It’s 8:00 p.m. on Jan. 20, 2006. You’re sitting on your couch, watching a New Year’s scene unfold. Gabriella and Troy are belting out “Start of Something New” for the first time, and you don’t know yet that Zac Efron is lip syncing to someone else’s voice. 

“High School Musical” was not the first Disney Channel Original Movie — or DCOM — but it has reached such an icon status that it’s the first movie that pops into most people’s minds when DCOMs are mentioned. 

But just because it was the first, that doesn’t make it the best. 

If you’re feeling nostalgic, never fear! I’ve curated a definitive ranking of all of the best — and worst — childhood DCOMs, using the following incredibly strict criteria:

  1. Romantic Cheesiness: I am a sucker for a good romance arc. I’m not saying there needs to be a love story for it to be a good DCOM, but I am saying that all of the best DCOMs are, in some way, about love.
  2. Plot Originality: There are certain things that I not only expect, but need from a DCOM: the awkward meet-cute, the 2010 fashion, the fact that every high schooler drives a car nicer than my own, themain-character’s-best-friend-that-is-actually-way-cooler-than-the-main-character and, of course, the finale scene that somehow, always seems to take place at a prom. We watch DCOMs in part because we love the clichés—and because in some cases, the DCOMs invented the clichés. Nevertheless, I have extra appreciation for the movies that went that extra mile and at least tried to be original.
  3. Singability: Let’s be honest — all of the best DCOMs are musicals. You can say I’m wrong, but you know I’m not. 
  4. My Own Bias: I’ll admit, some of these movies played a much smaller role in my childhood than others. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge that my own nostalgia will be just as much of a factor in my rankings as all of the aforementioned factors.

For the sake of my own sanity, I didn’t include any DCOMs that were based off of TV series — ex. “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie”. How can you judge them without taking into account the series that they stemmed from? Answer: you can’t. I can’t pit Alex Russo or Phineas and Ferb against characters that I haven’t spent four seasons getting to know. It wouldn’t be fair.

Without further ado, here is my ranking:

20. “Zombies.” “I’ve always wanted to see a movie about a cheerleader falling in love with a zombie!” said no one ever. Complete with a pastel pink-and-green color scheme and songs that are better left unheard, this movie is entirely irrelevant and unnecessary. It’s also one of the more recent DCOMs, which means that it doesn’t provide viewers with the same nostalgia as its predecessors. I only put it on this list because I wanted to talk about how much I hate it. 

19. “How To Build A Better Boy.” This is one of those movies that I forget exists. I remember being really excited for it to come out, but my memory of this movie ends there — which can only mean that it was mediocre and forgettable.

18. “The Cheetah Girls.” I blame movies like this one for convincing my younger self that a record producer would sign me to his label if I sang loud enough in the supermarket. The story is cute, and I love a movie that celebrates friendship, but some parts of it are too unrealistic for me to get over. The movie’s climax comes when the Cheetah Girls save a dog from a construction site by … singing? I love originality, but this might be too original. 

17. “Halloweentown.” It’s one of the earliest DCOMs on this list, and it got two sequels for a reason. It’s silly, it’s fun, it’s got magic annnnddd I don’t remember much else but I remember that I liked it. I’m not going to bother including the rest of the Halloweentowns in this list, because they’d all be ranked the same. They lose points for only being fun to watch in the fall. 

16. “Cadet Kelly.” No one asked for Disney to make a movie about a military academy, but they made one anyways and it’s … not bad. Hillary Duff might just be the queen of DCOMs, and as Kelly, she manages to both lead her drill team to second place in regionals and rescue her father after he falls off a cliff. Would it be too cringey to say that Duff’s Kelly is a total girlboss?

15. “Camp Rock.” Don’t hate me for putting this one so low, but I … I’m just not the world’s biggest “Camp Rock” girl. I love Demi Lovato, but Mitchie is hard to watch sometimes. Plus, Joe Jonas’s haircut is not great in this movie. Still, I’ll admit that the music and plot are fun and that this movie was the reason I always wanted to go to a sleepaway camp as a kid — a dream that was sadly never realized. “Camp Rock” might not be my favorite, but as Mitchie once said, “she’s really good.”

14. “Camp Rock 2.” It’s better than the first, though not by much. It’s still cringey, but at least Joe has a better haircut in this one!

13. “Descendants.” Yes, we’ve all seen way too many little girls dressed up as Mal for Halloween, but I’m here to argue that “Descendants” deserves justice. I’ve always been a sucker for a fractured fairytale, and between Dove Cameron, the late Cameron Boyce and Kristen Chenoweth, the cast is both iconic and incredible. “Evil Like Me” is a banger, and it’s time we start talking about it. The rest of the “Descendants” movies aren’t on this list because, to be quite frank, I haven’t seen them, but I have confidence that they’re probably just as good. 

12. “Let It Shine.” This movie had everything: romance, a mistaken identity and the rap battle to end all rap battles. Not only is “Let It Shine” fun, but it has a great message. Even if it didn’t have a stellar plot, it would still make this list because of its music. Wow. If you can’t watch the movie, at least listen to the soundtrack, because it’s phenomenal.

11. “Geek Charming.” You have to hear me out on this one. I understand that objectively, this movie has kind of a bad plot, and Sarah Hyland’s character isn’t fun or quirky. She’s actually just a bitch. But something about “Geek Charming” is so bad that it’s good. Sure, it’s the cliché of all clichés, and sure, it’s incredibly unbelievable that a high school guy would choose to film a documentary on one of his classmates as an “exposé on popularity,” but all of those things only make me love “Geek Charming” more. Call me crazy, but it’s one of my guilty pleasures.

10. “Radio Rebel.” What would we do as a society if this movie hadn’t given us that Debby Ryan meme? I take back what I said earlier about Hillary Duff being the DCOM Queen, because that title most certainly goes to Debby Ryan. I absolutely devoured this movie when it first came out, and I always secretly wanted my high school prom to be canceled so that I could throw a Morp of my own. I also secretly wanted someone to get up onstage and sing a song for me the way Gavin does for Tara. None of those things occurred, so clearly, I am not Radio Rebel.

9. “Teen Beach Movie 2.” Do I love this movie, or do I just love Ross Lynch? I think the answer is both. When the characters of Ross Lynch’s favorite movie accidentally enter the real world, chaos ensues. It’s hilarious and beachy and there’s plenty of singing, plus a feminist plot twist. Even though they end up forgetting their history, the characters Brady and Mack manage to fall in love all over again, proving that they were “meant to be” all along.

8. “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — Sharpay Evans deserved better. How can you tell me that after working her butt off for years and getting upstaged by some random new girl, she still doesn’t get into Juilliard? That unfairness aside, we all know that “HSM3” is amazing. It’s just not as amazing as the other two. Also, realistically, there’s no way Gabriella would have had to leave before the end of her senior year for Stanford. That’s just not how college works.

7. “Motocrossed.” The first time I saw this movie, I didn’t realize it was a DCOM. My dad showed it to me and told me it was one of his favorites. Maybe that was just because he was obsessed with motorcycles, but this movie is so underrated. It’s about a girl who takes her twin brother’s place in a motocross race after he breaks his leg, all against her overprotective father’s wishes. For the entire movie, everyone tells the main character, Andrea, that she can’t race or do certain things “because she’s a girl,” and in the end, she wins the race, secures a corporate sponsorship for her family’s racing company, gets with a hot motorcycle man and proves that girls can do everything that guys can. My synopsis doesn’t do this movie justice at all; it’s a true hidden gem.

6. “High School Musical.” I already know that I’m going to get a lot of hate for placing the original “HSM” anywhere but at the top, so I want to clarify: I LOVE this movie. It’s “High School Musical”, how could I not? This is the DCOM of all DCOMs, the reason that Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens are household names. This movie defined my very unrealistic expectations for what high school would be like. It is bold and fun and, dare I say, generation-defining. Maybe this is wrong of me, but I didn’t want to let “HSM”’s societal relevance and greater impact blind me from judging the movie and its content, which again, is GREAT. Maybe I just watched it too many times as a kid, but it’s not my first choice to turn on. It’s so predictable. Sue me.

5. “Starstruck.” This movie does not get the appreciation it deserves. I know, I know: it is SO cheesy, but that’s why I love it. Swoon-worthy popstar Christopher Wilde accidentally bumps into and falls in love with Jessica, the only girl that isn’t falling at his feet. It’s exactly the kind of plot that all of those horrible y/n One Direction Wattpad and Tumblr fanfictions had, and yet I eat it up. It’s cheesy, yes, but it’s also cute and nostalgic. Do I still listen to “Hero” unironically?… maybe. 

4. “Princess Protection Program.” Five words: Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Sometimes I forget this movie exists, and then I remember and it makes my day, because this movie is just. that. good. Demi is a princess in hiding, and Selena plays her tomboyish roommate and eventual best friend. When evil forces try to come after Demi, Selena plans to trick them into taking her instead, all so she can save Demi. “PPP” is fun and unique and is one of my all-time favorites to rewatch.

3. “Teen Beach Movie.” Don’t lie: you know all of the words and choreography to “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin,’” and rightfully so. There’s nothing not to like about this movie. Everything from the soundtrack to the color scheme is perfect, and Ross Lynch and Maia Mitchell lead a talented cast of singers and dancers into the world of “Wet Side Story.” “Teen Beach Movie” manages to be cheesy, unique, romantic and silly all at the same time. I wish I lived in their world, tbh.

2. “High School Musical 2.” I will die on the hill that this is the best of the “HSM” trilogy. It has all of the best songs: “I Don’t Dance,” “Bet On It,” “Fabulous,” “Gotta Go My Own Way,” the list goes on. You know in your soul that “HSM2” is the most quotable, most singable and most memorable — you’re just too afraid to admit it. 

  1. “Lemonade Mouth.” A lot of different movies could’ve taken the Best DCOM crown, but when I considered my criteria, “Lemonade Mouth” won by juuussstt a little bit. With songs like “Determinate” and “She’s So Gone,” it’s got a killer soundtrack. Plus, it’s got Bridgit Mendler, Hayley Kiyoko and that guy from “Dog with a Blog” that everyone had a crush on as a kid (or at least I did). It’s also got that great romance between Bridgit and the guy-that-lowkey-looks-like-he-could-be-her-brother and Mo and Charlie. It also checks off all of the nostalgic “high school” tropes while still feeling fresh. No movie has ever made me crave lemonade more than this one. You can disagree all you want, but this is my go-to when I’m feeling nostalgic and want to return to the Golden Age of DCOMs.