The 10 Best Rides at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood globe

Universal Studios

Universal Studios Hollywood boasts some of the best theme park attractions in the world. In fact, nearly all of its major attractions are world-class. Let's count down the top ten best rides at the park. 

First, a little history. When Universal Studios Hollywood first opened in the mid-1960s, it wasn't a theme park in the conventional sense. Its primary feature was its backstage studio tour, and it didn't offer any dark rides, roller coasters, or any other attractions found at places such as Disneyland. That began to change as the park added shows and elements to the tour that were designed more to entertain and enchant than demonstrate how movies were made.​

The park truly began evolving in 1991 when it opened the E.T. Adventure, its first story-based, dark-ride attraction. Using impressive animatronics and whimsical bicycle-style ride vehicles, Universal demonstrated that it could compete with Disney and develop its own E-Ticket rides. (E.T. has since closed.) Around the same time, Universal Orlando opened, and Universal Creative, the merry band of designers whose counterparts are Walt Disney Imagineers, began turning out remarkable attractions on both coasts.

And by remarkable, we don't mean attractions that take a back to seat to to the ones that Disney creates. We mean attractions that are remarkable in their own right and on par with what the Imagineers have accomplished. Universal has introduced some stunning breakthroughs in ride design, immersive environments, and theme park storytelling.

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Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey

Hogwarts Castle at Universal Studios Hollywood's Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Arthur Levine

Allrighty, let's move on to the best rides and start with the top-ranked attraction, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

It is part of the richly themed Wizarding World of Harry Potter and is located inside Hogwarts Castle (which serves as the ride’s queue and is so intricately detailed, it could be an attraction in itself).

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is an update on the groundbreaking attraction first introduced at the original Wizarding World at Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure. When it debuted in Hollywood, it one-upped its Florida counterpart by presenting its media in 3D. That caused some passengers to experience nausea, however, Universal has since removed the 3D imagery. Since the media is rendered in high resolution, the loss of 3D does not greatly impact the attraction.

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Studio Tour

Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour
Universal Studios Hollywood

With its old-school trams, jokey tour guides, and stops in the studio’s backlot at an Old West set and other locations that date back decades, you might think the Studio Tour would be a nostalgia-filled snoozefest. But you’d be wrong.

Nostalgia plays an important role. The trams pass the original Psycho house and a cheesy reenactment of a shark attack from Jaws, for example. But the tour offers a great balance of old and contemporary properties such as Jurassic World and the War of the Worlds remake. It also offers a mix of real Hollywood moviemaking interspersed with immersive attractions. Passengers pass real sound stages with movies and shows that are in production. They also experience an earthquake, flash flood, and more through impressive effects and theme park trickery.

The long tour (it can last as long as an hour) is thoroughly entertaining and enlightening. It dates back to the park’s opening in the mid-1960s and remains its heart and soul. Unlike other movie theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood is a real, working film studio with a storied history, and the Studio Tour offers a great way to tap into its authenticity.

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Transformers: The Ride-3D

Transformers: The Ride-3D at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood

Using a groundbreaking roving motion base ride system that Universal Creative developed (for The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man at Universal Orlando), Transformers: The Ride 3D takes passengers into the world of the popular Michael Bay movies through a dark ride. The action is frenetic, and the visuals are dazzling. Like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, this is one of the park’s premier attractions.

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King Kong 360 3-D

King Kong 360 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood

Rather than a standalone attraction, King Kong is actually one of the highlights of the Studio Tour. It is a motion simulator ride that (ingeniously) incorporates the trams. They enter an immersion tunnel and are locked down onto motion base platforms. Although the trams never actually move more than a few inches in any direction, you’ll swear that you are being tossed to and fro mercilessly as the big ape battles it out with dinosaurs. What a hoot!

The Studio Tour’s finale, Fast & Furious – Supercharged, uses a similar immersion tunnel ride system, but pales in comparison to Kong. Some of its visual elements appear out of scale, and therefore fail to sell the illusion of a tram racing out of control.

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Despicable Me Minion Mayhem

Universal Studios Hollywood Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal’s own Minions and the other characters from the popular and funny Despicable Me movies are featured in the wonderful ride film. The high-def resolution helps make Despicable Me Minion Mayhem particularly immersive and engaging. It is simultaneously funny, heartwarming, and loaded with frenetic action.

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Jurassic World — The Ride

Jurassic World — The Ride

Universal Studios Hollywood

It’s a compelling dark ride / water ride that takes boatloads of passengers past animatronic dinosaurs and into a real(ish) version of Jurassic World. It’s also a shoot-the-chutes thrill ride with a heart-in-your-throat tall, steep, and fast finale down a flume. Riders get soaked from the plume the boat creates in the splashdown pool.

When this attraction first opened in 1996, it was themed to the Jurassic Park franchise. It closed in 2018 to be transformed into the Jurassic World ride, which debuted in 2019. The two versions are essentially the same in that what is supposed to be a calm tour of a dinosaur park goes horribly wrong, calamity ensues, and there is a big drop at the end. The revamped attraction’s opening aquarium scene, which features an underwater Mosasaurus, is quite different than its predecessor.

In 2021, Universal added new elements to the ride, including a gargantuan, animatronic Indominus Rex, which battles with an equally large Tyrannosaurus Rex.

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Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride

Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood

Because Universal Studios Hollywood had less space to work with than sister park Universal Studios Florida, the longer and more elaborate Orlando Mummy ride outshines its California counterpart. Still, Revenge of the Mummy, a hybrid dark ride/indoor roller coaster, has some cool scenes and thrilling coaster moments.

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The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash

The Secret Life of Pets ride at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios

Opened in 2021, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash is based on the popular animated film series. The dark ride transforms passengers into puppies and send them to a pet store to be adopted. It is loaded with cute, animatronic canines as well as charm. Instead of the frantic pacing, loud and in-your-face antics, and high-energy thrills that characterize nearly all other attractions at the park, Off the Leash is relatively calm. Kids of all ages (including older kids at heart) should adore it.

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The Simpsons Ride

Universal Studios Hollywood The Simpsons Ride
Universal Studios Hollywood

Housed in the same show building that used to host the gone-but-not-forgotten (at least by diehard fans) Back to the Future: The Ride, The Simpsons Ride is a motion simulator attraction. The media is projected onto a hemispherical Omnimax dome. Like the TV show, it’s very funny. You may be a bit put off by its 3D-style animation (the TV characters don't quite look like the ones we all adore) and its slightly grainy and dark imagery.

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WaterWorld

Waterworn show at Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood

The ninth best ride at Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t a ride at all. It’s a show. And it’s based on an old movie that was a bomb.

The Kevin Costner-starring film, WaterWorld, was one of its era’s costliest productions, and it was a critical flop that performed miserably at the box office. Oddly, the stunt show based on the failed film has been thrilling park audiences for years. It’s loaded with special effects, explosions, and other pyrotechnics.

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Mario Kart – Koopa’s Challenge

Mario Kart ride at Universal Studios

Universal Studios

This attraction doesn’t make the top-10 list, because it is under construction and likely won’t open for a couple of years. However, when Mario Kart debuts at the park’s new Super Nintendo World land, it will likely vault to or near the top of the best attractions list. Based on the incredibly popular video game, Mario Kart is supposed to feature technology that allows the ride vehicles to drift–much like the action depicted in the video games. The interactive attraction will allow participants to challenge enemies with shells as they race towards the finish line with Mario and Peach.

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