Disney used to be synonymous with family-friendly entertainment and cartoon animals. Sure, Scrooge McDuck was an old miser who wore no trousers and hung around with his 3 young 'nephews', but he was an outlier. When Disney+ launched, it largely continued this approach, with a lot of wholesome fare with an upbeat message – Frozen, for instance, is not a film likely to offend anyone. There were a few slightly more adult themes in more recent Star Wars films and some of the Marvel movies, but come on: it's hardly Ingmar Bergman or George Romero.
However, since Disney started acquiring other studios and content owners like so many bits of popcorn it was munching through, a rather darker strain has emerged on Disney+. The most recent examples of this darkness are the award-magnet Banshees of Inisherin and The Menu, with Ralph Fiennes presiding over a kitchen so nightmarish, it would give Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares nightmares. They’re in my roundup of the best new movies to watch on Disney+ this month.
Yes, for adults – and kids who are adept at hacking their way past the child-safe controls Disney provides – there is now a wealth of R-rated entertainment on the streaming service with mouse ears, largely via Disney subsidiaries Fox, Searchlight, Hulu and Star. What would old Walt have made of all this?
Predator: extreme violence, persistent threat, wound detail, toxic masculinity
This movie was made by 20th Century Fox, which is now a subsidiary of Disney.
If you enjoyed Prey, be warned: you probably won't like Predator, the film that kick-started this rickety franchise way back in the 80s. The 'good' guys here are hulking, muscle-bound thugs, led by a guy called 'Dutch', played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Apollo Cree from Rocky also turns up, as does Jesse Ventura, a pro wrestler who later became Governor of Minnesota, as you do. These are huge men, they are armed with an arsenal the size of that used in the D-Day landings, and they are pissed.
One-liners fly, as do bullets, laser ray guns, off-colour jokes about vaginas, references to being a 'sexual Tyrannosaur'… you name it, it gets violently flung around. This is not a very PC film, nor a terribly eco-friendly one. At one point, Arnie's army deforest a huge expanse of rain forest with heavy weaponry, in a hilariously inept attempt to kill the titular Predator. At another, a man has his head melted and exploded by the beast's shoulder-mounted laser cannon – it looks like a melon full of blood that's just been dropped off the roof of a carpark. Oh, and it ends with Arnie avoiding a full-on nuclear blast by jumping over a small mound.
Predator absolutely crushes Prey in every department apart from nuance and subtlety – but those are very overrated attributes in my opinion.
Logan: wound detail, persistent threat, generally depressing examination of ageing and death
This is an actual Marvel movie, albeit not really part of the MCU.
I totally forgot that this film existed before I started writing this. It's loosely affiliated to the MCU – although more so the X-Men films that are not officially part of the MCU due to copyright blah blah. As such, it's a more natural part of the Disney+ world than all the other films here, but it is still by no means family entertainment. If you ever wondered what it would be like if Wolverine (Hugh Jackman – brilliant in this) was in an R-rated movie, and quite what his claws raking through human flesh would look like, well… this is your huckleberry.
A grim reflection on ageing, failure, societal breakdown and death, Logan – Wolverine's real name, for those who aren't X-Men fans – is kind of a bummer for most of its 2-hour run time. Professor X (Patrick Stewart) is dying, most of the other X-Men (and Women) mutants are dead and shady government forces are closing in on the former Wolverine, who has lost the will to carry on the fight.
What makes this film work is that firstly it has a lot more depth than most MCU films, almost to the point where you start to worry there will be no real action. And secondly that, after various events unfold, Wolverine and a female mini-me version of him rip a load of armed mercs to bloody pulp, in a sustained, cathartic sequence of extreme violence. It's doubtful anyone will make a better R-rated, superhero movie than Logan. The likes of Peacemaker and Deadpool have proved that skewing towards winking irony is more profitable than the dourness of this outlier.
The Fly: absolutely grotesque wound detail, persistent threat, adult themes, Jeff Goldblum's pert butt
This movie was also made by 20th Century Fox.
David Cronenberg's bravura remake of hoary old horror flick The Fly was one of the most successful disgusting films ever made. There is one bit in particular where scientist-turned-human-fly Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) pretty much snaps a man's arm off in grotesque, slow-motion detail, during an ill-advised barroom arm-wrestling bout.
If it was all just special effects of that level of horror, this film would still be a winner. What makes it truly enduring is that it manages to humanise Brundle, even as he is literally dehumanised into a fascist, sex-mad lunatic who eats food by vomiting strong acid onto it in order to dissolve it – we've all met one of those guys, right?
If you've seen Goldblum in any other film, you will not believe how good he is in The Fly. And during a mid-transformation gymnastic display and a few horribly uncomfortable sex scenes with co-star Geena Davies, you will also not believe what incredibly good shape Jeff was in back in 1986. Goldblum should have won an Oscar for his performance in The Fly; and his ass should have as well.
The Omen 3: The Final Conflict: wound detail, infanticide, Satan worship, blasphemy, absolutely outrageous dialogue
Yep, 20th Century Fox again.
Disney+ also hosts a film where Satan's offspring is played by the cool dad from Jurassic Park. When people think of Sam Neill now, they think of an avuncular figure who turns up in family-friendly films and is very likeable. But once, he was a steely-eyed young man, playing the son of Satan – and he clearly relished every moment of it.
In Omen III: The Final Conflict, Neill is entirely believable as Damien, son of the Prince of Darkness. Which is just as well, because nothing else about this movie is remotely plausible. Showing the acting chops that eventually landed him that plum role in Jurassic Park, Neill somehow manages to deliver dialogue such as the following without wincing, laughing, or walking off set while firing his agent:
"Oh my Father, Lord of Silence, Supreme God of Desolation, whom mankind reviles yet aches to embrace, strengthen my purpose to save the world from a second ordeal of Jesus Christ and his grubby mundane creed. Show man instead the raptures of Thy kingdom. Infuse in him the grandeur of melancholy, the divinity of loneliness, the purity of evil, the paradise of pain."
Anyway, as the film wends its way from Damien plotting to take over the world, through to a finale where he literally calls out Jesus Christ for a fight, there are plenty of nasty deaths to enjoy. A particularly choice moment is a Satanist mother ironing a baby to death, and biffing her husband in the face with the same iron when he raises an objection to this. And why? Because Sam Neill has ordered his minions to kill every newborn in Britain, because he is worried one of them may be the second coming of Jesus. Well you can't be too careful, can you?
Not enough? There are also people burned, buried alive, stabbed, killed with a shotgun and fatally mauled by big, vicious dogs. All the effects have that gnarly, early-80s cheapness to them, so they don't look real but they sure do look nasty. Throughout, Sam looks like he's having the time of his life.
This film was made by Disney subsidiary Hulu.
In this rom-com with a twist, Daisy Edgar-Jones from Normal People 'meets cute', as they say, with Sebastian Stan – ie: Bucky Barnes out of Captain America. She is bored with online dating, and so they commence a whirlwind romance. That sounds wholesome, doesn't it? However, in a twist which you have to admit nobody can claim to have seen coming, Stan turns out to be… a cannibal! And he wants to eat her! No, really: literally eat her.
They say there are no taboos left in movies, but I think anything involving people eating people is always unlikely to sit well with a lot of viewers. I haven't seen this particular film. The Daily Mail described it as 'disgusting, depraved and dull' – but to be fair, they say that about everything. Despite that, on Rotten Tomatoes Fresh is rated – yes – 'Fresh'. It's got an 81% positive rating.
So probably Fresh is actually a good film – it's just a rather odd one to find on Disney+. Then again, Beauty and the Beast is a pretty messed-up 'romantic' story when you think about it, isn't it? He literally abducts and imprisons the woman, motivated purely by self-pity! What's up with that, Beast?!
127 Hours: amputation, threat, wound detail, watersports
This movie was made by Fox Searchlight, which is now a subsidiary of Disney.
When I turned on Disney+ to 'research' this piece, what was the very first thing I spied in the 'New to Disney+' section? A film that actually made me faint when I saw it at the cinema. And I'm a large bloke of 6ft1, so that must have been quite disturbing for the rest of the audience.
Based on a horrible but ultimately uplifting true story, Danny Boyle's film sees James Franco trapped in a canyon with his arm stuck under a big rock, due to a rather hapless and poorly planned bit of potholing. Remember kids: always tell someone when you go out into the wilderness alone, as you may end up trapped under a boulder for 127 hours.
Hopefully nobody is going to get upset about spoilers here as the film is 12 years old, and the entire reason for its existence is for this one scene in particular. Long story short: several days of hallucinations, urine-drinking and regrets later, Franco decides to chop off his own arm with a penknife. Yes, those are all things you may have to do if you’re trapped in the great outdoors. It’s all fun and games until you have to sup your own urine and then cut your own arm off… with a penknife.
I actually rewatched this scene semi-recently and while there is almost no real gore, Boyle manages to make you feel every agonising moment of Franco's auto-amputation. Watched on a TV instead of at the cinema, it at least didn't make me pass out, this time.
Speaking of Danny Boyle, his high-speed horror movie 28 Days Later, and its similarly blood-soaked sequel, 28 Weeks Later, are also on Disney+. They're fun for all the family – at least until various members of said family are transformed into murderous rage zombies.
And speaking of me fainting at the movies, that also happened during Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, also during an amputation scene. I‘m happy to report that this film is not on Disney+ (yet), though you can watch Von Trier's similarly nauseating The House That Jack Built on arthouse streaming service Mubi.
Braveheart: wound detail, adult themes, violence, homophobia
This movie was made by 20th Century Fox, yet again. Keep it lighter, guys!
God help me, but I really am a big fan of the work of racist, misogynist, homophobic, Biblically-bearded wild man Mel Gibson. In fact I recently rewatched all the Mad Max films on Prime Video – they're great. So I was delighted to see that Braveheart is now on Disney+. It's possibly his magnum opus when it comes to extreme violence repeated at great length, although Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto are admittedly pretty full on in that respect as well.
Resembling the grimiest parts of Monty Python's The Holy Grail, but with all the humour gouged out, Braveheart is an extremely violent film. If you take a drink every time someone is impaled, stabbed, beheaded, burned or chucked out of a castle window, you will end up very drunk indeed – ironically, very much like Gibson himself! In fact, you may drink so much that you die – ironically, just like all the main characters in Braveheart do!
Director and star Gibson mounts some unforgettable battle scenes, does some truly stirring speechifying, adds an unlikely romance for his character William Wallace, and even finds time to throw in a gratuitously homophobic subplot, just for the hell of it. Watching Braveheart is like being bludgeoned around the head for 3 hours by an angry Scotsman and that's entirely appropriate, because that's also what happens on screen during most of that time.
Dopesick: drug use, corporate irresponsibility, adult themes
This series was made by Hulu.
Like the films above, both of which were nominated for multiple awards – and Braveheart actually won Best Movie and Best Director in 1995, somehow – Dopesick has had widespread critical acclaim. Much of that was for Michael Keaton, who plays a doctor who starts out prescribing a new type of opioid painkiller and then becomes addicted to it. Horribly, horribly addicted. Seeing his slide into junkie squalor really is not the sort of thing people would have expected to see on a Disney-affiliated channel, 10 years ago. At one point, he literally sees bugs under his skin, which is perhaps a little on the nose, but it's more his moral disintegration that disturbs.
One quite old-school Disney thing about this mini series is that Perdue Pharma – the company responsible for the opioid in question – is portrayed as literally evil. The actor playing the head of the company plays it so evil, in fact, that the only comparison I can come up with is the Emperor in Star Wars. However, in a much less Disney-esque twist, it is made pretty clear at the end of the series that nobody from Perdue faced any significant consequences for ruining the lives of millions (and Michael Keaton).