You’re addicted to The Mandalorian, and you’re looking forward to all those Marvel shows on the way. But your Disney+ subscription doesn’t only contain must-see TV and nostalgia-burnished Oscar winners! The studio dug deep to fill up its new streaming service, and it shook loose some wonderful weirdness.
While “cult movie” must be loosely applied here—this is Disney, after all—these 10 peculiar (yet still mostly wholesome) picks all fit the bill. Some of them are already beloved, if offbeat, classics; others are just so bizarre we had to hoist them into the spotlight.
1. The Black Hole (1979)
Disney made it all the way to 1979 before making a movie rated PG—and it was this thriller about an exploratory spaceship whose crew passes by a massive black hole on their way back to Earth and then notices a strange spacecraft lingering nearby.
Turns out it’s the science vessel USS Cygnus, long believed lost, and the only person aboard is the ominous Dr. Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell, sporting a castaway-style bushy beard), along with an army of faceless helper droids he’s apparently constructed during his decades of solitude.
In the wake of Star Wars and even 2001: A Space Odyssey—which both clearly influenced The Black Hole—the special effects are not especially dazzling (though they did earn an Oscar nomination, as did the cinematography), but we’re a sucker for any story about an explorer “walking a tightrope between genius and insanity” (with bonus points for its tremendously eerie deep-space setting). Plus, the cast is outstanding.
Schell heads up an ensemble that also includes Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster, Yvette Mimieux, and Ernest Borgnine, plus the uncredited Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens supplying the voices of the ships’ googly-eyed robots.
2. Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959)
Based on marketing that features Sean Connery’s giant, smiling face, you’d be forgiven for assuming the future Bond is Darby O’Gill in this fairy tale. But the character is a much older man, so that honour actually goes to Albert Sharpe—playing an estate caretaker who’s spirited away by his fondest frenemy, the local leprechaun king, on the eve of his retirement.
He then must wheedle his way out of “little people” (i.e., leprechaun) captivity in a story that involves gold coins, magic wishes, enchanted horses, prodigious amounts of whiskey, drinking songs, a seemingly endless fiddle jam, a banshee wraith... pretty much an entire Lucky Charms box of Irish folklore clichés. (Not for nothing, but Darby O’Gill has one of those “may contain outdated cultural depictions” disclaimers in its Disney+ description.)
However, the movie—which uses camera trickery to make the leprechaun characters shrink to fit its story—takes some unexpectedly surreal turns, and even if Connery isn’t the lead, he does cut a dashing figure as O’Gill’s successor and (it’s implied) future son-in-law.
3. Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Alexander Key’s sci-fi novel was first adapted into this traumatising kid adventure starring Ike Eisenmann and future Real Housewife Kim Richards as orphans whose prodigious list of superpowers—telekinesis, ESP, psychically communicating with animals, etc., all depicted using adorably lo-fi special effects—attract the attention of a nefarious billionaire (Ray Milland).
He’s obsessed with the idea of tapping into the occult to increase his wealth, with a gang of henchmen that includes an unctuous lawyer played by Halloween’s Donald Pleasence.
The young siblings go on the run—aided by a series of animals, including a horse, a bear, and their sassy pet cat, as well as a widower (Eddie Albert) whose curmudgeonly heart is soon melted by their plight. Their quest is guided by vague memories of their mysterious past, and a map that’s the only concrete link to their origins...in the stars.
If you need a double dose of innocent alien kids getting the better of their grown-up oppressors, Disney+ also has the immediate sequel, 1978's Return from Witch Mountain, in which the baddies are played by Bette Davis and Christopher Lee; 2009's Dwayne Johnston-starring loose remake Race to Witch Mountain will be added next year.
4. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969)
An impossibly groovy theme song introduces this tale of happily average college student Dexter (played by an 18-year-old Kurt Russell), who gets zapped by lightning while he’s tinkering with the school’s brand-new computer. (Since The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes came out in 1969, the computer, which is enormous, is portrayed as a luxurious novelty.)
He emerges from the accident with an amazingly enhanced intellect, which turns him into a quiz-bowl hero—but also draws the ire of a sinister mogul (Cesar Romero, the iconic original TV Joker) when Dexter’s mega-brain reveals the man’s been running a high-tech gambling ring.
Eventually, the smarts wear off and Dexter returns to his goofy self, but Disney cashed in on The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes’ popularity by releasing two sequels, both also featuring Russell and Romero: Now You See Him, Now You Don’t, in which Dexter makes himself invisible; and The Strongest Man in the World, which pretty much gives away Dexter’s “oops!” in the title. Bad news for completists, though: Only the latter is currently available on Disney+.
5. Return to Oz (1985)
You won’t find the original Wizard of Oz on Disney+, but the Disney-made sequel is available to rattle your nightmares with its decidedly darker take on the land of Oz. When Dorothy (a pre-Craft Fairuza Balk) won’t stop talking about her fantastic adventures over the rainbow, which everyone assumes were totally made up, Aunt Em (Twin Peaks’ Piper Laurie) sends her away for shock treatment, and things only get more uneasy from there.
The return promised by the title soon happens (via a flood this time, rather than a tornado), but the candy-coloured land Dorothy left behind has deteriorated into a much more malevolent place, enhanced by nightmarish, Oscar-nominated special effects. Dorothy’s companions this time around include Tik-Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead, a Gump, and her chicken Belina. Princess Ozma, Mombi, and the Nome King, of the L. Frank Baum books, also make appearances in this one.
If Return to Oz awakens your hunger for more live-action 1980s fantasy epics, make it a Disney+ double feature and watch Willow next—they both star Jean Marsh in tremendously creepy villain roles
6. Mr. Boogedy (1986)
Is Mr. Boogedy a cult favourite, or is it just one of the oddest titles on this (or any) streaming service? Perhaps its inclusion on Disney+ will bring it the special fame it deserves. This 45-minute slice of weird begins as a family in the novelty business—their store is called “Gag City”—pull up to their new digs in the quaint New England town of...Lucifer Falls.
While the house is spacious, the kids (including Married...With Children’s David Faustino and O.G. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Kristy Swanson) soon realise it’s also crawling with ghosts, so they consult the local historian (John “Gomez Addams” Astin, flaunting false eyebrows and mustache), who weaves a fanciful tale using a pop-up book about one of the area’s earliest settlers, whose unpleasant nature earned him the nickname “Mr. Boogedy.”
It was a well-earned insult, because the man also made a deal with the devil—and that’s why he and the unfortunate souls caught up in his wrath are still haunting the land where his house once stood.
For a kid flick, Mr. Boogedy goes to some surprisingly dark places; one of the villain’s victims is a little boy who’s been trying to find his mother for hundreds of years. But mostly, it’s goofy beyond belief, leaning heavily into the family’s pranks-as-a-lifestyle-choice aesthetic so it can set up its big finale, in which a vacuum cleaner rigged as a “gotcha” joke becomes the only weapon that can destroy the title spook. And really, it’s impossible to actually fear someone whose name sounds like a mix of “boogeyman” and “boogers.” Alas, Disney+ has yet to add the sequel, titled...wait for it...Bride of Boogedy.
7. The Black Cauldron (1985)
Four years before The Little Mermaid restored glory to Disney animation, this legitimately spooky tale—based on Welsh mythology and children’s books by fantasy author Lloyd Alexander—was made for a then-lavish $59 million, and was deemed a flop after earning just a fraction of that at the box office.
It was also the first Disney animated film to be rated PG (now such a common occurrence nobody even mentions it anymore; the upcoming Frozen II is PG, for instance), and wasn’t made available for home viewing until 1998.
With all that notoriety in its past, a spooky story enhanced by some legitimately scary imagery (not to mention John Hurt’s majestically evil performance as the Horned King, who uses the cauldron to raise a ghoulish army of the dead), and the fact that nobody ever breaks into song at any time throughout the movie—is it any wonder The Black Cauldron became a cult classic?
The visuals are gorgeous, and it’s still the closest thing Disney animation has to a horror movie, though some of its dread is balanced out by its more whimsical elements—like bumbling forest critter Gurgi, a bunch of friendly fairies, and Hen Wen, the adorable psychic pig.
8. Flight of the Navigator (1986)
David (Joey Kramer), a 12-year-old Florida boy, goes missing in 1978, only to reappear eight years later not having aged a day and mistakenly assuming he’s been gone just a few hours. His parents are thrilled—but so are the NASA scientists who quickly surmise the kid’s disappearance has something to do with the blobby UFO that’s just crash-landed nearby.
Since David’s curious about what exactly happened to him, he sneaks aboard the ship (with the help of a sweet NASA intern with totally rad mismatched earrings, played by a just-past-Footloose Sarah Jessica Parker) and realises the ship—or rather, the bossy robot that pilots it (voiced by Paul “Pee-wee Herman” Reubens!)—needs David’s help, specifically all the info that’s been stored in his puny human brain, to chart a course back home.
Flight of the Navigator has all the elements of a classic Disney coming-of-age tale, especially its propulsive story about a boy who feels like an outsider until he suddenly finds himself on an adventure beyond his wildest dreams (with bonus persecution by adults who Don’t Understand, and double-bonus cute alien critter!), and then realises all he wants is to be back home with his family and friends. Watch it now before the long-gestating remake slaps a bunch of snazzy 21st-century special effects all over its relatively simple story.
9. Fuzzbucket (1986)
Writer-director Mick Garris is best known for his work in the horror genre (he created Showtime anthology series Masters of Horror and co-wrote Hocus Pocus). But Fuzzbucket—which has around the same runtime (not to mention the same strangely flat tone and, from the looks of it, the same approximate budget) as Mr. Boogedy—is kind of accidentally horrifying.
Though Mikey (Chris Hebert, the younger brother from The Last Starfighter) is about to start junior high, he’s still clinging to childhood by hanging out in his treehouse and having one-sided conversations with his imaginary friend. Except the friend—Fuzzbucket—isn’t actually imaginary, he’s just temporarily invisible, and the aptness of his name is soon revealed: He’s basically a tiny Bigfoot with a tail (or perhaps an overgrown swamp-rat E.T. rip-off?) with a weirdly humanoid face.
So much of this movie consists of people—including Robyn “Teen Witch” Lively, who plays Mikey’s exasperated older sister—running around yelling “There’s no such thing as Fuzzbucket!” or “Fuzzbucket, is that you?” or “Fuzzbucket love Mikey!” or just “Fuzzbucket!” that you could make a drinking game out of it, if you don’t mind shortening your life span by a few dozen years.
10. The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Before there was Goose, there was Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7, also known as “Jake,” a suspiciously feline creature whose spacecraft makes an unexpected landing on Earth.
While the U.S. military blusters around trying to grapple with the likely presence of an alien in their midst, and a corporate spy (Roddy McDowall) does his best to unearth their secret, the psychically-gifted animal finds an ally in Dr. Frank Wilson (Ken Berry)—an eccentric physicist who actually isn’t all that freaked out to meet a genius cat who wears a special collar that can enhance his powers, which include communicating with humans via “thought transfer.”
Jake and Frank set out to repair Jake’s ship, but shenanigans inevitably ensue. Somehow, there’s room to shove subplots about sports betting, pool sharks, and criminal kingpins; budding romances for Frank and Jake; and an airborne chase sequence (that goes on way too long) into a movie called The Cat From Outer Space, which does indeed also fully deliver on that ridiculous premise and title.