In case you haven’t noticed, Disney owns a ton of movie franchises. And we’re not even counting the recently purchased movie franchises from Fox as well. From the fairly recent acquisition of Lucasfilm to their longtime partnership with Pixar Animation Studios, here is a list of the major movie franchises that Disney currently owns.
The Biggest Movie Franchises Owned by Disney
Marvel Cinematic Universe
Due to a deal made a little further back in 2009, Disney has owned Marvel, the comic book empire that soon became a cinematic universe. Disney owns Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange, and everyone associated with them. The MCU has also been the focus of other media outside of the shared universe, including attractions at various Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.
MCU began back in 2008 with Iron Man, which started the first phase of films culminating in the crossover film The Avengers. The second phase began with Iron Man 3 (2013) and concluded with Ant-Man (2015). The third phase began with Captain America: Civil War (2016) and concluded with Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). Phase 4 will begin with Black Widow (2020) and will conclude with Thor: Love and Thunder (2021).
Already a massive franchise on its own, Star Wars was purchased by Disney in 2012. George Lucas told Disney CEO Bob Iger that he was considering retirement and was planning to sell Lucasfilm, as well as the Star Wars franchise. In October 2012, Disney announced a deal to acquire Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. Since 2014, Lucas continues to work as a creative consultant on the Star Wars sequel trilogy.
Disney then released a series of new Star Wars films, starting with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in 2015, followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi in 2017, Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018, and Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker this December 2019. Shortly after the Star Wars anniversary this year, Disney also announced a trio of upcoming untitled Star Wars entries.
Indiana Jones, a media franchise based on the adventures of Dr. Henry Walton “Indiana” Jones Jr., was created by George Lucas. As mentioned, the Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in October 2012. Under the deal, Disney acquired ownership of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lucasfilm’s operating businesses in live-action film production, consumer products, video games, animation, visual effects, and audio post-production. However, Paramount Pictures continued to own distribution rights for the film series.
In December 2013, Disney purchased the remaining distribution and marketing rights to future Indiana Jones films. Paramount continues to distribute the first four films for Disney. No new film installments were announced with the deal, but Iger has expressed an interest in monetizing the franchise across Disney’s various company divisions. Disney’s main focus for now appears to be on Star Wars, with a total of six films expected within the next ten years.
Pirates of the Caribbean
The Johnny Depp pirate flicks based on a Disneyland ride has remained a solid franchise for the company. The ride gave rise to the song “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” written by George Bruns and Xavier Atencio. The song became the basis for the Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, a feature film that debuted in 2003, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in an Oscar-nominated performance. Four sequels soon followed: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), At World’s End (2007), On Stranger Tides (2011), and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017), grossing over US$3.7 billion worldwide.
These films included numerous allusions to the ride, most notably the attack on the fort, the famous jail scene, the namesake song, and a few lines from the characters. Since 2006, Disney has incorporated characters from the film series into the Disneyland, Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris versions of the rides.
Toy Story simply appeals to everyone. It’s a movie for kids, but there are so many deep messages that resonate with adults as well—themes of love, acceptance of “the other,” and understanding that change is all a part of life. The franchise began in 1995 with the release of the first Toy Story film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. The Toy Story franchise consists mainly of four CGI animated films: Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010), and Toy Story 4 (2019), grossing more than $2.8 billion worldwide.
According to review aggregate Rotten Tomatoes, the Toy Story franchise tops all the most critically acclaimed movie franchises of all time. All four films have received universal acclaim from critics and audiences. In fact, no other movie franchises have had all of its films so highly rated: the Before trilogy comes closest with 98%, and the Dollars trilogy and The Lord of the Rings trilogy come after with average ratings of 95% and 94% respectively, while the Toy Story franchise has an average of 99%. The first and second films are at 100%, while the third and fourth are at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.
One of Pixar’s most popular and quotable films, Finding Nemo hit theaters in 2003, grossing $940.3 million worldwide, which made it the second-highest-grossing film of 2003, behind The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Thirteen years later, Finding Dory was the third-highest-grossing film of 2016, behind Civil War and Rogue One. All in all, the Finding Nemo franchise is the 6th of the highest-grossing animated movie franchises. It holds the highest average box office gross per film among all animated movie franchises in box-office history ($983.8 million).
Both films received overwhelmingly positive reviews, with the first film winning the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. It is the best-selling DVD of all time, with over 40 million copies sold as of 2006, and is the second-highest-grossing G-rated movie of all time. In 2008, the American Film Institute named it the 10th-greatest American Animated film ever made during their 10 Top 10.
The Disney Princess franchise was created in 2001 by Andy Mooney in order to increase product sales. From 2001 to 2006, the product sales increased from $300 million to three billion dollars. By 2009, the franchise made $4 billion in sales. Currently, the line has 26,000 different products—from bedding, coloring books, dolls, and DVDs to trinkets galore. The princess line does not include all princess characters from the whole of Disney-owned media. The twelve characters considered part of the franchise are Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and Moana.
Currently, all the princesses are available for meet and greets in Disneyland Resort in California. In 2006, the Fantasyland Theater began hosting the Disneyland Princess Fantasy Faire. In 2010, Disney gave Rapunzel a Tangled meet-and-greet location. At Walt Disney World Resort, the princesses are available for meet and greets in more specific locations.
Jump-started in 2013 with its first animated feature, Frozen took the world by storm and amassed $1.287 billion at the box office. Since then, the franchise has expanded into Disney theme park attractions, merchandise, video games, books, a Disney on Ice show, a Broadway musical, and two animated short films. Disney has also confirmed an animated film sequel and a new book series. The franchise has become a global brand, a larger-than-life franchise built around products, theme parks, and sequels that could last into the next century.
Frozen earned a worldwide total of $1,276,480,335. It is estimated that the film made a profit of over $400 million. It is the thirteenth-highest-grossing film (and was the fifth highest at its peak), the highest-grossing animated film, the highest-grossing 2013 film, the highest-grossing Walt Disney Pictures release, and the fourth-highest-grossing film distributed by Disney.
Winnie the Pooh
The Winnie the Pooh franchise commenced in 1966 with the theatrical release of the short Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree. Analysts believe Pooh is worth $3 billion to $6 billion of Disney’s total annual sales of $25 billion. According to a 2013 Variety article, Winnie the Pooh is the third-best-selling franchise in the world, after Disney’s own Disney Princesses and Star Wars.
Its merchandise may have fallen by 12% over the last five years, but Pooh remains to be Disney’s second-best-selling character after Mickey Mouse. Pooh was born in the 1920s in A. A. Milne’s books, but the bear is still going strong via Disney movies and DVDs. Pooh sells games, stuffed animals, clothing, and even iPhone and iPad apps. Pooh is also a favorite subject in books from Disney Publishing Worldwide, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books and magazines, with more than 700 million products sold each year.
The Lion King
Currently trending due to it being on theaters, Lion King is one of the most popular movie franchises from Disney. Disney first released it in 1994, grossing more than $783 million worldwide and becoming the most successful film released that year. The film also received several award nominations.
On home video, The Lion King became the best-selling film on VHS, selling 32 million tapes, and grossing $520 million in video sales. The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride sold thirteen million copies in the late 1990s, and by 2000, it had sold 15 million VHS copies and grossed about $300 million in sales and rentals. The Lion King 1½ sold 6 million DVD and VHS units in North America. On the other hand, The Lion King musical, which debuted in July 1997, has grossed nearly $8.1 billion as of 2017 and is the highest-grossing musical of all time. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions, the musical became a success even before premiering on Broadway in 1997. The musical continues to tour internationally until today.