Disney Channel Movies That Are Way Darker Than You Remember

List Rules
Vote up the most surprisingly dark Disney Channel movies.

Many kids of the 1990s and 2000s have a special relationship with the term "Disney Channel Original Movie." DCOM releases were some of the most significant entertainment moments for a lot of young lives at the time. Your parents didn't have to take you to the movie theater... the movie was being released right in your home! Of course, the quality was a bit lacking, and they were all more than a little cheesy, but you take what you can get when you're a preteen. And while most DCOMs seem pretty harmless and generally are pretty harmless, there are more than a few that have some dark moments tucked in their scant run times.

Like, in the first Zenon movie, where two guys try to murder a bunch of innocent people to get insurance money? Or in 'Twas the Night, where Bryan Cranston's character is tied to a chair and threatened with physical violence if he doesn't repay the $30,000 he scammed from some "investors"? Perhaps Tiger Cruise is more your speed since it literally is all about dealing with the aftermath of the September 11 attacks? Any way you slice it, some DCOMs are a bit more bleak than you recall.


  • On the surface, there is nothing sinister about 1999's Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Based on the book of the same name, it's all about the titular tween, Zenon Kar. She's your typical 13-year-old girl living her life in 2049: She loves hanging out with her best friend, crushes on pop stars, and sticks her nose into trouble. Oh, yeah... she also lives on a space station that orbits the Earth. Something everyone's going to be doing in a scant few decades, obviously. It's a charming enough idea that was executed successfully enough to earn two sequels in 2001's Zenon: The Zequel and 2004's Zenon: Z3.

    Still, following a teen off-planet isn't all that outrageous. So far, it's basically another slice-of-life story, merely about a life in space. However, the film's central conflict opens up this family-friendly flick to a genuinely insidious plot twist. The antagonists of the movie, Parker Wyndham and his crony Mr. Lutz, want to crash the space station to collect insurance money. Again, the bad guys in Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century want to kill a space station's worth of people to cash in on an insurance policy. They'd have succeeded, too, if it weren't for Zenon and her friends. Can you imagine how much space insurance costs?

    693 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • It shouldn't be all too surprising that a movie titled Don't Look Under the Bed ends up being at least a somewhat scary affair. However, it's pretty clear that the Walt Disney Company got more than it bargained for with this DCOM from 1999. Unlike other Halloween-themed DCOMs like Halloweentown and Mom's Got a Date With a Vampire that were merely a tad bit spooky, Don't Look Under the Bed proved to be just a bit more nightmare-inducing than parents were expecting. 

    Take one look at Steve Valentine's Boogeyman, and you'll see what we're talking about here. He's a ghoulie by way of a late-'90s punk band, complete with disgusting fingernails and a terrifying grin. There is also plenty of creepy imagery laden throughout the movie, including a delightfully gross transformation scene involving Eric "Ty" Hodges II's Larry. According to the film's director, Kenneth Johnson, Disney started getting a heaping helping of "derogatory mail" after the television movie aired. It's easy to understand why. 

    581 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • There have been dozens upon dozens of DCOMs in the decades since the Disney Channel began broadcasting in 1983, and the recipe has basically always been the same: Throw some child actors into pretty harmless mischief and create some goofy entertainment parents generally approve of. Sometimes they are musicals; sometimes they're not. All in all, it's a simple and effective formula. And then there is 2004's Tiger Cruise.

    For the opening minute or two, Tiger Cruise seems like it is going to be an innocuous movie starring a young Hayden Panettiere as a Navy brat who is disillusioned with her father's profession of choice (her father is Bill Pullman, by the way, which is a pretty big get for a DCOM). And then you see the subtitle that lets you know this movie is taking place in September 2001. But, wait, this movie was released in 2004... they're not going to do a 9/11 movie on the freaking Disney Channel, are they? Uh, yeah. They are. This was so out of the ordinary, The New York Times even covered it. What starts out as a light drama about military families ends up being a light meditation on the importance of the armed forces. And watching everyone in a DCOM react to the 9/11 attacks in real time is extremely surreal.

    357 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • 4
    476 VOTES

    'Smart House' Remains A Salient Reminder That Technology Will One Day Rule Over Us All

    Upon first glance, what's not to like about getting a so-called "Smart House"? Like, your mom's favorite television network HGTV ostensibly gives one away in a sweepstakes each and every year. We all love cutting-edge technology. We all love having a roof over our heads. Put them together and you've got a combination for the ages! Well, maybe not so fast if 1999's Smart House has anything to say about it.

    This DCOM classic is your basic "artificial-intelligence-gone-haywire" story, warning us humans that we need to take it easy with all the latest gizmos and gadgets. If we don't, our houses are going to turn into dictatorial, overbearing mothers and create a hologram that looks a lot like the mom from Married... with Children (because, you know, Katey Sagal played the mom on Married... with Children). She can also turn into a tornado, somehow, so there's that, too. Also, having the crux of the family drama that lies under the surface of the main plot revolve around a father and son struggling to move on from the tragic demise of a beloved wife/mother is a bit heavy for a kid's romp. But parental deaths are pretty par for the course for Disney, eh? At least we'll always have this fantastic microcosm of the late 1990s in the United States.

    476 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • Ah, don't you just remember the ups and downs of puberty so fondly? Wait, you don't? That's right... puberty is a nightmare! The only thing that could conceivably make it worse is if you turned into some kind of magical monster instead of growing hair in weird places and having mood swings. Enter Cody Griffin, the 13-year-old protagonist of 1999's The Thirteenth Year. The middle schooler is horrified to find himself slowly but surely turning into a merman after his 13th birthday hits. The lighthearted comedy-drama is, for all intents and purposes, body horror for kids. 

    Body horror has been a staple of Hollywood filmmaking for years, from classics like 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers and 1986's The Fly to more recent fare like 2007's Teeth and 2014's It Follows. Though it is masked by the prerequisite Disney goofiness and a supporting turn from Full House's Dave Coulier, The Thirteenth Year is straight-up body horror. There is even a scene where Cody, transforming into a merman, is essentially tortured by his best friend's father in order to lure his mermaid mother out of hiding. You know, classic kid stuff!

    365 votes

    Available On:

    subscription

  • One thing is clear about kids: They love kooky stories about science. Think about it. How many super-genius-related forms of entertainment have there been for children? Dexter's Laboratory? Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius? Lunella Lafayette from Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur? And though The Other Me doesn't follow directly in these footsteps, it does see a normal kid get cloned by the miracle of science. 

    Is The Other Me interested in playing with the inherent moral dilemma of cloning? Um, no. Though Andrew Lawrence's Will Browning is successfully cloned so well that his doppelgänger (dubbed "Twoie") can take his place at school without a second thought from anyone, no one seems upset with this world-changing development at all. If that isn't dark, we don't know what is. Will's family even agrees to "adopt" Twoie by the time the credits roll! What is going on? Why are Will's parents not more concerned about this whole ordeal? Shouldn't the world know about the advent of successful human cloning?!

    155 votes

    Available On: