Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened as Disney-MGM Studios on May 1, 1989. The third park to open at Walt Disney World was originally inspired by show business and was meant to give guests an inside look at operating studios. All of the original attractions were dedicated to the world of film and television. When the park opened, there was a licensing partnership between Disney and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (hence the name “MGM Studios”) in the hopes of representing a wide variety of films that would interest all kinds of people. In 2008, the MGM branding was removed and the park was renamed “Disney’s Hollywood Studios”, which was one of the biggest steps Disney took toward transforming the park into the place it is today. While the name change is the most obvious change that has been made, there have been quite a few other major shake-ups at Hollywood Studios over the years.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
The first park expansion occurred in 1994 with the addition of the Sunset Boulevard and its primary attraction, the now infamous Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The drop tower dark ride, which takes place in the fictional Hollywood Tower Hotel, was originally designed as a ride called Geyser Mountain that was planned for Frontierland at Disneyland Paris. Although it was scrapped for Paris, Disney-MGM Studios scooped the plans right up as the perfect major attraction to accompany the Sunset Boulevard expansion. The spooky free fall, which takes riders up 157 feet in an elevator, drops at speeds as high as 39 miles per hour at random intervals and distances for a terrifying three minute ride. It quickly became one of the park’s most popular attractions.
Sorcerer Mickey’s Hat
From the day the park opened, Hollywood Studios was landmarked by the Earffel Tower which was designed to look like a water tower that you might see on a Hollywood studio backlot in the early days of film. The Disney World twist on the 130 foot tower of course included large Mickey ears at the top, making it the park’s icon for several years. In 2001 a giant Sorcerer Mickey Hat was constructed in the middle of the park, just in front of The Great Movie Ride, as part of the the “100 Years of Magic” celebration. The large blue monument quickly replaced the Earffel Tower as the park’s primary symbol. Inspired by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice scene from Fantasia, the 122 foot structure was held up by Mickey’s gloved hand and ears. During the celebration, there were interactive kiosks set up underneath the hat where guests could learn about the life and career of Walt Disney. It was also the main hub for Disney Pin Trading. In 2003, the celebration ended and the hat became a backdrop for other events such as character meet and greets, street shows, and also hosted the grand opening celebration for Star Tours – The Adventure Continues in 2011. The Sorcerer’s Hat was originally meant to be built as a landmark outside of the park, and would have been twice as large with ferris wheels on each ear and Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream located underneath. The plans changed when the retail sector of the park decided to fund it and make it a pin trading station. The hat stood in front of The Chinese Theater until 2015.
Phasing Out the “Studio” Elements
In the early 2010’s the focus of Disney’s Hollywood Studios started shifting away from the original backlot studio theme, starting with the closure of the Studio Backlot Tour, the American Idol Experience and the Legend of Captain Jack Sparrow in 2014. Over the next several years other changes continued to erase the old Hollywood studio vibes that the park was built on including the removal of the backlot street facades and the Earffel Tower, and the closing of the Lights, Motors, Action! Stunt Show and the remainder of the “backstage access” areas. The final nod to the early Disney-MGM Studios days was The Great Movie Ride, which closed in 2017. Disney’s Hollywood Studios now offers a much more character-centric experience, with attractions dedicated to Disney Junior, Toy Story, Star Wars, and Frozen.
Toy Story Land
The recent addition of Toy Story Land to Disney’s Hollywood Studios has been the most significant development at the park to date. The area, modeled after Andy’s Backyard, is filled with oversized trinkets and toys, making guests feel like they’ve shrunken to the size of Woody and his pals as they explore the new world. Two new attractions joined Toy Story Mania in this area: the family friendly Slinky Dog Dash roller coaster and spinning Alien Swirling Saucers ride. Additionally, a new quick service dining location called Woody’s Lunchbox opened in Andy’s Backyard, serving nostalgic comfort foods like grilled cheese and tater tots. Toy Story Land officially opened on June 30, 3018.
Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge
The biggest change to hit Hollywood Studios is yet to come, with the long anticipated opening of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge scheduled for Fall 2019. The 14 acre expansion will be an entire new world for guests to explore. Set on the planet Batuu, the immersive land will make you feel like you’ve actually landed inside a Star Wars film. The village, called Black Spire Outpost, is a remote area on the galaxy’s edge that used to be a thriving intersection of trade routes but has become a port for rogue traders and adventurers. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge will be home to several iconic elements of the film franchise including attractions based on the Millenium Falcon and First Order Battle and a Cantina restaurant serving the infamous “blue milk” drink.