As much of an adrenaline rush as you can get watching a movie, it pales in comparison to living that movie. And unless you’re actually on the set (or, perhaps, in VR), the best way to do that is at a theme park. Theme parks basically live off licensed movie rides and Hollywood has long since been trying to flip that around, making movies based on rides.
It’s been a wild ride (sorry!) over the last several years watching Hollywood turn theme park rides—with varying amounts of plot—into full-blown features. And it doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon. First, we’ll dig into the best of those from Hollywood and then dive into the many instances of Walt Disney and Universal theme parks (though you may have a Six Flags in your area with some highlights) taking advantage of a popular license. This isn’t a comprehensive list by any means, it’s just based on rides I’ve actually been on. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl - Johnny Depp aside, this first movie whips unholy amounts of ass.
2. Mission to Mars - Not Brian DePalma’s best, but compared to these other films, certainly above average. Note: A huge drop off from numbers 1 to 2.
3. Tomorrowland - More based on (the idea of) a land than a ride, it’s still got that theme park feel.
4. The Country Bears - These singing and dancing bears deserved more.
5. Tower of Terror - The fact this movie stars Steve Guttenberg is reason enough to love it a tiny bit. More here:
6. Haunted Mansion - One of the all-time best theme park rides deserved better than this tired Eddie Murphy comedy.
TBD. Jungle Cruise - A movie based on the Disney ride was supposed to be out this year. It’s now coming out next year and it would have to be very bad not to crack this top three.
Note: In an attempt to keep this list relatively short, I limited myself by a few factors.
- I had to have ridden it.
- It has to still be open (Sorry, Back to the Future).
- No comic book rides, unless it’s movie specific.
Because of those rules, some rides that are comic book-centric or movie-adjacent aren’t on here (Batman, Superman, etc.), and newer rides, especially those located in Florida like Toy Story Land, the new Hagrid, and King Kong rides, aren’t on here either.
Another note: Any ride is a good ride. Even the lower ones are good, with one or two exceptions.
44. The Dark Knight Coaster, Six Flags Great Adventure - Luckily, Great Adventure has some excellent comic book-themed coasters because this indoor ride based on The Dark Knight is truly awful. Calling it a coaster is an insult to coasters.
43. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Peril, Disneyland Paris - A disappointing roller coaster made even worse by the fact it’s theming is so good. Truly a huge disappointment.
42. Monsters Inc: Mike and Sulley to the Rescue, Disney’s California Adventure - A cute little ride that loses points because it feels very dated
41. Stitch’s Great Escape, Magic Kingdom - An alien escape is a great concept, but the ride is oddly gross and scary. [NOTE: Apparently, this ride is closed. Our apologies.]
40. Na’vi River Journey, Disney’s Animal Kingdom - This Avatar-themed ride is gorgeous but there’s not much to it.
39. Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind, Disney’s California Adventure - A nice little ride that’s themed well and has great music but is mostly forgettable.
38. Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, Disney’s California Adventure, Magic Kingdom - A beautiful ride with great music but it’s very squarely aimed at kids. Which is fine, but not for me.
37. Harry Potter: Flight of the Hippogriff, Universal Studios Hollywood and Islands of Adventure - A cute little Harry Potter ride that feels like a warmup for the real ones.
36. Finding Nemo’s Submarine Voyage, Disneyland - It’s a reskin of the legendary 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride, but there’s some nice charm to it.
34-35. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Disney’s California Adventure - These two Cars themed rides are basically the same: fun, but very simple and targeted at kids.
33. Men in Black Alien Attack, Universal Studios Florida - Shooting aliens is fun as hell but the ride absolutely feels behind the times.
32. Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters, Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Disneyland Paris - Buzz would be higher if there wasn’t a similar ride with the same basic idea, that’s way better, from the same movie.
31. E.T. Adventure, Universal Studios Florida - Where other rides have dated poorly, E.T. has dated quite well in a very cheesy, nostalgic way.
30. Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Disneyland - With the spinning, this ride adds a little thrill with the tried and true car ride formula.
29. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Magic Kingdom - This mega Snow White ride is very popular but does not deliver the thrills you’d expect. It’s still very fun though.
28. Frozen Ever After, Epcot - Sure it’s just a simple boat ride, but a lovely twist in the middle makes it even better.
27. Splash Mountain, Disneyland, Magic Kingdom - An amazing ride but it’s hard to forget it’s based on the racist Song of the South. However, that’s set to change.
26. Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios - Flying the Millennium Falcon is amazing, but it’s just a big video game.
25-19. Fantasyland, Disneyland - Hard to rank them separately so let’s just go with all of them together. This includes Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Mad Tea Party, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures (also throw in the Magic Kingdom stuff too). While some of the attractions are more thrilling and inventive than others, they all share a sense of historical and nostalgic significance that makes them a joy to ride.
18. Star Tours, Disneyland & Disney’s Hollywood Studios - The first, classic Star Wars ride has seen many updates and is still a hell of a good time.
17. Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem, Universal Studios Hollywood & Universal Studios Florida - I’m not a huge fan of the franchise but this ride is awesome and immersive.
16. Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Universal Studios Florida - Though it’s the newer of the two major Harry Potter indoor rides, this one lacks the wonder of its older brother.
15. Haunted Mansion Holiday, Disneyland - When Disneyland takes the Haunted Mansion and redecorates it with The Nightmare Before Christmas characters, it’s a magical mixture of holidays, franchises, and more.
14. Dinosaur, Disney’s Animal Kingdom - Though it has basically nothing to do with Dinosaur, the film it’s based on, it’s still an excellent thrill ride with a killer story.
13. Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland - With the same ride system as Dinosaur, Indy packs a bigger punch thanks to the theming and John Williams’ music.
12. Transformers the Ride, Universal Studios Hollywood, Universal Studios Florida - You’ll be blown away by the scope and effects in this mammoth ride.
11. Jurassic World: The Ride, Universal Studios Hollywood - A reimagining of Jurassic Park: The Ride has better immersion, water effects, and more. It’s delightful.
10. Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, Disney’s California Adventure - Sure, Tower of Terror was great, but this update helping you break the Guardians out of a vault is an incredible change from top to bottom.
9. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal Studios Hollywood & Islands of Adventure - A wonderful Harry Potter story combined with amazing theming, location, and ride vehicles make for an amazing experience.
8. Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride, Universal Studios Hollywood & Universal Studios Florida - A themed, indoor roller coaster is a good thing. One that shoots you backward too? Even better.
7. Toy Story Midway Mania, Disney’s California Adventure, Disney’s Hollywood Studios - I love this ride so much. It’s basically a huge video game but there is so much variation, competition, and tricks, it’s just a total blast.
6. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios- More than a ride, Rise of the Resistance is its own chapter of the Star Wars saga. No other ride can say that.
5. Incredicoaster, Disney’s California Adventure - The original ride, California Screamin’, was great, but Disney slapped a cool story and lots of themed onto it and now you fly through The Incredibles in a way you never thought possible.
4. Ratatouille: L’Aventure Totalement Toquée de Rémy, Walt Disney Studio’s Park - Shrunk to the size of a rat, you get flung around the kitchen on this epic and deliciousqw trackless ride. It’s coming to Epcot in the future too.
3. Studio Tour, Universal Studios Hollywood - No other ride puts you literally on not just a backlot but sometimes active movie sets. This one does though, and also has sections themed for Earthquake, King Kong, Fast and Furious, Jaws, and more. It’s absolutely amazing but falls here just because it can change based on so many variables.
2. Radiator Springs Racers, Disney’s California Adventure - What starts as a nice, simple story eventually turns into an intense race across the countryside. This Cars-themed ride has it all.
1. Avatar Flight of Passage, Disney’s Animal Kingdom - This might seem like a questionable pick... unless you’ve ridden it. Wholly immersive, unbelievably exhilarating while also being serine and poetic, it’s everything a James Cameron ride should be and so much more.
Let us know your favorite rides based on movies and movie rides below!
Correction 6/26/20 3:45 p.m.: The Stitch ride at Magic Kingdom is, apparently, closed, which disqualifies it. But we left it in there and made a note. Also, we added that the Galaxy’s Edge rides are in Florida too.
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