Worst to First: Every Disney Princess Ranked

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Once upon a time, a man with a dream turned a small animation studio into a global empire. Much of that success was built on a series of wildly popular feature films, many of which shared a common figure: A beautiful, heroic princess.

The man was Walt Disney, and even after he passed away in 1966, his company continued to dedicate much of its creative energy to films (and television shows and untold tons of merchandise) about princesses. The latest, a live-action version of the studio’s Oscar-nominated cartoon Beauty and the Beast, opens in theaters on Friday. In its honor, the staff of ScreenCrush (and Mousterpiece Cinema co-host Josh Spiegel) decided to rank every single Disney princess in history.

Disney claims that there are only 11 princesses in their canon. To that “official” list we added three more heroines who we felt met every conceivable definition of a “Disney princess” except for the fact that the company, for whatever reason, has decided not to publicly acknowledge them as such. That’s why the list below has 14 entries. (It also has 14 entries because, after considering it, we decided not to rank certain characters’ live-action and animated versions separately.) Our picks won’t please everyone, and we invite your feedback and comments below and on social media. But for now, be our guest and explore our comprehensive ranking of Disney princesses:

14. Aurora
From Sleeping Beauty/Maleficent (1959/2014)

Even in the live-action Maleficent, which reimagines the classic fairy tale from the villain’s point of view, Aurora was still a total snooze — literally, it’s right there in her name. She’s a beauty and she sleeps. That’s about it. Disney’s first trio of princesses are sort of like an elderly family member; hopelessly stuck in the past, endearingly antiquated, and respected more for their age than anything else. Of the three, Aurora is probably the least interesting, and were it not for those adorable fairy godmothers and one wickedly good villain, her film wouldn’t be all that memorable, either. Aurora’s value is defined entirely by everyone around her, from the fairies who raised her to the witch who cursed her and the prince who saves her. In between, she herself doesn’t do much but look pretty and sing for a prince to come and carry her from one phase of her life to the next. Aurora does have one enviable quality: She can sleep through anything and looks great while doing it. — Britt Hayes


13. Snow White
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Few movies had had as large an impact on the entire medium as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first animated feature in history and the film that turned Disney from a man to an empire. Industry observers thought the project was doomed to failure — “Disney’s folly,” they called it in the press — but it was an immediate and lasting hit. (Adjusted for inflation, it’s the tenth-highest-grossing movies in history, and the highest-grossing animated movie ever.) Snow White herself isn’t the most dynamic protagonist, but she makes a likable foil with the wicked Queen and the seven dwarfs. And her personality innocent, plucky, sweet, loyal — became the template for everything that Disney did afterwards. Dismiss Snow White if you want. But literally none of the other women on this list would exist without her. — Matt Singer


12. Rapunzel
From Tangled (2010)

Somehow, it took Disney 75 years to make a film of one of the most iconic fairy tales, that of Rapunzel; the beautiful, exceptionally long-haired maiden locked in a tall tower. The 2010 film Tangled turns Rapunzel into a curious girl kidnapped by a vain woman who uses that long hair to keep her youthful figure. Eventually, with the help of a dashing rogue, Rapunzel explores the world outside and even falls in love. Part of why Rapunzel is low on this list is because the source material is as damsel-in-distress-heavy as you can get. A modern movie with a character reliant on being saved by a man doesn’t have the same potency as it might in a previous era. Mandy Moore’s vocal performance is charming enough, but even this slightly modernized take on Rapunzel falls somewhat flat. — Josh Spiegel


11. Merida
From Brave (2012)

Finally Disney gave us a princess who couldn’t care less about romance and royalty. Merida has no interest in marriage, sovereignty, or following the same path as her queen mother. She’s a true individual who craves the thrill of adventure. She straight up shoots for her own hand in Brave, splitting an arrow with her own. That could’ve been the end of the movie; mic drop, done deal. But what’s most commendable about Merida is that she has the capacity to learn from her mistakes and to see beyond her own desires. Merida’s coming of age tale is about finding balance between independence and tradition, and it’s also the first Disney story focused on the bond between a young woman and her mother – a rare and important thing for a studio with an abundance of absent or evil moms. — Erin Whitney


10. Pocahontas
From Pocahontas (1995)

Rightfully criticized through the years for glorifying colonialism, Disney’s Pocahontas is also often knocked for its reductive depiction of the real-life Native American woman who served as the basis for its hero. Despite its over-simplification (and misrepresentation) of history, Pocahontas is perhaps remembered most for its redeeming qualities — namely, a spiritual protagonist who is connected to nature and empathetic to all its creatures, great and small, and whose unfailing optimism and kindness, even in the face of sorrowful difficulties, are inspirational. Pocahontas the film isn’t all that great, but Pocahontas herself does her best to make up for it. — BH


9. Cinderella
From Cinderella (1950/2015)

Some modern audiences will argue that Cinderella is about as passive as princesses come. And it’s hard to argue that she waits for her Prince Charming to find her and plant that glass slipper on her foot. Fair enough. But don’t overlook the animated Cinderella’s many charms. She has one of the most beautiful singing voices in the entire Disney library (provided by Ilene Woods), which she applies to some of the loveliest songs in the entire Disney library (including “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and “So This Is Love”). From a purely aesthetic perspective, her dress (both animated and live-action) is amazing, and the character’s message, explicated most clearly in the 2015 remake — “have courage and be kind” — is simple yet powerful. — MS


8. Moana
From Moana (2016)

2016 was a good year for Disney animation. After the early-spring success of recent Oscar winner Zootopia, the studio released the princess-focused Moana. But the title character isn’t technically a princess, as she clarifies to her eventual sidekick Maui; she’s the next chieftain of her village, just as long as she can return the Heart of Te Fiti to its rightful place. Moana is as fierce as any of the princesses from the Disney Renaissance, and then some; her character arc ends with her in a place of larger power than she could have dreamed. She’s not a damsel in distress, either; the most powerful moment in the film is when the physically imposing Maui steps aside to allow her to take over. Though it walked away with no Oscars, Moana and its title character are encouraging steps forward for Disney. — JS


7. Tiana
From The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog was a groundbreaking film for Walt Disney Animation Studios; its lead character, Tiana, was the studio’s first African-American protagonist. As voiced by Anika Noni Rose, Tiana is one of the more self-reliant heroines in Disney history. Though she does become a princess in the final moments of the film, Tiana is defined by her desire to open a restaurant instead of by her romantic prospects. Her Broadway-style “I Want” song, “Almost There,” is all about how much closer she’s gotten to saving up enough money to live out her dead father’s dream as a restaurateur, far from the hapless romantic pining of Snow White or Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. The Princess and the Frog remains a bit underrated compared with Frozen or even last year’s Moana, but its heroine is one of Disney’s finest. — JS


6. Jasmine
From Aladdin (1992)

Jasmine is a romantic at heart. Refusing to be set up with a wealthy, brainless suitor, the Sultan’s daughter continues her search for true love. She fearlessly stands up to Jafar and runs away from the palace to get a taste of real life. As a woman from a privileged, protective background, she could’ve been a spoiled snob, and she was initially written that way. Instead Jasmine is both sweet and fiery, a woman who isn’t afraid to call out a man’s BS. You can easily criticize her for being less developed and less independent than later Disney princesses – after all, she is mainly just a love interest for the title character. But as the only princess with a supporting role she still manages to hold her own in Aladdin’s movie, and stays true to her values and her desires till the end. Plus, how can you not love a princess whose best friend is a tiger? — EW


5. Anna
From Frozen (2013)

Frozen represented a major turning point for Disney’s princesses, honoring their history while paving the way for the future — one more concerned with character than caste. Frozen smartly subverts every audience expectation through the story of two sisters, and while the elder Elsa became slightly more iconic than the younger Anna, there’s still plenty to praise about the latter. Anna is feisty, determined, and fearless (sometimes to her own detriment); she’s also clumsy and goofy and more contemporary in attitude. But what really sets this princess apart from her predecessors is a remarkable love story — and it doesn’t involve a man. Well, it does, but Frozen totally obliterates that old trope in a climactic scene that liberates the Disney princess archetype from its prince-obsessed mold. The real love story exists in Anna’s unwavering devotion to her persecuted and misunderstood sister. In the end, there’s no prince to save the day. This princess can save herself. — BH


4. Belle
From Beauty and the Beast (1991/2017)

To borrow a phrase from another Disney film, Belle is a diamond in the rough. As voiced by Paige O’Hara in the 1991 animated film (and soon to be played by Emma Watson in the live-action remake), Belle is an intelligent, forthright, headstrong woman who, unlike earlier Disney princesses, has no interest in waiting for a man or adventure to come to her. She remains adventurous and daring even after she’s traded her own life for her father’s at the hands of a monstrous beast who she’ll eventually fall for. As ridiculous as the plot of Beauty and the Beast may be, Belle’s characterization is so detailed (and at the time, was such a breath of fresh air) that her place as one of the great Disney princesses was basically cemented minutes into her story, right at the end of the song named after her. — JS


3. Elsa
From Frozen (2013)

Unlike some of the shy wallflowers on this list, Frozen’s Elsa doesn’t need anyone to fight her battles for her. In fact, she doesn’t have a love interest in the film at all, another rarity for Disney. Instead, Elsa’s love is for her sister Anna, and the bond between the two women forms the warm heart at the center of Disney’s ice-filled hit. It’s worth noting that at a time when female superhero movies are still few and far between, Frozen has two incredibly strong ladies as protagonists, including one with honest-to-goodness superpowers which she deploys in ultra-cool fashion. (I’m very sorry.) Elsa also gets to belt out “Let It Go,” the most deliciously insidious earworm in recent movie history (and Idina Menzel might be the best vocalist in Disney’s 80-year history). There are a lot of princesses in this post. But there’s only one true queen. — MS


2. Mulan
From Mulan (1998)

Mulan has no time for princess business. She’s the first Disney princess to ditch the dress for a suit of armor, to wield a sword and take down a villain with her own hands. (Oh and she also saved all of China. No biggie.) Her story isn’t about courtship, craving freedom, or rebelling against tradition; it’s a story about fighting to protect family and gaining respect. Mulan was the first Disney heroine who proved a woman can be as courageous and strong as a man. She became a role model for young women and gender non-conforming people – if this movie isn’t a giant transgender metaphor, I don’t know what is. Mulan was the first Disney character I saw myself in as a kid, and the first time the word “princess” didn’t have to equate to gowns and balls. We’ve seen plenty of badass female characters from Disney in the years since, but Mulan set the stage for the future of feminist princesses. — EW


1. Ariel
From The Little Mermaid (1989)

You want to know the reason why Ariel remains the best princess of all? I’ve got 20 — but we’ll keep it simple. Rebellious, ambitious, defiant, and fearless, Ariel was, as many of the greatest protagonists are, both relatable and aspirational. How many times did you try to emulate her impossibly coiffed hair, her beautiful singing, those classic lines, or the way she triumphantly ascends that rock with a perfect splash of water framing her during the climax of “Part of Your World”? Like most kids, Ariel felt oppressed by a parental figure and yearned for independence, to be liberated from responsibility, to achieve her own dreams instead of the ones forced upon her by her father. And like most kids, she was maybe a little ungrateful. Even now, it’s easy to overlook the outdated story elements (like Ariel giving up her life for some dude she hardly knows), which were a product of the time and are outweighed by the positive aspects, like the wonderful songs, the utterly inspired villain and, most of all, a strong lead whose flaws make her even more fabulous. — BH

More Worst to First Franchise Rankings:
DC Animated Movies
Fast & Furious
Friday the 13th
James Bond
Marvel
Star Trek
Batman

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