Evolution of Disney Parks: Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park Timeline

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“The world you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.” Michael Eisner, May 1, 1989

As we celebrate Hollywood Studios and its 29th birthday, we’re reminded of everything it once was, and everything it’s going to be.

The Disney-MGM Studios logo sits on a building November 11, 2001 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Disney-MGM Studios opened on May 1, 1989, stemming from an idea that Marty Sklar, Randy Bright, and Michael Eisner had. Originally, the idea was to open two new pavilions in Epcot in the Future World section of the park. One of them was none other than the Great Moments at the Movies pavilion. It was supposed to sit in between The Land and Journey Into Imagination pavilions, but with the idea including a soundstage and a movie theater look to it, Eisner requested that instead of putting it in Epcot, why not make it the anchor for a brand new theme park?

That threw an idea into motion. Disney and Metro-Goldwyn Meyer joined together to create a licensing agreement that would allow Disney to use the name and extensive movie library in their new park. The Disney-MGM Studios had the ability to have working production studios for movies and TV shows, along with a satellite animation studio that begun operating even before the park’s grand debut in May 1989. The Great Movie Ride, along with Studio Backlot Tour, were the only two rides to open with the park, but it didn’t stay that way for long.

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Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular opened in August of 1989, followed closely by Star Tours in December. Muppet*Vision 3D opened in 1991, while Voyage of the Little Mermaid opened across the park in 1992.

In 1994, the baby park had its first growth spurt. Twilight Zone Tower of Terror joined the line-up, along the new Sunset Boulevard. With Sunset Boulevard, came reconstruction of the original Theater of the Stars which first held 3 short-lived shows, before finding its permanent resident: Beauty and the Beast – Live on Stage, which was moved from its original home at Theater of the Stars to the Backlot Theater while the construction of Sunset Boulevard was completed. It reopened in the rebuilt (and now-covered) Theater of the Stars in 1994.

Fantasmic! is held in the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater that sits in between Tower of Terror and Theater of the Stars. The Hollywood Hills Amphitheater was built specifically for Fantasmic!, opening in October of 1998. It was built to accommodate a much larger capacity than that of Disneyland’s, with 6,900 seats and room for 3,000 more people to stand. Sunset Boulevard was “completed” in 1999 with the opening of Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith.

In the fall of 2001, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream opened. It featured memorabilia of from Disney archives, as well as giving guests a glimpse into Walt Disney’s life and the history of the company. Also in 2001, Playhouse Disney – Live on Stage! was introduced at Animation Courtyard, taking place of the Soundstage Restaurant that was there from park opening until 1998, when Bear in the Big Blue House took over in 1999. Eventually, the show was revamped for the rebranding of Playhouse Disney to Disney Junior. Disney Junior – Live on Stage! was introduced in 2011, continuously changing to incorporate the flavor of the month on Disney Junior.

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On August 9, 2007, it was announced by Walt Disney World President Meg Crofton, that Disney-MGM Studios would officially be renamed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios on January 7, 2008. A short renaissance of the park took place in the years that followed with the additions of Disney-PIXAR Block Party Bash, Toy Story Midway Mania, and The American Idol Experience. in 2011, Star Tours was updated to Star Tours: The Adventures Continue.

In 2014, attractions began disappearing from the park, starting with the American Idol Experience in August, Studio Backlot Tour in September and Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow in November. The infamous Sorcerer’s Hat was removed in 2015, igniting mixed feelings throughout fans of the park. Also in 2015, Iger hinted at another possible name change of the park, igniting more irritation which Disney finally denied this year. In 2016, we saw more closures; this time along Streets of America, including Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and the very-loved Earffel Tower. Finally, the highest profile closure of all occurred in 2017: Great Movie Ride.

The closures started as eliminating all non studio-themed attractions, putting the park in a new creative direction. From here, we’ll see the opening of two new lands, which we received by tearing down old favorites. Toy Story Land is merely an expansion of the already in place Toy Story Midway Mania!, with the addition of two new attractions. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has replaced the majority of Streets of America and with it, a brand new hotel will be opened, giving guests an immersive experience into the alternate realities of Star Wars. In 2019, we’ll experience Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, where guests will step through a movie screen to be led by Goofy on a train, encountering bumps and bruises along the way to hopefully end up saved by Mickey and Minnie as they follow along behind you.

With multiple closures over the years at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the opinions of most is that it’s become a half-day park. It’s still full of shows, like Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Indiana Jones, along with the classic attractions like Tower of Terror. With the new growth of the park, it will no doubt bring in new fans while intriguing the die-hard guests who eagerly want to see if all these changes have been worth it.

Here at WDWNT, though, we’ll always have bits of nostalgia for you along with the news of what’s to come. Watch below to see a full walking tour of the Great Movie Ride as we said goodbye.

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About the author

Whitney

I have been visiting Walt Disney World annually since I was 7 years old and haven't mentally left it since. Living in Arkansas, but dreaming of Orlando. You can find me at [email protected] and @whitydarling on any social media channel.

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  • I still don’t understand why a beloved icon like the Earffel Tower was permanently removed instead of relocated. Some of my earliest memories of going to Walt Disney World involve driving up World Drive and seeing the tower alongside the road as a landmark.

    I understand making progress and even though I’m not a Star Wars fan I welcome the new expansions to the park, but long before the Sorcerer’s Hat and the Tower of Terror the Earffel Tower was THE icon of MGM/Hollywood Studios.

    It seems to me they could’ve easily either reconstructed or built a replica of the Earffel Tower somewhere else in the park, right in front of the main entrance, or even on the side of the road next to the entrance ramp off of World Drive that takes you towards the parking lot. The footprint of the structure isn’t that large. It was an icon… they should have fit it in somewhere.

  • Thanks for the write up. It really reminded me of a ton of things through the years I’d forgotten about! I didn’t know that it was originally supposed to be part of EPCOT, and teenage me thought it was just something to go against Universal Studios.

  • Still mind-boggling to think that they destroyed the Great Movie Ride. A real inside-the-movies experience, gone forever.

  • I wonder if and when the FOX deal goes through will the park name change to Disney FOX studios? Start adding fox IP’ S to the park

  • So now that the Great Movie ride is gone, Where did it all go ? Was it all scrapped? Did some of it get saved by Disney. Is some of it salvaged for sale?

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