With the news that the Fast & Furious franchise is getting its own theme park treatment as a ride at Universal Studios, let's take a look at the rest of the theme park attractions that we have thanks to Hollywood. Film critic Matt Singer of ScreenCrush once smartly observed that theme park attractions are "a perfect microcosm of modern Hollywood, where family-friendly 3-D escapism and the potential for merchandise sales are the only things that matter."
Cynicism aside, here are my top five theme park attractions that got their start in the movies, and feel free to tell me I'm wrong or point out what I overlooked in the comments section:
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: The game changer in the theme park scene is not just a ride that makes you feel like you are flying around Hogwarts, it's two whole sections of two Universal Orlando theme parks that are an immersion into J.K. Rowling's imagination. From cold draughts of Butterbeer to a ride on the Hogwarts Express between to the two theme parks, muggles can pretend for a little while that they are part her world.
Pirates of the Caribbean: This shouldn't be on this list because it was a movie based on a ride (a trend that gave us awful flicks like The Haunted Mansion and Tomorrowland). But Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow ending up influencing a new version of this classic Magic Kingdom ride and he is now featured as an audio-animatronic performer in the attraction. So it's like the circle of life creatively, one feeding the other and meeting in the gift shop.
Transformers: The Ride This $100 million attraction at Universal Studios puts riders in the movie, with 3-D glasses inside a vehicle that moves through an environment augmented by giant movie screens, creating the illusion that riders are joining the Transformers on a quest to rescue an important artifact form Optimus Prime's clutches. The ride is a technical marvel and visually stunning, just like the films of Michael Bay. And like Bay's films, you don't get a lot of deep knowledge from it, but it sure is fun. As our reviewer said here, "This sucker's intense."
Madagascar Live! Operation: Vacation: This live show at Busch Gardens is a hit with little kids and a hoot. The live 20-minute musical runs weekends at the Tampa theme park, featuring characters from the DreamWorks hit, including Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, King Julien, Mort and the Penguins, accompanied by live singers, a live band, and back up dancers. The only drawback is Melman and Marty are missing from this stage show.
The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train: This new ride opened in May 2014 in the Magic Kingdom, and the lines are still long. That's because it's Disney's most advanced animatronics yet. You get both realism and storytelling and lots of inside jokes for Disneyphiles as you sit in mine cars that sway on a twisting track in a musical roller coaster adventure based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's a gentle family roller coaster with outdoor and indoor segments. But this one has the rare added benefit of making the wait in line fun, with interactive features like a gem-sorting game and one using streams of water to play musical notes. People have been known to get so engrossed in the games that they hold up the entire line.
Follow Sharon Kennedy Wynne @SharonKWn.