The Disney Parks have always been family-oriented resort destinations, offering children and adults alike opportunities to immerse themselves into classic Disney movies and entertainment properties we’ve all come to know and love from over the years.
Throughout the years, the Disney Parks have (mostly) maintained a family-focused experience, offering Guests of all ages the chance to have fun and enjoy themselves. In the mid-’90s however, this design philosophy changed with one particularly terrifying attraction.
For those brave enough to strap in and pull down the “safety” bars, ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter in the Magic Kingdom offered a thrilling, spine-tingling experience that allowed Guests to come face-to-face with a massive alien animatronic. The story was simple, a somewhat-evil alien corporation known as XS-Tech (get it?) was showcasing its brand-new teleportation technology. Those in the audience were encouraged to have a seat and strap in for a demonstration where XS-Tech’s president would be teleported and have a meet-and-greet with Guests.
Predictably, things did not go to plan and a huge, bug-like alien with wings and creepy spider-like legs is teleported instead, putting everyone in the room in grave danger. The attraction was in every sense of the word, terrifying.
There really aren’t many places in any of the four Parks at the Walt Disney World Resort that offer scares, unless dolls tend to creep you out. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was truly Disney’s first venture into a fully immersive, scary, and even violent attraction. Although there is a long list of closed attractions at the Disney Parks, none compare to Alien Encounter’s story.
Even during the very brief early previews of the attraction in 1994 Guests would frequently complain about the violence and overall scare factor. During the show people would even scream so much to the point where crucial dialogue was inaudible, forcing Imagineers to edit and re-record certain audio cues to ensure Guests could keep up with the story.
From the day it opened in 1995 to when it closed in 2003, Alien Encounter was plagued by controversy. Even during the very brief early previews of the attraction in 1994 Guests would frequently complain about the violence and overall scare factor. During the show people would even scream so much to the point where crucial dialogue was inaudible, forcing Imagineers to edit and re-record certain audio cues to ensure Guests could keep up with the story.
Even more terrifying was the initial concept for the attraction. Originally, the attraction was going to be based on the 1979 film Alien, placing Guests on the famous Nostromo spaceship where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) fought off the iconic nightmare-inducing Xenomorph alien. This original idea also proposed guns The attraction itself would’ve been mostly the same as what Guests experienced in
At the time, Disney had already acquired the rights to Alien but Disney Imagineering was split, with the newer designers wanting to bring in this exciting and fresh property and the older Imagineers wanting to keep the parks free of R-rated properties.
Ironically, Ripley, the Xenomorph, and Nostromo would all be represented in a Disney Park when The Great Movie Ride opened at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, then called Disney’s MGM Studios in 1989. ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter was ultimately replaced with a less-interesting and less-unique experience known as Stitch’s Great Escape.
This new attraction was operational from 2004 to 2018, with the space that used to house both attractions lying vacant and unused, with many Guests having no idea the amount of Disney history they are walking by when entering Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom.
A recent post on Reddit, a popular social media discussion site spurred a conversation about bringing back such a scary attraction to the Walt Disney World Resort. User u/Beautiful-Ostrich152 asked the question: “Now that Disney owns the Alien Franchise maybe they could use the circular theater for a “reboot” of this ride?”
Unsurprisingly, this question got a lot of traction and started a debate about bringing back what was and still is Disney’s scariest ride ever built. The topic of where to put such a terrifying attraction was debated, with some saying it was a better fit for Disney’s Hollywood Studios now.
Guests reminisced about experiencing this attraction back when it was open, remembering all the crying children coming out. User u/OldSchoolAF commented:
One of my all time favorites… would go at least 3x every trip. Warned off a lot of kids/parents. Remember one young tough guy maybe 10… saying “it’s no big deal” and then literally screaming and crying yelling “get me out of here!”
User u/Metroid_PrimeRib talked about how this ride “ruined Disney” for them for a while:
I went to Disney one time as a child. My parents took me when I was around 9 years old. They had never been to Disney and this was back in the late 90s. They knew nothing about the ride but it had a short wait time and we all got on it.
I’ve never been so terrified in my life. For 9 year old me it was horrifying from start to finish lol. I was crying in my seat and just praying for it to end. Towards the end of the ride they would choose someone in the seats and shine a spotlight on them. They’d then claim they were abducting that person. Well the light landed on my mom and I was afraid they were really going to take her. I screamed and grabbed hold of her and wished I was anywhere else on the planet. Kind of ruined Disney for me while I was a kid lol.
Another user talked about how the attraction was ahead of its time and definitely needs to return. As stated above, the building that housed both ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter has been vacant and unused, and not much is known about what Disney plans to do with the space.
In the past, rumors about a Wreck-It-Ralph attraction rolled around in the Disney community but they were nothing more than just speculation. After Stitch’s Great Escape closed, the show building was used briefly as a meet and greet for the Stitch character, which was cheekily called an “alien encounter”. While Disney offers a variety of experiences, hardly any could truly be considered “scary” or “terrifying”. Possibly the only other ride or attraction that fits the bill could be DINOSAUR in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Filled with huge dinosaur animatronics, loud noises, and complete darkness, this ride can be quite frightening for even the most veteran Disney Park fans. Originally known as “Countdown to Extinction”, this opening day attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is not for the faint of heart (or those prone to motion sickness!). Check out our ultimate guide on the attraction here.
A Race Against Time
A paleontologist recruits you for a secret mission to bring a 3.5-ton Iguanadon back to the present. There’s just one problem—the giant meteor that wiped out life on Earth is on the way!
Board a rugged Time Rover vehicle and set off on a thrilling adventure through a primeval forest filled with life-like dinosaurs. Careen through unpredictable hairpin turns. Dart around a fearsome Velociraptor hunting for prey. Avoid the clutches of a Cearadactylus soaring overhead!
As the clock counts down, fiery meteors crash down around you. Will you make your escape before the dinosaurs—and you—become extinct?
Is It Too Scary?
DINOSAUR includes loud sounds in the dark and menacing dinosaurs that may scare some children.
A Spirited Tour
The disembodied voice of the Ghost Host is your private guide through the cadaverous realm of an eerie haunted estate, home to ghosts, ghouls and supernatural surprises.
Glide past a casket-filled conservatory, Madame Leota’s chilling séance room and a ghostly graveyard of singing specters as you attempt to find your way out. Beware of hitchhikers—these phantom pranksters may follow you home.
Before Entering the MansionA musical crypt, a leaky tomb and a ghostly writer are among the creepy haunts you’ll find outside the main entrance. Explore supernatural hands-on experiences—only at Walt Disney World Resort—while you await your fate inside.
The Haunted Mansion is dark and contains some mildly frightening scenes, but there is no gore, the ghostly residents are friendly and the ride is slow-moving.
The story of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is probably just as scary as the ride experience itself. Dropping Guests over a hundred feet in the dark, Guests can be sure to get their thrills and chills when riding this Disney Park icon. The theme is set when walking inside this mid-century hotel which has been abandoned ever since a fatal elevator accident occurred, trapping the souls of the Guests stuck inside forever.
While it’s all in good fun, this ride certainly could be considered scary not just for the story but the intensity of it as well.
Next Stop: The 5th Dimension
Step uneasily inside the infamous Hollywood Tower Hotel and find a dusty lobby frozen in time. Even the subdued hotel staff seems strangely out of another era.
Suddenly a television set springs to life and Rod Serling welcomes you on a journey into the Twilight Zone. He reveals that on a gloomy Halloween night in 1939, some hotel patrons were riding the elevator when a violent storm struck the building… and they were never seen again. The hotel closed down and has stood empty ever since.
Enter the rickety, elevator-style lift, strap yourself in and prepare to discover what lies beyond the darkest corner of your imagination.
Shriek in terror as you’re suddenly propelled up and down the abandoned shaft—unexpectedly dropping and rising—as you hear the sound of cables snapping and metal clanging overhead.
Will you make it back to the real world… or will you become a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone?
Based on the Television Series
This attraction is based on the popular television series which originally aired from 1959 to 1964. Created, hosted and written by Rod Serling, the award-winning show—with its imaginative storylines and unexpected twist endings—was wildly successful.
While all of these rides and attractions offer exciting thrills chills and hopefully no spills, none of them can compare to the level of trust terror Guests felt who were unlucky (or lucky) enough to experience ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter at Tomorrowland. Some Guests may want Disney to remain as family-friendly as possible and while adorable, Disney does have to cater to its more grown-up fans as well. Just recently we have seen the additions of several R-rated shows come to Disney+ in the form of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and other shows in the Marvel Defenders series.
While family is a part of Disney’s core design philosophy, so is innovation and unique experiences. While most rides and attractions offer these and more, it’s hard to compare anything to what ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter provided guests, with an incredibly-authentic and detailed experience that they will never forget, for good or for bad.
Do you think this attraction should come back to the Disney Parks? Let us know in the comments below.
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