Old-school Disney Channel Original Movies tend to follow a formula. Not all of the time, but most of the time, the well-adjusted, settled in teen figures out that they are moving to a new town, where they will know no new people, potentially be gaining a new stepdad, have to attend a new high school where they will immediately be singled out by the popular kids and ridiculed, and they’ll have to learn how to survive in this brave new world. There are at least 13 — if not more — variations on this DCOM theme. So here’s every single one of those movies, power-ranked:
In this movie, Zendaya stars as a 16-year-old teen who named Zoey moves in with her mom and her new husband and his four sons. They’re a mess, she hates them, and on top of that, she has to go to a new school! Adjusting to her new life is tough and after a freak accident occurs where Zendaya’s phone ends up being able to control boy’s brains and uses it to her advantage. The boys clean up in her house, her step-dad becomes less annoying, and men fall at her feet to complete her commands! What a world! In the end, the app goes haywire and she has to reverse the damage before all the boys around her become braindead.
New niche score, 0/10: In the end, her step-brothers are still disgusting and she did a bad thing by controlling other people’s minds.
Charlie Boyle is a 13-year old kid genius who has a knack for physics and loves hockey. Because he’s an exceptional kid, he goes to college in Wisconsin at the age of 13 and finds that even there, he’s too much of a nerd to make friends! He decides that he has to change everything about him and lie about his true identity to have friendships and meet people and even pretends to attend middle school in order to make friends his own age. Of course, everyone finds out and abandons him, and in his haste to make friends, he jeopardizes his mentor’s job. He saves the day by creating an anti-gravity machine during the school’s hockey final, using it to cheat for acceptance from friends.
New Niche Score, 2/10: The kid tries to create a new identity, realizes who he truly is, still uses his genius to cheat, and engages in deceptive practices in order to earn the affection of the people around him. Hard pass.
11Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (1999)
Zenon is about as “fish out of water” as a Disney movie can get. Zenon, a 13-year-old girl who lives with her family on a space station, gets in trouble with the commander on the ship. Her parents then send her to live on Earth with her Aunt Judy as punishment. On Earth, Zenon’s weird hair, super space-age outfits, cosmic slang and attitude make her a prime bullying candidate and outcast. Eventually, she makes two Earthling friends and discovers a plot to crash the space station. She has to save the day with the help of her new friends.
New Niche score, 3/10: She moves back to the spaceship and doesn’t have to go back to lame Earth ever again.
10Camp Rock (2008)
Camp Rock was Demi Lovato’s break-out role. In it, she plays a talented teen musician, Mitchie, who gets a music-spot at “Camp Rock,” an expensive overnight camp for young musicians who want to make it big. Mitchie’s family can’t afford the tuition and she earns her keep there by working with her mom in the kitchen. She lies and says her mom is the president of an international music tv station to make friends. Shane Grey, (Joe Jonas) resident-bad-boy in a famous rock group, overhears her singing one day but never identifies her as “the voice.” She begins to fall for Shane. When her secret is exposed, she is ostracized by her peers and Shane. She reconciles with a girl at camp who was mean to her, and ends up performing in the end-of-year jam with the song Shane heard. They reconcile! The mean girl gets her due!
New Niche Score, 4/10: She didn’t really change much, but the people around her stopped being such meanies.
9Cow Belles (2006)
In 2006, budding teen stars Aly and AJ Michalka (also known as unstoppable, and currently culturally relevant pop duo Aly & AJ) starred in Cow Belles. In this movie, they play very rich but nice sisters who accidentally start a house fire one day. So their dad, obviously a widow, forces them to work at the dairy he owns. They’re terrible at it! Complete fish out of water! Never worked a day in their life! But as they get better at their jobs and start to change as people, they discover a plot to bankrupt their company, crack the case, and learn the value of money, friendship, trusting the people around you, and of good work at the dairy! New Niche score: 5/10 they just got their first job, it’s really not that big of a deal.
8Horse Sense (1999)
Michael Woods, played by a young Joey Lawrence, is a 20 year old spoiled brat who is a trust fund baby. His cousin, Tommy, who is only 11, comes and visits him in Los Angeles. Michael abandons him at Disneyland and ends up crashing his porsche and getting caught, and, as punishment, his parents tell him he has to go to Montana — where Tommy lives — to work on a ranch to make up for his neglectful behavior. Oh, boy! What’s a Hollywood bro to do in dusty, rural Montana? He gets to work on the farm. It’s hard! He gets mad! He gets mean! LA is so much better than out here, on this ranch in the middle of nowhere! Michael comes to his senses, realizes that the farm is in financial trouble, and uses his near-unlimited wealth to save the day. Michael becomes a better person in the process.
New Niche Scale 6/10: It’s good that he’s a better person, but he abandoned a kid at Disney World for his girlfriend! That’s basic criminal neglect!
7Cadet Kelly (2002)
Kelly is a totally fun teen whose mom marries a totally lame, rigid Army guy named Joe. They move away from Kelly’s super cool art school and Kelly is forced to attend a military academy in upstate New York. There, she finds that her laid-back, care-free, fashion-forward attitude and extreme focus on individuality is less than acceptable. She continues to get in trouble with her superiors, and ends up having to go to her school court where she is found guilty of many infractions and is forced to clean the drill team uniforms. Kelly joins the drill team, which has struggled in competitions for years, and — after a rescue mission that bonds her and her stepdad — ends up doing a totally bitchin’ drill routine that saves the day.
New Niche score, 7/10: Keeps her fun personality while also understanding the value of military training, tradition, and honor.
6Go Figure (2005)
A teenage figure skater, Katelin, is discovered by a prolific skating coach who only teaches, of course, at a very expensive boarding school that the teen’s parents cannot afford. In order to attend the school, she decides take on a hockey scholarship and struggles to juggle both hockey and skating. The other figure skaters are mean! It’s really hard! Ultimately, she befriends her roommate, another hockey player, but the troubles won’t stop. She decides that she just can’t handle it anymore and leaves school, only to find that her own parents have packed everything she owns into boxes — which honestly seems a little extreme considering she’ll like, probably be home on Thanksgiving. She runs out of the house with her skating gear (in a box) and figures out that her mom was also a figure skater, which somehow her mom never mentioned to her? That just seems like bad parenting. Katelin decides to suck it up and heads back to school, kicks ass at everything, saves the day, and becomes an Olympian.
New Niche score, 8/10: really stuck it to those rich jerks, wasn’t aware she was Olympic prodigy level.
5Going To The Mat (2004)
In this movie, a blind teen named Jason moves from New York City to Salt Lake City, Utah. What a culture shock! There, he struggles to fit in with his peers. First, he shows off on the drums in his music class as a way to seem cool, until he realizes his teacher (played by Wayne Brady) is also a blind man. His friend says that the only way to fit in is to be a jock. But his other friend says he’s being a jerk because he is super obsessed with New York and can’t stop talking about it. So, what’s a guy to do? He ends up trying out for the wrestling team, making it, and his friends say he’s less of a jerk.
New Niche score, 8/10: Stops talking about NYC so much, gains friends, has new hobby!
4Princess Protection Program (2009)
Another Demi Lovato / Selena Gomez original. Demi Lovato (Princess Rosalinda) is a spoiled princess. Selena Gomez (Carter) is a down-home tomboy from Louisiana. After an assassination plot, Rosalinda goes into hiding at Carter’s house and must learn how to be a regular American teenager.
New niche score, 9/10: was once fed by servants and has to endure public school lunch.
In this movie, 13-year-old Marnie Piper (played by frequent Disney actress Kimberly J. Brown), and her two siblings, are inexplicably denied the opportunity to celebrate Halloween every year. Similarly, their grandmother Aggie (played by Debbie Reynolds) only comes and visits once a year — on Halloween. Aggie is secretly a witch, and one Halloween, Marnie overhears Aggie and her mother arguing about it, and then Marnie, her younger brother and her younger sister follow their grandmother to Halloweentown — a new world of magic, skeletons, goblins, etc — and ultimately join the fight to save the town from dark forces. She moves to a fantasy land!
New Niche score, 10/10: She literally discovered she is a witch.
2The Color of Friendship (2000)
This movie was surprisingly woke for Disney of 2002. The film is set in the late 1970’s, and in it, a white South African girl by the name of Mahree goes on a foreign exchange to live with a black host family — the Dellums — in Washington, D.C. Mr. Dellum is a congressman. The film is in the midst of apartheid; Steve Biko being captured and killed by the police serves as a major plot point; and Mahree, a white girl who has never once challenged her own assumptions about the apartheid system, discovers a lot about what apartheid actually means to people of color through Piper, and her family. She is, in turn, challenged by the Dellums and by the end of the film, returns to South Africa with a DNC patch stitched inside of her coat, a small act of resistance from her racist father and the comfort with which they enjoy apartheid.
New Niche Score, 10/10: Learns not to be racist.
1.Johnny Tsunami (1999)
Johnny Kapahala is a Hawaiian teenager who loves to surf, taking after his grandfather, a surfer legend named Johnny Bartholomew Tsunami. Imagine his surprise when his dad gets a job transfer and they move to Vermont — as far away from the ocean as he has ever been! Totally lame. Life on the mainland is tough for Johnny; he goes to a private school where kids mostly ski, but he really wants to learn how to snowboard, due to its similarity to surfing, his one true love. Vermont is cold and snowy and mountainous and not Hawaii. After a series of events and an improbable plane ride in which Johnny smuggles himself onto a cargo plane to go back to Hawaii, improbably, he goes back to Vermont and races down the mountain for the fight to have control over the ski side of the mountain.
New Niche score, 10/10: Johnny learns how to surf on the snow surrounded by white people from Vermont.