How Disney Transforms Films Into a Theme Park Empire

Since opening Disneyland in 1955, the company has been perfecting the process of fantasy-world creation

By Mira RojanasakulMira Rojanasakul
April 19, 2017

As revenue from Disney's TV properties comes under threat due to cord-cutting, theme parks are poised to become an increasingly important part of its business. With six major resorts worldwide, featuring scores of attractions, the company ought to be sitting pretty, but the past decade has seen strong competition from Universal, which opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando in 2010 and has since created three more versions.

To fend off the upstart, Disney will open lands based on Avatar and Star Wars—the latest in a legacy of film-to-park adaptations that stretches back more than 60 years. The following chart shows how the company has brought movies to life at Walt Disney World in Orlando since the 1970s.

Disney’s Theme Park Expansions Over the Years

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Iger ramps up investing, even under recession

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Space Mountain

Pirates of the Caribbean

Liberty Square Riverboat

Tom Sawyer Island

The Hall of Presidents

Tomorrowland Speedway

Walt Disney World Railroad - Main Street, U.S.A.

Haunted Mansion

Walt’s original vision

Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade

Country Bear Jamboree

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Enchanted Tales With Belle

Peter Pan’s Flight

Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Mad Tea Party

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

It’s a Small World

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

The Barnstormer

Cinderella Castle

Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

Oct. 1, 1971

Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Swiss Family Treehouse

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Astro Orbiter

Jungle Cruise

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Splash Mountain

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin

▲ Attractions

▼ Films

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

Aladdin

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

Swiss Family Robinson

Beauty and the Beast

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Monsters, Inc.

Peter Pan

Sleeping Beauty

The Little Mermaid

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Lilo & Stitch

Alice in Wonderland

Dumbo

Cinderella

Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros

The Seas With Nemo & Friends

Turtle Talk With Crush

SeaBase

Mission: Space

O Canada!

Journey Into Imagination With Figment

Impressions de France

Oct. 1, 1982

Epcot

Test Track

Reflections of China

The American Adventure

Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Soarin’

Spaceship Earth

Frozen Ever After

Living With the Land

The Circle of Life

Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival

▲ Attractions

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

▼ Films

The Lion King

Finding Nemo

Frozen

Star Wars Launch Bay

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

May 1, 1989

Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania!

Muppet Vision 3D

Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue

Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

The Great Movie Ride

▲ Attractions

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

▼ Films

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

The Muppets

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

Muppets From Space

Muppets Most Wanted

Eisner starts spending again

Primeval Whirl

TriceraTop Spin

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Kali River Rapids

Planned ▼

Tree of Life

Valley of Mo’ara

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

Na’vi River Journey

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Apr. 22, 1998

Animal Kingdom

Avatar Flight of Passage

It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

Dinosaur

Expedition Everest

Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Wildlife Express Train

▲ Attractions

▼ Films

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

Avatar

A Bug’s Life

Note: Only includes currently operating rides and major shows from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Source: Disney, boxofficemojo

Oct. 1, 1971

Magic Kingdom

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Iger ramps up investing, even under recession

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Space Mountain

Pirates of the Caribbean

Liberty Square Riverboat

Tom Sawyer Island

Walt’s original vision

The Hall of Presidents

Tomorrowland Speedway

Walt Disney World Railroad - Main Street, U.S.A.

Haunted Mansion

Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade

Country Bear Jamboree

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Enchanted Tales With Belle

Peter Pan’s Flight

Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Mad Tea Party

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

It’s a Small World

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

The Barnstormer

Cinderella Castle

Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Swiss Family Treehouse

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Astro Orbiter

Jungle Cruise

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Splash Mountain

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin

▲ Attractions

▼ Films

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

Aladdin

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

Beauty and the Beast

Monsters, Inc.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Peter Pan (1959)

The Little Mermaid

Lilo & Stitch

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Sleeping Beauty (1953)

Alice in Wonderland (1950)

Dumbo (1941)

Disney Phineas and Ferb: Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure

Cinderella (1951)

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros

The Seas With Nemo & Friends

Turtle Talk With Crush

SeaBase

Mission: Space

O Canada!

Journey Into Imagination With Figment

Impressions de France

Oct. 1, 1982

Epcot

Test Track

Reflections of China

The American Adventure

Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Soarin’

Spaceship Earth

Frozen Ever After

Living With the Land

The Circle of Life

Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival

▲ Attractions

▼ Films

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

The Lion King

Finding Nemo

Frozen

Star Wars Launch Bay

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

May 1, 1989

Hollywood Studios

Toy Story Mania!

Muppet Vision 3D

Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue

The Great Movie Ride

Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

▲ Attractions

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

▼ Films

The Muppets Take Manhattan

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi

The Muppets

Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope

Muppets From Space

Muppets Most Wanted

Primeval Whirl

Eisner starts spending again

TriceraTop Spin

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Kali River Rapids

Planned ▼

Tree of Life

Valley of Mo’ara

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

Na’vi River Journey

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Apr. 22, 1998

Animal Kingdom

Avatar Flight of Passage

It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

Dinosaur

Expedition Everest

Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

Wildlife Express Train

▲ Attractions

1975

1980

1985

1990

1995

2000

2005

2010

2015

▼ Films

A Bug’s Life

Avatar

Note: Only includes currently operating rides and major shows from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Source: Disney, boxofficemojo

1950

Dumbo

Cinderella

Alice in Wonderland

Peter Pan

Walt’s original vision

1955

1960

Sleeping Beauty

Swiss Family Robinson

Walt Disney World Railroad - Main Street, U.S.A.

1965

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Tomorrowland Speedway

Country Bear Jamboree

Swiss Family Treehouse

The Hall of Presidents

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Haunted Mansion

Peter Pan’s Flight

Cinderella Castle

Liberty Square Riverboat

it’s a small world

Mad Tea Party

Jungle Cruise

Pirates of the Caribbean

1970

Tom Sawyer Island

Tomorrowland Transit

Authority PeopleMover

Space Mountain

1975

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Star Wars: Episode IV -

A New Hope

The American Adventure

Impressions de France

Living With the Land

1980

Spaceship Earth

Star Wars: Episode V -

The Empire Strikes Back

O Canada!

Eisner starts spending again

Star Tours - The Adventures Continue

Star Wars: Episode VI -

Return of the Jedi

The Muppets

Take Manhattan

1985

SeaBase

The Great Movie Ride

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Muppet*Vision 3D

1990

Splash Mountain

The Little Mermaid

Ellen’s Energy Adventure

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Beauty and the Beast

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

The Barnstormer

The Circle of Life

Astro Orbiter

Aladdin

Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail

It’s Tough to Be a Bug!

The Lion King

Wildlife Express Train

1995

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Maharajah Jungle Trek

Journey Into Imagination With Figment

Test Track

The Magic Carpets of Aladdin

Toy Story

Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream

Kali River Rapids

Tree of Life

Dinosaur

A Bug’s Life

Star Wars: Episode I -

The Phantom Menace

TriceraTop Spin

Muppets From Space

Expedition Everest

Legend of the Forbidden Mountain

2000

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Toy Story 2

Reflections of China

Primeval Whirl

Monsters, Inc.

Turtle Talk With Crush

Stitch’s Great Escape!

The Seas With Nemo & Friends

Mission: Space

Star Wars: Episode II -

Attack of the Clones

Gran Fiesta Tour

Starring the Three Caballeros

Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor

Lilo & Stitch

Finding Nemo

Under the Sea - Journey of the Little Mermaid

Soarin’

Star Wars: Episode III -

Revenge of the Sith

Disney Phineas and Ferb:

Agent P’s World Showcase Adventure

Toy Story Mania!

Enchanted Tales With Belle

Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival

Avatar

Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

The Muppets

Star Wars Launch Bay

Avatar Flight of Passage

Frozen Ever After

Frozen

Na’vi River Journey

Muppets Most Wanted

2015

Valley of Mo’ara

Star Wars:

The Force Awakens

Iger ramps up investing, even under recession

Rogue One:

A Star Wars Story

Beauty and the Beast

(2017)

Note: Only includes currently operating rides and major shows from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Source: Disney, boxofficemojo

Magic Kingdom (1971)

Epcot (1982)

Walt’s original vision

Hollywood Studios (1989)

Eisner starts spending again

Animal Kingdom (1998)

Iger ramps up investing, even under recession

Note: Only includes currently operating rides and major shows from Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.

Source: Disney