Disney’s Hollywood Studios – A Timeline for the Future (part II)

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In part one of our look at the future of Disney’s Hollywood Studios we examined what changes have already been announced by Disney and those that are rumored to be in the offing. In short, depending on how much money Disney is willing to invest and how fast, Central Florida’s original studios park could be in for a massive makeover.

Before we go any further, I want to repeat, that I don’t have any particular insider knowledge of plans or upcoming announcements. What follows is my learned hypothesis based on available evidence and informed guesses (aka rumors) from sources I trust. Some of this is more speculation than solid info and I’ll try and indicate that when and where I can.

Let’s start with one piece of information that would be a natural result of the changes coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios losing its ‘studios’ theme. The name will have to change. I think there’s one clear favorite for a new name – Disney’s Hollywood Adventure. It captures the shift in theme from making movies, to being a part of them. Instead of learning how the movies are made, we get to celebrate them and all the magic they inspire. This will let the park keep its two main Hollywood themed thoroughfares, expand Pixar Place (which physically is in Emeryville, not Hollywood, but emotionally it’s the same place) and perhaps add on one or two others. You might see some other Hollywood icons come to the park. El Capitan theater, which Disney owns, and the Carthay Theater, which has ties to Disney history and Disney has used as California Adventure’s main icon seem like two likely candidates. But don’t expect them to get too carried away.

Of course, a new name like “Mickey’s Adventure Park” could come out of left field too. That would indicate the park is in for a major re-imagineering. It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but not the strongest candidate at the moment either.


When people ask me about what’s going to happen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I have a certain spiel I provide to give some context to the question. This will help set up some of the financial and timeline issues. The budgets that control those are almost always in flux until they’re not, and the attraction opens. Sometimes, Imagineers get creative with budgets and good things can happen too.

This all starts with some things Disney CEO Bob Iger had been saying to The Walt Disney Company’s investors, that after dropping a lot of money on DCA, New Fantasyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland, the capital expenditures (read: theme park expansion) would be vastly reduced for a few years with only Disney’s Animal Kingdom (for both Avatar and the Nighttime show additions) and Shanghai Disneyland getting the funds. If you look at Disney’s stock price right now you’ll see that investors are very happy with the company and expect its value to continue to rise. In their minds, Iger has been a great steward of their money. So they’re probably pretty psyched he’s planning on sticking around for another year or so.

Of course, what Iger said to investors then and the reality of the company has shifted a bit. While HKDL may be on a better path, Disneyland Paris needs massive investment to set it on the right course again, New Fantasyland did not inspire quite as many families to plan new trips to Walt Disney World as was expected (it didn’t do all that bad, it just wasn’t as huge a hit as they were hoping), and the Avatar movies have been delayed meaning Avatar-land gets pushed back too. The good news is, if they need it, James Cameron’s company is willing to invest a little money in Avatar land to make sure the area gets the love and attention it deserves.


And then Frozen happened. That movie is like a snow machine that sucks up young girl’s fairy tale dreams and spits out fields of snow white money. Enough money that Bob Iger can practically coat Central Florida in it. Hence, we get a new attraction in EPCOT that will pay for itself in doll sales in just a couple of weeks and some extra funds that can be spread around at DHS.

Disney is expecting the same cash-cow from Star Wars Episode VII and related properties. In fact, while $4 Billion may seem like a lot of money to pay to purchase Lucasfilm, the merchandise sales alone have already earned back that price for Disney. As long as Disney continues to be good shepherds of the Star Wars Universe, that gravy train will only grow longer. In fact, Iger already feels comfortable enough to announce that Star Wars is coming to the parks and that he’ll tell us exactly what will be coming next year. Even money is laid on the idea that DHS will get a Star Wars Land, but there’s a growing minority idea that Disney has something else in store for its Star Wars themed attractions.

So, recapping. Disney has already spent a lot of money on HKDL, DCA, and New Fantasyland at the MK. They have sunk money into Shanghai Disneyland and Avatarland at DAK. At one point they told investors that capital expenditures would slow down, but then the economic recovery inspired by Frozen, Star Wars, and let’s not forget the box office hits of Marvel, has loosened the purse strings somewhat. Enough that we know we’re getting Star Wars presence in the parks, a new Frozen attraction, a rescue for Disneyland Paris, and at the very least, a re-imagining of Disney’s Hollywood Studios hub.

Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah, Disney Parks have, in the middle of all this, been spending somewhere near $2 Billion on the MyMagic+ program, about 60% more than they expected. It’s had, how shall we say, a rocky start. But as more elements of the program get rolled out (MemoryMaker for one), its beginning to look at little less like a financial catastrophe and more like a solid investment in the future of theme park vacations as we know them. There are still rough roads ahead and a few major potholes that have yet to be filled in. But, by and large, MyMagic+ will help the bottom line, not hurt it.

With park revenue up and the movie studio producing mega-hits, it may seem like a license to print money and it practically is. But Disney will want to pay back those patient investors and continue investing in new lines of entertainment (like that purchase of Maker Studios). So the Disney Parks will have to learn to share. That means, we’ll probably get much of what we want in the parks, it will just take a while to build.
This timeline is a lot of conjecture, but it’s how I’d do things if I was drawing up the plans. So we’ll roll with it.

  • 2015
    • Sorcerer’s hat comes down, place-making effort in DHS begins
    • The Landing in Disney Springs opens
    • Iger announces plans for Star Wars themed attractions on three continents and four resorts.
    • Iger announces major overhaul for Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris
    • Shanghai Disneyland Opens
    • New Frozen attraction opens in Norway pavilion at EPCOT
    • Night time entertainment expands at Disney’s Animal Kingdom with Rivers of Light water show and Discovery Island street performances.  (This might get pushed to 2016)
  • 2016
    • Proving it can move fast, Disney’s first new Star Wars attraction opens in Shanghai Disneyland
    • Toy Story Playland opens at Disney’s Hollywood Adventure (formerly known as DHS) includes 3rd track for Toy Story Mania.
    • Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT closes for re-imagineering
  • 2017
    • Pandora: The Worlds of Avatar (aka Avatar land) opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom (phase 1)
    • New Star Wars themed area opens at Disneyland, CA (replacing motor boats, autopia, and innoventions)
    • New Star Wars themed area opens at Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris
    • Imagination Pavilion at EPCOT opens with new attractions,
  • 2018
    • Two of three eventual new Star Wars themed lands opens at Disney’s Hollywood Adventure
    • Placemaking at DHA is finished and new themed route follow red car route from Pixar Place to the Hollywood Hotel.
  • 2019
    • Radiator Springs Racers and a downsized version of Cars Land opens at DHA
    • Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris finishes re-theming.
    • Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland refresh project starts
    • Construction on “Heroes and Villains” themed third gate begins in Anaheim, CA (okay, this one is just dreaming – really they do need this expanded capacity)
  • 2020
    • Third Star wars themed area opens at DHA encompassing stories from most recent trilogy.
  • 2021
    • Phase two of the Pandora: Worlds of Avatar opens at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

Yes, that’s a long timeline. And I’m sure some insiders will have a quibble or two. I’ll admit there’s a lot I could be missing or wish I felt more certain Disney would add (a new pavilion in EPCOT’s World Showcase, for one). But this seems a very reasonable timeline giving the financial and physical constraints involved with a massive undertaking like opening entirely new lands, and rebuilding almost half of one park.

One a scale of one to five wishes, how close do you think this plan will come to the eventual plan announced by Disney. Really it doesn’t matter. I mostly want to set expectations that this won’t be one big explosion of construction that happens all at once. It will be phased in slowly over time. I’ve seen some timelines that are even longer than what I have up above. Of course, it could happen faster too. That would be nice, but don’t count on it.

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23 thoughts on “Disney’s Hollywood Studios – A Timeline for the Future (part II)”

  1. Pingback: Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Its Unknown Future (part I) | The Disney Blog

  2. Love reading your thoughts on this. I realize it’s a lot of conjecture and guess work but wondering what’s fueling your thoughts on 3 Star Wars lands? Thanks!

    1. I can’t find the quote, but Iger had said that there are so many terrific worlds in the Star Wars Universe, he wants guests to be able to explore them all. I’ve heard this may manifest itself as separate immersive lands. Tatooine for pod racing experience and Cantina, Endor for speed bikes and encounter with Darth Vader, Perhaps Hoth or Death Star for a new flight simulator based attraction, and an ‘as yet’ un-named land that will be a part of the new series. I’ve heard that Disney might decide to spread these out with one immersive environment added to each of the four theme parks in Orlando. DHS would get the speeder bike roller coaster (a version of the TRON coaster coming to Shanghai Disneyland) and Endor. The Magic Kingdom would get a space port leading to the Death Star. Tatooine would come to Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and the new land would be worked into EPCOT somehow.

  3. I love all your speculation and agree that this timeline is pretty fair and, honestly, very exciting. I hope something similar to this happens in the parks. I feel like, in some ways, this is very much in tune with Walt’s ideas for his parks, that they will never be finished, constantly growing, adding, changing, etc. I don’t mean to speak for him, but he WAS quoted saying that. :)
    The only real downside is all the construction walls that will be up for the next few years. They really pull me out of the moment, personally, but I’d consider it pretty worthwhile for all the new stuff.

  4. I think the idea of development at Hollywood Studios is exciting, but I wish they would keep a couple of aspects of the working studio. People aren’t tired of that. They’re tired of the same old dated things. The boat/storm simulation to start the Backlot Tour should’ve been updated a couple of times over since that attraction opened…probably as a Pirates of the Caribbean mini-set with cannons, the kraken and a sinking ship. Catastrophe Canyon could’ve become a Star Wars action scene.

    Seeing how movie magic is made is as much — if not more — a part of a Hollywood adventure than a 4-D movie-themed ride experience. Should there be progress? Absolutely! But it should be true progress. In this case, true progress would be Hollywood Studios deepening its roots in providing an experiential movie magic experience. As it happens, it appears that this is more of an uprooting of the roots being sold to guests as “progress” because Iger thinks it will please stockholders.

    Everyone can win here. Shy away from upheaval. Make for a holistic mix of studio and 4-D entertainment. People will love it even more than they did when the park opened. And that translates into renewed revenues and profits. It seems to me that would really be a great thing for everyone.

  5. What I think would be cool, though I am not sure they could pull it off without tearing the whole park apart, would be something like Epcot but for motion pictures. The front could showcase how films/TV shows are made (good place to stick ESPN, as well) and the history of film, the back could be like the World Showcase, but for films. Of course, they would make each “country” bigger to allow for bigger and better rides. There could be one for Cars, one for Star Wars (with several mini-lands for different locations), one for Frozen, one for Little Mermaid, perhaps, and whatever other films would make for good immersive experiences.

  6. One thing I find interesting is that you don’t have the big M aka Marvel. I would love to see them convert Inneventions into a permanent Marvel attraction. Refurbish the building and make it a permanent home for the Shield traveling show. They can expand the character meet and greets that they’ve already built sets for.

    1. I think everyone would love that. Even Universal, because the way the contract reads right now, Disney can’t build anything Marvel in the Orlando parks without first buying back the rights from Universal. So that would mean a big expenditure from Disney to their competitor. Could it happen, sure? Likelihood of it happening while Disney can still rake in the bucks with Star Wars and Avatar… very low.

      1. But the contract also states that Universal cannot modify or add to their Marvel Land without Disney permission. The Marvel land is getting pretty old since it does not reflect anything from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a waiting game. Universal will probably dump Marvel land for another theme. Maybe DC since there is no Six Flags Park nearby. But compared to the Harry Potter areas Marvel land is pretty lame.

      2. Actually, the contract states that Universal has to maintain the attractions to a specific quality and sell a certain amount of merchandise a year. They’re not prohibited from improving the land as long as it involves the character sets they’re already using.

  7. A couple areas where I disagree… first being, Disney does not own the El Capitan.

    Whoa John! This is preposterous: “In fact, while $4 Billion may seem like a lot of money to pay to purchase Lucasfilm, the merchandise sales alone have already earned back that price for Disney.” I had no idea it was that easy to make a $Billion! I’m going to get right on it!

    Shanghai Disney won’t open in 2015. The opening date is in “free fall.” That is one of the “known unknowns.” No one is really sure what the park will cost once they get it open. 2016 is more likely at this time.

    New Star Wars themed area at Disneyland, CA will more likely be in the area north of Frontierland, leaving Tomorrowland for Marvel properties. Toontown will be scrapped for a Star Wars show building to its west.

    You can’t take out/replace Autopia, etc without removing the Subs. (The Subs have a sizable underground show building, under Autopia. Built in the 50’s. Of god knows what. That will be a huge job, reducing Park’s physical capacity almost 20% throughout the project.

  8. What are your thoughts about the rumored 5th park opening in WDW? Rumors have been flying everywhere that it could be Star Wars themed or the Villains park that gained interest ten years back.

    1. I see lots of financial reasons why they wouldn’t do a 5th gate. The largest one being they already offer 5+ days of unique theme parks/water parks. That’s about the average length of stay for a family vacation. Would opening a 5th gate stretch that stay to 6 days or just cannibalize their existing market. Yes, there’s something to be said for increased capacity, and I’m working on another story about that right now.

  9. Interesting read. Just thought I’d let you know that there actually already is a small ‘edited’ version of the Carthay already in existence at Hollywood Studios down Sunset Blvd near the entrance to the Beauty and the Beast theather. I believe it’s a shop called Once Upon A Time (or at least was called that at one time) in reference to the song from Snow White. They might’ve changed the name since the TV show, but I remember thinking it was a neat little nod back in the day.

  10. All in all, this is probably as accurate as anyone not actually making the plans can predict. I think perhaps Star Wars could edge it’s way in a little bit quicker though. Although 4Billion already does seem a little high, there’s no denying Star Wars is one of the most “ever-green” franchises in existence and the more ways to capitalize, the better for Disney. I’m curious as to the exclusion of the potential of a fifth park in WDW. Some of us are really hoping for that 2021 opening.

  11. @middlebrow – the Marvel characters were basically given away when the Islands of Adventure was built. They are, according to sources, ‘renewable in perpetuity’. There is no way they would want to alter or sell those, given the current popularity.

    I really want to see a larger commitment to Star Wars and would not be surprised to have them push for more money from Cameron for Avatar land.

  12. This was fun to read. I used to have insider info until that dear friend who was pretty high in the company at WDW passed on. When he told me there was going to be a lot of money spent on the Cinderella castle I could not imagine that it was going to be an expansion on the ground around the front of it. He was great for baiting information but never really tying it down to a specific project or a final look.

    In all that you have above, and I know it will be completed eventually, you did not include Disney Springs, where at present, I sure wish I had supplied the materials for all those construction walls, not to mention the paint that is on them!

    Thanks again.

  13. This timeline is the dream! If the Hollywood Studios overhaul is anything as great as the California Adventure overhaul was, it will be beyond great for WDW. What do you think the chances are of them adding a different night time show to the studios, or at least revamping fantasmic so it’s on par with the version they show at other parks?

    One of the positive things I have to say about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is that it feels like it’s pushing WDW to make sure they’re bringing new levels of excellent attractions into the parks.

  14. 1) Cars Lane = Flop
    Why oh why would Cars Land go to Florida? As much praise as Cars Land in DCA has gotten, it isn’t aging well. I’m not saying it doesnt look good because it still is a cute little town, but it just doesnt draw eyes at all. Its pretty much a very long paved street to Radiator Springs Racers and nothing more. (And considering the footprint of the Luigi ride then we shouldnt expect much. It will draw in guests but just like Mater then it likely won’t retain interest or absorb crowds)

    2) Radiator Springs Test Track
    I absolutely LOVE Radiator Springs Racers. But after a recent trip to WDW then I have to say that it doesnt make sense in Florida where they have Test Track which is far too similar (or even superior?)

    3) Star Wars needs Time
    Star Wars deserves representation so I love the idea of killing off Innoventions/Boats/Autopia in favor of Star Wars theming. But your timeline of 2yrs just isnt enough to do it right. It also is unlikely that they’d kill Nemo so soon after a very very long refurbishment. They should’ve just killed it there.

    After looking at that release schedule for DC and Marvel films then I just dont see Avatar being a viable franchise anymore. Think about it. The next decade is packed with DC and Marvel Films. Then theres annual Star Wars films. Then theres the new Harry Potter franchise. Then the annual Lego films. Then theres Star Trek and a steady flow of Disney films. So where exactly does Avatar fit into mainstream culture? It was a phenomenon but not necessarily a long term franchise.

  15. So I know that WDW can’t do anything with Marvel because of the contracts they have in Orlando with universal and stuff. Would they be allowed to do something in Anaheim though? I know they have the rotating Marvel things in Innoventions but would they be able to make a full scale attraction. If that would be possible I think it would be better than scrapping the subs and autotopia for more Star Wars stuff. I would say rethemeing Innoventions completly Marvel and keeping the sort of mini attractions they have had such as the interactive Iron man experience that they had before Iron Man 3 came out.

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