In 1995, the animation world changed when Pixar, an animation studio based out of Emeryville, California, produced its first feature with the backing of Steve Jobs and the help of the Walt Disney Company. The title of that film was Toy Story, and thanks to its initial reception, Pixar was able to climb its way up to becoming one the most beloved animation studios in the world.
Pixar’s ingenuity and style of filmmaking are unmatched. No other animation studio has been so successful in reaching audiences of such varied ages, lifestyles, and backgrounds as Pixar has. In the past two decades, Pixar has released a total of 17 features films, and almost every one of them has been met with critical acclaim. Audiences love them and hold the films and their characters close to their hearts. Every year, audiences wait in anticipation for the next trailer for Pixar’s next animated feature to drop. This year, it was Coco, the story of a young guitar-loving boy who finds himself in the land of the dead where he will discover a generation’s old mystery that will lead to a surprising family reunion.
It’s Pixar’s maturity and gift for storytelling that has bolstered it up above all the rest. Pixar has a way of reaching the innocence and purity of the most intense subjects. It reflects life like no other and always manages to find simple and entertaining ways to discuss the most human of topics. Presented below are all of Pixar’s feature films released to date, ranked from worst to best. We hope you enjoy the list. We certainly had a great time making it.
16. The Cars Franchise
Easily placed at the bottom of the Pixar Ranking list is Cars. Written & directed by John Lasseter and Joe Ranft, the Cars films are nothing to write home about. This is shocking because up until the release of Cars, Pixar had been producing hit after hit. That being said, the original Cars was still a box office smash with a worldwide gross total of $462,216,280, and the second film was even more successful with a worldwide gross of $562,110,557. Still, there’s something about these films artistically that doesn’t hold up when compared to the other Pixar giants.
Could it be that the Cars films are missing the human touch? Most Pixar films gift their audiences with the perspectives of animals, creatures, or animated objects, yet the perspectives of these non-human characters are almost always offered alongside or in relation to the humans that co-exist in the world with them. Every Pixar film to date, except for those in the Cars franchise, has had humans involved in some shape or form. The relationships between humans and non-humans that Pixar presents are fascinating and are often what draw audiences in. They’re dynamic, hilarious, and, in most cases, presented in unexpected or heartfelt ways.
In the Cars films, there are no humans. The world is populated by animated vehicles that have developed a society of their own. For some odd reason, this makes the world seem vacant, as if it was lacking character even. The suspension of disbelief is difficult to give into unless you’re younger than ten. And since Pixar films have been hailed for reaching audiences of all ages, it’s clear where Cars missed the mark. Those who grew up with Pixar watch the Cars films and sadly feel too old for them. This is why the Cars franchise is marked as the worst of the Pixar films.
15. The Good Dinosaur
The Good Dinosaur, directed by Peter Sohn, may have suffered a long and bumpy road to full production and release but is still a beautifully designed and well-thought-out film. The reason for its rather low placement on the Pixar rank list is that it just doesn’t seem to have the Pixar magic, not consistently anyway. There are scenes, such as Arlo and Spot running through the field of fireflies and the action sequence where Arlo faces a group of raptor rustlers, where this magic is present, but, for the most part, The Good Dinosaur feels like a series of short films sewn together.
The main issue of The Good Dinosaur is that the plot is weak. Arlo is separated from his family and must find a way home, but this inciting incident doesn’t occur until approximately twenty minutes into the film. Arlo and Spot’s relationship is fantastic, adorable, and carries most of the movie, but one strong relationship does not a great film make. This is why the film feels like a series of shorts. Each mini-episode of Spot and Arlo’s adventure is introduced, executed, and resolved in a matter of five to ten minutes. With each mini-adventure, Arlo becomes a little more confident and brave, so they serve the purpose of presenting the film’s lesson, which is that anyone can overcome his or her fears, but the events of the film are not tied together in a strong enough fashion to make the whole viewing experience entertaining.
14. Finding Dory
Finding Dory, directed by Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane, is fun, clever, heartfelt, and has excellent characters. Why is it then ranked so low on this list? The answer is that it’s not the perfect sequel to Pixar’s Finding Nemo — a tall order for sure, but that would’ve been okay if Finding Dory hadn’t presented all the potential to be the perfect sequel. Unfortunately for the film, this potential was all there. The characters old and new were completely fleshed out. The humor was excellent. The pacing, though rushed at times, allowed the plot’s finer points to impact audiences in ways appropriate to a Nemo sequel. So what was missing?
Nothing, and that’s the problem. Finding Dory feels like a bottled version of its predecessor, Finding Nemo. The stakes are still there, but in the end, it contributes nothing new. The obstacles Dory, Marlin, and Nemo face and most of the characters they interact with feel far too similar to those from the original film. The only portions of Finding Dory that feel fresh are those involving Hank (Ed O’Neill), the septopus who aids Dory in her quest. It’s also fair to say that Finding Dory dips a little too far into the absurd. Though this is to be expected from a film with Dory as the central character, at times, it feels to be a bit much and doesn’t gel well with the world created by the previous film.
Brave, directed by Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews, feels more like a Disney animated film than it does a Pixar film. Still, there’s a lot to be said for Pixar’s first foray into Scottish folklore. Merida (Kelly Macdonald) is Pixar’s first female protagonist, and the development of her character is excellent. She’s a young princess who wishes for adventure but learns that all things in life must come with a cost. The animation is also Pixar at its best with beautiful landscapes and solid character designs. At its heart, Brave is a mother-daughter film with a slice of adventure sprinkled throughout.
What is it that results in Brave ranking so low on the list? It’s the twist revealed a fourth of the way into the film that sinks this potentially beautiful film. Originally, Brave was marketed as the daring adventure of a young Scottish princess who runs away from home. This was not the film audiences got. The twist of the film is that Merida accidentally turns her mother, Elinor (Emma Thompson), into a bear and is given three days to break the curse, thus taking all the potential the film had and turning it into a rehash of what feels like Disney’s Brother Bear. That being said, Brave handles the bear transformation story much better than Brother Bear does and actually comes up with something quite heartfelt and endearing. Still, it was not the film audiences were hoping for, making the viewing experience ultimately disappointing. Nevertheless, Brave won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2013.
12. Monsters University
A prequel to Monsters Inc., Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon, is a fantastic and riotous film, a hilarious look at college life driven by the compelling rivalry between two friends who were once enemies. It’s true: Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) were not always the best of pals. The dynamic duo could not have been more at odds back in the day. Sully, in his youth, was a showboating jock, and Mike was a bookworm with a drive like no other. Monsters University is probably everything that fans could have wanted from a Monsters Inc. prequel. It’s so good that it almost makes a person wish that it could’ve been released first.
Unfortunately, this is the reason Monsters University ranks where it does on the list. The entire film’s premise relies on the foreknowledge that somehow, Mike and Sully become the best of friends. It’s this journey and this foreknowledge that involve the audience in the arc of the film, thus making the true enjoyment of Monsters University dependent upon the viewing of Monsters Inc..
Monsters University‘s dependence on its predecessor doesn’t make it a bad film; it just lowers its place on the Pixar totem pole for best picture — an unfair reason, perhaps, for an altogether great and hilarious film. Still, it makes sense if you think about it. You wouldn’t show Monsters University to someone before you would show them Monsters Inc., would you?
Up, directed by Pete Doctor and Bob Peterson, may have one of the strongest openings and most satisfying endings to a Pixar film ever created. You’re not human if the opening montage of Carl’s (Edward Asner) and Ellie Fredrickson’s lives together and Carl’s eventual loss of Ellie doesn’t make you cry, nor are you human if you don’t breathe a sigh of relief when Carl and Ellie’s house is seen to have landed on top of Paradise Falls after all. That kind of closure in a film doesn’t come around very often, and when it does, it’s to be applauded.
It’s the middle section of Up that keeps this film from being ranked higher on the Pixar list. While the characters of Carl, Russell (Jordan Nagai), Dug (Bob Peterson), and Kevin are fantastic, the events of their journey are not all that memorable. Try and think about what happens beyond them meeting Carl’s childhood hero, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), and him turning out to be quite the dirt bag. It gets pretty difficult. Even the jokes of the film aren’t as easy to remember beyond what was displayed in the trailers.
There’s one line from the film, however, that’s forever imprinted in audience’s minds just because it’s so darn funny and endearing. The honor of the most quotable line from Up goes to Dug when he says, “I hid under your porch because I love you.” If this isn’t the most realistic representation of a dog’s thought process, I don’t know what is. Up won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2010.
10. A Bug’s Life
A Bug’s Life, directed by John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, is one of Pixar’s most underrated films. More often than not, it’s forgotten amongst the more popular box office giants. Still, the sophomore production of Pixar Animation Studios has a lot to offer.
For starters, it has an excellent cast of characters who inhabit a world that, until Pixar, audiences had never seen the likes of. The conventions Pixar employs to bring about a rich and vibrant anthropomorphic insect society alone should be enough to make this film stand out. Flick (Dave Foley) is an excellent protagonist as the inventor ant that dreams of making a difference, and who doesn’t love the members of P.T. Flea’s (John Ratzenberger) Bug Circus? Heimlich (Joe Ranft), Slim (David Hyde Pierce), Francis (Denis Leary), and the rest of the gang are hilarious and have great bits throughout the film. The movie even has one of Pixar’s strongest villains: Hopper (Kevin Spacey), a manipulative and domineering grasshopper who’s taken control of the ant colony’s main food supply.
The stakes are high in A Bug’s Life, and they are felt. And it’s not just the ones presented by Hopper and his gang, but the environmental ones, too. Birds are terrifying mindless monsters bent on devouring their next meal, and rainfall is considered nothing short of a natural disaster. The climax of the film feels like a war zone as ginormous drops of water splash down on Flick and his friends. A Bug’s Life is fun, thrilling, and packed with great dialogue. Though not as mature as the latter Pixar films, it certainly deserves its spot on the ranking list.
9. Toy Story 2
Toy Story 2, directed by John Lasseter, Ash Brannon, and Lee Unkrich, was Pixar’s first foray into the world of sequels. Interestingly enough, Toy Story 2 was Pixar’s third film, and yet the master storytellers of Pixar made it feel like they had been making features for years. When Woody (Tom Hanks) is kidnapped by a greedy toy collector it’s up to Buzz (Tim Allen) and the gang to save him from being shipped to a museum in Tokyo, Japan.
What makes Toy Story 2 so excellent is the amount of time it takes to explore the depth of its main characters. Buzz is finally sent on a mission and gets to live out his fantasy of being a hero, and Woody discovers his past and how important he is to those around him. But no one’s arc or backstory is more heartfelt or tear-jerking than that of Toy Story‘s newest character, Jessie (Joan Cusack). Her story of love and loss is told in a manner that allows audiences of all ages to truly empathize with her. Everyone can relate to the idea of losing a best friend.
Toy Story 2 reunites all of the audience’s favorite characters and introduces new ones that fit right into the fold. The pacing is excellent, the humor is great, and the plot is on par with the first. Toy Story 2 ranks as one of the best sequels to a film in movie history, thus earning it its place as number 8 on the Pixar Ranking list.
8. Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3, directed by Lee Unkrich, may be the best third film in a franchise to date. When it was first announced, no one thought that pulling off a third Toy Story was possible. Boy, did Pixar prove everyone wrong and in such a big way. The film played off of the idea of growing up and moving on. Pixar knew its main audience would be those who were young and lucky enough to see the original story in theaters back in 1995. Every ending leads to a new beginning — that’s the message of this Toy Story, and when that message hits, it hits hard.
The film is fun, excellently paced, and answers the long-debated question of what would happen to Andy’s toys once he grew up — an excellent conclusion to the Toy Story franchise built on nostalgia and captivating characters. Audiences couldn’t believe how mature this Pixar film actually was. If you haven’t seen it, just know it goes to some pretty dark places. Toy Story 3 handles themes such as abandonment, strength in family, and mortality. The film also has one of the most satisfying and tear-jerking endings in cinematic history with Andy (John Morris) passing his toys on to a young girl named Bonnie (Emily Hahn), but not before playing with them one last time. Lastly, for a lot of audience members, this film felt like the ending of an era as they, too, would very soon be packing their bags and heading off to college, just like Andy. Toy Story 3 won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2011.
Ratatouille, directed by Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava, is Pixar’s love letter to the cuisine of Paris, France. Perhaps Pixar’s artsiest film second only to Wall-E, Ratatouille is absolutely lovely. The music is breathtaking, the montages are superb, and the narrative is fantastic. There’s something very special about this film that’s difficult to describe.
The characters in this film are incredibly written and designed. Remy’s (Patton Oswalt) drive to be the greatest cook in Paris, France is inspiring, and Linguini (Lou Romano) is completely adorkable. Colette (Janeane Garofalo) is strong and driven, and Skinner (Ian Holm) makes an excellent villain.
What this movie has the most, though, is atmosphere. The world of Ratatouille is simply enjoyable to live in. The music in the film is sultry and sweet, and we love watching Remy and Linguini cook. The food they make looks so delicious it makes us wish it could pop out of the screen, so we could feast upon it. It’s also very clever that the true antagonist of the film is the food critic, Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), whose word is law in the cuisine of Paris, France. This is a story of art competing with commercialism and how art overcomes all in its own peculiar way. Ratatouille won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film in 2008.
6. Toy Story
Toy Story, directed by John Lasseter, is the one that started it all. Created only two decades ago, Toy Story was a revolutionary film for its time. It not only heralded in the form of digital animation as a popular and successful art form, but it also took storytelling in animation to a whole new depth and level of exploration.
Toy Story explores the conventions and psychology behind rivalry, jealousy, grandeur, abandonment, selfishness, selflessness, family, and forgiveness all in a matter of eighty-one minutes. The film is relatable on so many levels that any person at almost any age can sit down and not only enjoy it but also learn valuable life lessons from it. Toy Story was the first film in which Pixar could showcase just how clever they were. They created a world for toys with such stunning conventions that audiences couldn’t get enough of it. What really sells this film is the evolving relationship of Buzz and Woody. It’s amazing to see them learn and grow from each other as they struggle to make it home before it’s too late. Toy Story is a masterpiece from top to bottom, and as Pixar’s first feature film, it’s considered a classic.
5. Monsters Inc.
Monsters Inc., directed by Pete Docter, David Silverman, and Lee Unkrich, is a groundbreaking film in many ways. It solidified the success of Pixar’s buddy film model with the only previous buddies being Buzz and Woody in Pixar’s history, up to that point. It tackled children’s fear of monsters with the clever convention of making monsters afraid of them. It also showcased how Pixar was capable of establishing truly deep and relatable relationships with Sully’s fatherly love for Boo.
Monsters Inc. is the perfect balance between comedy and drama in an animated film. One moment, we’re laughing our lungs out; the next, we’re gripping our chairs in suspense for what will happen next. Randall (Steve Buscemi) is an excellent villain with the very human desire to be better at his job than all the rest. Boo (Mary Gibbs) is absolutely adorable, and her quirky and innocent interactions with Mike, Sully, and the rest of the monster world make this film an absolute joy to watch. And the music in this movie is superb. The score is jazz-based and feeds right into the action of the plot. Monsters Inc. is fun, thrilling, and just all around, an enjoyable and well-made addition to the Pixar canon.
4. Inside Out
Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, is way better than it has any right to be. Such a simple concept and message: emotions are actually charismatic entities that run your brain. The message of our film: It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Who would have guessed that Inside Out would be relatable on so many levels? Riley’s struggles in the film and her eventual decline are so human they hurt. This film is the perfect analogy for what a person goes through when they begin to fall into depression. One by one, thoughts and expressions begin to fade away. Emotions become more difficult to express until finally, nothing is felt. Luckily, Riley’s emotions save her in time, and she’s able to recover through finally allowing herself to feel sadness. It’s for that reason that this film is so important.
It doesn’t spoonfeed this message but allows the audience to conclude, on their own, what’s happening. When we finally realize how Riley will be saved, we get it. We’ve been there: the struggle of fighting back emotions, the hell it causes to ourselves and others, and the relief we feel when we finally just let go. How wonderful is it of Pixar to make a kid-friendly film that speaks to such adult themes? How wonderful is it to know that there’s a film out there that expresses exactly what we’re going through when we feel lost and alone? Inside Out won the Oscar for Best Animated Film for the year 2015.
3. The Incredibles
The Incredibles, directed by Brad Bird, is a phenomenal film. It’s Pixar’s first film with an all-human cast and, in many people’s opinion, one of the best superhero films ever made. The joke that consistently gets tied to this film is that it’s the Fantastic Four movie audiences never knew they wanted. This film is action-packed, has excellent pacing, and includes one of the best Pixar villains of all time: Syndrome, the villain who wants to be a hero. Seriously, this movie is so clever and heart-racing, it doesn’t matter how many times you watch it; you’ll always get a thrill from it.
And it’s a very mature film, too. The bonds of love and family are at the center of this film. It pays homage to those struggling with a mid-life crisis, the ups and downs of maintaining a healthy marriage, and the difficulties of raising happy and thriving children. It’s astounding how Pixar does it. Somehow, they always manage to translate such adult themes into their best pictures. In 2005, The Incredibles won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. The Incredibles is a triumph of a film and will likely be considered a classic in the decades to come.
2. Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich, is an absolute masterpiece — a tale about a father’s unending love for his son and how he would literally cross an entire ocean to keep him safe. Finding Nemo looks at disability and says there’s always a way to overcome it. This message is concretized through the adventures of Marlin (Albert Brooks) with his anxiety, Nemo (Alexander Gould) with his lucky fin, and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) with her short term memory loss. All the main characters have major disabilities to deal with, and yet, they manage to thrive in dire situations. It all comes down to trust. When you truly believe in someone’s strengths, you give them the power to do anything they set their minds to. And that’s only one of the things that make this film so special.
The animation is also gorgeous. Before Finding Nemo, audiences had never seen the ocean and its sea life portrayed in such a beautiful and artistic manner. Not only that, but the score to this film is magnificent and feeds directly into the emotional psyche of the film. Finding Nemo doesn’t hold back when it comes to emotion either. It goes right to the heart and fills its audiences with love, hope, empathy, and excitement. Finding Nemo won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2004. It’s a work of art and rightly considered as one of the Pixar greats.
Wall-E, directed by Andrew Stanton, is the quintessential Pixar film about a robot designed to clean up the Earth, that falls in love, and that’s sent on an adventure that will ultimately save the human race. How Pixar is that? First off, the movie hails back to its roots when Pixar made shorts about animated objects without any dialogue. Many initially thought that the film’s lack of dialogue would be a great hindrance to the storytelling and entertainment aspects of the film. However, not only does Pixar prove this theory wrong with their masterful visual storytelling; the scenes between Eve and Wall-E where there’s no speech beyond robot beeps and whirls also end up being the most thrilling and enjoyable of all.
Wall-E (Ben Burtt), as a character, is romantic, sweet, and just plain adorable. The movie is rightly named after him because he’s just so fascinating to watch in action. Eve (Elissa Knight), the robot Wall-E falls madly in love with, is just as captivating with her drive, no-nonsense attitude, and spirit. Together they’re the perfect match. Most importantly, Wall-E is a story about love, hope, and starting anew. The year Wall-E was released, 2008, it won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Wall-E is a beautifully scored and breathtaking adventure with stunning visuals and a heart of gold. Audiences of all ages and tastes can enjoy this movie. Wall-E is truly Pixar at its best.