Since 1995, Pixar Animation Studios has given us some of the contemporary era's greatest films. Built on ingenuity and fueled by creativity, Pixar has successfully breathed new life into the film industry's imaginative potential. From the most renowned film critic to the average joe, anyone will agree that Pixar has produced not only the best animated films of the day, but some of the best films in recent years.
So where do the studio's films fall in relation to each other? I've gone through and watched every Pixar movie in order to build what I believe to be the definitive ranking of the Pixar movies from worst to greatest.
Before we begin, here are a few ground rules: for this list, I'm considering animated feature films from Pixar Animation Studios. I'm not including any shorts made by the studio, any spin-off movies from Disney (such as Planes), or any movies from another studio that had Pixar personnel working on them (such as Disney's Big Hero 6, produced by John Lasseter or WB's The Iron Giant, directed by Brad Bird). I'm also excluding any films that Pixar worked on in contract, such as Young Sherlock Holmes and The Nightmare Before Christmas. (So basically, I'm just including what you'd expect.)
So now, let's take a look at the definitive ranking of Pixar movies . . .
#17: Cars 2
So then, what puts it at the bottom of the list? Well, with a rather lacking story and humor that won't cater to most adults, Cars 2 doesn't quite reach the standards of the studio's other masterpieces. With a disappointing score of 39% from critics and 50% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, Cars 2 is Pixar's only "rotten" film, and is one of the studio's few titles to not even be nominated for the "Best Animated Feature" Academy Award®.
"If you had the chance to change your fate . . . would you?"
What makes Brave one of the weakest entries in the Pixar saga is its highly commercialized feel, its empty story, and its overall uninspired vibe. Consequently, Brave is the only Pixar film that feels very "not Pixar." It's clear that the studio's "story first" philosophy was put on hold, as they felt the need to cater to audiences by finally introducing a female protagonist (albeit in a very forced way). The commercialization only got worst as Disney marketed the film as "the first Pixar film to introduce a new Disney princess." What followed was a rare year where Pixar's contribution felt like the typical fodder Disney puts out, yet Disney's offering (Wreck-It Ralph) felt like the brainchild of sheer imagination (which is the norm at Pixar).
#15: The Good Dinosaur
But despite the many traits that make the film different, The Good Dinosaur is a touching, lovable story. The movie recounts the tale of a young dinosaur, striving to earn his mark in his family. After finding a young human boy, he ends up taking the journey of a lifetime through a gorgeously animated world. The film also has some neo-western vibes, which push it farther up the totem pole of originality. And while it wasn't the most successful Pixar movie, it remains a great testament and a great story we'll enjoy for years.
#14: Finding Dory
What's notable about Finding Dory other than its great narrative is that it showcases some of the best looking Pixar animation ever. The movie is a testament to how far CG animation has come—from how authentic the underwater scenes look to Hank's uncannily realistic-looking texture to the sheer quality of each character's movement, Finding Dory is an absolute feast for the eyes that's entertaining for all audiences.
Cars was the point where Pixar movies started looking EXTREMELY good. Just from the opening shots of Lightning McQueen making his dramatic entrance to the racetrack, it's clear that even in 2006 (10 years before the aforementioned feast for the eyes that is Finding Dory), Pixar had come a long way in the look of animation, and Cars still holds up as one of the studio's best looking films. And beyond the realism in its look, Cars also holds a high title as one of the Pixar films with the best design, as the studio successfully created a world filled with noting but cars.
#12: Monsters University
Monsters U is chock full of creative design, hilarious jokes, and more unforgettable monster characters. Top it all off with a Pixar-level story, and you've got the great film that it is. While it has received mixed reviews from audiences and critics, the movie has grown on me, and proves to be a worthy addition to the Pixar family as well as the Monsters series.
#11: A Bug's Life
A Bug's Life recounts the tale of a tribe of ants who are forced to prepare food for some mean grasshoppers for the winter. When the all-too-inventive protagonist Flik accidentally ruins the offering, it's up to him to round up a team of warriors to fight off the grasshoppers when they return. What he ends up with is a group of circus bugs who allow him to learn what it really means to be heroic and inventive.
A Bug's Life was a solid means to keeping Pixar on the map and is still a notable film to date. It's got a universal, timeless, and engaging story that's guaranteed to entertain and inspire all audiences. And as Pixar was truly brilliant as to realizing what they could pull off even in the early days of CG animation, the film still holds up visually despite it being the studio's second film.
#10: Finding Nemo
The events of Nemo begin with a bang, as Marlin the clownfish loses both his wife Coral and almost all of their eggs. The only egg to survive is Marlin's son Nemo, who later is caught and taken away by a diver. After teaming up with a lovable blue tang named Dory, Marlin searches the seas for his only son, finding adventure around every corner.
Finding Nemo is remarkable for so many reasons. The animation is simply gorgeous, and it has one of the best soundtracks of any Pixar film, but what makes it most special is the beauty in its story. There's nothing more touching than seeing a father chase after his son out of pure love, and (spoilers) when the two are reunited at the end, we believe that that kind of love really can conquer all—no matter the species.
#9: Toy Story 2
In Pixar's third film and first sequel, Woody of the Toy Story series is stolen by collector Al of Al's Toy Barn. Consequently, Buzz Lightyear and a gang of the toys set out to find him, only to be caught up in a series of mishaps. In the early years of Pixar's filmmaking, Toy Story 2 helped to push them even further up the ladder of success with its touching story and instantly classic characters. It was also an important film in the world of animation, as it was the first animated sequel to be released in theaters (even though it almost didn't!). Toy Story 2 also gave us a hint as to how heartbreaking animation could be with Jessie's "When She Loved Me" sequence—arguably Pixar's first tearjerking scene (only to be followed by plenty more).
#8: Inside Out
Have you ever wanted to meet the little voices you hear in your head? Well, in Pixar's Inside Out, the emotions of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger are brilliantly personified through breathtaking animation. The quintet of emotions in question belong to the tweenage Riley, who's having a tough time handling her family's move to a new place. The story that follows is funny, touching, captivating, and, above all, emotional (how fitting). As one of Pixar's most creative films (called by some critics "the best idea Pixar's ever had"), Inside Out has easily made its way to being one of the studio's best films and has become an instant classic.
#7: Toy Story 3
This sentimental classic is the crowd favorite among Pixar movies, having been called the studio's best effort by many. As for me, I go back and forth between whether it or the saga's second chapter is the better sequel, and after watching them both again to build this list, I decided (this time) that the third installment just barely comes off as better than the second (who knows what I'll think next time).
So why does everybody love Toy Story 3? I would say that there's one characteristic that puts it so high on Pixar's repertoire: it's the perfect cap-off to one of film's best series of movies. It also has something that audiences eat up: emotion. Lee Unkrich's film holds some of the saddest and most emotional scenes of any Pixar movie—from the incinerator scene to Andy's goodbye—and if a cartoon can make you cry, then it's a real winner. So why don't I think it's as great as people say? Well, I'll admit, the emotional depth of the story is staggering (especially since the first two movies made us love these characters so much). However, the film's overall story as a whole, I believe, is a bit weaker when compared to Pixar's other feats. But as I said before, I go back and forth with this movie. Maybe if I make another list in 10 years, it'll be at the top. That being said . . .
Another reason Toy Story 3 feels so magical for those of us who grew up with Pixar is when it was released. Having seen the first two Toy Stories as a young child, I felt like I had grown up with Andy, and when Toy Story 3 came out just as I was leaving young childhood behind (15 years after the original film), it was a nice send-off into my teenage years—almost as if Woody's final line of "So long, partner," was directed right at me.
Now that I'm an adult, the film still speaks to me, and I won't be forgetting it any time soon.
#6: Monsters, Inc.
Pixar's first Pete Docter-directed movie is easily its most underrated, and whatever the reason for that, Monsters Inc. remains one of the best Pixar movies to date. Drawing us in with brilliant design and characters, holding us with its enthralling story, and sending us out with its heart-wrenching ending, Monsters Inc. is a true spectacle. In my opinion, it also stands out as one of the studio's funniest films ("🎶 Put that thing back where it came from or so help me! 🎶") and one of their most creative. Just think about what a great idea the scenario for the film is—the monsters in your closet are actually collecting energy for their own alternate universe—it's awesome! And the characters? Brilliant. Only Pixar could bring a little green eyeball to life so believably! Monsters Inc. definitely earns its spot here at number 6 for all those reasons and more.
"Adventure is out there!"
Up establishes right off the bat that it's an emotional rollercoaster with its spectacular first ten minutes, which tell us what's possibly the greatest animated love story ever. Once we make it past that, we follow the bitter Carl Frederickson on his larger-than-life odyssey to Paradise Falls. Along the way, he meets Russell, the Wilderness Explorer who just wants to earn his "assisting the elderly" badge, the majestic (yet zany) bird of Paradise Falls, Dug the talking dog, and Charles Muntz—Carl's former hero. What ensues is nothing short of beautiful, both visually and cathartically
From the aforementioned opening montage, to Russell's recollection of his familial situation, to Carl's reflection of his adventures with Ellie, to the film's satisfying final frame, Up easily earns the title of saddest and most emotional Pixar movie, which is part of why it's so beloved. Pete Docter truly captivates us with a whole new cast of unforgettable characters and a brilliant story. Therefore, it's certain that Up will remain a touching classic for years to come.
"Ratatouille doesn't sound delicious. It's like 'rat' . . . and 'patootie.' Rat patootie!"
Ratatouille is about a rat who wants nothing more to become a chef. After being forced to leave the French countryside, he winds up in Paris, where he meets Linguini, a garbage boy-turned-cook who works at Paris's finest restaurant. The film kicks off the list of Pixar movies that come off as sublime—where the filmmaking style of the movie matches its subject matter. Ratatouille takes place in Paris, France, so it naturally comes off with a sort of foreign film type of vibe. Beyond that, it's simply one of the most well written Pixar movies, thanks to legendary writer Brad Bird (just take Ego's review of Gusteau's at the end of the film), and it's easily the best movie of its kind. (How many "talking animal interacting with humans" movies are there? And how many come off smelling as good as Ratatouille?)
"You just need someone to take care of you, that's all."
Wall·e is easily one of Pixar's best efforts, but it's also probably Pixar's most different film, due to its lack of dialogue (no true dialogue until 22 minutes in), heavy sci-fi ideas and themes, and its use of live-action footage. But don't be fooled—in this case, just because it's different doesn't mean it's a bad movie. With Wall·e Andrew Stanton blew our minds by telling us a love story (with hardly any dialogue) between robots, which is pretty darn impressive. Wall·e was also able to cement itself in film history by homaging back to the days of classic sci-fi (via its use of many 2001-esque elements and having Alien's Sigourney Weaver play the ship's computer) and ushering in the new era of hard sci-fi in the modern age. Therefore, it's now remembered as one of the top sci-fi movies of all time.
#2: The Incredibles
"Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super . . . no one will be."
Incredibles earns its place here at number 2 with so many victories: the best Pixar soundtrack, the best Pixar villain, arguably the best Pixar writing, and some of the best Pixar characters, among so many other elements. The film's brilliant concept is that after several fiascos, superheroes are required to go into hiding and live everyday lives. This goes swimmingly for 15 years, but when former Mr. Incredible, Bob Parr, receives a message saying he can be super once again, the always-longing super dad jumps at the opportunity—only to find its dark results.
The Incredibles is notable for being the first Pixar movie to focus mainly on humans—all the films prior focused on fantastical characters. Because of this we end up seeing some of Pixar's most relatable and strong characters. What dad wouldn't want to have super strength to protect his family? And what teenage girl wouldn't want the ability to just disappear?
Unlike Brad Bird's other film with Pixar, Ratatouille, I loved Incredibles from the moment I first saw it, but even with that, it's one of those movies that just gets better every time I watch it. As a child, I loved it merely for its excitement factor. Now in adulthood, I appreciate its magnificent storytelling, breathtaking visuals and animation, and stellar characters. Incredibles is also one of those movies where words simply can't do it justice. With its neo-classic vibe and fast-paced action, Incredibles won't be going out of style anytime soon, so in the meantime, give it a watch and expect the incredible.
#1: Toy Story
"This isn't flying, it's falling—with style."
I'll get the obvious out of the way first: Toy Story has aged like a fine wine. Even though it's over 20 years old now, the film's story and visuals are still just as powerful. Toy Story also takes the prize for the most important Pixar movie. Sure, Wall·e and Incredibles were important for solidifying computer animation's place, but Toy Story will always be the first fully computer animated feature. And leave it to Pixar for being so brilliant about that. If they were going to invent a new world of animation, that had to make it incredible, or else, no one would care. Pixar knew that, at the time, if they tried to animate any sort of real-life characters, the film wouldn't succeed because animation at the time wasn't yet capable of recreating the true-to-life movement just yet. Therefore, they animated toys, where there's no chance for "the comparison game"! What resulted was a film produced through plenty of creativity, ingenuity, and elbow grease that took the world by storm. Toy Story ensured that CG animation was here to stay, and its domineering force would be Pixar.
But beyond the sheer brilliance of its conception, Toy Story is just a downright exquisite movie. With it, Pixar created one of those rare movies that's timeless, cathartic, fun, poetic, and entertaining for all ages, to infinity and beyond.