Adventure Movies

Disney’s Most Underrated Movies of All Time, Ranked

December 3, 202315 Mins Read

Disney is one of the biggest studios in the world. It is home to classic animated films from both Walt Disney Animation and Pixar. It has created timeless live-action classics like Mary Poppins and Pirates of the Caribbean, and now, with recent acquisitions, it has both the MCU, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones under its belt. The company recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, which culminated in the release of Wish.

Disney films tend to stick in the pop culture zeitgeist and are passed down by parents to their children. Thanks to theme parks, certain films and properties remain always in the public consciousness. Yet for a studio as big as Disney, that also means they have released plenty of films that get lost in the cracks. Some bomb at the box office, while some do decent and are just forgotten about in terms of the company’s wider output. With that in mind, take a look at Disney’s most underrated films.

Update December 3, 2023: This article has bee updated with even more great underrated Disney films that are worth checking out, as well as an update on a film that was almost taken off Disney+ and lost forever.

16 Treasure Planet (2002)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Martin Short in Treasure Planet
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Treasure Planet is the most underrated movie on this list. Full of colorful animation, Treasure Planet follows young Jim Hawkins on his quest to find the elusive Treasure Planet. Backed with an all-star cast of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins, Emma Thompson as the daring Captain Amelia, Martin Short as the forgetful robot B.E.N, and David Hyde Pierce as the clumsy Doctor Doppler, Treasure Planet mixed action, comedy, and adventure together to make a perfect movie.

Related: 12 Disney Characters You Completely Forgot About

Why It’s Underrated

Treasure Planet is loosely based on the novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, but this time, it is drastically reworked in a sci-fi story. This film was truly innovative for its time as it introduced a process called Virtual Scenarios, where a 360-degree environment was generated for the animated character to interact. With this process, the film took 10 years to complete. Despite having flopped in theaters, Treasure Planet was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature and has since gone on to acquire a new appreciation from audiences.

15 John Carter (2012)

The live-action adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs book series was notable for being one of the biggest flops of all time. Yet for audiences that saw it, it delivered an old-school pulpy science fiction epic that harkened back to the good old days of adventure serials. The story of a man lost from his Earth and finds himself on Mars and caught in the middle of a giant planetary war, and featured a dynamic ensemble cast led by Taylor Kitsch, Mark Strong, and Willem Dafoe.

Why It’s Underrated

John Carter perfectly captures the tone and spirit of old adventure stories that inspired many projects like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, yet by extension, John Carter seemed derivative of those to audiences at the time. Though the box office receipts may not reflect it (heavily due to poor marketing), the exciting flick transported moviegoers to a wondrous world and touted stunning visuals and charismatic performances, and it truly did not deserve the hate it received upon its initial release.

14 Oliver & Company (1988)

Disney's Oliver & Company
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution 

A wholesome retelling of the Charles Dickens classic, Oliver & Company centers on the titular orphaned kitten as he takes to the streets of New York City in search of a new home, where he meets the cool and carefree pooch Dodger and other quirky members of Fagin’s thieving dog gang. When Oliver is adopted by the kind-hearted and wealthy Jenny, he must fight to keep his peaceful and comfortable new life when a cruel loan shark causes trouble for the feline.

Why It’s Underrated

Music legend Billy Joel famously voiced the cocky and street-savvy canine Dodger, performing the toe-tapping tune “Why Should I Worry?” while his equally revered co-star Bette Midler belted out the song “Perfect Isn’t Easy” as the poodle Georgette in the exciting flick. Oliver & Company is a fun and playful take on the Dickens tale and provides heartwarming entertainment for children of all ages.

13 Cool Runnings (1993)

Undeniably one of Disney’s often forgotten but nonetheless exceptional ’90s films was hands down the sports comedy Cool Runnings, which was inspired by the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in which Jamaica’s national bobsled team famously participated in the prestigious event for the first time and emerged as major underdogs. The ’93 film adopts a similar premise and features the late and great John Candy as a former Olympic champion who coaches a novice Jamaican bobsled team and pushes them to make it into the celebrated competition.

Why It’s Underrated

Cool Runnings is a wholesome and deeply moving film that beautifully blends humor with a heartfelt message, while celebrating the world of sports and leaving audiences feeling uplifted and inspired. Candy is unsurprisingly fantastic as the team’s disillusioned-yet-determined coach, and he winningly plays off his costars like Leon Robinson and Doug E. Doug with an effortless ease, helping make it both a critical and commercial triumph.

12 James and the Giant Peach (1996)

james and the giant peach roald dahl
Walt Disney Pictures

From the creative and off-the-wall mind of director Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) comes the criminally underappreciated stop-motion animated fantasy James and the Giant Peach, a wondrous retelling of the Roald Dahl staple that focuses on the young orphaned boy James as he is sent to live with his cold and unkind aunts after tragically losing his parents. When he stumbles upon a massive and magical peach, James meets a slew of unforgettable talking insects who take him on an adventure of a lifetime.

Why It’s Underrated

Despite earning appreciation for its whimsical visuals and engrossing story, James and the Giant Peach failed to make a splash at the box office though it did receive seven Annie Award nominations as well as an Oscars’ nod. Dahl’s widow Liccy was thoroughly impressed by the big screen adaptation, declaring at the time that she thought her late husband “would have been delighted with what they did with James. It is a wonderful film.” Thanks to the overwhelming success of streaming, James and the Giant Peach has been able to reach new audiences and amass some much-deserved popularity.

11 The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

The Great Mouse Detective is a unique take on Sherlock Holmes, as young mouse Olivia seeks Basil, the famous mouse detective, so he can investigate her father’s kidnapping. The kidnapping was done by Ratigan, Basil’s nemesis, who took Olivia’s father so that he can create a robotic replica of the queen mouse and use it to rule the other mice.

Why It’s Underrated

The plot is silly, but it has great characters with brilliant voice performances, including Vincent Price as Ratigan. It’s fun to see classic Holmes elements on a small scale, featuring mice instead of people. Released when Disney was at a low point in the 1980s, its success was a huge turning point for the company, and though it has never met huge popularity, it’s definitely worth a watch. It also was the feature debut of Ron Clements and John Musker, two directors who would have a hand in some of Disney’s biggest films, including The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Moana.

10 The Sword in the Stone (1963)

A scene from The Sword In The Stone
Buena Vista Distribution

Considered one of the best King Arthur adaptations, The Sword in the Stone is Disney’s take on the classic myth. Led by the eccentric wizard Merlin, young Arthur is tutored in various subjects that Merlin knows will help Arthur when he eventually becomes King. Through Merlin’s magic, the two transform into fish, squirrels, and birds, before Arthur triumphantly pulls the sword from the stone and is crowned King.

Why It’s Underrated

The colorful visuals are excellent and embrace the magic, like Merlin’s dishes putting themselves away. It may not be as deep as some other Disney movies, but it’s classic, silly fun with great designs and a memorable character in Merlin. A live-action remake of The Sword in the Stone is currently in production and will be directed by Michael Matthews (Love and Monsters) after Ridley Scott was forced to back out over scheduling conflicts, though no cast or release date has been announced.

9 Christopher Robin (2018)

During Disney’s recent boom of live-action remakes, one that seems to have gotten lost in the discussion is Christopher Robin. The movie is not quite a remake but a live-action continuation of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It did decent at the box office but did not light up the market the way films like Alice in Wonderland, Aladdin, and The Lion King did.

Why It’s Underrated

The film is one of the best in the live-action reimaginings as it goes for a quieter, softer, and more sincere approach to the material. Ewan McGregor shines as the grown-up eponymous character, who is reunited with his beloved childhood pal Winnie the Pooh and his other Hundred Acre Wood friends and goes on the ultimate soul-searching journey. Christopher Robin is a perfect addition to the Winnie the Pooh legacy and will leave audiences feeling a pleasant rush of nostalgia and warmth.

8 Brother Bear (2003)

Brother Bear

Brother Bear

Release Date
October 23, 2003

Aaron Blaise , Robert Walker

People turning into animals is a common theme in Disney movies, but Brother Bear does it a little differently. In the engrossing movie, Alaskan boy Kenai kills a mother bear that he blames for his brother’s death. The Great Spirits then turn Kenai into a bear, where he bonds with Koda, the bear cub left behind after the mother’s death.

Why It’s Underrated

The colorful animation is impressive and downright jaw-dropping, bringing the Alaska wilderness to life in stunning ways. This tale of appreciating nature and growing up concludes with a different and mature ending, where Kenai chooses to stay a bear to take care of Koda after his own mistake. It’s a deep and wondrous journey of humanity and nature.

7 Meet the Robinsons (2007)

One of the few science fiction-based Disney films, Meet the Robinsons takes on topics of adoption, depression, and time travel in a lighthearted way. Audiences know Disney is not afraid to kill off one or two of the main character’s parents, but in this film, the Disney team refreshingly allowed viewers to see the character go through the hardships of adoption.

Why It’s Underrated

Meet the Robinsons follows 12-year-old amateur inventor Lewis, a guy with a robotic bowler hat, and a kid named Wilbur, who is from the future. Lewis and Wilbur team up together to spoil the Bowler hat guy’s scheme and save the future. Meet the Robinsons is a witty movie that is both funny and thought-provoking. The dry sense of humor character of Goob helps make the movie better too—who else doesn’t want to leave their bed most days?

6 The Black Cauldron (1985)

the black cauldron

The Black Cauldron

Release Date
July 24, 1985

Ted Berman , Richard Rich

Grant Bardsley , Susan Sheridan , Freddie Jones , Nigel Hawthorne , Arthur Malet , John Byner

Known as the movie that almost killed Disney animation back in the ’80s, The Black Cauldron is just a movie made in the wrong generation. The Black Cauldron follows Taran and his group of misfits who are on a quest to find the mystical black cauldron. Using a pig as his guide, Taran and his friends face dark magic to save the land. The Black Cauldron was a scary movie and is said to have come directly from Walt Disney’s dark days, bringing an end to Disney Studios’ large-budget production methods.

Related: Disney Movies That Actually Get Pretty Scary

Why It’s Underrated

With a new team and location for the studio, Disney pushed for faster results and cheaper production for their future movies—a move that has since proven worthwhile. Had The Black Cauldron been produced today, its dark nature and frightening scenes would be more accepted by parents and children who are now accustomed to darker scenes in movies. Regardless, it has gone on to garner a cult following and has since become the perfect animated flick for the braver and more offbeat Disney lovers.

5 A Goofy Movie (1995)

Max and Goofy takes a trip
Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

Starring a classic Disney character, A Goofy Movie makes for a surprisingly touching father-son movie. After his son Max gets in trouble at school, the lovable Goofy decides to take him on a road trip so they can bond before Max grows up and begins a new phase in his life. Max resists his father’s attempt because he wants to ask out his crush and make his own way, and the duo end up making new discoveries about one another along the way.

Why It’s Underrated

The father/son tension is a typical conflict, but one that’s treated with humor and surprising emotion that adds so much to each character and their respective development and growth. It’s funny and colorful but also serious and ahead of its time for its realistic treatment of a family relationship. A Goofy Movie became a major success via home media release and its popularity amongst at-home viewers helped lead to the equally entertaining direct-to-video sequel An Extremely Goofy Movie.

4 Lightyear (2022)



The story of Buzz Lightyear and his adventures to infinity and beyond. Chris Evans, Taika Waititi and James Brolin star in this Pixar animated film.

Release Date
June 17, 2022

Angus MacLane

Lightyear was notable as being Pixar’s first flop. Yet the movie was a lot better than people gave it credit for, as it delivered a classic old-school science fiction action film. It told the story of Buzz Lightyear and works as the film that Andy would have seen that inspired his love for the toy in the original 1995 hit. Chris Evans took over vocal duties from Tim Allen as the legendary Space Ranger, bringing his signature charisma to the role and giving it a unique spin.

Why It’s Underrated

It was a daring and fresh approach to try and extend the Toy Story franchise. What is better is that it totally works as a standalone film, and it went on to become the most-watched movie worldwide on Disney+ upon its streaming release. With gorgeous visuals, an exciting premise, and endearing voice performances, Lightyear is likely going to be another cult classic in the near future, one that kids see and, when they grow up, wonder why it wasn’t a bigger hit.

3 The Rescuers (1977)

A scene from The Rescuers
Buena Vista Distribution

The Rescuers follows two unlikely protagonists on an even unlikelier mission: two mice named Bernard and Bianca, who work with a mouse organization that rescues kidnapped people. Their mission is to rescue a young girl named Penny, who was kidnapped by the villainous Medusa to obtain a diamond for her. Medusa is one of the scariest Disney villains and makes the movie dark and intense.

Why It’s Underrated

Bernard, voiced by Bob Newhart, and Bianca, voiced by Eva Gabor, are two delightful leads. Bernard’s shy and fearful nature is a perfect contrast to Bianca’s sense of fancy and adventure. They’re adorable and heroic on their rescue journey and proved so popular that a sequel was made in 1990 – with The Rescuers Down Under going on to become the first-ever animated Disney sequel.

2 Crater (2023)

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A recent addition that almost became lost media. Crater was released on Disney+ on May 12, 2023, and told the story of a group of kids on a moon colony as they embark on one final adventure before one of them is set to leave forever. It consisted of a young and talented cast, including Isaiah Russell-Bailey and McKenna Grace, and delivered plenty of fun and adventure for audiences.

Why It’s Underrated

The film was a touching and moving coming-of-age movie that was similar to the family films Disney used to make before they became focused on big-budget blockbusters. Crater was recently removed from Disney+ and, for a period of time, was unavailable to watch, having been purged by the streaming giant as part of the massive Disney+/Hulu content purge. After backlash from fans, Crater became available for streaming on Vudu, Prime Video, and Google Play.

1 Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Thanks to rumors of a possible live-action version, Atlantis: The Lost Empire reentered the topic of underrated Disney movies. Loosely based on the lost city of Atlantis, the film follows an unlikely crew joined together to discover the riches of the lost city. Following the nerdy historian, Milo, the team discovers Atlantis and bands together to save it from some bad guys hidden in the group.

Why It’s Underrated

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is full of action, adventure, history, and a comedic group worthy of being remembered as one of Disney’s best movies. It touts a stellar ensemble cast, including Michael J. Fox, James Garner, and Leonard Nimoy, and was a feast for the eyes thanks to its electrifying visuals. Though the critical reaction was mixed, moviegoers thoroughly enjoyed watching Milo and his misfit crew search for the legendary lost city, with audiences awarding the exciting flick an A CinemaScore.

All the films on this list except for Crater are available for streaming on Disney+.

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