Pixar films hold a special place in the hearts of fans. The company has churned out a number of classic animated features and they don’t show any signs of stopping. But, we wanted to take a moment and decide how the Pixar movies stack up against each other.
Let’s get down to business and rank the entire Pixar canon.
19. Cars 2 (2011)
Cars 2 is an important film in the Pixar filmography. It was their first sequel that wasn’t connected to a Toy Story film, and it had high expectations due to the financial success of the first film. But, the inherent problem with Cars 2 is that it was a sequel to a film that was viewed as Pixar’s weakest project to date.
And that lesser quality is only amplified in Cars 2. The film devolves into the kind of juvenile absurdity that is more common in DreamWorks productions than Pixar movies. With a weak emphasis on character and a feeling of unnecessary existence, it’s safe to say that Cars 2 is the least beloved of the Pixar film library.
18. Cars 3 (2017)
After the disappointment of Cars 2, there was almost nowhere to go but up. Cars 3 was lucky to follow such a widely disliked entry. Although it certainly tried to improve on the franchise’s issues, it was mostly a limp follow-up to an already deflated sequel.
There are positive elements to Cars 3. The animation is genuinely breathtaking at times and the addition of young racer Cruz Ramirez is a solid one. Still, Cars 3 feels like another mandatory piece of merchandise rather than a worthwhile continuation of a strong series.
17. Cars (2006)
Is anyone surprised that Cars and its sequels are in the bottom three? To be fair, Cars isn’t a bad movie. Its biggest problem is its sense of inferiority when comparing it to all of Pixar’s other output. Cars is a very simple and childish tale that doesn’t strive for much more than its straightforward story. That’s perfectly admirable except when you think about the leaps and bounds other Pixar films took in regards to presenting compelling all-ages narratives.
That’s the key to understanding why Cars ranks so low: it’s a kid’s movie. You might say that’s true of all the Pixar films, but the best Pixar movies transcend their intended younger audience and work as stories that anyone can enjoy at any age. Cars never breaks through that barrier and it leaves it trailing behind a lot of much better films.
16. Monsters University (2013)
Why are people so obsessed with prequels? The desire to tell a story that occurred before a story that we’ve already enjoyed seems like it is usually a fruitless endeavor. It often acts as filler instead of providing a good reason to stand on its own. That’s the strongest slight against Monsters University: it tells a story we never needed to know.
That being said, there is still fun to be had in Monsters University. The characters and their world are delightful, and that lighthearted feeling mostly keeps the movie afloat. But, with no real tension or drama due to our knowledge of the previous film, the emotional beats never connect like they want to. Monsters University isn’t terrible but it is a skippable entry in the Pixar canon.
15. The Good Dinosaur (2015)
Out of the entire Pixar filmography, The Good Dinosaur is arguably the one film that no one ever talks about. Why is that? Well, much like Cars, The Good Dinosaur feels like its striving to please a very young audience instead of playing to both children and adults. Again, that’s not an inherently negative goal. The Good Dinosaur is a cute riff on the typical “boy and his dog” story. There is a lot to find cute about The Good Dinosaur.
But, that also becomes its downfall. With such a focus on boyish silliness, The Good Dinosaur never quite reaches the kinds of high peaks and low valleys that other Pixar movies achieve with such power and conviction. All that said, The Good Dinosaur is still a sweet if airy little flick that will work for the youngest of viewers.
14. A Bug’s Life (1998)
From here on out, we’re getting into the good Pixar movies. These are the ones that have either obtained classic status or have delivered a strong enough standing to still be worthy of your time. Starting off, we have Pixar’s second feature film, A Bug’s Life. Filled with wide-eyed wonder and a smile-inducing ensemble of characters, this is an often overlooked entry in the Pixar canon.
It was a bummer that this had to follow up the groundbreaking Toy Story but removed from that particular context, A Bug’s Life is still a good-hearted and propulsive adventure movie that showcased the studio’s aptitude for scale and scope. This is flighty but fun with just enough of that Pixar magic to keep you hooked.
13. Up (2009)
This might be a controversial spot for Up but let me explain. When discussing this film, everyone will point to the first 10 minutes as one of the most heartbreaking pieces of animated cinema in recent history. And they are right. The story of Ellie and Carl is devastating to experience, and it’s a testament to the storytellers at Pixar that they are able to take hold of the audience’s emotions so quickly and effectively.
However, once that extended prologue is over, the movie never quite matches the intensity and pathos of its opening. Yes, the adventure that Carl embarks on is decently exciting, but the actual plot and machinations of the characters aren’t as successful as the film moves along. That’s not to say that Up isn’t enjoyable. It’s actually pretty fun but it can’t quite live up to the tale it tells in its opening. Even so, this is still one to see and experience as it is something of an anomaly in the Pixar catalog.
12. Finding Dory (2016)
Once Pixar started doing sequels, everyone expected that Finding Nemo would get another chapter. The lovable ocean-set tale captured the hearts and imaginations of audiences, and the obvious route for a second entry was exploring the character of Dory, the forgetful blue tang fish whose past was something of a mystery. So, the sequel decided to dive into Dory’s parents and her search for them.
And it’s a pretty sweet little story. The balance between Dory and the other characters is quite even, and the new environment of the gigantic aquarium offers a cool spin on the cast’s adventure. Finding Dory never quite makes it to the same level as its predecessor, but it still provides a nice and moving continuation of the first film.
11. Brave (2012)
A lot of fans seem to undervalue Brave. In their defense, it feels like it belongs in the regular Disney output rather than Pixar. Even with that, Brave offers a fantasy tale that feels like the classic princess tales like Sleeping Beauty. Lead character Merida is a compelling and complex character who anchors the movie with her charm and intelligence.
Admittedly, the plot of the film feels light but it offers a great character exploration between Merida and her mother, Elinor. The performances are great, the fantasy elements are appropriately mystical, and the overall story is thoroughly endearing. If you’ve never seen Brave or haven’t revisited it since its release, give it another watch. It’s much better than its reputation makes it out to be.
10. Ratatouille (2007)
It’s kind of shocking to believe that a little story about a rat who wants to be a gourmet chef would be such a hit. But, Ratatouille is a wonderful look at being a creative person and appreciating fine art and culture. The character of Remy is instantly lovable and his relationship with young chef Alfredo is the cornerstone of the film.
Add to that a fast pace and a sharp wit, Ratatouille shines as an ode to both those who make art and those who consume it. For a Pixar movie, Ratatouille plumbs some deeper thematic content that will sail over most kids’ heads, but that only makes it more appealing to adults. It’s a perfectly self-contained little flick that’s as pleasant as it is smart.
9. Coco (2017)
Pixar is always pushing the boundaries of digital animation, and Coco is a high watermark in this category. The visual splendor and immense scale of the film’s Land of the Dead are jaw-dropping. It’s a world that you want to spend as much time in as you possibly can.
But, Coco doesn’t rest on its eye candy. At its core is a deeply affecting story about family and regret, and where the third act goes is shockingly heart-wrenching. Coco is a strong entry in the Pixar canon, and it will certainly be etching its legacy into the hearts of fans.
8. Toy Story 3 (2010)
Most trilogies usually falter in their third installment. And when Toy Story 3 was being touted as the final entry in the series, it made expectations for the movie extremely high. Luckily, Toy Story 3 delivered on its promise and gave fans a worthy sendoff — which will be negated by Toy Story 4 — and left Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang in a place that felt completely earned.
Toy Story 3 also features one of Pixar’s best villains, Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear. Voiced by Ned Beatty, Lotso is a compelling, tragic, and ultimately terrifying nemesis that stands out as one of the darkest additions to Pixar’s roster of characters. Toy Story 3 is a great movie on its own, but the inclusion of Lotso makes it something truly special.
7. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
Monsters, Inc. rates this high on the list for many reasons, but one of its strongest aspects is its concept: monsters scare children in order to capture their screams as a source of fuel for their society. It’s such a great lead-in to an entire world of monsters and how they function. Monsters, Inc. gets major points for its world-building and commitment to its wacky premise.
Even if that wasn’t there, the characters of Monsters, Inc. make the film a joy to watch. Sully, Mike, and Boo are an amusing and charming trio that anchor the heart of the film. It’s their chemistry and conflict that makes Monsters, Inc. really connect with audiences. When Pixar movies can build fascinating worlds and beloved characters, the studio earns its stellar reputation.
6. Toy Story 2 (1999)
Toy Story 2 had a lot going against it. It was a sequel to a universally adored film and was also Pixar’s first sequel. The cards seemed stacked against it, but Toy Story 2 proved the naysayers wrong. This follow-up is as good as the original and some will argue that it’s even better.
The drama in this entry comes from Woody’s realization that he’s actually a collector’s item. Forced with the dilemma of leaving Andy, the other toys fight to rescue Woody from his own feelings of obsolescence. It’s a level of adult conflict that creates genuine existential tension in the story. You wouldn’t think that that would rear its head in a movie about sentient dolls, but it’s a deeply explored element in Toy Story 2 that makes the film an incredibly affecting piece of cinema.
And yes, that flashback sequence with Jessie will DESTROY you.
5. Finding Nemo (2003)
Pixar loves to create worlds. If you look at their filmography, each of their movies offers a unique perspective into a world that regular people either can’t perceive or simply can’t visit. While most of their films do this with purely fantastical concepts, Finding Nemo takes the real environment of the sea and turns it into a vast playground for a group of adorable characters.
The story is simple enough: a son goes missing and his father tries to find him. It’s the journey that makes this film so rewarding. We get to meet a number of wonderful supporting characters and their interactions help paint a diverse and beautiful look at ocean life.
Frankly, Finding Nemo is a somewhat breezy film but that attitude actually helps bolster the film’s enjoyment factor. It’s the best of Pixar’s flightier fare and that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. If you can make a streamlined movie that also hits home with emotional moments and tons of laughs, you’ve got yourself a bonafide winner.
4. WALL-E (2008)
WALL-E is a standout entry in Pixar’s filmography as it’s their only foray into science fiction. And to be honest, it’s an incredibly great sci-fi tale. Starting the story with a lonely little robot who has been left on Earth is an excellent way to immediately endear the character of WALL-E to the audience. Seeing his daily life unfold is so sweet and sad. And when his life gets interrupted by EVE, the rising action goes to a phenomenal place.
A lot of people say that WALL-E slumps after the story moves from Earth to a nearby space colony, but this is when WALL-E utilizes its science fiction premise to actually engage in some scathing social commentary. We see all of humanity has become sedentary and obese. Everyone floats around on hovering chairs and have screens constantly in front of their faces. It’s a facet of the story that turns this cutesy film into an honest sci-fi flick.
WALL-E is as smart as it is sympathetic. The fact that this balance can be achieved while having main characters that don’t speak full words is a little astounding. We’re in the top tier rankings now and these are the films that are arguably the best for different reasons.
3. The Incredibles (2004)
Many people lament the fact that there hasn’t been a good Fantastic Four movie. Those same people will often point to The Incredibles as the best attempt at a family superhero story. Those people are right. The Incredibles is a wonderful family drama that just happens to be set in a classically inspired superhero universe. The world seems ripped out of the 1940s and it adds a huge amount of style to the film.
Not to mention that the action is some of the best in any superhero film. There is a real weight and physicality to all of the big set pieces. This elevates The Incredibles from just another animated adventure into a film that is explosive and impactful in its own right.
And the Parr family is so relatable that they stop feeling like cartoon characters and become fully realized human beings. Their dynamic is what sells the movie and it’s why The Incredibles continues to find new fans to this day.
2. Toy Story (1995)
It’s difficult to properly explain just how much Toy Story changed cinema. It was the first feature-length animated film that used purely computer-generated images. It was not a guaranteed success. Many of the filmmakers worried that audiences wouldn’t be able to connect with the characters. How wrong they were.
Toy Story became a massive hit and it deserves its classic status. It’s a moving testament to childhood imagination and friendship. Woody and Buzz Lightyear have become iconic characters thanks to their charm, flaws, and the adversity they face in order to get back to their friend, Andy.
Plus, Randy Newman’s songs add another layer of pathos and warmth to an already beautiful experience. Toy Story continues to work its magic over two decades after its release. We have a feeling it’s never going to stop.
1. Inside Out (2015)
No other Pixar film feels as intimate, imaginative, and moving as Inside Out. The concept of going into the mind of a child and seeing how her emotions work is a fantastic premise, but Inside Out dives into even deeper ideas of memory and growing up that hit so hard it hurts.
Seriously, does anyone not cry when THAT moment happens with Bing Bong? Or when Riley finally is allowed to feel an immense sadness at the end of the film? Inside Out explores the importance of our emotions in such a profound way that it becomes less of a kid’s movie and more a movie that will help kids grow up. That’s powerful.
It doesn’t hurt that Inside Out also messes around with abstract animation and the biggest world-building that Pixar has ever attempted. The level of scope is massive and that’s only made more impressive by the fact that the majority of the film takes place in one character’s head.
Inside Out is a masterpiece and as of now, it’s the best film that Pixar has ever produced.