From MGM to Hollywood Studios
“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
Happy 32nd Birthday Hollywood Studios! Hollywood Studios is a park that has gone from the golden age of Hollywood to a park that represents everything that modern entertainment has to offer. The park that started as Disney-MGM Studios was originally supposed to be a pavilion at Epcot dedicated to making movies. Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner had a different idea. According to the James Stewart book Disney War, it always bothered Eisner that Disney had nothing that could compete with Universal’s backlot tour. So, what do you do when you are the CEO of the Walt Disney Company? You build a theme park as a fully functioning movie and animation studio to compete.
On opening day the park only had two attractions, the Studio Backlot Tour and The Great Movie Ride (RIP). It was quickly realized that the draw of a backlot tour was not going to be enough to compete with the park up the road. Within a year Disney-MGM Studios introduced Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Star Tours, the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure, the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, and Streetmosphere (currently known as the Citizens of Hollywood).
Even with all the early additions to the park, Disney-MGM Studios was still considered by many to be a half-day park. To alleviate some of that and to attempt to keep guests in the park longer, Sunset Blvd was added in 1994, which saw the addition of two key attractions Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (1999). They also introduced the nighttime spectacular Fantasmic in 1998. The newest editions helped to increase the length of time that guests stayed in the park.
There were some other additions around this time that were a brand-new concept for the Walt Disney Company. They brought in IP that did not belong to Disney and showcased it in the park. At Disney-MGM Studios you could see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers (technically owned by Disney for a short time) and R.L. Stine Goosebumps characters.
Then on January 5, 2008, Disney-MGM Studios closed its gates and re-opened the next day as Disney’s Hollywood Studios! The Earful Tower was replaced with the Sorcerer’s Hat in 2001 to celebrate Walt Disney’s 100th birthday and became the new icon for the park.
Arguably, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the park that has benefited the most from the acquisitions under current Walt Disney Company Chairman and former CEO Bob Iger. No longer considered a half day park, guests can become one of Andy’s toys in Toy Story Land or enter the planet Batuu in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge to become a part of the story and help the Resistance.
It makes me wonder if Michael Eisner could have ever dreamed that a park based on the Golden Age of Hollywood would have guests hanging out with a Wookie (and eating a Wookie Cookie), fully emersed in another planet, and soon taking a galactic Starcruiser to Batuu — being more immersed in the story than ever.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios has had quite an evolution the past 32 years and I can’t wait to see what comes next for this wonderful tribute to Hollywood and entertainment.
My name is Sarah Niswender and I have WDW in my veins, going to the parks several times per year as early as age 2. Growing up in SoFla I was fortunate enough to have a lifelong Disney education, thanks to my mother (and hardworking father)! I am now passing the love for everything Disney along to my daughter and somewhat reluctant husband. I have participated in several runDisney events and am looking forward to participating as a part of the WDWRadio running team. See you on Main Street USA!