Maleficent made her film debut in Disney's 1959 animated feature film Sleeping Beauty, voiced by Eleanor Audley. Appearing unexpectedly at Princess Aurora's birth ceremony, she was very disapppointed upon not receiving an invitation to the occasion. Hiding this behind a calm demeanor, she proceeds to give the infant a "gift" in the form of a curse afterwards, saying that she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday and die. King Stefan attempted to have his guards seize her at that moment, but she escapes through her mastery over dark magic. Fearful for his daughter's life despite the fact that Merryweather's gift for the child will cause Aurora not to die but sleep should she prick her finger, King Stefan then issues a decree that all spinning wheels in the kingdom are to be burned. In a last attempt to delay Maleficent's curse and prevent Aurora from pricking her finger, the Three Good Fairies decide to take her into the woods to live and be raised as a peasant in an abandoned cottage once belonging to a woodcutter until after the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday. The fairies succeed in keeping the girl's location and identity a secret, and an enraged Maleficent sends her loyal raven Diablo to search for the girl, after her minions fail her.
Diablo discovers Aurora's whereabouts, and Maleficent then lures the girl to a spinning wheel upon her return to King Stefan's castle. Aurora pricks her finger, and then Maleficent departs for the old woodcutter's cottage, aiming to capture the princess's betrothed, Prince Phillip, who intends to meet the peasant girl that was Aurora there. Capturing the prince, Maleficent then places him in her dungeon, intending to keep him there for 100 years. However, Prince Phillip escapes Maleficent's clutches with the help of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, while the witch attempts to stop him from reaching Aurora's sleeping form and King Stefan's castle with a forest of thorns. As Phillip cuts through them, a desperate Maleficent appears before him. Transforming into a mighty dragon, she then engages the prince in a climatic battle. In the end, Maleficent is stabbed in the heart by the Sword of Truth, with Prince Phillip going on to awaken and marry Aurora.
In other Disney Media, such as the Kingdom Hearts series, Maleficent often takes the lead role in Disney villains team-ups.