Why Did Disney Stop Making Original Attractions

Disney Parks History

Haunted Mansion Exterior Disneyland Ride

Some of the most popular Disney attractions of all time are not based on the company's iconic films, but are original attractions that tell their own story created specifically for a ride. So many iconic attractions from Haunted Mansion, to Pirates of the Caribbean, to It's A Small World, and more have been created like this. But it had been over a decade since the last significant original attraction in the US (Expedition Everest) and many have wondered why they completely stopped.

We are going to explore the history of original attractions in the Disney Parks, and why the trend suddenly stopped altogether.

Opening day Disneyland had relatively few original attractions. Even things we today think of as original attractions like Jungle Cruise and much or original Frontierland were actually based in Disney's live action properties of the day, such as the True Life Adventures and Davy Crockett. The only true original attractions were those by sponsors, and you could argue even those were IP based, with the IP being the company they were sponsored by.

Original attractions really started later on with the first major wave of expansions of Disneyland after the Matterhorn as even it was partially based on a live action film.

Tiki Animatronic Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room Disneyland

The Tiki Room was a fully original attraction that came to the park in 1963. It wasn't based on any preexisting property, and was more based in the trend of tiki culture, and it started what we think of as an original attraction.

Disneyland It's A Small World Ride Fantasyland

This was then followed up with the attractions of the 1964 World's Fair, all of which were created for sponsors, but were really their own original experiences, and proved that a ride could be a success without a tie to a popular Disney property.

The Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion would continue to prove this, as no characters could be found in the entire New Orleans Square addition to Disneyland.

This was a good discovery, as following the death of Walt Disney in just a few years the overall quality and success of subsequent Disney animated ventures took a hit throughout the 1970s through much of the 1980s. It was really then that they doubled down on original theme park content, as the parks were still doing well as the films were stagnating.

This time period following Walt's death saw the rise of the Country Bear Jamboree and the Disney Mountain. Both Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain were developed in this period. It also led to an entire park beind developed almost entirely devoid of characters, the original Epcot Center.

But things started to change during the end of the 1980s. Disney's live action and animated films both started to pick up, and they began developing relationships with Lucasfilm to feature their films in the park with Star Tours and Indiana Jones Adventure.

Disney's Hollywood Studios Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Disney's new adventures became more character intensive during this period heading into the 1990s, even if they didn't own them. Disney MGM Studios almost exclusively featured character based attractions, but most weren't Disney owned characters. Attractions like the Great Movie Ride, MuppetVision, Tower of Terror and more brought characters into the park without needing Disney to create them.

But during this period they did still make original attractions, especially as they started making new projects. Unfortunatly this would begin the downfall of original Disney attractions.

The early 2000s saw a few major failures for original theme park attractions, most notably the failure of the original version of Disney California Adventure and the underperformance of Mission Space at Epcot combined with the downturn in tourism after 9/11 and the change of CEO.

Disney from this point on was a much different company. They had multiple film production companies under their control, and this allowed them to go back to making character based attractions. Disney really made so many original attractions not by choice but out of necessity. But now, with Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and more all producing content, there is more than enough successful content to make rides based on.

Jumpin Jellyfish Ride Disney California Adventure

Original attractions are a lot more risky in general than IP attractions. Its not only the ride itself that has to be good, but the story, which is completely untested when the ride opens. At least an IP based ride has a dedicated fanbase on day one, that ideally will bring people to the park in itself.

There is a reason Expedition Everest was the last major original attraction. They have a few decades worth of good content to fit into their parks and don't have room for original attractions anymore.

Pixar Pier Adventure Is Out There Sign At Night Disney California Adventure

The 2010s were defined by their IP attractions, and that trend isn't stopping any time soon.

Disney will probably never go back to making original attractions, but thats ok. Storytelling in anyform can make for an amazing immersive theme park experience, and it is really the increase in film storytelling quality that brought us so many of these new attractions in the past years. The best original attractions continue to live on to today, and hopefully will for years to come.