Terrifying History of The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: Disney Parks History

Disney Parks History

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror At Night Disney's Hollywood Studios

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is generally considered one of the best rides ever built and has attained the status of the icon of Disney's Hollywood Studios. This drop ride reimagined a classic amusement park concept into the horrific experience Disney Parks guests have grown to love.

But this ride did not start out this way, and went through a long process to become the classic it is today.

Disney MGM Studios Earful Tower Disney World

The story of the Tower of Terror begins with the opening of Disney's MGM Studios. Disney World's third park was rushed into construction to beat Universal building an Orlando studio theme park, and this meant a substantial lack of attractions on opening day. There was an immediate push for not only rides, but E-Ticket marquee attractions to be developed for the new park.

A variety of ideas were explored, including several Roger Rabbit themed rides, an elaborate Dick Tracy themed ride, Star Tours, and a Muppet land. But Disney also decided to give the park a first. The first elaborately themed drop tower attraction in any Disney Park.

The ride was developed to be based on the horror genre, something Disney had not really explored before in their parks outside of Alien Encounter, but unlike that, this would be based on preexisting properties.

Because Disney had an almost complete lack of horror films in their vault at the time, they had to look elsewhere for a basis for their ride.

A variety of themes were explored, including the works of Steven King, but eventually, they settled on a ride based on the classic works of Mel Brooks. This concept would make it pretty far in development, taking place in a haunted hotel, but would eventually give way to an attraction with the same basic concept instead being based on one of the most iconic television shows in history, The Twilight Zone.

The ride was built with help from Otis Elevator Company, who designed a ride system that resembled a normal elevator but could actually move faster than the speed of gravity. 

Sunset Boulevard Disney's Hollywood Studios Disney World

It was designed to be a southern Californian hotel from the bygone era of Hollywood's golden age in the 1930s, with Sunset Boulevard being designed around it.

Tower of Terror took the approach of being like a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. The anthology nature of the series made this possible, there was just one problem. The only common thread between each episode was Rod Serling's iconic narration, but the man behind the series had already passed on when the ride was being developed. Disney brought on his wife to help find a voice actor who could recreate his voice, and archival footage from the classic series selectively used with the new audio in the preshow.

The basic idea behind the ride was that the Hollywood Tower Hotel had been the subject of a mysterious incident where five people disappeared in an elevator when the hotel was struck by lightning, causing the hotel to close.

Years later it reopened to guests, you, while still incredibly overgrown and covered in cobwebs, and you are warned by Rod Serling in the library of the five guests who disappeared in 1939, before continuing into the boiler room and entering the same elevators from the fateful night.

Yout then ascend to a hallway where you are greeted by apparitions of the five gusts who disappeared that night, before the hallway fades into a starfield with a floating window. It breaks and you continue upwards.

At this point within the storyline of the ride, the elevator shifts so that it is moving up the elevator shaft with you on your back, although the ride does not actually put you on your back. As you travel up this elevator shaft you enter the fifth dimension with various icons from the Twilight Zone surrounding you.

Finally, you enter the final drop shaft.

This ride would be a smash hit at the park when it opened in 1994, leading in part to an increase in thrill attractions overall at Disney Parks worldwide. While a few effects were shortlived, notably a spark effect and fog in the boiler room, it remains with most of the same effects today.

Three additional versions would be added of this ride, although it would be altered before it opened.

The forward motion that created the Fifth Dimension scene in the Disney's Hollywood Studios version while impressive, caused common breakdowns in the ride's early years due to it not properly following its wire-based track system. A new version would be developed to solve for this by replacing the fifth dimension scene altogether.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Disney California Adventure

The Disney California Adventure and Walt Disney Studios version would include the same drops, hallway scene, and queue, but the Fifth Dimension was replaced by a mirror scene. This was nowhere near as impressive, but the ride was still a success without it.

At Disney California Adventure the ride was one of the first major additions to the park and is partially credited with being one of the first major moves that improved its reputation and popularity following a disastrous opening.

This same version of the ride also opened in Walt Disney Studios in Paris in 2007, as one of the first positively reviewed attractions in the park.

A version of Tower of Terror would also open in Tokyo DisneySea with no connection to The Twilight Zone, instead being based on Disney's Society of Explorers and Adventurers. We will not be mentioning it again as it deserves its own tribute.

The Disney's Hollywood Studios version would be updated with randomized drops in 2004, a major upgrade to the ride's main draw, but the other two versions would not be given the same upgrade. This hurt their rerideability factor, especially given the lack of an amazing dark ride scene.

Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout Disney California Adventure

Eventually, it would be announced the Disney California Adventure version was being rethemed as Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout, to massive fan uproar, especially as the outside was changed with the ride still operating. It would close in January of 2017

Mission: Breakout would open later that same year and be the first permanent Marvel presence in the park. It defied expectations, by finally giving the ride random drops, and replacing the tense suspense of the Twilight Zone, with a high energy pop music infused elevator joy ride. It better utilized the limits of the altered ride system, transforming the mirror room into a screen.

This change at the Disneyland Resort brought questions of what would happen to the other two versions of the ride. Disney would confirm that the Disney's Hollywood Studios version was safe, made more certain by the addition of Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind in Epcot.

That still left questions of what would happen to Walt Disney Studios Tower of Terror, especially given the addition of Avengers Campus, a Marvel-themed land to the park in an area adjacent to the ride. But the attraction still appears on the concept art of the transformation of the park, and recently got randomization including three new storylines.

The Tower of Terror creates a full world, and allows you to step into your own Twilight Zone story, and hopefully, it will be around for years to come, ready for you to check-in for a ten-minute hotel stay, in the Twilight Zone.