The Best 4D Movie Theme Park Experiences

Posted by Andrea Shockling on Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Believe it or not, it’s been almost thirty years since the first 4D movie experience debuted. “The Sensorium” at Six Flags Power Plant in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was created by Gary Goddard Entertainment in 1984 and featured moving, vibrating seats and smells such as roses and hot dogs that followed the action on screen. Since then, 4D entertainment has become a staple at theme parks everywhere. With new 4D features like “Legends of Chima” at LEGOLAND Florida opening soon, we wanted to take a look back at some of our favorite amusement park 4D movies from around the world.

Captain EO

5. “Captain EO”, Disney Theme Parks

It wasn’t quite the first, but “Captain EO” is certainly the most well-known 4D experience. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas, the movie debuted in 1986 featuring an all-star cast including Michael Jackson and Anjelica Huston. Rusty Lemorande, the “Father of 4D”, was a writer and producer, and suggested the innovative technique of syncing the effects in the theater with the frames of the film. Original special effects included laser projected starfields and smoke in the audience. After Jackson’s death in 2009, “Captain EO” returned to Disneyland the following year. Using the theater built for another 4D movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Audience”, “Captain EO” was revamped with new 4D effects such as shaking seat banks and seat-misters when a character sneezes.

Muppet*Vision 3D

4. “Muppet*Vision 3D”, Disney Theme Parks

Another oldie but goodie, “Muppet*Vision” uses traditional 4D effects like squirting water, bubbles and blown air as well as animatronic characters in the theater and extensive props in the lobby to create an immersive audience experience. Directed by Jim Henson and starring his beloved Muppets, “Muppet*Vision” was the final Muppets project Henson produced before his death. Popular with younger audiences especially, this attraction is a great combination of fun characters and physical gags that have a big impact.

Shrek 4D

3. “Shrek 4-D”, Universal Studios Parks

“Shrek 4-D” originally opened in 2003 at Universal Studios Hollywood, but has since expanded to all other Universal Studios theme parks. Like “Muppet*Vision”, this attraction also excels at coupling a fun pre-show with a solid 4-D film. Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, John Lithgow and Cameron Diaz reprise their famous roles in this story that takes place right after the original “Shrek” film. Shaking seats, misters and laser lights add to the 3D effects, but the real star of the show are the characters. “Shrek 4-D” takes the humor and design of the original movie to the next level with the added 4D audience experience.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 4D2. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs the 4D Experience”, Warner Bros. Movieworld, Australia, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago and San Diego Zoo

“Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” is unique on this list in that it takes an existing film from wide release and repackages it in a condensed format with added 4D effects. “Ice Age” is produced by the Oscar-winning SimEx-Iwerks, a leader in 3D and 4D technology. Special effects include shaking seats, mist, “snow”, and smells throughout the 14 minute film, creating a true full-sensory experience for all ages.

It's Tough To Be A Bug

1. “It’s Tough To Be A Bug”, Disney Theme Parks

Consistently ranked as one of the top 4D theme park experiences, “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” was created by Oscar-winning Rhythm and Hues Studios as a companion piece to “A Bug’s Life” attractions at several Disney parks. So what makes this 4D movie work so well? More than any other show, “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” excels at “placemaking” in a way that really adds to a more cohesive themed experience. The adventure begins in an expertly themed underground setting that puts you in the world of bugs before you even enter the theater. This pre-show environment is a great demonstration of Pixar cleverness, with parody posters replacing classic movie titles with bug-relevant language.

Once the film begins, the smart script comes to life with fun gags, and the movie and real-life effects are perfectly timed. Imagine seeing spiders on the screen while you feel the seat move behind you and you might get an idea of how effective– and scary! – this combination is together. While the visuals may be a little intense for younger viewers, we love the playful way the 4D effects bring audiences into the film. Also cool are the brilliant audio-animatronic characters, like Hopper the grasshopper, who make appearances during the show. “It’s Tough To Be A Bug” debuted in 1998, but this 4D movie is one we’ll go back to again and again.

Image sources:,,,

Leave a Reply

Must Read