There are some time-honored television traditions that seem destined to continue forever: Sunday Night Football, the Academy Awards, and, of course, the Disney Channel Original Movie. In an era of peak TV, DCOMs may seem like lesser television output, but for anyone coming of age in the ‘90s and beyond, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that you’ve got a few favorites of your own, each with stranger and more implausible plotlines than the last.
Since the first DCOM back in 1997, the channel has been slowly perfecting the formula of iconic original content, crafting a careful balance of schlocky sets, over-the-top, SNL-parodied acting, and almost frustratingly catchy musical numbers into an often beguiling concoction of adolescent wish-fulfillment.
Spurred on by a rabid love for the strange television subgenre (and apparently a death wish), I set out to rank all of the original films, tracking the progression of the movies from a dog-whispering Kirk Cameron in 1997 to the curious DCOMs of 2016. Rating films based on originality, quality, general rewatchability (and let’s face it, personal preference), I humbly present a ranking of the entire DCOM catalog. Get ready for some serious nostalgia.
100. You Lucky Dog, 1998
There’s a lot to tackle with You Lucky Dog, a movie directed by Beverly Hills 90210’s Paul Schneider and starring pre-crazy Kirk Cameron as a conman who can (maybe) read dogs’ minds. Drawn back into the lucrative world of canine soothsaying after the sudden death of a millionaire leaves him and the benefactor’s dog the recipient of a hefty windfall, a majority of the movie is devoted to an over-the-top battle over the estate by some of the deceased’s cartoonishly dour and inept family members. There’s not a clear message here honestly, and though it’s only been a few days since I’ve watched this one, it already only exists in my mind under the file: “Kirk Cameron Eats a Couch.” So that’s something.
99. Cloud 9, 2014
Let me say that I do not understand the Disney stardom of Luke Benward. Nor do I enjoy watching other people engage in what I think are supposed to be winter sports. Thusly, a movie starring Luke Benward set in the competitive world of snowboarding? Not so much.
98. StarStruck, 2010
Hey Disney Channel, we need to have a talk. When you made StarStruck, did someone ever step back and think, “Wait, are we really making a movie about a pop-star accidentally wounding one of his obsessed fans and subsequently falling in love with her?” Because regardless, I think some things were, shall we say, handled poorly here.
97. Den Brother, 2010
I spent the entirety of Den Brother rationalizing the fact that the star, Hutch Dano, must be related to the There Must Be Blood alum Paul Dano. That wondering spiced up the ol’ “I Can’t Juggle Two Things!” Disney Channel trope, keeping my mind busy and distracting myself from the fact that there was very little of value here. That is until I found out there’s actually no relation. Betrayed! And very bored.
96. Invisible Sister, 2015
Invisible Sister is exactly what it sounds like: a science whiz kid turns her popular older sister invisible. And that’s… about it. Doomed to be a forgotten DCOM effort, but points for that cool hair.
95. Quints, 2000
This movie, besides earning the distinction of taking our beloved Halloweentown star Kimberly J. Brown and handing her five screaming babies, is sort of an offense to the hallowed golden age of DCOM. Though on the plus side, it offers one of the best uses of Britney Spears’ “Soda Pop” I’ve ever seen.
94. You Wish!, 2003
Remember when Spencer Breslin was famous? No shade to the guy, but I haven’t seen a stranger performance than the one he gives in You Wish!, whose alternate title is definitely Be Careful What You Wish For: The Movie. A little repellant and more upsetting to watch than anything else, You Wish! has none of the staying power of even some of the mediocre DCOMs.
93. Tiger Cruise, 2004
So, before I embarked on this challenge, I had no idea Tiger Cruise existed, and it’s perhaps for good reason. It stars Bill Pullman and Hayden Panettiere, but the film takes a turn about halfway through, using tragedy of the 9/11 terror attacks as a way to kick Panettiere into gear as a well-adjusted military brat. Yikes.
92. Hatching Pete, 2009
Call me uninformed, but I don’t think I’ve seen another feature-length anything that has tried to squeeze this much drama out of a high-school mascot simply called “The Chicken.”
91. Good Luck Charlie, It’s Christmas!, 2011
Are you a human person that enjoys Good Luck Charlie? Then I’m sorry about this one, but there’s something about forced family antics in a Christmas movie that just really makes me sad.
90. Radio Rebel, 2012
This one is kind of like Footloose but instead of banning rock music and dancing, they ban a podcast. There are some radio shenanigans, a “MORP” (that’s prom spelled backwards, how cute), and Debbie Ryan doing her best “adorable baby,” but the whole thing refuses to gel into anything particularly entertaining.
89. Girl vs. Monster, 2012
The premise is pretty golden, but when the dramatic linchpin of your movie involves a central protagonist that has yet to understand what fear is, you’ve already lost me. Doesn’t everyone watch The Neverending Story as a child? That’s fear.
88. Ready to Run, 2000
There’s a Mr. Ed riff, totally attainable jockey dreams, and a horse wearing headphones. I got nothin’.