The House of Mouse has entered the streaming space, and it's not messing about. Disney+ is a major platform with plenty for subscribers to get their teeth into.
Despite being a TV-on-demand newbie compared to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ is already stuffed with entertainment, from animated classics to Pixar, Star Wars and the MCU. And with new adult-focussed (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 (good news, given the current state of the world). Here are some handpicked choices to start you off.
Additional words by Matt Tate
Star Wars: The Bad Batch (S1)
Picking up the story where The Clone Wars left off, this animated series follows the adventures of Clone Force 99, a squad of five clone troopers whose genetic flaws make them elite combatants – as well as immune to the mental programming that prevents “normal” troopers from disobeying orders. As the Clone Wars end and the Republic is superseded by the Galactic Empire, these loose cannons find themselves questioning their new assignments – and in danger of being branded enemies of their former leaders.
Dee Bradley Baker voices all five members of the Bad Batch, which is some feat of acting, and the series’ tone is very much in the same fast-moving, action-packed vein as The Clone Wars.
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.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (S1)
Captain America’s best mates – the friendly one that flies and the brooding one with the metal arm – now have their own spin-off series on Disney+. The plot sees the two erstwhile Avengers butting up against Daniel Brühl’s Baron Zemo, last seen in the Captain America: Civil War movie, in a globetrotting adventure. We also get the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) grappling with the idea of being the O.G. Captain America’s chosen replacement while Bucky Barnes tries to confront his own past as a homicidal maniac. Hey, he was brainwashed – not his fault at all!
With just six episodes (released weekly) and a single director at the helm for all of them, this is tighter and more focussed than most US series – a welcome bucking of the current trend for long, drawn-out and fluffed-up shows.
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.
Come for Olivia Colman’s triumphant turn as Queen Anne, stay for Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz’s almost-as-memorable performances as two courtiers competing for the troubled monarch’s affections in Yorgos Lanthimos’ sumptuous black comedy. Nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2019 but winning only one (Colman, deservedly, for Best Actress), The Favourite is a strange, striking movie that’ll be viewed as a classic by future cinema nuts.
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.
One of the Coen brothers’ lesser-known early movies, Miller’s Crossing is rich with the snappy dialogue, intricate plotting, potent symbolism and visual flair that characterise their later favourites like Fargo, The Big Lebowski and No Country For Old Men.
Set in an unnamed American city during the Prohibition era, this is a hard-boiled gangster yarn about the nature of friendship and betrayal, featuring stellar performances from Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney and John Turturro. The pastiche tough-guy dialogue might be the film’s best asset, but the sequence in which Finney’s bathrobe-clad mob boss fights off an assassination attempt to the strains of "Danny Boy" is up there with the greatest moments of '90s cinema.
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.
The Right Stuff (S1)
An all-new dramatic adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s definitive tome about the US space programme’s early years, The Right Stuff was created by Disney in partnership with National Geographic – a recipe for making it informative and involving in equal parts. Telling the story of how NASA recruited the USA’s finest military test pilots and turned them into the first batch of astronauts, this series is an inspirational tribute to human endeavour, bravery and invention. And it has cool rockets too!
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.