Disney's Jungle Cruise Has Us Considering The Best Theme Park Films

Disney's Jungle Cruise Has Us Considering The Best Theme Park Films
Emily Blunt (center) and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson take audiences for a ride this weekend.

Does anyone else have sky-high hopes for Disney's Jungle Cruise, which is in theaters and streaming this weekend? Personally, I love action-packed blockbuster movies with huge effects and utterly bonkers premises like this one. My own preferences aside, this film is a big deal for a couple other reasons, too. First, it serves to remind us all how wonderful Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is at playing characters who traipse through thick jungles (see also Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and Jumanji: The Next Level). And second, it provides us all with the excuse to discuss an elite fraternity of films that, frankly, doesn't get nearly enough attention: Theme Park Films.

Specifically, there are two categories of Theme Park Films.

The film is mostly set in a theme park or relies heavily on the presence of said theme park for the plot of the film to work (like the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World franchises, Free Willy, Adventureland, Zombieland, National Lampoon's Vacation)

The film is based on a theme park or specific ride that exists IRL (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Tomorrowland, Mission to Mars, Haunted Mansion, The Country Bears, and soon, Jungle Cruise)

Now, you might be saying, "OK, so there's two groups of theme park movies. And your point is...?" My answer to that is, now a great responsibility has fallen upon us, dear Inlander reader. Knowledge is power, and now that we're aware that these categories exist, we have to do what all movie fans have done, since the beginning of time, when two or more films are up for discussion.

We have to compare them.

This isn't Marvel vs. DC, or Harry Potter vs. LOTR, or Star Wars vs. Star Trek. No, this is Films Set In Theme Parks vs. Films Based On Rides. Which category has produced the stronger batch of films? Do we dare try to find out? This is uncharted territory. So, keep your arms and legs inside the tram and secure your loose belongings because this is going to be a ride.


What, you didn't think I was just going to declare a winner based on my own personal taste and affinity for CGI dinosaurs, did you? Let's get this part out of the way. Using the nine films listed for each category above as our sample populations, Box Office Mojo tells us that the worldwide box office totals are:

Films Set In Theme Parks: $5,336,985,928

Films Based On Rides: $5,042,356,936

Point: Films Set In Theme Parks


For this category, using the same batch of films, I averaged scores from popular aggregate sites Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic and IMDb. As it turns out, Films Set In Theme Parks are the clear leader, according to critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the averages are 72.6 to 39.7 out of 100. On MetaCritic, it's 62.4 to 46.1. And even IMDb, which collects viewer ratings that tend to be a bit more forgiving, scores them at 6.8 vs. 6.3 out of 10.

Point: Films Set In Theme Parks.

But the closeness of the IMDb average shows us that viewers and fans, people like you and me, enjoyed both sets of films. And, as someone who grew up adoring boy bands, I have a soft spot for pop culture relics that have a beloved fandom but perhaps less support among critics. So let's give some attention to some of the more subjective factors, shall we?


I don't expect that everyone has seen all of these films, so we'll boil it down to the basics. Which group of films simply sounds cooler, based on tagline alone?


Life Finds A Way (Jurassic Park)

Something Has Survived (The Lost World: Jurassic Park)

Disaster Is An Instinct (Jurassic Park 3)

The Park is Open (Jurassic World)

The Park Is Gone (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom)

A 12 year old street kid. A 3 ton orca whale. A friendship you could never imagine. An adventure you'll never forget. (Free Willy)

Every summer Chevy Chase takes his family on a little trip. This year he went too far. (National Lampoon's Vacation)

It was the worst job they ever imagined ... and the best time of their lives. (Adventureland)

Our Land Is Their Land (Zombieland)


Prepare to be blown out of the water. (Pirates of the Caribbean: the Curse of the Black Pearl)

Captain Jack is back. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest)

At the End of the World, the Adventure Begins (Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End)

Pirate's Life. (Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides)

All Pirates Must Die. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales)

The Reluctant Guest (The Haunted Mansion)

Imagine a place where nothing is impossible. (Tomorrowland)

Getting there was the easy part. (Mission To Mars)

They're legends. Bearly. (The Country Bears)

For me, it's a no-brainer; the second group is far more compelling. Pirates, possibilities, death, mysterious journeys, bears. Yes, please.

Point: Films Based On Rides


If it were entirely up to me and my inner fangirl, the point would go to Films Set In Theme Parks because of Free Willy's Keiko (the whale, what a legend). But that really wouldn't be fair to Jeff Goldblum, so let's factor in one of the few quantifiable measures of celebrity culture: the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For all the films, I've taken the two top-billed actors and added up the total number of stars for each group. Here's what we've got:

Movies Set In Theme Parks: 7 Walk of Fame Stars (Chris Pratt x2, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Julianne Moore, William H. Macy)

Movies Based On Rides: 11 Walk of Fame stars (Johnny Depp x5, Orlando Bloom x2, Tim Robbins, Eddie Murphy, Penelope Cruz, Gary Sinise)

Point: Films Based On Rides

Also, here's a fun fact: George Clooney was nominated for the Walk of Fame years ago but never scheduled his star installation. Bet he'll rethink that when he sees this.


Finally, let's consider the impression each set of films has left on pop culture. I originally debated another quantifiable measure, like Google hits, or a deep dive into magazine covers, or even a Twitter poll, but ultimately, that doesn't fully represent the gut reaction we have to films, when our own feelings and values and opinions and personal experiences can affect our viewing. Nor does it factor in the collective conversations around each film, or the lines that get regularly quoted on playgrounds, in classrooms, and offices all over, or the merchandise we buy for seven-year-olds' birthday parties.

So, this is the part that factors in how I (and maybe you, too?) can still recite a 30-year-old movie line from Free Willy ("Go, Willy, go!"). How we all know exactly what a cup of water vibrating on a dashboard means. How we loyally watch Chevy Chase's Clark Griswold pursue a "fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas" every December, when we originally met Clark as he set out to take his family to Walley World. That we debated Bryce Dallas Howard running in heels from a T-Rex for the entire latter half of 2015. I think this tells us everything we need to know and how impactful these films have been.

Winner: Films Set In Theme Parks (cue confetti!) ♦

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