I have not one athletic bone in my body when it comes to getting on anything with wheels, but what I did have in 1998 was a gigantic crush on Erik von Detten, thanks to his role as Wally Cleaver in Leave It to Beaver the year before. Brink leverages the beautiful ’90s-era obsession with rollerblading and ties it up with a nice sports-competition storyline iconized by movies like The Mighty Ducks and Little Giants before it, and not much after it. Special shout-out to Team Pup-N-Suds, which will always be my trivia-team name from now until the end of time.
—Jennifer Juneau Haupt
Cadet Kelly, 2002
Cadet Kelly is an amazing girl-power centric movie with two early aughts queens (Hilary Duff and Christy Carlton Romano). I loved girls who could do girly things but also liked physical things and this movie had both. Like other early DCOMs, it was also genuinely funny if you weren’t attached to these characters as existing disney personalities.
Camp Rock, 2008
Camp Rock 1 and 2 have all the fixings of classic 2000s DCOMs: Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers singing their way through their summer, romances and teen drama. The show tunes and beautifully cringey dance numbers are only matched by songs like “Wouldn’t Change a Thing,” which dedicated Zillennials know was a bop long before it went viral on TikTok this year.
Cow Belles, 2006
This DCOM, which sees Aly and AJ Michalka as spoiled teens being forced to work for their family’s business, was a kid-appropriate version of The Simple Life — a.k.a. the iconic 2000s reality show starring real-life pals Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. In fact, the televised flick was inspired by the former Fox reality series, making it that much more iconic. The Michalka sisters previously revealed that they were developing a sequel to the DCOM — which also featured several fashion-worthy moments — but plans have since fallen through.
After directing iconic DCOMs such as High School Musical and Cheetah Girls, Kenny Ortega brought that same Disney magic to a whole new generation with the Descendants franchise. Not only is it a fun twist on the classic fairytale stories we all know and love, but with Ortega directing and choreographing, you know it’s filled with stellar performances from the talented cast!
Get a Clue, 2002
This DCOM had it all: rising starlet Lindsay Lohan, future Disney Channel icon Brenda Song and a good mystery. More importantly, this early 2000s film boasts some of the most iconic fashions ever seen on-screen — and sure, that’s a bold statement for a film targeted at tweens, but the costumes deserve more credit than given.
Confession: I didn’t see Halloweentown for the first time until my mid-30s a couple of years ago, as I only had access to the Disney Channel during free months in my childhood. But I was the same age as Marnie when this movie came out, and as someone who always felt a bit different (and a bit witchy) as a teen/tween, Halloweentown speaks to me deeply, even as an adult — and especially as an adult whose favorite holiday is Halloween. And the fact that the real-life Marnie (Kimberly J. Brown) is now engaged to her Halloweentown II costar Daniel Kountz is further proof that this movie stands the test of time.
—Jennifer Juneau Haupt
High School Musical, 2006
High School Musical was really the “Start of Something New” for a whole new generation of DCOMers. The movie, which gives nod at Grease, had everything: romance, music, basketball — basketball and music mixed together! It also launched Zac Efron into official heartthrob status — which we can all be grateful for.
Time travel for a good cause? Sign us up! What made this DCOM both fun and memorable is that the minutemen used their time-traveling abilities to help fellow students caught in embarrassing situations, but audiences also learn the importance of not losing sight of oneself. Not to mention, this film features a young Nicholas Braun pre-Succession fame — so, we have no choice but to stan automatically.
Now You See It …, 2005
This film about a teenage magician, played by Johnny Pacar, is so fun to watch just for the magic tricks alone. But audiences also get to see Aly Michalka in her DCOM debut not long after she began winning hearts over as Keely Teslow on Phil of the Future the year before. To top things off, real-life musical sister duo Aly & AJ’s song “Do You Believe in Magic?” was released alongside this film — and it’s beyond fitting.
Phantom of the Megaplex, 2000
Phantom of the Megaplex is the dark horse of Halloween DCOMs. Who doesn’t love a good whodunnit: small-town movie theater style? The beloved holiday hit follows hardworking teenager and newly appointed assistant manager Pete Riley as he prepares to work a big movie premiere at his local movie theater. But after things go awry due to a mysterious phantom attempting to sabotage the night, Pete joins forces with his two younger siblings to unmask the villain and save the premiere. This film is great for all the right reasons: a plot that keeps you on the edge of your Year 2000-self’s seat, a list of suspenseful and scary moments (especially when the siblings explore the theater’s creepy basement and get ambushed by the phantom on the rooftop) and most of all, the legendary Mickey Rooney. Need I say more?
Smart House, 1999
As an 8-year-old weirdly fascinated by home design and decoration (I guess this explains my current Zillow obsession), I thought DCOM’s Smart House seemed like the coolest possible place to live. The movie follows Ben, a kid who recently lost his mom and decides to enter a competition to win a fully tricked-out home with a personal assistant (similar to the Siris and Alexas of today). His family wins and moves in, at first enjoying the high-tech features — floors that sense dirt or spills and sucks them up immediately, fresh cupcakes that pop out of the counters for an after-school snack, a Clueless-like algorithm that determines what clothes to wear that day — but the personal assistant, PAT, played by Katey Sagal, soon becomes a bit too overbearing, and it begins to wreck havoc on their lives. I won’t spoil the rest, but I highly recommend coming for the nifty home inventions that were ahead of their time in 1999, and staying for the surprisingly poignant story of working through the loss of a parent and watching the other find someone new.
Stuck in the Suburbs, 2004
This movie was so much fun to watch as someone who lived in the suburbs and would’ve loved if a pop star came into my small town. It was cool to see how they used technology in the movie since cellphones were just becoming a thing and the hot gadget of the movie was a Blackberry type of phone. It also had catchy music and was always a classic DCOM to watch with friends!
The Thirteenth Year, 1999
This early DCOM, about an adopted teenager whose 13th birthday brings it with strange new powers, has it all: a dreamy seaside setting, a splash (no pun intended) of mystery and the childhood thrill of a world in which mermaids actually do exist alongside humans.
For people who loved Sister, Sister, this was the best movie because it was basically the same concept just with a little razzle dazzle. It’s such a wholesome movie that teaches that nothing is ever really lost and a little belief in yourself goes a long way.
Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior, 2006
Few Disney Channel original movies reach the cinematic heights of Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior. A surefire way to tap into some early aughts nostalgia, it features the one and only Brenda Song in an action-packed 90 minutes of made-for-TV magic — plus, an iconic mall makeover scene set to Orlando Brown’s cover of “Will It Go Round In Circles?” What’s not to like?
Wish Upon a Star, 1996
“I wish I were Alexia Wheaton!” Any preteen girl felt that acutely upon seeing Katherine Heigl’s frosted pink lipstick and icy lavender eyeshadow in this movie. Awkward younger sister Hayley wishes upon a star to get to walk in the platform sandals of her popular older sister Alexia — and then the two of them try to take each other down from the other’s bodies, before finally coming to an understanding about how tough it truly is to be the other. Though it’s technically the last Disney Channel Premiere movie before DCOMs took off, I count it because it’s got all the hallmarks of a truly great DCOM (including a soon-to-be giant star).
Underneath the fun makeup, cool costumes and extremely catchy songs, Z-O-M-B-I-E-S is a take on a story we’re all familiar with: a boy and a girl who can’t be together because of where they come from. The movie also shares ever-important message of acceptance and teaches viewers to celebrate what makes everyone unique. Like many of our favorites, Z-O-M-B-I-E-S was just the beginning as there have since been two follow-up films.
Princess Protection Program, 2009
Just when you thought no movie could do modern-day princess like Anne Hathaway did in The Princess Diaries, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez gave us Princess Protection Program. When this movie premiered, I was 10 years old and still debating whether I resonated more with the angsty Carter Mason (Gomez) or Princess Rosalinda (Lovato) — turns out I ended up being a mix both, ha! Nonetheless, this movie taught me the importance of being open and accepting of others — and that two people from very different worlds could still come together to form a lasting friendship. Also, who doesn’t love a final homecoming dance scene where the mean girl meets her fate, boy finally tells girl how he feels and an iconic collaborative single like “One in the Same”? This is a must-see!
Jump In, 2007
I remember loving Jump In because it came out a year after High School Musical so it was a lot of fun to see Corbin Bleu in another role. The same goes for Keke Palmer a year after Akeelah and the Bee! The music in the movie was also very catchy and it was cool to see a movie done about jump rope as a sport.
Alley Cats Strike, 2000
Alley Cats Strike is a movie that instills a sense of community quite graciously. The competition aspect is present but the character development makes it much more than a sports movie. You forget it is a Disney Channel Original Movie after watching it!
The Cheetah Girls, 2003
The Cheetah Girls was the very first DCOM musical, and totally encapsulated the larger-than-life quality of a world where four high school freshmen simply want to win their performing arts high school’s talent show — but end up being offered a record deal. It had an otherworldly quality, from the names of the characters (Galleria, Chanel, Aquanette and Dorinda) to the fact that they were going on Fifth Avenue shopping sprees to acquire even more cheetah-print clothing to mix and match. Starring Raven-Symoné, Adrienne Bailon, Sabrina Bryan and Kiely Williams, the movie was also executive produced by Whitney Huston. With so many real-life musicians on board, it makes sense that the message for The Cheetah Girls’ young audience was inspired by the power of friendship and the importance of living your dreams. And, importantly, not to give in to the demands of a slimy music exec. As a tween who frequently performed songs, dances and plays with her friends, all I could hope was to someday emulate these Cheetah Sisters.