History of Walt Disney World Part 3: Hollywood Studios


On May 1st, 1989 in Orlando Florida, Disney opened it’s third major park in Walt Disney World, called Disney-MGM Hollywood Studios.

The park was originally conceived when an attraction for EPCOT’s Future World was being planned as an attraction that would take guests through various iconic movie scenes.

Later on, the decision was made to turn this concept into an entire park with this attraction being one of the highlights.

At the time Disney was looking to expand their productions in both film and television, and due to the large amount of land they had in Florida they decided to make a park similar to that of Universal Studios where guests would ride attractions based on various films while also doubling as a studio where films and television are filmed and produced. One advantage Disney had though was their inclusion of animation as Universal was primarily live action.

The park was going to be smaller than the previous two, as production was rushed to try and compete with Universal building their own theme park in Orlando Florida. In the rush a few of the original ideas were either tweaked or scrapped.

The main focus was to be themed around the Golden Age of Hollywood from the 1940s -1950s and one big issue they had was Disney didn’t have a large library of iconic “Hollywood” films, so they reached out to MGM for a licensing agreement. This led to a 20 year contract, to use the company’s name/logo around the park and to feature attractions using their IPs. The contract was signed on June 27th, 1985.

Though the deal was signed, then MGM owner, Kirk Kerkorian, was not made aware of the deal and was furious at the relatively small fee Disney had to pay and had no input on how their IPS were used. Disney and MGM had a difficult relationship, where MGM sued Disney over using the MGM Name when using the facility for production of films and television, and Disney filed a complaint about MGM building the MGM Grand Adventure Park in Las Vegas, which we discussed HERE.

Side note, on March 26th 1986 Ted Turner and his Turner Broadcasting System company purchased MGM for $600Million, but a year later sold the company back to Kirk Kerkorian to recoup losses, but he was able to keep the rights to all pre-1986 films and shows.

Turner was bought by Warner Bros in 1996, and Warner Bros was acquired by AT&T in 2019, Which is why most old MGM films and characters are released under WB now. Pretty awkward situation for Disney, I honestly don’t know why they didn’t just buy them back then, I honestly think they could have afforded it.

The main attraction for the park was the Ride that started it all, The Great Movie Ride.

The concept was for guests to enter a dark ride that guided them through the Golden Age of Hollywood in films like Casablanca, Singing in the Rain and The Wizard of Oz.

The ride also included more modern additions such as Indiana Jones and Alien, which they had acquired the license to feature them, from both Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox at the time (Both now owned by Disney.)

The ride was originally planned to be longer but due to the Park’s rushed development they had to scale back. The Great Movie Ride attraction is considered an all time Disney Classic, even at one point being sponsored by TCM, but it was sadly shut down in 2017 for a Mickey Mouse themed ride called Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. The new attraction has not received the same amount of praise and seems to be less popular then its predecessor. Many are campaigning for it to come back, but sadly in this current climate it is highly unlikely.

Other iconic attractions include the Tower of Terror Hotel, themed after the popular Twilight Zone TV Series, which Disney licensed from Viacom. There is also the Rock n’ Roller-Coaster, which features the band Aerosmith, going at high speeds while playing classic rock in your ears. But one other major attraction includes Star Tours. Yes the original ride opened two years prior in Disneyland, but the Disney World version is considered superior with more immersion with the environment, the gift shop and the nearby stage for lightsaber fights.

One more thing the park had plenty of were stage shows. Sure they had some flops like with the short lived Dick Tracy stage show and that brief period when the Ninja Turtles were in Disney, but the Indiana Jones stage show, where they recreated 3 iconic scenes from Raiders of the Lost Arc, is the highlight.

In recent years more expansions like Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land have opened with varying degrees of reception, some enjoying while others dislike. The park has become less focused on “Hollywood” and more on just entertainment, leaving some to have mixed feeling about the park. I personally enjoy it as a place where the “Big Kid Rides” might be, I do miss the Great Movie Ride, but I’m always up for the Tower of Terror and the Rock n’ Roll Rollercoaster.

On to our Final stop in Part 4…

Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.