There have been dozens of Peter Pan movies since the birth of cinema, from live-action stage adaptations to animated classics, and the Peter Pan movies exemplify why J. M. Barrie’s story continues to entertain and delight so long after it was first written. The Scottish author’s most famous work tells the story of a sprite-like young boy named Peter Pan who lives in the fantastical realm of Neverland and refuses to grow up. Peter Pan’s enchanting story has captured the imaginations of other artists for generations, and there are now dozens of Peter Pan films. Regardless of how true the adaptation is to the source material, nearly every Peter Pan movie has a bit of the magic that Barrie sprinkled throughout his works.
Since the story entered the public consciousness, the themes, and ideas presented in the work have become archetypal aspects of children’s stories, and Peter Pan‘s reach stretches far beyond literal adaptations of the play. Even with modern movies like Peter Pan & Wendy making story changes to accommodate current sensibilities, many adaptations of the story have had to grapple with the problematic elements of the original. Though Peter Pan has always been about fun and joy, Barrie’s worldview featured many outdated ideas that will always color any story that attempts to bring Peter Pan to life. While there have been dozens throughout history, and each has something to offer, the best Peter Pan movies definitely stand out as much for how they reimagine the classic tale as much as for how they capture its magic.
15 The Lost Girls (2022)
The British fantasy film The Lost Girls takes a multi-generational approach to J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, but it, unfortunately, turned out to be one of the worst Peter Pan movies. Based on Laurie Fox’s eponymous novel, The Lost Girls follows four generations of Darling women and the subsequent aftermath of their dealings with Peter Pan. However, this version of Neverland has much more serious consequences for the Darling women. For starters, Captain Hook (Iain Glen) is a lascivious jerk who forces all of them to kiss him, and suggests in the film to one of the Wendy’s that “knows all of the girls.”
In addition, this version of Peter Pan (Louis Partridge) comes to each of the Darling women at around 12 years old and makes them promise that they’ll never age. He seems to groom the girls to be something of a mother to him, with the exception of Jane (Joely Richardson/Tilly Marsan) with whom he has a more risqué relationship. In addition, writer/director Livia De Paolis suggests that the Darling women are dealing with mental illness. It’s a bizarre and dark take on Barrie’s lighthearted tale that grows increasingly muddled with each passing generation, making it one of the worst Peter Pan movies.
14 Pan (2015)
Acting essentially as a reimagined origin story for the legendary character, 2015’s Pan stretches Barrie’s ideas to their absolute breaking point, which is why it’s one of the worst Peter Pan movies. In the movie, a young orphan named Peter (Levi Miller) is whisked away to the fantasy realm of Neverland where he teams up with Captain Hook (Garrett Hedlund) to take down the fearsome pirate Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Overwrought and unappealing, what Pan adds to the story ultimately detracts from the magic of the original tale. Critics lambasted the film for its strange choices, and an origin story was totally unnecessary.
Besides being a box office disaster that grossed only $128 million (via Box Office Mojo) against a considerably larger budget, Pan was also jeered for its outdated and problematic casting choices. The role of Tiger Lily has always been a point of contention for every Peter Pan movie, but the choice to cast a white actor (Rooney Mara) as a Native American character was baffling for the year 2015. Almost every adaptation has tried to do something new with the material, but Pan did way too much.
13 Peter Pan (1988)
Though the Walt Disney Company doesn’t own the realm of animation, the animated straight-to-video Peter Pan film from 1988 smacked of blatant copying, making it one of the worst Peter Pan movies. Presented in a stripped-down hour-long story, the movie tells Barrie’s classic tale with very little deviation from previous takes. Many of the characters closely resemble the Walt Disney version, and the production value makes it look like something akin to 1980s TV animation. Despite that, the story is faithful enough to please diehard fans, but it doesn’t offer anything the Disney version didn’t already provide.
12 Return To Neverland (2002)
Disney’s best direct-to-video sequels often capture the magic of the original but in a somewhat diminished capacity. The 2002 animated feature Return to Never Land as one of the few Peter Pan movies sequel is no exception and follows Wendy Darling’s incredulous daughter Jane (Harriet Owen), who is kidnapped by Captain Hook and taken to Neverland. With animation that is almost on par with a standard theatrical release, it was clear that the artists at Disney had legitimate care for the original source material. Even so, the music is lackluster, and it doesn’t do enough to justify its own existence as a sequel to a 50-year-old movie.
11 Neverland (2003)
Eschewing the family-friendly tone of previous adaptations, the 2003 indie film Neverland was one of the few Peter Pan movies to take the story to a dark place. Set in a deserted amusement park, Neverland follows Peter (Rick Sparks) as he leads Wendy (Melany Bell) into a twisted version of Neverland that is lorded over by a vengeful Captain Hook (Gary Kelley). Though the film scored some points from critics for its imaginative take on the classic characters, its intention to shock mostly fell flat, and it suffered from a lack of budget that could have helped the film feel more grandiose.
10 Wendy (2020)
Leaving J.M. Barrie’s original vision behind in favor of a more modern approach, Wendy captures the essence of the message of the classic tale despite changing almost every detail and is one of the many Peter Pan movies to focus on Wendy. Set in the rural American South, the movie follows Wendy (Devin France) as she follows her brothers to a strange land where people never grow up. The Americanized take on Barrie’s story was one of the freshest modernizations since the story debuted, but it still lacks magic. Many of the familiar aspects of Neverland were discarded for a more realistic approach, but that also stripped Wendy of whimsy.
9 Peter Pan: The Quest For The Neverbook (2018)
The 2018 animated adventure Peter Pan: The Quest for the Never Book forgoes the original Peter/Wendy story and sees Captain Hook using the Neverbook to commit various crimes in Neverland. The problem with the CGI-animated tale is that it packs far too many plot points in 90 minutes. There’s a plot to kidnap Tiger Lily, steal a treasured egg from the Choombaas, convince the evil Synapse to join forces, and far too much more. The rapid-fire pace basically turns it into a series of animated clips, with little attention paid to character arcs, which is why it’s one of the few animated Peter Pan movies that misses the mark.
8 Peter And Wendy (2015)
The movie Peter and Wendy draws from the real-life story of J.M. Barrie’s life off the page to make to enrich its take on the Peter Pan story. This unorthodox direction worked in its favor, as the 2015 Peter and Wendy is one of the better live-action Peter Pan movies. Lucy (Hazel Doupe) is a young girl with a heart condition who, on the eve of a dangerous surgery, reads a copy of Peter Pan and is transported into the story. Set within the Great Ormond Street Hospital, the institution that the author left the rights of Peter Pan to, the movie deftly blends two storylines. The TV movie scored an International Emmy, but its Neverland sequences were overshadowed by its much more interesting real-world storyline.
7 Peter Pan & Wendy (2023)
Disney returned to the Peter Pan well with 2023’s live-action reimagining, Peter Pan & Wendy, which debuted on their streaming service, Disney Plus, and it’s an okay entry into the roster of Peter Pan movies. The story follows Wendy Darling (Ever Anderson) and her brothers as she is transported to Neverland by Peter Pan (Alexander Molony) where they face off against Captain Hook (Jude Law). Though critics were divided on the film’s uneven presentation, the visual effects and overall approach to the material were praised.
Particularly important was the casting of Indigenous actor Alyssa Wapanatâhk as Tiger Lily, who speaks her native language in Peter Pan & Wendy. Representing a big step forward in rectifying decades of stereotyping and negative portrayals in every Peter Pan movie, Peter Pan & Wendy made the right choices when it came to modernization. Nevertheless, the movie garnered a mixed reception because of its overall tepid execution and uninspired feeling. Many of Disney’s live-action adaptations have suffered from the same problems that ultimately dragged Peter Pan & Wendy down.
6 Peter Pan (1954, 1955, 1956, 1960)
There have been four major adaptations of J.M. Barrie’s infamous stage play that have been put onto the screen as a musical, with the 1960 version starring Mary Martin reaching the most fame for its home video release in the ’80s. The reason that these productions are grouped together is that the only thing that truly changes between each iteration of the Peter Pan movies is the cast. The Peter Pan musicals feature the typical controversial pitfalls of whitewashing the overall story with its casting. Other than that, for those who enjoy stage productions put to film, any of these Peter Pan musical adaptations are a classic delight.
5 Peter Pan (1976)
The 1976 TV movie Peter Pan takes the traditional musical and re-scores it with entirely new songs, and it surprisingly worked very well. Starring Mia Farrow in the titular role, Peter Pan is packed with energy and nostalgia and Danny Kaye stands out as a particularly animated Captain Hook. This take on the classic tale has a perfect blend of innocence and charm while still maintaining the integrity of Barrie’s story, and plenty of catchy songs to boot that maintain the original magic of the beloved Mary Martin version. All in all, it’s one of the better Peter Pan movies out there despite not being the most well known, and won a Primetime Emmy award.
4 Peter Pan (2003)
What makes 2003’s Peter Pan such an interesting specimen out of every Peter Pan movie is just how closely it sticks to the source material. Praised as the most accurate adaptation of Peter Pan to date, the movie ignores the much more famous Disney cartoon and blazes its own trail as a faithful representation of Barrie’s work. Critics praised the movie for its execution and performances, but reviews were mostly tepidly positive with many noting that little was done that hadn’t already been accomplished by other adaptations. The film was a financial failure and only managed to gross $122 million (via Box Office Mojo) against a $130 million budget. However, for younger audiences discovering the character for the first time, there are few better Peter Pan films.
3 Hook (1991)
Though director Steven Spielberg doesn’t like Hook, audiences did, and the critically panned movie became a bona fide cult classic and one of the best Peter Pan movies. The zany reimagining follows an adult Peter (Robin Williams), now a successful businessman, as he travels to Neverland to rescue his children from the clutches of Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and assume the role of Peter Pan. Though critics praised the movie’s imaginative approach and the performances of Williams and Hoffman, Hook was mostly skewered for its missed opportunities and cheesy sentimentality.
Despite that, fans have gravitated to the movie out of every Peter Pan movie for its one-of-a-kind appeal and amazing set pieces that finally gave the Peter Pan story the live-action grandeur it always deserved. The movie was a financial success when it grossed $300 million (via Box Office Mojo), and its popularity as a cult classic only grew with each passing year. Though Hook is far from a perfect film, it’s one of the few reimaginings that actually has fun with the source material and allows the magic of Barrie’s vision to shine through.
2 Walt Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)
Coming at the height of the Walt Disney Company’s initial animation boom, the 1953 animated take on Peter Pan is one of the studio’s most beloved movies, and arguably one of the best Peter Pan movies. Jumping off from Barrie’s source material, the animated version from Disney adds excellent music and brings Neverland to life in stunning color. Though contemporary critics were unhappy with the film’s unfaithfulness as an adaptation, the undeniable charm of Bobby Driscoll’s Peter Pan and the exuberant colors garnered the film nothing but praise.
Unfortunately, many aspects of Peter Pan didn’t age well, and though there was a basis for many of the movie’s problematic elements in Barrie’s work, Disney went beyond the pale. Perhaps the most offensive of all, the depiction of Native Americans and the racist song “What Makes the Red Man Red?” have tarnished the film’s reputation, and modern reassessments have not held Disney’s Peter Pan in as high regard because of its troublesome depictions.
1 Peter Pan (1924)
Released just 20 years after the first staging of J.M. Barrie’s play, the 1924 silent film Peter Pan was the first to tackle the source material on screen and is the best Peter Pan movie. Sticking relatively close to Barrie’s work, the groundbreaking movie used every cinematic trick in existence at the time to adapt the play. Though somewhat overshadowed by more famous adaptations, the 1924 silent film was actually the direct inspiration for Walt Disney’s 1953 animated film, and many choices in the silent film are mirrored by later versions.
As in the original play, the part of Peter Pan is played by a woman (Betty Bronson) and the film is a somewhat star-studded affair with future icon Anna May Wong appearing as Tiger Lily. Once thought completely lost, a copy of the film was fortunately preserved, which allowed it to live on for future generations to enjoy. Though nearly 100 years old, 1924’s Peter Panstill manages to dazzle with its practical effects and progressive filmmaking techniques. As such, modern assessments of the film have been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s the best out of all the Peter Pan movies.