TV & Movies

The 9 Best Peter Pan Movies Of All Time, From Peter & Wendy To Hook

The beloved character has made more than a few onscreen appearances.

Walt Disney Pictures
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Since author and playwright J.M. Barrie first told the story of Peter Pan in the 1904 stage play and subsequent 1911 novel, the boy who wouldn't grow up has gone on to become one of literature’s most adapted characters. From novels and comic books, to television episodes and stage plays, to stage plays acted out on live television (the 2014 NBC special Peter Pan Live!), to homages and references (the 1987 vampire movie The Lost Boys, the 2004 film Finding Neverland), Peter Pan has popped up in practically every medium there is. But for the purposes of this list, we'll only be looking at movie adaptations that stay somewhat faithful to the original story.

Of course, faithfulness presents its own challenges, as the Peter Pan story itself is inherently problematic. The original work contains horribly problematic, caricaturistic depictions of Native Americans, as it presents them as fantasy creatures rather than as actual people (worse, adaptations have gone further to depict them as heathen “red men”). Some films handle the troubling source material better than others, but it's a problem that all adaptations must reckon with.

And they’ll continue to do so: Hollywood is hardly pressing pause on the Never Land flicks. There’s a live action film adaptation coming in 2022 called Peter Pan and Wendy, starring (among others) Jude Law as Captain Hook and Yara Shahidi as Tinker Bell — the first time a Black woman will play the role. So this list will expand further, but in the meantime there are still several classic takes on the story to keep you entertained.

Below, nine great (and not-so-great) Peter Pan adaptations.

1

'Pan' (2015)

Oof, this movie is not good. Billed as a prequel to the traditional Peter Pan story, this big budget tentpole film was both a massive box office and critical flop. With an unimaginative plot, an overabundance of computer effects, and insensitive casting when it came to race, Pan did just about everything wrong that it possibly could. But the biggest problem of all, at least from a storytelling perspective, was that it was boring.

2

'Return To Never Land' (2002)

During the 1990s and 2000s, a division of Disney Animation called Disneytoon Studios cranked out low-budget, mostly direct-to-video movies. Many of these were sequels to decades-old Disney classics, like The Jungle Book, Cinderella, and yes, Peter Pan. Viewed as a cynical cash grab that tarnished the legacy of the original works, many critics despised these subpar sequels — and Return to Never Land is no exception.

3

'Peter Pan' (1924)

At nearly a century old, this is the first big-screen version of the story. The silent film is almost a straight adaptation of the original stage play, but its silent format and dated effects don't hold up terribly well upon modern viewings. Apologies to any flappers out there.

4

‘Come Away’ (2020)

The intentions were good with this reimagining: Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are siblings, which means viewers get two simultaneous origin stories. With a diverse cast including Angelina Jolie and David Oyelowo as the childrens’ parents and Gugu Mbatha-Raw as adult Alice, it seemed like it might be a beautiful modern spin on the classic material. Unfortunately, critics found it glum and disappointing, without much interesting to say or add to the canon. Bummer.

5

'Peter & Wendy' (2015)

This TV movie blends reality and fantasy, with the traditional story taking place within the dream of a teenage girl. The real-life portions of the film take place at London's Great Ormond Street medical institution, which was gifted the rights to Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie prior to his passing, a connection which further blends the line between reality and fantasy.

6

‘Wendy’ (2020)

This loose reimagining of Barrie’s classic is less about laying out the exact plot points of the original and more about conjuring the spirit of Never Land in a modern setting. The film casts Wendy (Devin France) as a child growing up in the rural South, feeling confined by poverty and circumstance. In comes Pan (Yashua Mack, the first time a Black actor played the role) to swoop her away to a magical island, where the promise of eternal youth isn’t quite what it seems. Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin has a compelling vision and it’s a beautiful film, but critics were divided on whether the whimsy was enough to uplift it or whether it’s still racially problematic.

7

'Hook' (1991)

If you grew up in the '90s, then you likely have fond memories of this Steven Spielberg film — but you're also probably forgetting how deeply, deeply weird it is (remember how Tinker Bell wants to hook up with Peter??). With its unique retelling of the story focusing on what would happen if Peter Pan did grow up, Hook at least takes some chances, which leads to some fun — if strange — new directions for the .

8

'Peter Pan' (2003)

This 2000s film certainly flew under the radar and was a bomb at the box office, but it's held up arguably better than any other Peter Pan adaptation. Loved by critics, this version of the story doesn't look to reinvent the wheel — it simply sets out to tell the best version of Peter Pan that it can, and it does a pretty great job of it. It’s also somewhat of an adult take on the classic material, with Hook genuinely menacing (thanks to a stellar performance by Jason Isaacs, a.k.a. Draco Malfoy’s dad) and an implied romance between Pan and Wendy.

9

'Peter Pan' (1953)

This movie's racial problems have been discussed ad nauseam at this point (the song "What Made the Red Man Red?" is especially cringeworthy), and Disney's Peter Pan is very much a product of its time. However, if you're able to look past the outdated racial stereotypes in the film, there really is no arguing that this is the definitive adaptation.

When you hear the words "Peter Pan," odds are that you're picturing this green-clad cartoon. The film's depiction of Tinkerbell has gone on to become a massively popular Disney mascot; Peter Pan's Flight is one of the most iconic rides at Disneyland; and everyone you know has probably at least a portion of this movie.