The House of Mouse entered the streaming space in 2019 and since then it hasn’t messed about. Disney+ is a major platform with over 100 million users and plenty for those subscribers to get their teeth into.
Despite being a TV-on-demand newbie compared to Netflix and Prime Video, Disney+ is stuffed with entertainment, from animated classics to Pixar, Star Wars and the MCU. And with new adult-focused (no, not THAT kind of adult, you filthy-minded dogs) hub Star having recently arrived, bringing with it a truckload of additional movies and series, there’s enough to keep you going for months. Here are some handpicked choices to start you off.
Additional words by Matt Tate
Pam & Tommy (S1)
Sebastian Stan and an unrecognisable Lily James play the titular newlyweds (that’s Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and Baywatch star Pamela Anderson, for any Gen Z readers scratching their heads) in this enthralling tale of 1990s rock and roll excess, Hollywood hedonism and the purloined sex tape that shocked the world. When a disgruntled carpenter (Seth Rogen) stiffed by Lee vows to get his money back by fair means or foul, he decides to burgle the rocker’s L.A. mansion – and among the contents of a stolen safe he finds an innocuous-looking video tape. The rest, as they say, is history – and it’s recounted here in all its gory, glossy details.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Based on three novels from Patrick O’Brian’s beloved Aubrey-Maturin series, this rollicking Napoleonic Wars epic is probably one of the most historically accurate depictions of early 19th century naval life (and death) ever put on screen. You can practically smell the sea salt, boiled cabbage, unwashed bodies and gunpowder as the HMS Surprise’s crew, led by Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his faithful physician friend Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), pursue a French privateer across the South Atlantic and Pacific.
From tense evasive manoeuvres to ship’s dinners to battles filled with smoke, flame and splintered wood, this movie’s authenticity and attention to detail shines through – and almost all of it achieved without CGI chicanery, too. It’s a real pity no more Aubrey-Maturin movies followed – with 21 books in O’Brian’s series, there’d have been no shortage of source material.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer and director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges offers a similar mix of pathos, violence and pitch-black comedy, as Frances McDormand’s grieving mother challenges the cops of her small southern US town to step up and catch her daughter’s murderer.
Such direct action – she purchases space on the three advertising billboards to publicly shame the police – brings her into conflict with Woody Harrelson’s respected chief and his bigoted, immature and angry deputy Sam Rockwell, sparking off an unpredictable sequence of events and an unforgettable conclusion. We won’t spoil any of that, but suffice to say the Oscars won by McDormand and Rockwell for their roles were well-earned, and this movie will likely stay in your head for a long time after the credits roll.
The Beatles: Get Back (S1)
Originally conceived as a feature-length movie, this intimate look at the recording sessions that resulted in Let It Be eventually spiralled into a three-part docu-series. Director Peter Jackson has been handed the keys to a vault of almost 60 hours of unseen footage (recorded over 21 days in 1969 for an abortive documentary) and over 150 hours of unheard audio that tracks the creative process that led to some of The Beatles’ most beloved songs – and reveals the bust-ups and banter of a band both under strain and in its prime.
Only Murders in the Building (S1)
Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play neighbours brought together by a mutual obsession with true crime tales – only to find themselves in the middle of one when a shocking murder occurs in the exclusive New York apartment block they share. Even if this weren’t a well-written whodunnit series with plenty of laughs along the way, it’d be worth the price of admission simply to see those beloved old comedy warhorses Short and Martin sharing screen time again.
The Americans (S1-6)
1980s nostalgia-fests in film and TV often neglect to mention one thing: the Cold War was still well underway and hundreds of millions all over the world felt like they were just minutes away from potential nuclear obliteration. It’s this climate of fear, mutual distrust and competing ideologies that The Americans recreates so well.
It follows the trials and tribulations of two Soviet sleeper agents, posing as a married couple, embedded deep in US suburbia. Their friends, their neighbours and even their own kids think they’re regular apple pie-chomping Yanks, but when duty calls they’re planting bugs, photographing secret documents and assassinating double agents for the Russkies.
Oh, and the marriage we mentioned? Just a professional union of convenience to aid their cover… or is it? The complex, strained and evolving relationship between the leads is one of the series’ most powerful aspects, making The Americans more than just a standard espionage drama.
It’s shocking that you have to go back all the way to 1986 to find a genuinely great Alien movie, but despite its advancing years James Cameron’s action-thriller take on the slimy, murderous xenomorphs still feels fresh, frightening and frenetic.
When Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is picked up following the events of Alien, she finds out that she’s been in hypersleep for decades – during which time humans have begun colonising the planet where she discovered the creature that killed her crew. When contact with the colony is lost, she is sent in with a gung-ho military team to investigate, and discovers… well, that’d be spoiling things.
Netting 2021’s Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress Oscars, Nomadland is a quietly powerful drama about Frances McDormand’s Fern, a van-dwelling widow who roams the American West in the wake of 2008’s financial crisis.
Based on Jessica Bruder’s non-fiction book about her own life as a “houseless” wanderer, Chloe Zhao’s movie is far from the sort of hand-wringing poverty porn it could have become in less empathetic hands. Fern’s rootless lifestyle is never romanticised, but it’s clear she feels most at home on the road, warmed by the kindness of her fellow nomads and the simplicity of living off the grid. McDormand’s much-lauded performance (she says more with just her facial expressions here than most actors could in ten movies’ worth of dialogue) is worth the price of admission alone, but Nomadland will leave any viewer with much to think about.
It’s classic early-period Arnie in this delightfully OTT action thriller, which ticks off just about every 1980s Hollywood cliché as former special forces soldier John Matrix (the Governator himself) takes on a brutal Central American dictator’s army single-handed. Commando has it all: explosions, punch-ups, car chases, improper use of garden tools, a gaggle of scenery-chewing villains and lots and lots of bullets. Schwarzenegger proves himself a vital and arresting screen star in spite of his rather wooden acting (he’s much better in Predator, which followed soon after); his sheer physical presence is more than enough to carry this ludicrously entertaining romp home.
If a comedy drama about the struggles of an aspiring rap star and his manager sounds too similar to something awful like Entourage, don’t worry: Atlanta is a decidedly different and far more interesting kettle of fish.
Produced by and starring Donald Glover, it’s a disarming, slick, offbeat, observant and endlessly charming comedy series about, to paraphrase Glover, “what it’s like to be black in America”. Funny as Atlanta is, it shies away from very little in this quest for veracity. But it would be a crime if we revealed too much about this weird and wonderful show – better just to watch it and find out for yourself.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Even if you’re not someone who adores every Wes Anderson film, it’s difficult not to be taken in by the utterly delightful Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s typically whimsical and gorgeously presented, with eye-popping colours and patterns, but this tale of a dapper, deliberate, disarmingly foul-mouthed and extremely accommodating hotel concierge who’s framed for murder is also easily the most gripping and downright hilarious film Anderson has made, thanks in no small part to the superb Ralph Fiennes in the lead role.
The X-Files (S1-9)
Yes, every episode of this iconic series about FBI agents investigating paranormal goings-on has been available on Amazon Prime Video for some time, but for those who don’t subscribe to the Jeff Bezos Space Rocket Fund, its arrival on Disney+’s Star channel is likely to be a source of great joy.
TV has come a long way since the 1990s, and the way Mulder and Scully’s supernatural cases and conspiracy tales are presented does feel quite antiquated when compared to more sophisticated modern drama series – but if you’re watching, you’re probably driven by nostalgia, and there’s some really good stuff in here once you give yourself over to its internal logic.
Note that while the 10th and 11th series are not available on Disney+ (you’ll still find them on Amazon Prime Video), the two feature-length spin-off movies are.
This sci-fi action romp pits young, photogenic human space soldiers against a swarming, insectoid alien menace, complete with gallons of CGI gore, huge explosions and valiant heroism.
Barely concealed underneath the blockbuster bombast, however, there’s a satire on militarism, nationalism and endless war, with director Paul Verhoeven effectively turning the violence-obsessed Hollywood machine against itself. The fact that you can now watch this on a streaming service owned by the most gargantuan monolith in all of Tinseltown is an irony we’re sure Verhoeven would appreciate – but perhaps best part about Starship Troopers is that it’s as entertaining as it is clever.
The first Pixar feature film to debut on Disney+, Soul is a charming story about finding your place in the world. Jamie Foxx voices Joe Gardner, a New York band teacher who dreams of performing on stage as a jazz pianist. But instead he finds himself abruptly sucked into The Great Before – a place where new souls are given their personalities and passions before being sent to Earth. Sensing an opportunity for a second chance, Joe is tasked with convincing a wilful, wayward soul called 22 (Tiny Fey) that life is worth living – but little does he realise that he has plenty to learn about the subject, too. It’s beautifully animated, of course, but Soul is also funny and moving, and far more philosophical than your average animated movie.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t really do “weird and interesting” but this series – seemingly taking place in the subconsciousnesses of Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision (or is it?) – feels more inventive, offbeat and experiment than anything we’ve seen from the series yet. At the very least, this spin on the traditional suburban American sitcom is a welcome break from yet another raucous blockbuster full of spandex-clad superheroes clouting each other in the face.
Star Wars: A New Hope
The original (and probably second-best) Star Wars movie, A New Hope is now well over 40 years old. There are few signs of a mid-life crisis here: it still looks and sounds fantastic (partly due to director George Lucas’s inability to stop tinkering with it years after its release), but this trailblazing space opera adventure is beloved for more than just the spectacle of zero-g dog fights and light saber duels. Star Wars’ enduring characters and mythology are introduced and established in this movie, but it also serves as a fantastic self-contained adventure story about a simple farm boy who becomes the heroic figurehead of a revolution. It’s simple stuff at its core, but done so brilliantly that you can’t help but be sold.
At the time of writing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe contains no fewer than 23 movies. If you’re wondering where to start, why not watch from the beginning? Iron Man is the film that kicked off the MCU era, and it’s also one of the best films in the entire run. Yes, it has fantastic effects and action sequences, but its success is mostly due to star Robert Downey Jr, an actor whose on-screen personality seems to be tailor-made for playing billionaire inventor Tony Stark. Stark’s wayward playboy lifestyle finally finds direction when he creates an armoured combat suit, transforming himself into a superhero – and a future founding member of the Avengers.
Inside Pixar (S1)
With episodes clocking in at around 15 minutes apiece, Inside Pixar is a lovely little bit of bite-sized entertainment to snack on when you have some time to kill. As the name suggests, it’s a documentary series looking at the inner workings of Disney’s computer animation studio Pixar, and it takes the form of employee profiles: writers, artists and more sit down and talk about their experiences making movies at the company.
The Mandalorian (S1-2)
The obvious one. The Mandalorian was Disney+’s flagship launch show, and if you’ve somehow managed to stay away from spoilers since our friends across the pond got hold of it, you’re in for a treat. Pitched as a space Western, the first live action series in the Star Wars franchise is set five years after Return of the Jedi and 25 years before the first film in the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens.
It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter known as Mando (Pedro Pascal), who suddenly finds himself the guardian of a very important youngling. Two full seasons are currently available to stream, with a third on its way.
The World According to Jeff Goldblum (S1-2)
Do you really need anything more to go on than the title? The impeccably dressed actor and jazzman Jeff Goldblum is the inquisitive type, making him the perfect host for this show. Each of the episodes focuses on a popular topic – think trainers, ice cream and video games – as Goldblum goes deep on their origins, associated science and ideas. Think of it as Disney’s answer to Netflix’s Explained, plus Jeff Goldblum, and you’re on the right tracks.
If you like the MCU, it’s a case of take your pick with Disney+. Save the Spider-Man films, 2008’s very forgettable Hulk movie and a few others, you can watch the whole lot from day one. We keep going back to Thor: Ragnarok because not only is it a great superhero film, breathing some much-needed new life into the otherwise pretty missable Thor franchise, but it’s genuinely one of the best comedies of the last five years. Pairing a world-dominating media universe with the strange mind of Taika Waititi was a masterstroke from Marvel Studios, and with the follow-up due to land next year, now is the perfect time to remember why.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars (S1-7)
The best thing about the Star Wars prequels? The cartoon series that they spawned. The first five seasons of The Clone Wars ran on Cartoon Network, becoming one of the channel’s highest rated series ever. A sixth was aired on Netflix, and now Disney+ has them all, plus a brand new seventh and final season. Up until now, The Clone Wars has taken place between Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, but the latter part of the seventh season runs concurrently with the final prequel, leading us to the infamous Siege of Mandalore. If you’ve already binged your way through The Mandalorian, get stuck into this lot next.
Toy Story 4
How do you follow one of the best movie trilogies in history? It was a question that understandably worried an entire generation of Toy Story die-hards. As it turned out, the fourth film was an inessential, but thoroughly likeable epilogue that (hopefully) wraps things up once and for all. And while the goofy new character, Forky, was front and center of the promotional campaign, Toy Story 4 is more memorable for being easily the most thematically heavy film in the series. Kids will come for the talking cutlery and typically imaginative animated set pieces, but for us adults the film is about a once beloved cowboy battling with philosophical ideas of duty and obsolescence, and by the time the credits roll, you’ll have been on one hell of an emotional roller-coaster.
The Simpsons (S1-31)
Heard of this one? Seeing The Simpsons next to the Disney logo remains a bit jarring, but once you’ve got over that, you can sit back and enjoy the first 31 (yes, 31) seasons of the most famous cartoon of all time. There are too many highlights to start listing them here, but any Simpsons fan worth their salt knows that the early stuff is the best stuff. From Homer’s legendary failed ravine leap to Maggie’s darkest secret, it’s all here, and there’s enough of it to keep you going until this self-isolation business is (hopefully) but a distant memory.
Captivating and terrifying in equal measure, this remarkable film documents the ever-so-slightly bonkers free solo climber Alex Honnold, whose lifelong dream is to scale the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes or equipment. Those who aren’t keen on heights are advised to watch from behind the sofa, but for everyone else, the Oscar-winning Free Solo is a thrill ride that not even Star Wars and the MCU can compete with. But thanks to Disney’s ownership of National Geographic, Disney+ subscribers can have all three.