The Great Movie Ride was an attraction that also was the centerpiece of Disney’s Hollywood Studios when it opened as the Disney-MGM Studios. It was a celebration of the movies and lived in a replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It was iconic and beloved my some while tolerated by others.
History of The Great Movie Ride
The Great Movie Ride’s history precedes the opening of Disney-MGM Studios. Originally, the concept for this attraction was imagined as an attraction that would be the centerpiece of a new pavilion at Epcot based on show business. It’s original name was Great Moments at the Movies. However, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and Walt Disney Imagineering President Marty Sklar decided the idea was too good for just a pavilion. They instead decided it would be a great start for a whole new theme park. This new theme park became Disney-MGM Studios, now called Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The attraction opened with the new park on May 1, 1989.
As time went by, there more ideas developed around The Great Movie Ride. At one point, it was thought of being the main attraction for the Disney-MGM Studios Europe theme park. However, this was scrapped when Euro Disneyland Resort found itself facing financial issues. When the idea for a show business theme parks came around again, Walt Disney Studios Park came into being and opened in 2002. However, there was no version of The Great Movie Ride there. Instead, CineMagique, a show which celebrated movies, was there instead. Disney believed that the French would prefer shows to ride-through attractions.
The Great Movie Ride almost made its way to California on multiple occasions as well. The first was when there was an idea to create a Disney-MGM Studio Backlot in downtown Burbank. This would have been a 40-acre film studio themed retail and development district in the 1980s. However, this never came to fruition. Years later, it was thought that The Great Movie Ride could serve as a centerpiece in a new Hollywoodland that was being dreamed up for Disneyland. This would have been built during the 1990s. However, budget cuts led to Hollywoodland never being built at Disneyland. Finally, when Disney found California Adventure was being dreamed up, it was thought that the attraction could reside in the Hollywood Pictures Backlots area of the park. Once again, budget cuts struck and the attraction never made it to the West coast.
Back in Florida, other ideas were being developed for The Great Movie Ride. When Disney was in discussions to purchase the Muppets from Jim Henson, Imagineering thought of creating a Muppet-themed land at Disney-MGM Studios called Muppet Movieland. This would have featured two attractions, MuppetVision 3D and a reimagining version of The Great Movie Ride called The Great Muppet Movie Ride. This attraction would have been a Muppet take on the attraction as Kermit and the gang recreated famous movie scenes from films like Peter Pan and Frankenstein. However, with Jim Henson’s death, the deal fell apart and the area themed to the Muppets was cut back to just include the area around MuppetVision 3D.
In 2015, Turner Classic Movies became the official sponsor for The Great Movie Ride. And with that came a new pre-show and post-show hosted by Robert Osborne. Osborne also then provided the onboard narration to the ride, instead of a live narrator/tour guide. Two years later, it was announced on July 17 that the attraction would be closing on August 13, 2017 to make way for the new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The attraction did indeed close and next year Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is expected to open in the location.
About the Attraction
Guests entering The Great Movie Ride did so by entering through the recreation of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. They would enter the main doors and find themselves in a queue that would through the lobby. In the lobby different costumes, props, and set pieces that were used in films could be seen in display cases. Once through the lobby, there was a pre-show theatre where Robert Osborne shared about the movies and genres of movies. After the film, the guests would go through doors which led them into a room that looked like a 1930s era Hollywood soundstage. There, they would board the ride vehicles for their trip through the movies.
As the attraction began, the ride vehicles entered the attraction from the soundstage through a large neon marquee along with a cyclorama of the 1930’s era Hollywood Hills that included the original Hollywoodland Sign. Hooray for Hollywood played as the journey through the history of film began.
The journey through film began with a focus on the musical genre. A scene from Footlight Parade was shown with a cake of starlets. Originally, this was a much bigger and more detailed scene but that didn’t last long due to technical difficulties. Singing in the Rain was the next musical to be featured as Don Lockwood sang the title song. This was followed by Mary Poppins and Bert on the rooftops of London in Mary Poppins.
The next genre represented in the ride was that of the gangster film. The attraction soon took guests into the streets of Chicago and a scene from The Public Enemy. There guests soon found themselves in the midst of a shootout between rival mobs. During the excitement, a live gangster chases away the tour guide leading the second of the two ride vehicles and takes control of it.
As the attraction left the world of the gangsters it sound entered the Wild West where it comes face to face with the Man of No Name and Ethan Edwards standing outside a saloon. As the second ride vehicle moves past the first, a shootout between the Sherrie and a bank robber occurs. Soon, a bank robber has commandeered this vehicle from the tour guide and chased them into the bank. As the town burns because of the robber setting it aflame with TNT, both ride vehicles conclude the ride together.
Leaving the Wild West, the attraction moves into what appears to be an abandoned spaceship. However, it is soon discovered that this is far from true. Instead, they are on the doomed vessel Nostromo from Alien. There Ellen Ripley prepares to confront the aliens inside the ship. With things getting creepy, the bank robber and gangster attempt to get out of the area as quickly as possible. In the process, two aliens attack before the vehicles enter the next movie and genre.
Leaving space the vehicles enter a tomb that is filled with snakes. Indiana Jones and Sallah can be seen attempting to life the Ark of the Covenant in a recreation of the famous scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Entering the next room, guests find themselves in a temple with a large altar. There, a jewel is being guarded by a cloaked temple guard. The two crooks driving the vehicles both stop and jump off to go and steal the jewel. They are warned that disturbing the treasure leads to death. However, they don’t heed the warning. One of the crooks reach for the jewel and find that they are being engulfed by smoke as the temple consumes them. The temple guard then takes off the robe to reveal that they are in fact one of the tour guides. As the smoke cleared, the skeletal remains of the crook is seen as the tour guide again retakes control of the vehicle.
Leaving the temple, the vehicles soon travel through ancient burial chambers that are full of mummies that have come to life. This genre is short lived though and soon guests are entering the jungle instead.
In the jungle, Tarzan can be swinging as Jane sits atop the Elephant Timba. Cheeta the chimpanzee can also be seen in this scene. Leaving the jungle, the journey continues into a black and white scene from Casablanca. As an airplane waits, one of the most iconic scenes in film history is played out by audio-animatronic replicas of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
From black and white to full color, the attraction soon finds itself in the midst of a scene from Fantasia with Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Following this magical moment, the vehicles enter Munchkinland from The Wizard of Oz. As the Munchkins welcome the new guests a plume of smoke appears and the Wicked Witch of the West arrives. After her disappearance, it is time to follow the Yellow Brick Road while passing Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and of course, Toto as they stand in front of the Emerald City.
The grand finale follows The Wizard of Oz as the vehicles entered a movie theater like room. There a film montage of classic film moments is played. As the montage concludes, guests, find that their vehicles are returning to the original soundstage where the attraction began.
Thoughts on The Great Movie Ride
I personally always enjoyed The Great Movie Ride, especially my first few visits to Walt Disney World and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It was something that wasn’t just audio-animatronic and it wasn’t just a show. It combined storytelling that reminded me of scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean with live guides that reminded me of The Jungle Cruise. With more trips to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I realized just how dated this ride had become. While I still really loved it, I also could see it needed some tender loving care. I hoped with the sponsorship of the attraction by Turner Classic Movies that it would see the spit and polish that it needed. However, it really didn’t change the ride that much. In some ways, there were some steps backward.
When the announcement that The Great Movie Ride would be closing came, I can’t say that I was shocked. I can say that I was disappointed. However, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway will be a new and exciting attraction that will utilize new storytelling devices. For The Great Movie Ride to continue on, it really needed some pretty substantial upgrades. These were more than it probably was ever going to get due to the rights of the characters coming from so many different sources and the complications that come with that. All that to say, The Great Movie Ride will always live on in my memory and be loved in my heart. I would love to see a new incarnation of it developed somewhere someday but I won’t’ be holding my breath. What did you think of The Great Movie Ride? What was your favorite scene? If you could have it come back somewhere someday, where would you like that to be and how would you like it to be done? Let me know in the comments below!