5 Outstanding Disney+ movies of 2023, ranked

In the ever-evolving landscape of entertainment media, 2023 emerged as a notable year for the film industry. It featured the release of Barbenheimer, the next suspenseful installment in Ethan Hunt’s Mission Impossible saga, and the vibrant entry of Nintendo’s iconic Italian plumbing duo onto the silver screen with The Super Mario Bros. Movie. The influence of streaming services continued to shape media consumption, with major TV series and films finding solid footing on diverse platforms.

Notably, Disney+ maintained its dominance with a diverse array of high-budget offerings, as the megacorporation consistently delivered new films from its most beloved franchises. While Disney still holds a firm grasp on traditional movie-goers, many of these films swiftly make their way to the streaming service within a brief period, enriching the already extensive library on Disney+. For patrons of the service, there are several films that stand out and are well worth their time.

Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny

Indy raises his whip in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.
Disney

Indiana Jones has had a great run, and it’s his latest adventure in Indiana Jones and The Dial Of Destiny that brings his artifact-plundering adventures to a ceremonious finale. The film goes to great lengths to recognize the legacy of Harrison Ford in the role of the swashbuckling archaeologist as it digs up history from his younger Nazi-punching days, references his relationships in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with a major emotional beat, and sees the return of a few fan-favorite characters.

At the end of the day, this is one film fans of Indiana Jones won’t want to miss. It’s a thrilling new adventure with a curious new artifact. The film even continues Indy’s beloved trademark humor and sarcastic wit. Keep this one on your radar as you eye the Disney+ library for the next film on your watchlist.

The Little Mermaid

Halle Bailey as Ariel in a poster for The Little Mermaid.
Walt Disney Studios

It’s a time-honored Disney story that follows the ever-expanding line of live-action updates to the company’s classic catalog. Ariel is back singing her way across the ocean’s depths until she can’t any longer thanks to a deal with a shady sea witch. You know the story. Now you can watch it brilliantly realized in live-action glory and sing along to some of the classic music ’90s kids are likely so fond of. There are even a few new tunes added to the line-up thanks to the talents of the original film’s composer, Alan Menken, and the added collaborative effort of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

If you missed The Little Mermaid while it was playing on the big screen, now is your opportunity to watch it in the comfort of your own home. Make it a dual-screening affair as you watch the animated film and live-action back-to-back so you can compare your favorite moments. You know you want to.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3

The Guardians step into battle in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
Disney

Director James Gunn’s masterclass in sci-fi action-comedy comes to a resounding close with the third film to round out his Guardians trilogy. If you’re a fan of Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) exploits alongside his alien comrades, then this film is an absolute must-see. In a time when Marvel seems to be floundering with its disjointed plotlines and, perhaps, a bit of superhero fatigue among audiences, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 still managed to perform well at the box office.

It’s a film rife with heart and humor. Despite all the laughter and spectacle to be had, it may even prod you to shed a tear or two. And make no mistake, this is seemingly the last big adventure that you’ll see Star-Lord, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (Vin Diesel), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) endure together. While there is some promise of seeing some of these characters again in the MCU, this film concludes the Guardians chapter as we know it. Don’t sleep on this one, as it’s a great comic book movie, which is getting rarer nowadays.

Elemental

Ember Lumen and Wade Ripple together in a still from Elemental.
Walt Disney Studios, Pixar Animation Studios

Just about everyone loves a Pixar movie. That studio’s particular brand, which stretches back decades now, appeals to audiences young and old. The family-centric offerings from Pixar have continued to collect fans over the years. So, it isn’t any wonder that each new teaser for the next big Pixar project is met with widespread enthusiasm. Elemental hit the Disney+ streaming service in the middle of the summer and offered viewers a look at the life of, well… the elements—you know, Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water.

What would it be like if the elements had their own personalities and families? Well, Elemental explores the journey of Bernie and Cinder Lumen (an obvious fire reference) as they explore life in the big city — Element City, to be precise. Though, they aren’t exactly having a great experience among their fellow elemental cohorts. Like all Pixar films, there’s a core human message at the heart of the film juxtaposed against vibrant animation and fun-loving humor that will hook any audience.

Avatar: The Way of Water

Jake Sully riding atop one of Pandora's aquatic animals.
Disney

James Cameron’s Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water have both proven to be juggernaut films. Audiences far and wide are seemingly enraptured by the plight of giant blue indigenous creatures fighting for their homeworld of Pandora. While there’s a sci-fi element to the Avatar storyline, it’s mostly an emotional tale told from the perspective of a population that is ravaged by invading aliens (the humans) who seek nothing more than resources for their business ventures.

Aside from the action and the magical CGI effects, Avatar: The Way of Water is a heady drama that expands on Jake Sully’s decision to live among the Na’vi as one of them, starting his own family, and rearing children in a colorful but hostile alien world. The Way of Water also introduces several new characters to the franchise and sets up events that will be explored in later Avatar sequels.

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