Every Pixar Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best
Twenty five years ago, a little movie about toys changed the way we see movies. Pixar's Toy Story not only advanced film technology and children's storytelling—it proved that animated movies could transcend age and intellect. Yes, children can watch and enjoy Pixar movies, but their themes are universal and necessary for people of all stages of life. Whether they're personifying the strangeness of our emotions, reminding us the joy of childhood, or warning of the dangers of climate change—Pixar movies have proved that an animated children's movie can be just as important and powerful as any live-action, prestige drama.
But where live-action films are anchored (somewhat) to our reality, Pixar has the freedom to take us wherever our imagination can create. And with that, the beloved animation studio has produced some of the most universally adored films in the history of cinema. There's not really any bad Pixar movies, but they are still not created equal. So here we run down the best Pixar movies.
22| The Good Dinosaur
Though arguably better than any of the Cars movies, The Good Dinosaur didn’t even have enough power to launch another one of Pixar’s franchises. Does anyone even remember The Good Dinosaur, let alone know that it’s a Pixar movie? Very rarely does Pixar create anything with such little lasting value. It didn’t help that this movie marked Pixar’s first real flop.
21| Cars 2
After the box office success of Cars, you can understand why Disney and Pixar would be eager for a sequel. It’s a film that offered possibly the best merchandising opportunity of the Pixar catalog so far. How could they say no to the money? Unfortunately, they should have, because Cars 2 marked a step down from even its predecessor.
20| Cars 3
There's not much to say about Cars 3. Though it’s a rebound from the disappointing Cars 2, Cars 3 is proof that maybe it’s time to get back to the original ideas that Pixar is known for.
Even more than a decade later, I’m still mostly enthralled with the mechanics and possibly the biology of this world inhabited mostly by vehicles. If you believe in the Pixar shared universe theories, these cars are actually the evolution of machines after the corporate takeover of BnL resulted in the apocalyptic destruction of Earth. This entire theory is vastly more interesting than anything in Cars.
18| Monsters University
After the critical and box office success of Toy Story 3, much of the 2010s at Pixar have been focused on the reboot trend in greater Hollywood. More than half of the Pixar movies released this decade have been sequels or spinoffs of Pixar movies from the 2000s. And they’ve arrived to varying degrees of success. The magic of Pixar has always been from the studio’s original ideas. And though it’s nice to revisit old friends from Monsters, Inc., it comes at the cost of what feels like an imitation of its original.
17| Finding Dory
It’s in some of these sequels where it feels like Pixar is trapped in a comfortable rhythm. It’s easy to get a sense of deja vu from Finding Dory, where predictability has never been an attribute associated with the imaginative world of Pixar. While this works as it’s own movie, as opposed to a reboot or spinoff, it’s hard to watch Finding Dory without comparing it to the groundbreaking, and beautiful predecessor.
Though Pixar has always been good about creating strong female characters, Brave marks the first film in the catalog starring a human heroine. Brave is far more than excuse for Pixar to show off its incredible ability to animate hair—always a difficult thing to pull off. It brings those classic themes of individuality and strength to a fantasy fairy tale about female empowerment.
15| A Bug’s Life
The follow-up to Toy Story, A Bug’s Life was a Pixar film before a Pixar film was a Pixar film. The brand was only beginning to establish itself, and in the three years between Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, animators at Pixar made masterful strides in creating the tiny world beneath our feet. You can find footage of the tiny cameras they developed to look at the world the way bugs see it. In hindsight, it’s hard to remember it was ever a thing, because Pixar was the clear winner in the public feud between DreamWorks and its movie Antz.
14| Incredibles 2
Much like Toy Story 4, Incredibles 2 gave us a sequel to a series that we didn’t expect to continue. Rumors of a follow-up had floated around for years, but many fans of the brilliant team-up film were surprised to see Pixar’s super-powered family ride once again. While the sequel provided some welcome introspection into the personal lives of the children in the family, and gave us some memorable moments with baby Jack Jack, it didn’t quite achieve the towering heights of ensemble comedy that the first film pulled off so well. Still, though, it’s a delightful adventure that’s much better than the bulk of the superhero films in theaters today.
Maybe I didn't pay attention to the trailers closely enough, but I had no idea that Pixar's Onward would have a whole Weekend at Bernie's vibe to it. Two elf brothers are attempting to bring their dead father back to life for one day, but screw it up and end up going on an adventure with his dismembered legs. It's weird! But it's also fun in an '80s throwback way, even if it doesn't have some of the emotional or thematic depth of other Pixar films.
12| Monsters, Inc
An early masterclass in Pixar world building, Monsters, Inc. is the animation giant’s first foray into an entirely new world. It’s downright incredible how easy the introduce an entire complex society built around scares in a way that’s accessible to kids and adults. Here’s an example for how Pixar can take something like a child’s fear of the dark and turn it into something inventive, transformative, and something not so scary or confusing. For adults, it reminds us what it’s like to be a kid; for kids, it reminds them to be as brave as adults.
Not since Bambi have the first 10 minutes of an animated children’s movie been this heartbreaking. Told mostly without words in a series of vignettes, this is the entire life of Ellie and Carl—their love, their loss. If it doesn’t fuck you up, you have no heart. And that’s what Up reminds us of: No matter who we are, or what we’ve been through, we still have the capacity for good and love. That is, if you’re able to watch the rest of the movie after being reduced to a puddle of tears in 10 minutes. But, to wring that much emotion out of the audience in that short amount of time with little-to-no words is a feat that only Pixar can pull off.
Kids see food as nothing more than the green stuff their parents force down their throat. If it’s not pizza or candy or other junk, it’s more like a chore. But Ratatouille introduces the transcendent power of food—that it can incorporate art, identity, passion. In recreating the warmth and flavors of Paris, Ratatouille shows that what we eat is so intimately tied with who we are, who we’ve been, and where we’re going. Like so many great Pixar films, it champions individuality and following your dreams. And, if anything, maybe it made a generation of kids a little bit more adventurous with what they tasted.
9| Toy Story 4
While the film feels more like an epilogue to the series than another sequel, Toy Story 4 is an emotional gut punch like no other, and earns its place among the best of the series' nearly 25 years. The fourth installment to the franchise is moody, darker, and more introspective than the others, putting Woody front and center once again. Though it's not as exciting as some of the other adventures in the franchise, it compensates by being superiorly affecting in all the right ways.
8| The Incredibles
Long before the explosion of Marvel superhero movies, The Incredibles took a refreshing new approach the genre. With no big names to anchor the film, Pixar created its own superhero franchise, with a family at the heart of the story. Much like Alan Moore’s iconic Watchmen, this is a world where superheroes live in hiding following harsh national legislation. But, unlike the dark and gritty Watchmen comic, The Incredibles turned the subject matter into a simple, yet also deep, mix of humor and adventure that worked as a marital drama and an analysis of the growth of the family unit.
7| Toy Story 3
Toy Story 3 is a stunning outlier in Hollywood sequels. Where most franchises dip in quality over time, Toy Story had the incredible ability to deliver with every new film. Some might argue that each Toy Story outshines its predecessor, but it’s always hard to compete with nostalgia. Toy Story 3, does well to balance the growth of its characters, along with introducing a new set of toys without sacrificing what made the other’s great. More importantly, though, it directly addressed, an inescapable fact of life—adults who have left their childhoods behind. Naturally, anyone touched by Toy Story and Toy Story 2 left the movie with the crushing guilt in abandoning their childhood toys. With Andy prepared to go to college, we finally get to experience that transition with these characters in the film.
6| Finding Nemo
Certainly the funniest film in the Pixar catalog, Finding Nemo dives into the ocean to address some of the studio’s favorite themes of family, loyalty, and adventure. At the heart of this film, though, is a very subtle message of conservation, which Pixar will later delve into more in depth with WALL-E. Rather than anything overtly political, Finding Nemo focuses on creating some of the most stunning visuals that capture the exotic beauty of the oceans. And if young kids grow up wanting to preserve this underwater magic thanks to this movie, then our planet is better off for having Finding Nemo.
5| Inside Out
Quite possibly Pixar’s biggest challenge to date is Inside Out, a film that managed to visualize and anthropomorphize complex emotions and ideas of human consciousness. At a time when mental health and emotions are difficult to discuss, Pixar showed that these are universal challenges for every human. We all feel sad, scared, angry, and confused. But Pixar did this in a way that was accessible to both adults and children—both of whom can use a lesson about the nuances of understanding what we feel. That Pixar can conceptualize something like abstract thought in a way that makes sense to everyone is a phenomenal feat.
4| Toy Story 2
That “When Somebody Loved Me” song still absolutely destroys me. Sometimes it will pop into my head at random times, and the emotional fallout is just crushing. Like it does with the intro to Up, this scene tells the entire backstory of Jessie with no words needed. You’ll immediately want to go home and dig out your old toys and hold them. Toy Story 2 marked the moment when Pixar had truly established itself—this studio, and computer animated movies as a whole, were not going anywhere. There was a ton riding on this one. Had Toy Story 2 flopped like so many sequels, it’s hard to say what would have happened to Pixar.
In a stunning feat, Pixar used its gift of world-building to not only create a lush fantasy, but to also immerse viewers in Mexican cultural traditions. Using Day of the Dead as a colorful creative palette, Coco explores the meaning of family, life, and death. Like refreshingly feminist story of Brave, Coco proves that there’s power and value in creating a diverse tapestry of original movies. It revolves around the magic in music and memory, where the bolero-ranchero style song “Remember Me” serves as a cornerstone of the emotional journey.
Not only one of Pixar’s greatest films, WALL-E is just a great science fiction film. It represents what this genre can do best, which is providing a warning about our future while critically analyzing our past and present. Think about what would happen if WALL-E had been released in 2018 instead of 2008. This would have been a scandal. There would have been an entire online movement of Alt-Right trolls fighting to shut down its progressive ideals of environmentalism. For a children’s movie—or any movie for that matter—it’s bravely anti-corporation, anti-global warming. (Yes, the irony is not lost that it’s coming from a massive corporation like Disney, but as a piece of satirical art it still holds up.) It warns of the dangers of humanity’s abuse of the planet, while demonstrating the comical horrors of our gluttony, greed, and carelessness. WALL-E also came a year after the first iPhone, where we were examining our physical and emotional relationship with technology. And it’s only fitting that a clunky old robot, and its sleek companion, could show us what it really means to be human.
1| Toy Story
Despite what your personal preference might be—almost all Pixar movies are deservingly No. 1 for different reasons—it’s impossible to place Toy Story anywhere other than at the top of this list. It’s not just because it was the first Pixar movie, but the first entirely computer animated movie that completely shifted the foundations of how we tell stories. Obviously, Toy Story jumped the technology of computer filmmaking ahead by decades, but it also changed the intellectual depth and complexity of movies geared toward kids. This isn’t a film that talks down to children, rather, it talks up to adults—creating a world where the imagination and emotional struggle of kids is translated through dynamic characters. It appeals to both adults and children alike on parallel intellectual levels. Toy Story launched a studio that has made millions of dollars on tie-in playthings—and it’s only fitting that this was built on the back of the idea that even mass marketed, plastic toy can strive for individuality and identity. All it takes is a little imagination.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by Esquiremag.ph editors.