In honor of Disney Channel’s 40th anniversary, here are the best Disney Channel Original Movies and TV shows
Some of Disney Channel’s best movies are ‘Cadet Kelly,’ ‘Halloweentown’ and more
I still remember the day my parents decided to enhance our TV-viewing experience and get a TiVo. Maybe it had something to do with the time I cried because my mom forgot to record “Arthur” on a VHS tape while I was away at kindergarten. I’m not sure, but my TV options were no longer limited to PBS. I could watch the Sprouse twins run wild through the Tipton — we had the Disney Channel.
Walt Disney Productions launched its family-oriented cable network in April 1983 with 18 hours of programming a day, reports D23. In December 1986, the network had 24-hour programming. The Disney Channel quickly became one of the fastest-growing cable services with more than 35 million subscribers in less than a decade.
40 years later, and you’re still watching @DisneyChannel! 🪄 📺 #DisneyChannel40 pic.twitter.com/5oCWmjVOVC— Disney (@Disney) April 18, 2023
The first few series on the network were “Good Morning, Mickey,” “Welcome to Pooh Corner” and “You and Me, Kid.” In the ’90s, the network introduced Disney Channel Original Movies, or DCOMs — the first DCOM was “Northern Lights” in 1997, per D23.
This month, the Disney Channel turns 40. Nowadays, the network has expanded to Disney Junior, Disney XD and Disney+ with shows like “The Villains of Valley View” and “Bunk’D.”
In honor of Disney Channel’s 40th anniversary, let’s take a look back at the network’s best original movies and TV series — full disclosure: there might be some bias toward the shows that were popular in my day, as I know nothing about what is on the network today.
The 10 best Disney Channel original movies
10. ‘Geek Charming’ (2011)
“Geek Charming” is exactly what is sounds like: the high school geek is charming enough to get with the most fashionable, popular (and snobbiest) girl on campus. Packed full of cliches, drama and wholesome romance, this movie is everything you expect in a DCOM. Nothing more, nothing less.
9. ‘Twitches’ (2005)
On their 21st birthday, twin witches — aka twitches (clever, right?) — are reunited for the first time since infancy. Together, they must use their supernatural powers to defeat the Darkness. It’s “Parent Trap” meets “Harry Potter” and it doesn’t disappoint.
8. ‘Princess Protection Program’ (2009)
The Princess Protection Program sends a young princess to live with a tomboy and her father in a rural town, where she must learn to behave like a typical teenager. The drama will get you interested and the blooming friendship between Demi Lovato’s and Selena Gomez’s characters will make you want to rewatch the movie.
7. ‘Get a Clue’ (2002)
Lindsay Lohan and 2000s movies go together like peanut butter and jelly. During her 2000s acting high, she played a gossip columnist turned investigative journalist at her high school paper. Lohan’s peak Y2K fashion and sassy demeanor make for a fabulous movie.
6. ‘Jump In’ (2007)
Nothing has or ever will make double dutch look as cool as it does in “Jump In.” I remember my friend swooning over Corbin Bleu the entire movie, and rightfully so — he is a boxer turned jump-roper. The soundtrack is catchy (“Jump to the Rhythm” was my personal favorite), the cast is delightful, the romance endearing and it has a great sports angle.
5. ‘Cadet Kelly’ (2002)
“Cadet Kelly” never fails to make me laugh. The movie is basically if you sent Cher or Elle Woods to military school. I think my favorite part is when Kelly — played by Hilary Duff — dyes her army clothes pink. Kelly proves that you can stay true to yourself and try things out of your comfort zone.
4. ‘The Cheetah Girls’ (2003)
“The Cheetah Girls” are icons. The girl group sets a goal to be the first freshmen at their Manhattan high school to win their talent show. With glamorous outfits (lots of feather boas), pop music perfect for singalongs and equally good sequels, “The Cheetah Girls” remains one of the best DCOMs of all time.
3. ‘Halloweentown’ (1998)
As one of the first DCOMs, “Halloweentown” has remained a Halloween classic for more than two decades. It’s not too spooky for kids, but just spooky enough to make it the perfect Halloween movie.
2. ‘Camp Rock’ (2008)
It’s got the Jonas Brothers, summer camp rivalries, white skinny jeans and teen pop stars. What more could you ask for? Catchy music? It has a lot of that too. “Camp Rock” is the edgy rocker sister to “High School Musical.”
The only DCOM superior to the “Camp Rock” franchise is the “High School Musical” franchise.
1. ‘High School Musical’ (2006)
I cannot say enough good things about “High School Musical.” I still remember the first time I saw the movie — it was the same time I realized my love for Zac Efron. The music and dance sequences are iconic and truly defined a generation.
Honorable mentions: ‘Hannah Montana: The Movie,’ ‘The Lizzie McGuire Movie’
Both technically not DCOMs, but both got played enough on the network to deserve a mention. Also both iconic.
The 10 best Disney Channel original series
10. ‘Sonny With a Chance’
“Sonny With a Chance” was hit and miss — the skits from “So Random” were typically better than the plot. The series follows teens hoping to make it big on a live-action sketch comedy show — there was some entertaining backstage drama, but probably too much laugh track.
9. ‘Cory in the House’
This “That’s So Raven” spinoff series is about Corey (Raven’s younger brother) moving into the White House with his father, who works as the White House chef — hence, “Corey in the House.” The best part of the show might have been the theme song.
8. ‘Phil of the Future’
I think this was one of the first Disney Channel shows I saw. I remember thinking it was hilarious that Phil had a caveman living in the garage and loved how Disney explored time travel in a kid-friendly way.
7. ‘Kim Possible’
“Kim Possible” who does the impossible (get it?) is the female role model I never asked for but definitely wanted. She doubles as a high school student and secret agent. As Kim takes on powerful supervillains, she also juggles with the realities of normal life — like her relationship with Ron Stoppable, a webmaster, and his naked mole rat.
6. ‘Good Luck Charlie’
The Duncans are a wild family (by Disney Channel standards) so Teddy Duncan takes on the role of making videotapes for her little sister filled with life wisdom. It’s an easy watch, full of laughs and has a great Christmas movie to pair with it, “Good Luck Charlie: It’s Christmas!”
5. ‘That’s So Raven’
There is a reason “That’s So Raven” was brought back to Disney Channel in 2017 as “Raven’s Home.” Watching the series made me wish I could see the future — even though it gets Raven in a lot of sticky situations.
4. ‘Phineas and Ferb’
I will admit, I watched a couple episodes of “Phineas and Ferb” last week. Almost every episode has a pop song that will get stuck in your head for days as well as an adventure you always imagined you could go on as a kid. It’s also really funny.
3. ‘Hannah Montana’
It’s where Miley Cyrus got her start as a pop star. She has the best of both worlds and you can’t help but watch Miley as she struggles to juggle her stardom with being a typical student. Plus, the few guest appearances from Dolly Parton make the show even better.
2. ‘The Suite Life of Zack & Cody’
I never knew living in a five-star hotel could be so fun until I watched “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” I also never knew how badly I wanted a secret handshake until I saw the show. Every character is likable (even Mr. Moseby) and the pranks Zack and Cody come up with are really creative.
1. ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’
Honestly, if I were to rewatch a Disney Channel series as an adult, it would be “Wizards of Waverly Place.” The quirky magic and sub sandwich restaurant-owning family never fails to make me laugh, and the family dynamic is more relatable than most Disney Channel shows.