Lights, camera, action! Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park invites Guests to immerse themselves in the magic of the big screen. It’s the second-smallest and second-newest Park on Walt Disney World property, and it’s undergone a ton of changes in the past few years!
Once touted as a “half-day” Park, or even the Park Guests should skip if short on time at Walt Disney World, Hollywood Studios has stepped up its game with the recent addition of two new lands. Toy Story Land shrinks Guests to the size of a toy so they can explore a colorful, whimsical world inspired by Disney’s Toy Story films. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge transports Guests to Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu for an immersive experience you won’t soon forget.
But how much do you really know about Disney’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park? Here are a few little-known facts about the Park.
While we think Disney’s Hollywood Studios has finally come into its own in recent years, it has experienced quite an identity crisis since its inception.
Hollywood Studios wasn’t always known by its current name. When it opened in 1989, it was called Disney-MGM Studios, with a partnership with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and a focus on the Park as a real film and studio production. Back then, the Earful Tower was the Park’s icon. But in 2001, the Sorcerer’s Hat replaced the Earful Tower as the new Park icon.
Meanwhile, seven years later, the Park changed its name to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and changed its focus to become a true theme park, rather than a theme park centered on a working film studio. In 2015, yet another change occurred when the Sorcerer’s Hat was removed – since then, the Chinese Theater has become the unofficial icon of Hollywood Studios (although the instantly recognizable Tower of Terror is also closely linked with the Park’s identity). Phew!
Lightning Does Strike Twice
Guests who have ridden Disney’s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror know the spooky backstory well: one stormy night in 1939, lightning struck the glamorous Tower Hotel, and the occupants riding in the hotel’s elevator at that moment were never seen again.
But did you know that the Tower of Terror has actually been struck by lightning, more than once? It was initially struck by lightning during construction – not surprising, perhaps, since the attraction comes in at an impressive 199 feet tall. Since then, the structure has had lightning rods in place, but you can still find footage online of other lightning strikes since the ride’s completion. Art imitating life or life imitating art – you decide!
EPCOT’s World Movies?
What used to be Future World in Disney’s EPCOT Theme Park has recently been reimagined as three separate areas: World Nature, World Discovery, and World Celebration. But did you know that Disney’s Hollywood Studios almost became part of EPCOT Theme Park? (World Movies, anyone?)
The original concept for what would become Hollywood Studios Theme Park was a movie-themed pavilion that would be located in Future World in EPCOT Theme Park. But before this plan could be implemented, Universal Studios announced their own plans to open a theme park in Orlando. This prompted Disney’s then-CEO, Michael Eisner, to scrap the EPCOT movie pavilion plan, and instead build a whole new Disney Theme Park to compete with Universal.
Who knew that Guests have Universal Studios to thank for the existence of Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios?
There’s a Secret “Chewie” Mode in Smugglers Run
There’s probably a no bigger dream for any Star Wars fan than piloting the famed Millennium Falcon! Happily, since the attraction Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run debuted in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Guests have been able to do just that.
You may already know that Guests on this attraction play the role of pilot, engineer, or gunner and that your ride experience depends, to an extent, on how well each person fulfills their role. But did you know that there’s a secret “Chewie Mode” for Smugglers Run?
Normally the ride is hosted by Hondo Ohnaka from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but if you press the right combination of buttons before the Millennium Falcon takes off, Chewbacca will appear and host your ride (in his unintelligible Shryiiwook dialect, of course). My new mission in life is now to discover exactly what buttons to press to make this happen on my next WDW trip.
When what is now Disney’s Hollywood Studios originally opened as Disney-MGM Studios, it featured a number of sound stages that were used to film various hit tv shows and movies. A few examples include Ernest Saves Christmas in 1988, Adventures in Wonderland from 1992-1994, Tarzan: The Epic Adventures in 1996, Tower of Terror in 1997, and Mortal Kombat: Conquest from 1998-1999.
The Park was also used to film exterior shots for The Golden Girls, and the animation for several Disney films, including Mulan and Lilo & Stitch, even took place here. But one of the best-known shows to film at Disney-MGM Studios was the All New Mickey Mouse Club during the 1990s, which featured pint-sized versions of a few stars you might have heard of, including Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling.
While no opening-day attractions remain in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios Theme Park (since the closure of The Great Movie Ride in 2017), this Theme Park boasts one of the most fascinating histories of any WDW Theme Park, and now ranks as the most popular Park on Walt Disney World property.