 2 (2007)
“Bet On It.” “Fabulous.” “What Time Is It? (Summer Time).” The bops simply refuse to stop in High School Musical 2. Some might even say they bop … to the top. After the fateful events of High School Musical, the gang all get jobs at truly the nicest country club you have ever seen in your life, which is of course owned by Sharpay and Ryan’s family. The movie is so much more heightened and ridiculous than the first. The bright swimming-pool blues and golf-course greens are a damn near assault on the eyes. It’s so much fun.
8. Cheetah Girls (2003)
Galleria. Chanel. Aqua. Dorinda. These aren’t the names of upscale outdoor malls. They aren’t the cast of a new Real Housewives offshoot. They are four best friends in New York City who wear coordinated Baskin print and write the best pop of their generation. The first Cheetah Girls is surprisingly more grounded than you might remember. Raven plays lead cheetah Galleria like an anti-hero; she’s legitimately terrible to her friends for a lot of the movie, and it’s an interesting dynamic for a DCOM lead. Dorinda lies about being a foster child. Chanel (Adrienne Bailon) has a single mom who loves her but pays more attention to the men she’s seeing. Aqua … is from Texas and is scared to ride the subway. Oh, and there’s a plot about the recording industry that plays like Josie and the Pussycats lite. That comparison is the highest praise I can give.
7. Stuck in the Suburbs (2004)
More! Brenda! Song! Hell! Yeah! She plays the phenomenally named Natasha Kwon-Schwartz, who is the sidekick to Danielle Panabaker’s lead, which is incorrect math, but whatever. The teens long for a more exciting life than their suburban existence, and find it through a swapped-cell-phone mix-up with pop star–hunk Jordan Cahill, played by Taran Killam. Along the way, Panabaker and Song have some of the more believable friend drama in a DCOM when it’s revealed that new girl in school Song was lying about her globetrotting, pre-suburban life to impress Panabaker’s other friends. There’s also a B-plot about trying to preserve the one historic house in the bland suburb. Most of the pleasures of this movie, though, are purely nostalgic: for mid-2000s pop, mid-2000s cell phones, and mid-2000s Limited Too accessories. Taran Killam’s music videos for “More Than Me” and “Make a Wish” are better pop satire than Never Stop Never Stopping. Taran defined an era here.
6. Cheetah Girls 2 (2006)
Cheetah Girls 2 feels fabulously, deliriously expensive for a DCOM. The sequel sees the Cheetahs traveling to Barcelona and breaking out into song at every opportunity, and this tilt away from realism toward a full-blown musical travelogue gives it a slight edge of the original. Giving all the cheetahs cute Spanish love interests and a rival Eurovision dance-mom villain are just smart moves all around. Also, it’s produced by Whitney Houston. As in, Whitney Houston! The whole thing lights up the same pleasure centers in my brain as other Euro-musical delights like The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Mamma Mia, and the ending of Shrek 2.
5. Pixel Perfect (2004)
Every single episode of Black Mirror wants what Pixel Perfect has. Ricky Ullman from Phil of the Future plays a tech whiz who programs a perfect hologram girl named Loretta to play in his best friend Sam’s band. The songs are earworms that will stick with you for 16 years. Loretta’s post-human perfection includes doing impossible backflips and choreo onstage. The romantic tension between Sam, Ricky, and Loretta is felt. And when Loretta sacrifices herself for Sam, it makes Blade Runner look like, well, like a piece of shit in comparison.
4. Cadet Kelly (2002)
Cadet Kelly gave the children of the year 2002 everything they could possibly want with this story of an arty cool teen played by Hilary Duff who single-handedly tries to bring down the military-industrial complex, mostly by being a bossy bottom to her military school’s drill sergeant Christy Carlson Romano. By the end of the movie, after multiple sexually charged dance-offs, the two learn to merge their gifts by blending the majesty of drill team with the lyrical beauty of ribbon dancing. Yes, this movie has a climax centered around ribbon dancing. Cadet Kelly holds up on rewatch decades later as a charming, funny classic of the era, with lots of positive anti-authoritarian messages about being yourself, and how liking N*SYNC and making bracelets doesn’t make a person any less virtuous than someone who does Tough Mudders for fun (okay, maybe I’m projecting). Hilary and Christy are giants of Disney Channel lore. Oh, and the mom is played by the Philadelphia Cream Cheese angel, if you want even more of a throwback. There’s a reason why this one was a sleepover favorite and a core text of queer-girl canon.
3. Smart House (1999)
Pixel Perfect is one thing. Black Mirror couldn’t even deign to dream of reaching the heights of Smart House. A family suffers the loss of their mother and moves into a technology-equipped smart home that develops the personality of a ’50s-sitcom housewife, the voice of Leela from Futurama, and the evil-robot desire to control the family forever. I don’t know if there will ever be a house party onscreen again as cool as the one in Smart House; the teens came up with choreo and everything. LeVar Burton directed this!
2. Teen Beach Movie (2013)
A lot of this top-ten section is greatest aughties nostalgia hits, but allow me to direct your attention to this 2013 bopperoni of a later-era DCOM for a moment. Ross Lynch (a damn star) and Maia Mitchell play Brady and Mack, boyfriend and girlfriend surfer kids who go for a ride on an enchanted surfboard that washes them ashore in a 1960s Beach Blanket Bingo–style campfest of a movie-within-a-movie called “Wet Side Story.” Practical-headed Mack is confused by the internal logic at play, as was I the first two or three times I watched Teen Beach Movie, but goofy Brady flips gender convention on its head by being a massive fan of musicals. He knows all the plot beats, but there’s one hitch: Mack has been teaching all of these 1960s movie-character girls feminism (oh, no!) and now the fabric of the movie universe is starting to disintegrate! It’s like Purple Rose of Cairo meets Back to the Future meets an Old Navy commercial meets … a Disney Channel Original Movie. Garrett Clayton and Jordan Fisher round out the cast as singing human Ken dolls. What makes Teen Beach Movie succeed where other DCOMs fail is that it doesn’t for a second try to tap into those ever-fickle hip tween trends, sticking instead to its very bizarre guns. This is an original movie that aired on Disney Channel in which bikers do pirouettes and sing about being “wrapped in leather, ready to go,” and people need to be made aware of its existence.
1. High School Musical (2006)
The GOAT, and it wasn’t even close. High School Musical imprinted so strongly on my tween brain that there was a time in my childhood that I lost the ability to do long division but gained the ability to recite this perfect DCOM start to finish. Here was the movie that led to Glee, which led to Pitch Perfect, which led to Rebel Wilson in Cats. It launched the careers of Zac Efron and Coachella queen Vanessa Hudgens. It centers around a villain whose only motivation is wanting desperately for her and her fraternal-twin brother to be cast as romantic leads opposite each other in front of their entire school. It gave us a rhythmic basketball-dribbling number, cafeteria-tray choreography, and the legendary Miss Darbus screaming things like “I will not allow my twinkle-toes musicale to be turned into a farce!” while swishing multiple scarves. DCOMs stumble when they aspire to things they can never truly be, like “real” or “cool.” But when they own up to exactly what they are and what they want to be and stay true to themselves, much like Troy Bolton, there’s not a star in heaven that they can’t reach.