Forget what you know about Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS). Princesses will give way to pirates, ghosts, and digital terrorists at the box office next year.

Disney's newest action-adventure projects, previewed at Comic-Con in San Diego last week, include:

  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in the next chapter of this tentpole franchise. The film hits theaters on May 20, 2011.
  • TRON: Legacy, the sequel to 1982's TRON, has Jeff Bridges reprising his role as computer programmer Kevin Flynn. Only this time, his son, Sam, is trapped in a decidedly more violent digital world. The film debuts Dec. 17.
  • The Haunted Mansion, a reimagining of the ride by horror film writer, director, and producer Guillermo Del Toro, whose credits include comic book adaptations Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army and the forthcoming remake of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. No date has been set, but the film is expected for 2012.

At Comic-Con, Del Toro said during a panel discussion of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark that he'll make The Haunted Mansion as a "love letter" to the ride he first encountered at 4 years old during a trip to Disneyland.

Love letter or not, it's a good bet Del Toro's version will be darker and scarier than the 2003 comedy of the same name, which starred Eddie Murphy and bombed at the box office.

Even the Pirates franchise will get darker. During a different panel discussion in which he appeared in a preview, Depp promised the audience "zombies, cutthroats, and mermaids" in the new film. Call it the Twilight Effect: Everyone, even Disney, wants in on our nightmares.

This isn't to suggest that Disney is becoming Lions Gate (NYSE: LGF), which produces the Saw franchise; or Sony (NYSE: SNE), which will screen the post-apocalyptic film Priest next year; or News Corp.'s (Nasdaq: NWS) Fox Studios, which introduced the Alien franchise. Disney still produces much lighter fare.

Nevertheless, the Disney behind TRON: Legacy looks to me nothing like the one that gave us Cinderella and Snow White. But don't take my word for it. Click the link below to see what Disney has planned.