Entertainment

The 7 Best 'Peter Pan' Movies Of All Time, From 'Peter & Wendy' To 'Hook'

Walt Disney Pictures

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 the most adapted characters in all of literature. Countless interpretations of the story have made their way to stage and screen since, with the latest being the upcoming radical Peter Pan reimagining Wendy, from Beasts of the Southern Wild director Benh Zeitlin. But what are the best Peter Pan adaptations?

First of all, there have been a ton of Peter Pan adaptations. From novels and comic books, to television episodes and stage plays, to stage plays acted out on live television (see the 2014 NBC special Peter Pan Live!), Peter Pan has popped up in practically every medium there is. But for the purposes of this list, we'll only be looking at authorized movie adaptations of the story, of which there are seven.

It also needs to be said that the Peter Pan story itself is inherently problematic. The original work contains depictions of Native Americans that most modern critics consider to be inherently racist, as it presents them as fantasy creatures rather than as actual people. Some adaptations handle the problem better than others, but it's a problem that is present in some form in all adaptations that are true to the original story.

With those disclaimers out of the way, it's time to take a look below to see where your favorite Peter Pan adaptation ranks.

1
'Pan'

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 bomb and a critical disaster. With an unimaginative plot, an overabundance of computer effects, and racially insensitive casting, Pan did just about everything wrong that it possibly could.

2
'Return To Never Land'

During the 1990s and 2000s, a division of Disney Animation called Disneytoon Studios existed that produced 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 adaptation 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
'Peter & Wendy'

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

5
'Hook'

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. 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 what was already a very familiar story at that point.

6
'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.

7
'Peter Pan' (1953)

This movie's racial problems have been discussed ad nauseam at this point ("What Made the Red Man Red?" is especially cringeworthy), but it's worth noting that such depictions were commonplace in 1953, 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 version of Peter Pan.

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 there's probably not a person alive who hasn't seen at least a portion of this movie. So due to its lasting impact on popular culture, the Disney version of Peter Pan must be ranked as the top adaptation of the story.

Peter Pan is a classic story, and despite its problems, it will likely to continue to inspire the imaginations of children for generations to come. Just ask Wendy.