A list of the best Disney movies of all time might look different for everyone. Your list of the best Disney movies of all time will be based on different criteria than someone else’s. You might take into account the animation, the story, the characters, the music, or how the movie made you feel.
I decided to use two ranking systems to put together this list. I used the user ratings taken from the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and the Tomatometer at Rotten Tomatoes. The IMDB user ratings are based on a 10-star system, in which registered users rate each movie with a number of stars. The Tomatometer shows a “fresh” or “rotten” percentage, which is calculated by taking the number of positive critical reviews and dividing it by the number of negative critical reviews.
I noted the top 20 Disney movies by IMDB rating (above a 7.0), and did the same for Disney movies on Rotten Tomatoes. Fifteen movies appeared on both lists. Those are the 15 movies I have chosen as the best Disney movies of all time. Here they are in alphabetical order, along with their IMDB and Tomatometer ratings.
IMDB 8.0 / Tomatometer 94%
Aladdin is a top-rated movie for many reasons. While the story isn’t unique — poor boy goes to great lengths to impress rich girl, who doesn’t really care if he’s poor, and they live happily ever after — Robin Williams’ performance as the Genie took the movie to a higher level. The music is Broadway-caliber, winning an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song (“A Whole New World”) and Best Music, Original Score. But it was Robin Williams fast-talking, head-snapping, hilarious turn as the Genie that wowed audiences and critics alike. Robin Williams was given a Golden Globes Special Award for his amazing work.
IMDB 7.4 / Tomatometer 91%
It’s appropriate that Bambi, which was released in 1942, prior to the end of WW I, is about an orphan who is trying to survive in sometimes scary circumstances. The beautiful scenery, and the simplicity of the characters and the story, come together to create a classic animated movie. Bambi was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Music, Original Song for “Love is a Song;” and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture.
Beauty and the Beast
IMDB 8.0 / Tomatometer 93%
In the late ’80s, Disney movies hit a wall. Special effects were becoming more believable, and audiences saw animated Disney movies as quaint and boring. Then, in 1989, Disney released The Little Mermaid and recaptured the wonder that had made Disney movies so wonderful. This was thanks to the unforgettable music of Alan Menken. Menken worked his magic again in Beauty and the Beast, only two years later. In some ways, the music of Beauty and the Beast is better than The Little Mermaid, more complex and sophisticated. It won the Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Score, and Best Original Song (“Beauty and the Beast”). The humor of Gaston, the terror of the Beast, and the kindness of Belle came together to make a terrific movie.
IMDB 7.3 / Tomatometer 97%
The story of a girl who needs to be rescued by a man, and orchestrates said rescue after merely getting a makeover, is dated (and wrong). But Cinderella remains timeless and classic. There’s something about the art of it — the soothing palette, the shadows and light — that makes it lush and charming. Cinderella was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and Best Music, Original Song (“Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”).
IMDB 7.3 / Tomatometer 97%
Although Dumbo tells a rather sad story, it was one of my daughter’s favorite movies when she was very small. Perhaps she saw herself in little Dumbo, when all he wanted was to be with his mother. Perhaps his struggle and eventual success to earn a place at the circus was a story she admired. Whatever the reason, she wasn’t alone. Dumbo, which was released in 1941, effectively conveys the message that you shouldn’t treat someone badly, just because they’re different. Dumbo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and was nominated for Best Music, Original Song (“Baby Mine”).
The Emperor’s New Groove
IMDB 7.3 / Tomatometer 85%
I am surprised as you are that The Emperor’s New Groove made the cut for the best Disney movies of all time. Apparently, audiences and critics really like it, even though it’s a fairly goofy movie. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Emperor Kuzco is turned into a llama by his ex-administrator Yzma, and must regain his throne with the help of Pacha, the gentle llama herder. Crazy antics ensue. The cast is very talented, with David Spade, John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Wendie Malick in lead roles. The Emperor’s New Groove was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song (“My Funny Friend and Me”).
The Jungle Book
IMDB 8.2 / Tomatometer 86%
While 2016’s The Jungle Book is a marvel, the original animated version, released in 1967, cannot be replaced. The story was simple and endearing. The music was at times fun and silly, and other times dramatic and suspenseful. The cast is full of famous personalities of the day, including Louis Prima as King Louie, Phil Harris as Baloo, and Sterling Holloway as Kaa. Surprisingly, The Jungle Book didn’t win any Academy Awards for music. It was nominated for Best Music, Original Song (“The Bare Necessities.”)
The Lion King
IMDB 8.5 / Tomatometer 91%
The Lion King experienced some backlash when it premiered in 1994. Many parents were aghast that Disney would put a horribly tragic scene in a children’s movie. Those parents must not have seen Bambi, or Pinocchio, or even Dumbo. You can’t tell a good story without a high-stakes conflict, and losing a parent as a cub is pretty high stakes. The Lion King is another Disney movie that combines good storytelling with music that ranges from romantic to goofy. The Lion King won Academy Awards for Best Music, Original Song (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight”) and Best Music, Original Score.
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
IMDB 7.6 / Tomatometer 92%
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh is a collection of animated shorts. The shorts are based on A. A. Milne’s books: Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree; Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day; and Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too. Washed out pastels and quiet dialogue invoke the spirit of Milne’s books. It also has several memorable songs, like “The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers.” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh was the first movie about Pooh bear, and remains one of the best Disney movies of all time, thanks to its faithfulness to the books.
IMDB 7.8 / Tomatometer 100%
It is no surprise to me that Mary Poppins received a 100% Tomatometer rating. It’s one of my favorite movies of all-time. So many scenes from Mary Poppins have become iconic, like when Mary makes the children clean their room, or the chimney sweeps link arms for a grubby dance. Every song is beautiful and memorable. Perhaps most importantly, the message that family is the most important thing in life really resonates with me. And, c’mon, Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke! Mary Poppins won five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews. A new Mary Poppins is being developed, but the original will always be the real one.
IMDB 7.5 / Tomatometer 86%
When it was released in 1998, Mulan was a surprising departure from typical Disney movies. Mulan is one of the few Disney movies that doesn’t star a white female or an animal. The story is about a young maiden, who secretly her father’s place in the army, and becomes one of China’s greatest heroines in the process. Mulan is usually at the top of any Disney movie list, thanks to its unique story, its girl-power message, and its beautiful style. Mulan was nominated for Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score.
IMDB 7.5 / Tomatometer 100%
Pinocchio is another early Disney movie that remains a classic. The story is based on The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Italian author Carlo Collodi. Released in 1940, Pinocchio features, perhaps, the most famous and iconic Disney song ever — “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That song won the Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song, and the movie won Best Music, Original Score. Mel Blanc, famous for voicing several Looney Tunes characters, played several roles in Pinocchio, including Figaro and Gideon.
The Secret of NIMH
IMDB 7.6 / Tomatometer 96%
The Secret of NIMH is an unexpected addition to a list of best Disney movies of all time. It’s not a Disney movie that is referenced very often, or even talked about, yet enough fans and critics like it that it met my criteria on IMDB and Rotten Tomoatoes, respectively. To save her ill son, a widowed field mouse must seek the aid of a colony of rats — the Rats of NIMH. In working with them to save her son before their home is demolished, she discovers her dead husband’s secret past.
IMDB 7.3 / Tomatometer 92%
Like Snow White and Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty is a classic Disney film about a princess in peril. Sleeping Beauty was released in 1959, and represents the production company’s postwar style. The rich color, the talented cast, and the sparkling magic of the story make it one of the best Disney movies of all time. Sleeping Beuaty was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
IMDB 7.7 / Tomatometer 98%
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a groundbreaking animated film. The smooth, and believable, animation of Snow White, combined with the talented cast and wonderful music, propelled Snow White to hold the record for the highest grossing movie (until it was surpassed the following year by Gone with the Wind). Snow White was such an advancement in animation, that Walt Disney was given a special Academy Award for “significant screen innovation” in the field of entertainment. The trill of Adriana Caselotti’s voice is iconic, even though the cast members were uncredited.