Theme parks have to simultaneously satisfy two different audiences: People who are nostalgic for attractions they experienced in their youths, and tourists on the hunt for newer and bigger thrills. When to update or replace an aging ride is a constant question for amusement parks. Some attractions feel dated after a decade or less. Some remain timeless after a century of operation.
That push and pull is even more pronounced when a ride is based on a movie or TV franchise — because then it’s not just the attraction that has to remain popular, the intellectual property it’s based on has to as well. Some franchises linger in the public consciousness for decades; others, even some really popular ones, might fade into obscurity. (Or a company might wish a franchise would fade into obscurity for a variety of reasons.) If you’re a theme park and you have a big roller coaster based on one of the obscure (or controversial) ones, well, you might have a problem on your hands.
For example, Universal Studios Orlando recently announced they were closing a whole batch of attractions in their park, including a Woody Woodpecker roller coaster, a Shrek & Donkey meet and greet, and a playground called Fievel’s Playland, based on the animated movie An American Tail.
An American Tail was a fairly large box-office hit in 1986 (although its sequel, Fievel Goes West, was not just a few years later). So it wasn’t a left-field choice for a themed playground when it opened at Universal Studios in the early ’90s. But that was 30 years ago, and American Tail hasn’t done much since then; just a handful of video games and a couple direct-to-video sequels. It’s kind of astonishing that playground remained open this long.
But while Fievel’s Playland might not be long for this world, there are quite a few other theme park attractions based on movies that are as old (or much older) that are still going strong. Here now, a tribute to these rides and their baffling longevity.
First Opened: 1955
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is one of a handful of opening day Disneyland attractions that remain in operation some 67 years later. Most of the others that are still around are connected to major Disney properties like Peter Pan, Snow White, and Alice in Wonderland. Mr. Toad, originally of the children’s book The Wind in the Willows, only appeared in one of Disney’s lesser-known anthology films, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. Plus, the ride itself harbors some surprisingly adult content for the supposedly family-friendly Disney company; guests are taken via old timey car on a wild joy ride that ends with a head-on collision with a train and a trip to a literal hell. While Florida’s version closed in 1998, California’s Wild Ride keeps on sending tourists to hell hour after hour, day after day.
First Opened: 1955
This original Disneyland attraction is a train ride for children inspired by the company’s animated classic Dumbo. It is sweet and quaint and certainly speaks to Walt Disney’s personal love of trains. But Disneyland already has another (far more famous) Dumbo ride; the one where guests get to take a “flight” with the character. As such, it’s shocking that Disney hasn’t tried to repurpose the space occupied by this secondary attraction in all the years since.
First Opened: 1989
The Earthquake attraction was first introduced as part of the Universal Studios tram tour in 1989, some 15 years after Universal’s Earthquake film starring Charlton Heston opened in theaters. It made a fine showcase for practical special effects of the time, and it got its own standalone ride when Universal Studios Florida opened in Orlando in 1990. As practical special effects became less and less relevant to moviemaking (and the Universal theme parks), the Earthquake ride closed in 2015 to make room for a Fast & Furious ride. But the old school Earthquake stop on the Universal tram tour in Hollywood is still around, rumbling guests who probably have never seen 1974’s Earthquake and maybe don’t even know it exists.
First Opened: 1990
Not far from Fievel’s Playland stands one of the few opening day attractions at Universal Studios Florida still in operation: E.T. Adventure, based on the beloved Steven Spielberg movie. The attraction is a riff on the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland; guests board “flying” bicycles and then take a bizarre trip to E.T.’s psychedelic home world, the “Green Planet.” Although the ride has been refurbished through the years, its animatronic effects are no longer cutting edge, and E.T. isn’t quite the cultural touchstone it was in the late 1980s. But when Universal announced the closure of Fievel’s Playland and all those other attractions, E.T. Adventure was spared from the wrecking ball.
First Opened: 1991
Do kids today even know the Blues Brothers? Mine certainly don’t, and when I tried to show them the original movie — one of my personal favorites, I should note — they were amused by the music and car chases, and utterly baffled by the comedy and the film’s absurd length. The last Blues Brothers movie, the mega-flop Blues Brothers 2000, opened more than 20 years ago. Yet Jake and Elwood Blues still regularly roam through the streets of Universal Studios Florida, putting on (surprisingly entertaining) performances of their classic blues and soul hits.
First Opened: 1993
Perhaps the single most obscure attraction in all of Disneyland is this children’s roller coaster inspired by one of the supporting characters on the ’90s animated series Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers. The Disneyland version of the ride is currently closed while the park redesigns the area around it, and it will supposedly be altered when it reopens. But the old school Go Coaster is still up and running at Tokyo Disneyland if you ever feel the need to visit.
First Opened: 1994
For a dozen years in the ’90s and 2000s, Paramount owned the Carowinds amusement park in North Carolina, and during that period they installed several rides inspired by Paramount movies — including a roller coaster called the Hurler taken loosely from Wayne’s World (where the characters occasionally make jokes about needing to hurl). When Paramount sold its theme park division, all the references to Paramount movies were removed, and most of the rides’ names were changed. But the Hurler remained the Hurler, and if you look around the attraction, you’ll still see a few faded references to the SNL-inspired film.
Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular
First Opened: 1995
The Waterworld stunt show has to be one of the most improbable success stories in theme park history. The movie it’s based on was a notorious bomb, and is mostly only remembered for being the most expensive Hollywood production ever made to that point in history. And within a few years, the stunts and effects on display in Waterworld: A Live Sea War Spectacular had very little in common with modern blockbusters, whose pyrotechnic visuals are now mostly created by computers. And yet the Waterworld show remains extremely popular with Universal Studios guests all over the world. Not only is original version still open almost 30 years later, but Universal keeps building new versions of the show at parks around the world. The latest, at Universal Studios Beijing, debuted just last year.
Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
First Opened: 1999
Dudley Do-Right was already a bit of a relic when Universal added a log flume ride inspired by the character to its Islands of Adventure, although he did appear in a live-action movie starring Brendan Fraser that same year. The movie was a huge flop, though, and the character hasn’t done much since. Nevertheless, Ripsaw Falls remains in business. Its enduring popularity despite its somewhat dated theming, is probably due to the fact that it is an extremely fun ride.
First Opened: 2006
Do you remember the 2000 movie U-571? No? You don’t recall U-571-mania sweeping the globe in the spring of 2000? Okay, me neither. The film, a submarine thriller starring Matthew McConaughey, was a modest hit in theaters but left little impact on broader pop culture. For some reason, Movieland Park in Italy opened an attraction based on the film in 2006. 15 years later, it’s still there. Go figure.