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Top 10 Darkest Live Action Disney Movies

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Mark Sammut

Once upon a time, these dark Disney movies left cartoon animals and happily-ever-after far behind. For this list, we’re looking at live action Disney movies with adult themes, sad endings, and/or horror elements, including “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016), “The Jungle Book” (2016), “The Watcher in the Woods” (1981), and “Old Yeller” (1957)! What do you think is the darkest live action Disney movie? Let us know in the comments!

Check out the voting page for this list and add your picks: https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/Top+10+Darkest+Live+Action+Disney+Movies

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Script written by Mark Sammut

Top 10 Darkest Live Action Disney Movies


Once upon a time, Disney moved away from singing cartoon animals and happily ever after. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Darkest Live-Action Disney Movies.


For this list, we’re looking at those rare instances when Disney broke free from the studio's kid-friendly image to birth something far more menacing. Spoilers shall be kept to a minimum, but certain plot points will need to be cited to demonstrate why these films are considered so dark.



#10: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016)




Considering "A New Hope" revolves around a death cannon capable of destroying an entire planet in a single shot, "Star Wars" clearly loves to flirt with the dark side - but these moments tend to be exceptions to the rule. A prequel set prior to the events of "Episode IV,""Rogue One" is essentially a war film set in the "Star Wars" universe. Opting for a grittier aesthetic and preferring grounded gun-based battles over lightsaber duels, the Rebel Alliance’s desperate attempt to steal the Death Star's schematics is permeated with sacrifice, suffering, and despair.







#9: “The Jungle Book” (2016)




Blending the tone of Rudyard Kipling's classic story with the plot of Disney's beloved 1967 animated film, this live-action remake tries to be the best of both worlds. Boasting some genuinely brilliant photorealistic CGI, 2016's "The Jungle Book" can still be enjoyed by the entire family, but this bloodthirsty version of Shere Khan is far more direct than the cartoon's sophisticated feline. "The Jungle Book" ditches most of the comedy and songs in favor of action and Mowgli's relentless struggle to not get eaten alive. 1994's "The Jungle Book" is also worth a mention, although it’s essentially an adaptation in name only.





#8: “Darby O'Gill and the Little People” (1959)




Before ordering a vodka martini and making film history, Sean Connery joined Disney for a strange but enchanting Irish adventure. For the most part, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People" is a fairly light-hearted cautionary tale featuring mischievous leprechauns and a singing James Bond. Then, the banshee shows up and the creep factor blasts through the roof! Even when the ghostly woman is not on screen, the nighttime scenes are generally unsettling and haunting, while the leprechauns are portrayed as ambiguous rather than good or evil.





#7: “The Littlest Horse Thieves” [aka “Escape from the Dark”] (1976)


In the United Kingdom, this drama was called "Escape from the Dark" and we’d say that’s a way more fitting title! Set during the beginning of the 20th century, "The Littlest Horse Thieves" centers around a group of children's brave quest to rescue pit ponies set to be put out to pasture due to advancements in technology. Ignoring the historical inaccuracies and the overly optimistic depiction of the labor force's working conditions, "The Littlest Horse Thieves" is a Disney movie about saving ponies from the slaughterhouse!







#6: “Old Yeller” (1957)


Does this entry even need explaining? Firmly ingrained into the cultural zeitgeist of its time period, "Old Yeller's" ending is the stuff of legend and has reduced many viewers to blubbering puddles of mush. An emotional coming-of-age story, the iconic Labrador lasts just long enough to win over the Coates family and the audience, before catching rabies and forcing the owner's son to grab a gun. While sentimental, "Old Yeller" never takes the easy way out, and the finale is nothing short of devastating, even many decades later.





#5: “Dragonslayer” (1981)


Coinciding with the studio's dark age, the late '70s and early '80s saw Disney experimenting with adult themes and more mature stories. Set in an old sixth-century kingdom that has suffered greatly at the claws of a huge dragon, this House of Mouse production includes a scene of a virgin being sacrificed to appease the terrifying beast. Stuffed with enough gruesome deaths to fill a season of "Game of Thrones;""Dragonslayer" cares little about noble heroes, innocent princesses, or catchy songs. Despite coming out in 1981, the special effects utilized for "Dragonslayer's" fire-breeding monster have aged remarkably well.





#4: “The Watcher in the Woods” (1981)


A notorious box office flop, the original cut garnered such a negative backlash, Disney pulled the film from theaters and re-shot the ending. Horror movies suitable for the whole family do not come around very often; in that regard, "The Watcher in the Woods" is quite unique. For a mystery about an average girl trapped in a spooky Gothic mansion, you can definitely do much worse than Disney's suspenseful thriller. Starring the exceptional Bette Davis, "The Watcher in the Woods" is one of those few Disney films designed to scare the bejesus out of children.





#3: “The Black Hole” (1979)


Released in a post "Star Wars" world, Disney's peculiar space opera was the studio's first project to warrant a PG rating. Nominated for two Academy Awards but drawing a mixed reception from critics, "The Black Hole" sees the USS Palomino's crew discovering a long-lost spaceship in the far reaches of the universe. Controlled by the enigmatic Doctor Reinhardt and his vicious robot creation, "The Black Hole" is laden with religious imagery and the surreal climax metaphorically takes audiences on a journey through the pits of hell.





#2: “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983)




Based on a novel by Ray Bradbury, who also penned the script, Disney went for broke and delivered an unapologetic fantasy horror flick. If the studio's name was not scribbled on the poster, nobody would accept that "Something Wicked This Way Comes" was made by the same company responsible for "Bambi" and "Cinderella." When a sinister circus rolls into town seeking to steal the souls of the innocent, two young boys are the only ones capable of stopping Mr. Dark's evil plan. "Something Wicked This Way Comes" went through quite a troubled production, but the final version managed to be both charming and moody.





Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.



“Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (2003-17)


“Maleficent” (2014)




“Into the Woods” (2014)






#1: “Return to Oz” (1985)


The Emerald City has definitely seen better days! A much more faithful adaptation of L. Frank Baum's novels than 1939's "The Wizard of Oz," Disney's unofficial sequel quickly sets the pace by locking Dorothy in a mental institute specializing in shock therapy. Eventually, the girl hitches a ride back to Oz, only to discover that an evil King and Princess have transformed this once colorful world into a hellish nightmare. Accompanied by Tik-Tok and Jack Pumpkinhead, who are just as creepy-looking as the villains, Dorothy might have been safer in the asylum.




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