Disney Princesses. They make up their own hugely popular niche franchise, one that’s consistently the subject of much debate: Viewed alternatively as a damning social commentary and an anti-feminist movement or a magical escape and a delightful introduction to traditional fairy tales, the Princesses’ popularity has endowed them with an unquestionable influence over much of the world’s youth whether we like it or not. In the 1990s, the Princesses – previously disparate, independent characters – were brought together in a single branded line of ‘Disney Princess’ merchandise. A wise money-making move, as this franchise is now one Disney’s single biggest earners. But this sparked debate – ongoing and as lively as ever today – as to who the star Princess was. Even grown women – and sometimes men! – can be heard asking each other, ‘Who’s your favourite Disney Princess?’ – a personality-assessing question weighted as significantly as an enquiry on music, or film. The Princesses are instantly recognizable – fantastically well-branded – figureheads of Disney and like so much of Disney’s history they’re marked by both controversy and adoration. How to decide, then, which of these money-making power houses wins the definitive title of Best Disney Princess? To settle the debate with facts and figures, we’ve looked at the total lifetime domestic gross of each Disney princess movie – with figures adjusted for inflation – as per boxofficemojo.com, and ranked them in order of the top 10 highest earning Disney Princesses of all time. Of course, we’re looking at lifetime gross so we’d be remiss not to remind you that the older princesses have had a longer career in which to amass their wealth…
10. Mulan: $207 million
Mulan is the only East Asian Disney Princess, based on the 6th century poem, the ‘Ballad of Mulan’. Mulan made her big-screen debut in 1998 to a positive response from the critics and she was hailed as a positive role model for women. Set in China, against the backdrop of the Han Dynasty, Mulan disguises herself as a man so that she can go to war in her father’s place. This Princess is viewed as a bit of a feminist icon but her film falls near the bottom of the pile due to a sluggish pace and lacklustre music.
9. Rapunzel: $202 million
Disney fans waited decades for their beloved animation studio to adapt this classic tale of the long-haired damsel in distress. When the animation studio finally came up with the goods in 2010, modern classic ‘Tangled’ was born and the box office exploded. Children and adults alike fell in love with the ditsy, golden-haired Rapunzel voiced by Mandy Moore. Mother Gothel was every inch the dark evil villain, too. Tangled was released soon after the relative flop of The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s attempt to return to traditional animation. Rapunzel was the first wholly computer-generated Disney princess and die-hard fans were wary, but critics were as enthusiastic as the punters, meaning Tangled takes its rightful place on the Disney Princess Hall of Fame.
8. Ariel: $213.2 million
In 1989, she heralded an age of the arguably more comprehensive, psychologically complex Disney Princesses – part of an era, pioneered by The Little Mermaid, known as the ‘Disney Renaissance’. After Disney favourite Don Bluth left the fold in the late ’70s, Disney had a series of box office disappointments. With Ariel, a new direction for the Walt Disney animation studios emerged. The 4th Princess – and the first since 1959 – became an instantly recognizable character with her wild red hair and shell bikini. She was relatable, adolescent and rebellious and she was accompanied by a soundtrack that has since become a modern classic. Ariel is fittingly half way down the list, as she marks a pivotal turning point in the history of Disney and arguably shaped the Disney Princess franchise as it is today.
7. Princess Merida: $241 million
Princess Merida is one of the computer animated princesses, and the only Gaelic princess on the list. She was the leading character in ‘Brave’, the 2012 movie by Pixar and Disney, and she was met by rapturous reviews from critics and wild enthusiasm from her audience. Merida took the Academy Award for Best Animated Film that year, and Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald – know for much grittier, controversial roles – received acclaim for her voicing of the fiery-haired princess. A Celtic soundtrack and lush visuals made for a hugely successful movie and Princess Merida won the hearts of Disney fans everywhere.
6. Pocahontas: $262 million
Pocahontas is the first Disney Princess to be based on a historical character rather than a fairy tale, and the themes of this animation made it inherently more controversial than previous Princess films. Indeed Pocahontas didn’t receive a warm response from critics, who levelled accusations like ‘offensive’ and ‘inaccurate’. While the soundtrack of this movie received Academy Awards, lyrics like ‘what can you expect / from filthy little heathens?’ only served to incite critics who believed the film pushed themes of white supremacy and negative stereotypes of Native Americans. The box office figures, though, indicate enthusiasm for Pocahontas and she remains a fixture of the Disney Princess family.
5. Belle: $365,177,900
Belle is often hailed as one of the best role-models for little girls, as an intellectual spirit who looks beyond the superficial to love the soul of her Prince Charming. Adapted from a popular fairy tale, the character of Belle was developed for the film – her character was reportedly inspired by Katherine Hepburn’s role in Little Women in the ’30s. Although Belle falls only half-way down our list, she’s received acclaim across the board from critics and audience alike.. Actress Paige O’Hara voiced Belle from the first film in ’91 until 2011, when she was honoured with a Disney Legend Award.
4. Princess Jasmine: $422,160,900
The only Arabic Disney Princess, Jasmine was a supporting character rather than a lead in the 1992 hit, Aladdin. Not all the credit can go to Jasmine, then, as her cheeky love-interest and the uproarious sidekick Genie were big draws at the box office; but Jasmine stood the test of time and has established herself as a worthy Princess in her own right. She’s an independent spirit who wilfully flouts tradition and her all-singing role – voiced by actress Linda Larkin – secured her as a popular fixture of the ’90s Disney franchise. Today, she’s still a well-loved face in the Disney Princess market.
3. Princess Aurora: $585,042,300
Better known as Sleeping Beauty, this pink-robe, blonde friend of the animals graced the silver screen in 1959 to a mixed reception from the public. On its initial release, Sleeping Beauty only brought in just a fraction of the lifetime total gross – much of this $585 million came, in fact, from re-releases. The animation for Sleeping Beauty was hugely expensive, and with its relatively small initial returns combined with a bad year all-round for Disney, Princess Aurora contributed to Disney’s only overall annual loss in a decade, in 1960. Aurora has since become famous for her adorable musical talents and colourful surroundings and her initial failures have paled in comparison to her lifetime of success and for this, she takes the third top spot in the sisterhood of the Disney Princesses.
2. Cinderella: $828.04 million
Based on Perrault’s classic tale of the under-appreciated and over-worked stepdaughter, this musical animation shot Cinderella and her Prince Charming to international fame and secured Disney’s place as the leading animation studio in the world. This was only the second hit for Disney since Snow White 13 years previously – World War 2 had upset finances and pushed Disney to release cheaper, packaged animations – but our glass-slipper wearing Princess was such a huge box office smash that it arguably secured the future of the Disney animation studio and certainly affirmed the popularity of the aspirational, idealistic Disney Princess.
1. Snow White: $877,450,000
The original and – according to box office figures – the best Disney Princess, Snow White has been an idol of little girls everywhere for the last century. This classic – and very dark – fairy tale of the beautiful princess and evil stepmother has been reworked, re-imagined and revitalised innumerable times since its cinematic release in 1937 but no interpretation has so far matched the stunning success of the Walt Disney studio’s first ever feature film animation. Snow White established the aesthetic style for Disney’s female princesses, and she’s the founding member of the Disney Princess franchise: a multi-billion dollar sector of Disney’s merchandising operations.
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