Which Disney Rides Cost a Fortune to Build?
You may wonder why Disney hasn’t announced any upcoming attractions lately. The answer comes down to money.
Disney’s balance sheet took a beating during the pandemic. So, park officials cannot proceed until they grow confident that they have weathered the storm.
You may not realize this fact, but most new Disney attractions are comically expensive, and I can prove it.
Here’s a list of the Disney attractions that cost the most to build. Warning: you may get sticker shock.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure — $120 Million
Before we get started, I must stress that this is a fun exercise that shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Park officials rarely confirm actual numbers for theme park attractions.
We often know with older attractions like the one in the next section because workers eventually talk.
For anything built during the 21st century, we’re mostly guessing. Insiders often speak with Imagineers and learn some data after the fact.
However, much of this information remains in dispute unless someone at Disney explicitly states otherwise, preferably in a public forum. I’ll note such instances in this discussion.
Hilariously, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure is arguably the “cheapest” attraction on this list once we adjust for inflation.
Disney built the ride in time for a 2020 opening, but then the world imploded. So, the new attraction waited an extra 18 months.
That also caused an uptick in the cost to construct the project, but it’s still a modest amount compared to some of the rides we’re about to discuss.
Yes, a nine-figure budget has become the industry standard for E-ticket attractions.
Twilight Zone Tower of Terror — $140 Million
Here’s an excellent example of two things I just mentioned. First, we have concrete numbers on the Tower of Terror due to Imagineering interviews.
Disney wasn’t as tight-lipped about this stuff a generation ago. Now, it’s proprietary data the company would rather keep secret.
Also, I could have listed the number as substantially larger. Disney built this project in 1993 and 1994.
In 2022 dollars, the Tower of Terror costs the equivalent of $280 million! That’s the high price of paying for an entire hotel building…and Rod Serling’s voice!
Pooh’s Hunny Hunt — $165 Million
Reports about the cost of this project vary wildly. Over the years, I’ve read Tokyo Disneyland analysts claim that it cost “over $130 million” to build.
However, some of the people who worked on the project have insisted that when they say over, they mean by A LOT.
Some reports suggest as much as $200 million for this one trackless dark ride. I’ve hedged my bet a bit and split the difference.
Even with that lower total of $165 million, it’s still the equivalent of $270 million today!
Are you getting the picture here? If Disney wants to build new attractions worthy of the brand, it needs hundreds of millions of dollars to start.
Radiator Springs Racers — $200 Million
Here’s another example of a vague data point. If you read articles from the opening of Radiator Springs Racers in 2012, they won’t clarify much.
We know that Cars Land cost $1.1 billion to build in its entirety. But, remember that this place features artificial mountains and other incredible details.
So, most of that money went to the land itself, not just the various attractions here.
Still, Radiator Springs Racers is unmistakably the alpha. It remains the most popular attraction at the park a decade later.
The interviews from that era suggested that the slot car ride cost “$200+ million to build.”
Again, the debate lies in how much the “+” part indicates. Even at $200 million, it’s the equivalent of $255 million today.
Some reports suggest a much higher number, a point we’ll evaluate again in a moment.
Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — $225 Million
Okay, this conversation’s incredibly messy. Frankly, the early reporting on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was not good. So I have to take the hit on that as well.
I was one of the folks breathlessly covering every interview Disney published on the subject.
The problem is that Disney’s initial comments painted a different picture than what happened. Perhaps that was by design.
I mean, I spent the body of a year believing that Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was the E-ticket attraction here.
I incorrectly assumed that the other ride would be the Na’vi River Journey, the lesser of the two in the futuristic science-fiction land. That statement sounds ludicrous in hindsight.
Once Disney revealed that Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance would include life-sized At-Ats and be the size of an airport hangar, we knew the truth.
Still, nobody quite knows what any single piece of it cost to construct. To wit, here’s an article an outstanding Disney journalist wrote in 2018.
Those were smart people’s best guesses at the time because those were the numbers Disney provided for construction.
In hindsight, we know that each version of Star Wars Land required more than $1 billion to build.
Given the scale and scope of Rise of the Resistance, estimates place its build cost at $225 million. And I’ll be honest with you. I think those estimates are probably low.
Test Track — $300 Million
Conversely, I believe that the published estimates for Test Track are high. I say this because Radiator Springs Racers should have cost more to build.
Disney had to create something from nothing there. Conversely, Test Track resides in the old World of Motion building.
Even allowing for the massive changes that took place there, I just don’t see a way that it could have cost substantially more than building something new.
The citation on its Wikipedia page links to an article that doesn’t even show a number.
So, I don’t know if that page updated or someone changed something on Wiki and then lied about the source, which does happen.
Still, people have run with this number, making it the perceived total. What we do know is that the entire overhaul of Test Track’s building cost $300 million.
How much of that did Disney spend on the ride itself? I have to think less, but I’m in the minority on this one.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure — $400 Million
How much would you pay to modernize Pirates of the Caribbean?
Well, if you’d worked at Shanghai Disneyland in the early 2010s, you would have answered, “Whatever it costs!”
The Chinese government effectively gave Disney a blank check to construct two E-ticket attractions, ones that didn’t exist anywhere else on the planet.
The more expensive of those attractions is Pirates of the Caribbean: Battle for the Sunken Treasure.
This updated version of the Pirates of the Caribbean story adds unprecedented visual effects to recreate an underwater sea battle between riders and the Kraken.
Spaceship Earth — $800 Million
I know that you probably just did a double take about this one. However, the shocker here is that I may be lowballing it.
Estimates from early 1980s articles suggest that Disney spent $800 million at a minimum and possibly as much as $1.2 billion to construct the silver golf ball in the sky.
Obviously, Spaceship Earth represents an architectural triumph the likes of which Disney may never accomplish again.
So, most of the expenses we’re including here stem from the building itself. However, you should also consider the challenges in the ride’s construction.
Imagineers must create their own flat surfaces to work inside a 109,325-square-foot circle.
All the scenes you watch throughout the ride required tedious work from daredevils. As a result, it’s one of the most challenging builds in theme park history.
Oh, and that $800 million number represents pre-inflation totals. So, in 2022 dollars, we’re talking about a cost of nearly $2.5 billion!
Finally, I should mention that there are two other attractions I haven’t added to this list. I believe they may qualify, though.
When Shanghai Disneyland opened, park officials confirmed that it cost more than $5.5 billion to construct.
The second-most expensive project was Tron Lightcycle Power Run, but nobody ever listed specific costs there.
I presume that the Magic Kingdom version costs at least enough to qualify for this list and would probably place in the top five.
Similarly, Bloomberg recently tossed out a $500 million price tag for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind.
I don’t know how well-sourced that comment is, but it would definitely make the top three if anywhere near true.
Other sources have stated $450 million. So, I believe it probably is in that range.