As a young kid with a television obsession, there were few times of the year that were quite as exciting as when the new Disney Channel Original Movies would come out. Sure, Christmas and Halloween were nice, but the accompanying holiday-themed DCOMs (as they were known to us acolytes) were equally as exciting as unwrapping gifts or putting on a costume. For months leading up to the release of a Disney Channel Original Movie, my sisters and I would fawn over advertisements featuring Ashley Tisdale or Hilary Duff, or Corbin Bleu in eager anticipation of the newest work of cinematic genius to come out of Disney Channel’s studio.
Originally known as Disney Channel Premiere Films, these films were made from the very first year that the Disney Channel came on the air in 1983. Their first film, Tiger Town, a baseball drama starring Roy Scheider and Justin Henry, was the only film produced by the studio that year. And from there, the floodgates opened. The next year, in 1984, two Disney Channel Premiere Films were released. In 1985, there were three. By the mid-2000s, when my childhood was in full swing, there were six to twelve DCOMs being released every year. One might ask how Disney Channel could have possibly produced seven great films in a single year. Well, to be honest, they weren’t great, but we love them anyway.
They do, in fact, still make Disney Channel Original Movies. The year 2019 saw the release of a live-action adaptation of Kim Possible, one of my favorite cartoons of the early 2000s. Plus, pretty much all of the old DCOMs are available to stream on Disney Plus. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll be cutting it off somewhere around 2012, right around the time when Ashley Tisdale was on her way out, and Zendaya was taking the Disney Channel by storm. Sorry, Zendaya, you were after my time. These are the five best Disney Channel Original Movies of all time:
5. Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century
Actually based on a 1997 children’s picture book written by Marilyn Sadler, Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century was released in 1999 but was set in the year 2049. Zenon Kar, played by Kirsten Storms, is a 13-year-old girl who lives on a space station orbiting Earth and has a problem with authority. As a punishment for her bad behavior, Zenon gets sent to live on Earth by her parents (the 2049 equivalent of a military school, apparently), and she has trouble assimilating with the Earth-dwellers.
While on Earth, Zenon discovers a plot to destroy the space station where her parents live. With the help of her friends and her favorite rock band Proto Zoa, she’s able to get back up to the space station and save the day. The whole movie featured unrealistic special effects and sci-fi scenery. Plus, it co-starred a young Raven Symone as Zenon’s best friend. The whole thing was amazing. Does Zenon technically count as a Disney princess? Probably not.
Among the many incredible Halloween-themed DCOMs, Twitches was definitely near the top of the list. Originally released in 2005 and based on a children’s fantasy novel series by H. B. Gilmour, the film starred Tia and Tamera Mowry, who any Disney Channel fan will recognize as the stars of Sister, Sister. The film took place in the magical world of Coventry and followed the journey of twin witches Apolla and Artemis, that were separated at birth. Their home is under attack by a mysterious entity known as “the Darkness” that they can only defeat when they work together.
Years after their separation, Apolla is going by the name Camryn and Artemis by the name Alex. They serendipitously meet in a shopping mall, and their powers get restored. After some squabbling between the two sisters, they eventually reunite to defeat the Darkness, who they learn is their uncle and the one who murdered their father (talk about some intergenerational trauma). While Twitches wasn’t brimming with a plot, the magical spells and mysterious villain figure were enough to get my heart rate jumping as a kid. And, yes, they made a Twitches Too.
3. Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior
As a fan of kung fu movies and someone who had a huge prepubescent crush on Brenda Song as a child, I had to include Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior on this list. Wendy Wu, played by Brenda Song, had it all going for her. She was a normal American teenager who was popular at school. I mean, why wouldn’t she be popular? She was gorgeous. Alright, sorry, I’ll stop. Anyway, her life gets turned upside-down when she gets a visit from a young monk named Shen, played by Shin Koyamada.
Shen warns Wendy that a dark spirit named Yan-Lo is coming to destroy her and that it is her destiny to defeat him, but Wendy is more interested in going shopping and competing for homecoming queen.
Eventually, when everyone around Wendy gets possessed by the dark spirit, and Wendy breaks up with her boyfriend, she finally comes around and agrees to let Shen train her in the ways of the Yin warrior.
Wendy has a showdown with Yan-Lo at the homecoming bash, and finally, she and Shen kick his butt and banish him from the world forever. Apart from my undying love for Brenda Song, this movie was great in the way that it incorporated real Chinese mythology and traditions and then added several elements of its own.
2. The Luck of the Irish
The Luck of the Irish is definitely a dark horse pick for this list, but I’m going with it anyway. The 2001 film stars Ryan Merriman, who plays a middle school jock named Kyle Johnson, who’s completely aware of his heritage.
He’s the luckiest kid on Earth. He finds money in the street every day. He makes outlandish shots on the basketball court. He guesses on all of his tests and gets all the answers right. And the ladies love him. But everything changes when Kyle visits an Irish carnival and starts step dancing like a madman. Suddenly, he gets knocked down in the middle of a crowd, and when he gets back up, he feels different.
In the next few days, he finds that his luck has run out, that his hair is turning red, and he’s getting shorter. Kyle eventually learns that his mother is a leprechaun, that he is half-leprechaun, and that someone has stolen from him the gold coin that allows them to pass as normal human beings.
After discovering that his gold coin has been stolen by an evil leprechaun named Seamus, who isn’t exactly one of Disney’s most evil villains, Kyle gets the coin back by challenging Seamus to a game of basketball and banishing him to Lake Erie. Everything about this movie is so very 2000s. Kyle’s spiked-up hair. The over-the-top acting. It wasn’t the best DCOM ever made in an executional sense (they did make eleven other movies that year, after all), but it was definitely one of my favorites.
1. Jump In!
The 2007 film Jump In! starred Corbin Bleu and Keke Palmer. Need I say more? The movie follows a boxer named Izzy Daniels, who is training to win the Golden Glove so that he can make his father proud. But, when his friend Mary asks him to substitute for her in a Double Dutch tournament, he finds that he loves the sport more than he ever loved boxing. Mary and the other members of her team, The Joy Jumpers, ask Izzy to join the team. But, afraid of what his friends and father might think, he initially refuses.
Yes, you can see where this one is going. Izzy eventually joins The Joy Jumpers, practicing his jump roping early in the morning in his father’s boxing gym. Once people at school find out that Izzy is jumping Double Dutch, Izzy quits the team.
However, when the final jump roping tournament comes around, Izzy arrives at the critical moment, and their team, which they’ve renamed The Hot Chili Steppers, wins. Izzy also wins his father’s respect and Mary’s love. If you think about it, the movie mirrors the plot of High School Musical almost exactly, except basketball is replaced with boxing, and musicals are replaced with jump roping. Doesn’t matter. Jump In! is definitely still one of the best Disney Channel Original Movies ever.