The 25 best things to watch on Disney+
All our picks from the platform that brings Disney, Marvel, Star Wars and more to your living room
The House of Mouse entered the streaming space three years ago and since then it hasn’t messed about. Disney+ is a major platform with over 150 million users and plenty for those subscribers to get their teeth into.
Despite being a TV-on-demand newbie compared to Netflix and Prime Video, Disney+ is stuffed with entertainment, from animated classics to Pixar, Star Wars and the MCU. And with new adult-focused (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. Here are some handpicked choices to start you off.
Additional words by Matt Tate
Rogue One’s swashbuckling master thief Cassian Andor (the excellent Diego Luna) gets his own 10-part series, giving us a fresh perspective on the nascent uprising against the Empire that eventually became the Rebel Alliance.
If you were left somewhat disappointed by Obi-Wan Kenobi’s lack of stakes and strangely ‘lifeless’ feel, Andor could be the show to reignite that Star Wars spark. Created by Tony Gilroy (who also wrote the Jason Bourne movies and, yes, Rogue One), it’s a lot more gritty, grounded and grown-up than the previous Star Wars series we’ve seen, with characters that feel real, flawed and drawn in shades of grey.
The Bear (S1)
If film and TV is to be believed, a restaurant kitchen is one of the most stress-inducing places on the planet – and this comedy-drama does a fantastic job of conveying the chaos, anger, injuries and, yes, joys that come with running an eatery. It’s fast-paced, intense and funny, and will might just make you glad for your dull, dreary nine to five office job.
Following award-winning stints at some of America’s finest restaurants, young chef Carmy returns to his native Chicago to take over his dead brother’s Italian sandwich shop. The accounts are a mess, the food is mediocre, the staff are restive and set in their ways, but Carmy is determined to transform the place’s fortunes – if he can sort out his own problems first.
When a troubled London advertising exec nearly dies of a cocaine overdose, she decides to decamp to her childhood home, located somewhere deep in rural England. If the goal was some rest and recuperation, her fractious relationship with her mother seems to be the main obstacle – and speaking of her mother, why does she look so young?
This folk horror movie about nurture, nature and confronting the past is creepy, clever and more than a little shocking. Proof positive that Disney+ isn’t just for da kids.
This Oscar-winning adaptation of James Ellroy’s novel is a gripping journey into the dark underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles, exploring the spiralling events that occur where Tinseltown glamour, police corruption and the mob intersect.
Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey all deliver memorable performances as LAPD detectives with very different personalities, and L.A. Confidential’s labyrinthine plot, its beautifully realised recreation of the tarnished dream of post-Golden Age Hollywood, and its sheer attention to detail all work together to make this one of the defining movies of the late 1990s.
She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (S1)
30-something and single, Jennifer Walters wants to concentrate on her career as a high-powered lawyer – but it’s tough to be taken seriously when you have the tendency to turn into a fantastically strong and agile green-skinned giant out of nowhere. Perhaps her cousin Bruce Banner – better known as the Incredible Hulk – can offer some sage words of wisdom on how to live with this blessing/curse?
Despite a more comedic and light-hearted take than previous Marvel series, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is well-written and compelling, with Tatiana Maslany hugely impressive in a lead role that requires lots of range (and no, we don’t mean just from ‘angry’ to ‘very angry’).
Under the Banner of Heaven (S1)
There’s more than a hint of True Detective about this dark drama miniseries, with Andrew Garfield’s devout Mormon detective investigating the brutal murders of a young woman and her infant child amidst a backdrop of LDS church intrigue and intra-family tension. The difference here? This is all based on actual events. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sam Worthington co-star in a compelling mystery series based on the book of the same name.
The latest film in the somewhat patchy Predator series takes things back to basics, and it’s all the better for it. Skipping cinemas and landing straight on Disney+, Prey is set in 18th Century America and its lead is a young Comanche woman determined to prove her worth as a hunter. She’s about to come up against one of the best in the galaxy though: a two-metre tall alien with an array of lethal gadgets, the ability to all but disappear and a hankering for trophies.
What follows is arguably the best Predator film since the Arnie-starring 1987 original, as our heroine must use all her wiles and cunning to avoid becoming the next prize skull in the monster’s cabinet.
Robert Altman’s final film is a cracking ensemble drama set over a shooting weekend at the titular house, the grand country pile of wealthy industrialist Sir William McCordle (Michael Gambon). There’s a murder mystery in the offing, naturally, but most of the fun here comes from the upstairs-downstairs tensions between the staff and those they’re serving.
Expectations may have been set low for this series centring on the continuing adventures of The Most Boring Avenger, but thanks to its Christmas cheer, a bright and breezy tone (that some of the more po-faced Marvel series would do well to emulate) and the comic chemistry between Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Hailee Steinfeld’s Kate Bishop, it may actually be the best MCU TV series around. And that’s without even mentioning the superb cameo that will delight those familiar with small-screen Marvel shows of old.
The best horror sci-fi movie ever made (not to mention one of the best horror movies full stop) and one that spawned a sprawling franchise based around its iconic titular “xenomorph”, Alien is a masterpiece of tension and visuals.
When the crew of commercial deep space vessel the Nostromo (a fantastic cast of “normal”, highly relatable working joe characters rather than exaggerated, OTT personalities) detect a transmission from an unexplored moon, they land to investigate and discover a strange derelict craft full of large eggs. When one of these hatches, it sparks off a deadly sequence of events. It’s fantastic cat-and-mouse stuff, and – courtesy of director Ridley Scott’s mastery of lighting and the stellar production design, looks so, so good for a 40 year-old movie.
Moon Knight (S1)
One of Marvel’s more complex and dare-we-say-it “grown-up” superheroes gets his TV debut, with Oscar Isaac playing each of the various personalities that inhabit the body of Moon Knight – including one that has him demonstrating a pretty competent “Lundun” accent. Ethan Hawke also stars in a series that seems to be giving the play-it-safe Marvel Cinematic Universe the boot up the creative backside it sorely needs.
Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
Based on three novels from Patrick O’Brian’s beloved Aubrey-Maturin series, this rollicking Napoleonic Wars epic is probably one of the most historically accurate depictions of early 19th century naval life (and death) ever put on screen. You can practically smell the sea salt, boiled cabbage, unwashed bodies and gunpowder as the HMS Surprise’s crew, led by Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey (Russell Crowe) and his faithful physician friend Stephen Maturin (Paul Bettany), pursue a French privateer across the South Atlantic and Pacific.
From tense evasive manoeuvres to ship’s dinners to battles filled with smoke, flame and splintered wood, this movie’s authenticity and attention to detail shines through – and almost all of it achieved without CGI chicanery, too. It’s a real pity no more Aubrey-Maturin movies followed – with 21 books in O’Brian’s series, there’d have been no shortage of source material.
Watch Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Disney+
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer and director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges offers a similar mix of pathos, violence and pitch-black comedy, as Frances McDormand’s grieving mother challenges the cops of her small southern US town to step up and catch her daughter’s murderer.
Such direct action – she purchases space on the three advertising billboards to publicly shame the police – brings her into conflict with Woody Harrelson’s respected chief and his bigoted, immature and angry deputy Sam Rockwell, sparking off an unpredictable sequence of events and an unforgettable conclusion. We won’t spoil any of that, but suffice to say the Oscars won by McDormand and Rockwell for their roles were well-earned, and this movie will likely stay in your head for a long time after the credits roll.
The Beatles: Get Back (S1)
Originally conceived as a feature-length movie, this intimate look at the recording sessions that resulted in Let It Be eventually spiralled into a three-part docu-series. Director Peter Jackson has been handed the keys to a vault of almost 60 hours of unseen footage (recorded over 21 days in 1969 for an abortive documentary) and over 150 hours of unheard audio that tracks the creative process that led to some of The Beatles’ most beloved songs – and reveals the bust-ups and banter of a band both under strain and in its prime.
Only Murders in the Building (S1-2)
Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play neighbours brought together by a mutual obsession with true crime tales – only to find themselves in the middle of one when a shocking murder occurs in the exclusive New York apartment block they share. Even if this weren’t a well-written whodunnit series with plenty of laughs along the way, it’d be worth the price of admission simply to see those beloved old comedy warhorses Short and Martin sharing screen time again.
The Americans (S1-6)
1980s nostalgia-fests in film and TV often neglect to mention one thing: the Cold War was still well underway and hundreds of millions all over the world felt like they were just minutes away from potential nuclear obliteration. It’s this climate of fear, mutual distrust and competing ideologies that The Americans recreates so well.
It follows the trials and tribulations of two Soviet sleeper agents, posing as a married couple, embedded deep in US suburbia. Their friends, their neighbours and even their own kids think they’re regular apple pie-chomping Yanks, but when duty calls they’re planting bugs, photographing secret documents and assassinating double agents for the Russkies.
Oh, and the marriage we mentioned? Just a professional union of convenience to aid their cover… or is it? The complex, strained and evolving relationship between the leads is one of the series’ most powerful aspects, making The Americans more than just a standard espionage drama.
It’s shocking that you have to go back all the way to 1986 to find a genuinely great Alien movie, but despite its advancing years James Cameron’s action-thriller take on the slimy, murderous xenomorphs still feels fresh, frightening and frenetic.
When Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is picked up following the events of Alien, she finds out that she’s been in hypersleep for decades – during which time humans have begun colonising the planet where she discovered the creature that killed her crew. When contact with the colony is lost, she is sent in with a gung-ho military team to investigate, and discovers… well, that’d be spoiling things.
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.
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.
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.
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.
At the time of writing, the Marvel Cinematic Universe contains no fewer than 23 movies. If you’re wondering where to start, why not watch from the beginning? Iron Man is the film that kicked off the MCU era, and it’s also one of the best films in the entire run. Yes, it has fantastic effects and action sequences, but its success is mostly due to star Robert Downey Jr, an actor whose on-screen personality seems to be tailor-made for playing billionaire inventor Tony Stark. Stark’s wayward playboy lifestyle finally finds direction when he creates an armoured combat suit, transforming himself into a superhero – and a future founding member of the Avengers.
The Mandalorian (S1-2)
The obvious one. The Mandalorian was Disney+’s flagship launch show, and if you’ve somehow managed to stay away from spoilers since our friends across the pond got hold of it, you’re in for a treat. Pitched as a space Western, the first live action series in the Star Wars franchise is set five years after Return of the Jedi and 25 years before the first film in the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens.
It follows the adventures of a bounty hunter known as Mando (Pedro Pascal), who suddenly finds himself the guardian of a very important youngling. Two full seasons are currently available to stream, with a third on its way.
If you like the MCU, it’s a case of take your pick with Disney+. Save the Spider-Man films, 2008’s very forgettable Hulk movie and a few others, you can watch the whole lot from day one. We keep going back to Thor: Ragnarok because not only is it a great superhero film, breathing some much-needed new life into the otherwise pretty missable Thor franchise, but it’s genuinely one of the best comedies of the last five years. Pairing a world-dominating media universe with the strange mind of Taika Waititi was a masterstroke from Marvel Studios, and with the follow-up due to land next year, now is the perfect time to remember why.
Captivating and terrifying in equal measure, this remarkable film documents the ever-so-slightly bonkers free solo climber Alex Honnold, whose lifelong dream is to scale the 3,200-foot El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without any ropes or equipment. Those who aren’t keen on heights are advised to watch from behind the sofa, but for everyone else, the Oscar-winning Free Solo is a thrill ride that not even Star Wars and the MCU can compete with. But thanks to Disney’s ownership of National Geographic, Disney+ subscribers can have all three.