Best Disney princess movies

Published 6:00 am Thursday, October 21, 2021

Walt Disney Studios

Best Disney princess movies

Disney’s iconic animated film “Beauty and the Beast” turned 30 Sept. 29. The milestone invites happy reflection of how evolved the Disney princess archetype has become—and, in some cases, how far it still has to go.

With more than 80 years of work to draw on, Stacker ranked every stand-alone movie released by Disney that features a princess character or is in the princess canon, from 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” to 2019’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”—a sequel to a modern spin-off revisionist take on the classic “Sleeping Beauty.” Using data from IMDb user scores, with the number of votes breaking any ties, this list also includes the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs that came from the success of the originals.

Early princess stories like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cinderella,” and “Sleeping Beauty” established a formula that later princess stories would reference and reject. Starting in 1937 with “Snow White,” Disney’s first feature-length animated film and a cultural phenomenon, the Mouse House has drawn on princesses in every era of its storied history. Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty joined Snow White to form a group of critically acclaimed, artistically stunning princess movies in the 1950s. Princesses contributed mightily to Disney’s revival—”The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “Pocahontas,” and “Mulan” helped fuel the studio’s triumphant return to box office domination starting in 1989.

The 21st century saw the rise of the meta-princess, with 2007’s “Enchanted,” 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog,” and 2010’s “Tangled” featuring heroines rejecting the traditional princess narrative and charting their lives with much more agency than those of past princesses, sometimes without a prince at all. The trend reached a pinnacle with 2013’s “Frozen,” which some say eschewed the princess narrative to enormous box office ends and became as much of a cultural force as the most successful princess movies of the past.

But those earlier princesses left such an indelible mark on the culture that Disney went back to the well with a series of live-action remakes, starting with 2015’s “Cinderella,” followed by “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mulan,” and, coming full circle, “Snow White” is also scheduled to receive the live-action treatment.

This ranking goes beyond what might be considered the animated and classic princess-sphere, and includes movies like “Into the Woods” and “The Princess Diaries,” which also feature royalty and are Disney creations, but are not Disney princesses in the traditional sense. On the flip side, Mulan is not a princess—she is not the daughter or a king, nor does she marry a prince—but is included in Disney’s princess franchise, and is included on this list.

Keep reading to see where your favorite falls in the rankings.

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Walt Disney Studios

Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World (1998)

– Directors: Tom Ellery, Bradley Raymond
– IMDb user rating: 4.9
– Votes: 13,558
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 72 minutes

Picking up where the original film leaves off, “Pocahontas 2” sees Powhatan’s daughter journey to England with her animal companions Meeko, Flit, and Percy. The character John Smith is voiced by Donal Gibson, the younger brother of Mel Gibson, who voiced John Smith in the original film.

Walt Disney Studios

Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2001)

– Director: John Kafka
– IMDb user rating: 5.0
– Votes: 10,283
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 73 minutes

Narrated by Cinderella’s mouse friends, Jaq and Gus, “Cinderella II” tells the story of how Cinderella becomes a princess but loses touch with herself. Brooke Allison received two DVD Exclusive Award nominations for Best Original Song for “Follow Your Heart” and “Put it Together (Bibbidi, Bobbidi, Boo).”

Walt Disney Studios

Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams (2007)

– Director: David Block
– IMDb user rating: 5.2
– Votes: 330
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 56 minutes

This Disney princess film is a compilation of short stories about Aurora (“Sleeping Beauty”) and Jasmine (“Aladdin”). It was originally intended to be part of a larger series of “Disney Princess Enchanted Tales,” but plans were scrapped after the release of “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning” in 2008.

Walt Disney Studios

Belle’s Magical World (1998)

– Directors: Bob Kline, Cullen Blaine, Dale Case, Daniel de la Vega, Barbara Dourmaskin-Case, Rick Leon, Burt Medall, Mitch Rochon
– IMDb user rating: 5.3
– Votes: 2,529
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 92 minutes

Paige O’Hara, the original voice of Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” reprises her role in this sequel to the 1991 film. The 1998 movie is divided into three chapters that include two original songs and are intended to teach children lessons about love, kindness, and forgiveness.

Walt Disney Studios

The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea (2000)

– Directors: Jim Kammerud, Brian Smith
– IMDb user rating: 5.6
– Votes: 17,038
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 75 minutes

Ariel’s daughter Melody is forbidden from entering the ocean for fear that she will encounter a sea witch, but when she turns 12, she runs away to the sea. Ariel must turn back into a mermaid to rescue her daughter from Ursula’s clutches with the help of her friends. Pat Carroll, the voice of Ursula in the original film, returns as the voice of Ariel’s sister Morgana in this direct-to-DVD film.

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Walt Disney Studios

Mulan II (2004)

– Directors: Darrell Rooney, Lynne Southerland
– IMDb user rating: 5.7
– Votes: 21,464
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 79 minutes

Mulan and husband-to-be Shang encounter obstacles on the way to their wedding in this sequel to the action-packed 1998 film “Mulan.” World champion ice skater and Olympic silver medalist Michelle Kwan is featured as the voice of the shopkeeper in the village.

Walt Disney Pictures

Mulan (2020)

– Directors: Niki Caro
– IMDb user rating: 5.7
– Votes: 136,000
– Metascore: 66
– Runtime: 115 minutes

Mulan is a perfect embodiment of today’s Disney princesses reliably breaking the classic princess mold. She’s not royalty, she has two parents who are alive throughout the film, and Mulan’s nemesis Shan Yu isn’t killed by his own ineptitude—she engages in a sword fight with him until she has Mushu touch off a fatal explosion.

Walt Disney Studios

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (2004)

– Director: Garry Marshall
– IMDb user rating: 5.8
– Votes: 72,489
– Metascore: 43
– Runtime: 113 minutes

This Garry Marshall-directed sequel to the well-received “Princess Diaries” starring Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews was released in theaters in August 2004. Unlike many of the films on this list so far, which were direct-to-DVD sequels, “The Princess Diaries 2” enjoyed box office success, taking in more than $100 million worldwide.

Walt Disney Studios

Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time (2007)

– Director: Frank Nissen
– IMDb user rating: 5.9
– Votes: 8,967
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 74 minutes

Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s evil stepmother, reverses the course of events that led Cinderella to Prince Charming. Cinderella must win back her prince before he marries one of her ugly stepsisters instead. Primetime Emmy winner Holland Taylor lends her voice to the film.

Walt Disney Studios

The Return of Jafar (1994)

– Directors: Toby Shelton, Tad Stones, Alan Zaslove
– IMDb user rating: 5.9
– Votes: 26,071
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 69 minutes

Disney released “Aladdin: The Return of Jafar” directly to video in 1994, its first direct-to-video sequel. Robin Williams did not appear as the voice of the Genie in this sequel due to a disagreement with Disney.

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Walt Disney Studios

Into the Woods (2014)

– Director: Rob Marshall
– IMDb user rating: 5.9
– Votes: 129,755
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 125 minutes

This star-studded production of the Sondheim classic features Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy). Of course, what would a princess story be without a witch (Meryl Streep)? With the longest runtime of any film on this list, the 2014 film version of “Into the Woods” clocks in at 125 minutes and is a modern amalgamation of the stories of the aforementioned princesses, a baker and his wife, “Little Red Riding Hood,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Disney Television Animation

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)

– Director: Andrew Knight
– IMDb user rating: 6.0
– Votes: 8,802
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 72 minutes

This direct-to-video sequel to “Beauty and the Beast” features the vocal reunion of Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters. The pair played Rooster and Lily St. James in the 1982 film version of “Annie” 15 years prior to the release of “Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas.” In the film, Belle discovers the Beast’s deep-seated hatred for the Christmas season, and endeavors to change his mind.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning (2008)

– Director: Peggy Holmes
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Votes: 8,236
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 77 minutes

The prequel to the original 1989 film, “The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning” depicts a world where music was banned from the underwater kingdom of Atlantica. Ariel, Triton’s youngest daughter, takes it upon herself to restore music to the kingdom. “Ariel’s Beginning” features the voices of Jodi Benson, Samuel E. Wright, and Sally Field.

Walt Disney Studios

The Princess Diaries (2001)

– Director: Garry Marshall
– IMDb user rating: 6.3
– Votes: 125,183
– Metascore: 52
– Runtime: 111 minutes

This film stars Anne Hathaway in her breakout role as 16-year-old Mia Thermopolis, a San Francisco high school student who learns she is the heir to the throne of fictional European country Genovia. It was based on the young adult novel by Meg Cabot.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)

– Director: Tad Stones
– IMDb user rating: 6.4
– Votes: 32,183
– Metascore: data not available
– Runtime: 81 minutes

This movie follows the obstacles Aladdin and Princess Jasmine face leading up to their walk down the aisle. The return of Robin Williams as Genie makes this worth a watch. It’s also the first installment in the Aladdin franchise to feature a completely new score as opposed to themes adapted from the original movie.

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Walt Disney Pictures

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

– Director: Joachim Rønning
– IMDb user rating: 6.6
– Votes: 76,690
– Metascore: 43
– Runtime: 119 minutes

Elle Fanning and Angelina Jolie return to the sequel of “Maleficent,” playing Princess Aurora and her evil godmother-turned-protector, respectively. Princess Aurora’s fiancé, a prince from a neighboring kingdom, brings doom in the form of his warmonger mother (an icy Michelle Pfeiffer). A war between humans and the fey threatens all the creatures in the kingdom.

Walt Disney Pictures

Pocahontas (1995)

– Directors: Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg
– IMDb user rating: 6.7
– Votes: 165,989
– Metascore: 58
– Runtime: 81 minutes

Native American chief Powhatan’s daughter falls in love with an English soldier, John Smith, in this drawn-from-reality (but likely extremely altered into a more positive representation of what happened) story about the real Algonquin princess. Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz’s music won the film two Oscars: one for Best Original Score and one for Best Original Song (“Colors of the Wind”). This was the first Disney film to feature an interracial romance.

Walt Disney Studios

Frozen II (2019)

– Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
– IMDb user rating: 6.9
– Votes: 122,747
– Metascore: 64
– Runtime: 103 minutes

“Frozen II” follows the same group of characters as the original, with Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven journeying to the kingdom of Arendelle after Elsa hears a voice calling to her. The sequel’s marquee song “Into the Unknown” became as much of a sensation as the original’s “Let it Go.” Critically, “Frozen II” failed to live up to the perhaps impossibly high standards of the record-breaking, global phenomenon of the original, but it was an even bigger box-office success, with the highest all-time worldwide opening for an animated film.

Walt Disney Pictures

Enchanted (2007)

– Director: Kevin Lima
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Votes: 173,962
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 107 minutes

Princess Giselle (Amy Adams) of Andalasia has landed somewhere smelly, disorienting, and nothing like home: New York City. With the help of her new friends, a lawyer, and his daughter, will she be able to fight the Evil Queen (Susan Sarandon) and get home to her happily-ever-after? Sing along to the film’s three Oscar-nominate three Oscar-nominated songs and find out.

Disney Enterprises Inc.

Maleficent (2014)

– Director: Robert Stromberg
– IMDb user rating: 7.0
– Votes: 336,608
– Metascore: 56
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Angelina Jolie and Elle Fanning star in this retelling of “Sleeping Beauty” from the perspective of Maleficent, the fairy queen who curses Aurora. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design and made more than $240 million at the U.S. box office alone.

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Disney Enterprises Inc.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

– Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Votes: 120,615
– Metascore: 73
– Runtime: 97 minutes

Tiana, Disney’s third princess of color after Jasmine and Pocahontas, is a hard-working waitress with dreams of owning a restaurant in New Orleans. Her dreams are thwarted by Prince Naveen, who—disguised as a frog—turns her into a frog. Each must race to break the spell and resume their true forms. The film earned three Oscar nominations and featured the voice of Oprah Winfrey.

Disney/Pixar

Brave (2012)

– Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell
– IMDb user rating: 7.1
– Votes: 364,295
– Metascore: 69
– Runtime: 93 minutes

In this Disney/Pixar joint effort, Merida, the princess of Scotland, aspires to be an archer. Her curly red hair sets her apart from the other Disney princesses, as does her reckless spirit. A 14-person animation team was assigned to deal exclusively with duplicating the musculature in the horses and Merida’s curly hair.

Walt Disney Productions

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

– Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Les Clark, Hamilton Luske, Wolfgang Reitherman
– IMDb user rating: 7.2
– Votes: 132,251
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 75 minutes

Princess Aurora is put into a deep sleep by a mistreated fairy, and only a prince can break the spell. With help from three good fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, Aurora is able to escape the curse. Due to mixed critical reviews, “Sleeping Beauty” put to rest the princess-focused films until 1989, when it was revived with “The Little Mermaid.” Of course, “Sleeping Beauty” is now considered a crowning artistic achievement thanks to its stunning painted backgrounds and bold, graphic use of color.

1950 Disney

Cinderella (1950)

– Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
– IMDb user rating: 7.3
– Votes: 142,179
– Metascore: 85
– Runtime: 74 minutes

Mistreated stepdaughter Cinderella is able to get to the Royal Ball, despite her stepmother’s objections, thanks to the help of her animal friends and fairy godmother. The film was a turning point for Walt Disney Studios; it hadn’t had such a critical commercial success since “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” was released in 1937. In a way, it was the studio’s very own rags-to-riches story, as it enabled production on a slate of other projects and to break ground for Disneyland within the decade. It was also the first film to be worked on by all nine of the so-called “Nine Old Men” of the Disney animation department.

Walt Disney Pictures

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

– Directors: Don Hall, Carlos López Estrada, Paul Briggs, John Ripa
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Votes: 114,000
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 107 minutes

We meet the first-ever Southeast Asian Disney princess with Raya, an 18-year-old with trust issues who’s far more warrior than princess. She’s the third Disney princess (after Moana and Merida) not to have a love interest, building on a much more inspired plotline than more traditional incarnations.

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Disney/Disney

Frozen (2013)

– Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
– IMDb user rating: 7.4
– Votes: 560,586
– Metascore: 75
– Runtime: 102 minutes

After the Disney revival of 1989 and 1990s petered out, “Frozen” once again revived Disney as an animation juggernaut. It was the first full-length Disney (non-Pixar) film to win the Golden Globe (and later the Oscar) for Best Animated Feature Film in 2013 since Tarzan in 1999. The movie’s signature song “Let It Go,” sung by Elsa (Idina Menzel) and written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, broke pop music records and became popular with toddlers and children (and plenty of adults) all over the world. Sisters Anna and Elsa and their story of finding true love as a family was so popular, it was later made into a Broadway musical.

1937 Disney

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

– Directors: William Cottrell, David Hand, Wilfred Jackson, Larry Morey, Perce Pearce, Ben Sharpsteen
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Votes: 177,165
– Metascore: 95
– Runtime: 83 minutes

Snow White was the first Disney princess movie and the studio’s first full-length animated feature film, as well as the highest-grossing animated film of all time (adjusted for inflation). Any fan of fairy tales knows the story of Snow White’s adventures with seven dwarfs (all based on real people). At the age of 14, Snow White is the youngest Disney princess.

Walt Disney Studios

The Little Mermaid (1989)

– Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Votes: 231,660
– Metascore: 88
– Runtime: 83 minutes

“The Little Mermaid” kicked off Disney’s revival, also called the “Disney Renaissance.” Princess Ariel, the youngest daughter of King Triton, makes a deal with an evil sea-witch in exchange for the chance to meet a human prince on land. The film won two Oscars: Best Original Song (“Under the Sea”) and Best Original Score.

Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida

Mulan (1998)

– Directors: Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Votes: 244,537
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 88 minutes

Mulan is Disney’s first gender-bending princess, dressing as a man to take her father’s place in the army and becoming a heroine to the Chinese people in the process. Harvey Fierstein, Eddie Murphy, Lea Salonga, and Ming-Na Wen were some of the famous voices featured in the film.

Disney

Moana (2016)

– Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall, Chris Williams
– IMDb user rating: 7.6
– Votes: 260,892
– Metascore: 81
– Runtime: 107 minutes

Polynesian princess Moana sets out to make things right with the ancient demigod Maui, whose curse threatens her island. The action-adventure tale features a score by Lin-Manuel Miranda of “Hamilton” fame. “Moana” was the first Disney film to feature a cast primarily of Polynesian descent, including Dwayne Johnson.

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Walt Disney Animation Studios

Tangled (2010)

– Directors: Nathan Greno, Byron Howard
– IMDb user rating: 7.7
– Votes: 396,090
– Metascore: 71
– Runtime: 100 minutes

In this take on “Rapunzel,” a damsel in distress (Mandy Moore) escapes her tower and goes on an adventure with a thief, discovering herself and her world for the first time. It was the first animated Disney princess film to receive a PG rating by the MPAA rather than a G rating.

Walt Disney Productions

Aladdin (1992)

– Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Votes: 363,781
– Metascore: 86
– Runtime: 90 minutes

Aladdin, another thief, falls in love with Princess Jasmine. In order to win over her father, he passes himself off as a prince. The two-time Oscar winner, for Best Original Song (“A Whole New World”) and Best Original Score, enjoyed a second life on Broadway.

Walt Disney Productions

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

– Directors: Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise
– IMDb user rating: 8.0
– Votes: 410,507
– Metascore: 95
– Runtime: 84 minutes

This “tale as old as time” tells the story of Belle, a young Frenchwoman imprisoned by a fearsome prince-turned-beast. Can she break the spell in time to turn him (and the rest of the castle) back into their human forms? This beloved 1991 film wasn’t the first to draw on the 1757 story “La Belle et la Bête,” nor was it the last. It’s preceded by French filmmaker Jean Cocteau’s fantasy film of 1946, and was followed by a live-action remake in 2017.

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