Pixar is one of the most successful studios on the planet. They've made more great movies than just about anybody, but even the best have an off day. While most Pixar movies are solid, there has to be a best, and there has to be a worst. We're going to rank them, from the bottom to the top.
With the release of Soul, Pixar has produced 23 feature films. We've included the newest entry in the Pixar universe here, so you can see where it stacks up. Clearly, there will be some disagreement about placement. For the most part, almost everything Pixar has done is pretty good, so in many cases, we're splitting hairs, but either way, decisions have been made. Here are all the Pixar movies starting at the bottom and going to the top.
23. Cars 2
We'll start with the low hanging fruit. Cars 2 is frequently cited as the worst of the Pixar flock, and while I would argue that the film is a good deal better than it gets credit for, it probably still qualifies for the bottom of the list. While a Pixar spy movie isn't a terrible idea by any means, it's not clear why anybody thought Cars was the right world to place it in. Following the release of Cars 3, the first sequel looks even more out of place, with it's over the top storyline and focus on Mater rather than Lightning McQueen, a character that not everybody really connected with.
22. The Good Dinosaur
There's nothing inherently wrong with The Good Dinosaur, the fact is that there just isn't a lot to recommend in it, either. The movie went through a much wilder production than nearly anything else Pixar has done, seeing the original version of the film entirely scrapped and entire character performances rerecorded by new actors. The result was just a mess of different ideas that told a decent enough story, but utterly lacked the magic that Pixar usually brings. It's saved from the bottom of the list for being one of Pixar's most technically impressive productions. It is truly visually stunning, but that's all the movie has going for it.
21. Monsters University
Monsters University has a unique message among animated films. Namely, the idea that just because you have a dream, it doesn't mean you're actually capable of achieving it. Considering this is coming from the same parent company as "When You Wish Upon A Star," that's more than a little subversive, and I can support that. Unfortunately, the good part of the film that gives you this message is at the end, and the movie that builds to it takes its time getting there. Overall, as a complete movie, this sequel isn't anywhere near the level of its predecessor. The heart that put the original movie much higher on this list is completely missing until the finale, making it difficult to even want to get there.
20. A Bug's Life
Until you saw the picture above, you might have forgotten that A Bug's Life had ever happened. Pixar's second feature isn't bad, but while Toy Story resonated with viewers in a remarkable way, A Bug's Life just didn't. It's an entertaining enough story, and a significant step in Pixar's animation skills from the first film, but in the grand scheme of things, this movie will be largely forgotten, especially now that A Bug's Land at Disney California Adventure is gone. It's an animated version of Three Amigos, only not actually as good as that sounds.
Onward is a good movie. Let's get that out there right at the start. There's nothing about Onward that is bad. It's got a great setting, a suburban fantasy world where centaurs are cops, elves go to high school, and Manticores run themed entertainment restaurants. It's got solid characters, great voice acting, and exactly the sort of heartwarming emotional finale that you would expect from Pixar. But that's maybe the problem. Onward gives us what we expect, and not very much more. It felt like going thought the motions more than most Pixar films.
It breaks my heart a little bit to put Brave so low on the list, as the movie does so many unique things that are worthy of note. It's got a female protagonist to start, the first Pixar film to do that. However, while Merida is a fantastic original character, the story that her movie tells is less so. Ultimately, the film falls victim to one of Disney's great flaws. A female protagonist rebels against her family, causes a huge problem that she then needs to fix, but seemingly learns little to nothing in doing so, and then gets everything she ever wanted. It's not a lesson worthy of Pixar, and it makes the film's finale ultimately hollow.
17. Cars 3
Cars 3 was something of a return to form for the franchise. While it may not have been the surprise that the original film was, the newest entry from Pixar brings the story back to its core, focusing on the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc Hudson and expanding on that story, while starting Lightning down a new path with new friends. It's also a solid sports movie, a genre Pixar had never really touched before, but the studio shows admirable skill in dealing with the intricacies of racing. While not as good as its original entry, it's a vast improvement over the previous sequel.
If I was ranking Pixar movies based on the first 10 minutes, Up would be at the top of this list. However, Up ultimately suffers from the opposite problem as Monster's University. While the movie has one of the best openings in film history, the rest of the movie doesn't quite live up to where it begins. The love story that drives Carl gets a bit lost in the adventure, and while the adventure isn't without fun or heart, the entire movie isn't as good as the only part you actually remember. Still, that opening though. Damn.
15. Finding Dory
Pixar took a chance with Finding Dory. Similar to what the studio did with Cars 2, it took a popular supporting character and built an entirely new movie around them. However, in this case, they did a much better job. Finding Dory makes a hero out of a character with a disability, something millions can relate to but that rarely gets any attention on a movie screen. Dory is as emotionally touching as anything produced by Pixar. The film truly finds something new to say with this sequel, and it's worthy of being in the top 10. If only there weren't so many other great Pixar movies.
14. Toy Story 4
Following Toy Story 3, fans assumed we were done with adventures of Woody, Buzz, and the rest. Through out the production of Toy Story 4 fans wondered why this was a movie that needed to be made. And maybe it didn't need to be made, but without question Pixar and director Josh Cooley found a new story to tell worthy of the franchise. It reminded us that Toy Story is ultimately about Woody's journey, and that journey didn't end when Andy left for college. Whether or not it's even over now is anybody's guess.
13. Incredibles 2
Of the various sequels to Pixar movies that we've seen over the years, the one that seemed the most obvious was also the one that took the longest to come along. If The Incredibles was a simple superhero story then what makes more sense to a superhero franchise than a sequel? And Incredibles 2 delivers. Picking up right where the last one left off the sequel follows Elastigirl as she becomes the new face of superheroes and Mr. Incredible is left to try and do all the stuff mom used to handle. It's a simple and obvious enough premise but it's pulled off with near clockwork precision. The finale maybe leaves a bit to be desired, but it's one of the best Pixar sequels not called Toy Story.
While the lead characters of the Cars films may be the least human when compared to anything else Pixar has created, there is something about the world they inhabit which is the most real. Somehow, the inner humanity of the characters comes through in a story about finding oneself and learning what is truly important, even though the characters are machines. Also, it's got the best music of any film Pixar has made. There's a reason this franchise has endured as well as Toy Story, and this film is it.
11. Monsters Inc
What else can be said about a movie with a relationship so powerful it spawned the unified theory of the Pixar universe? While the relationship between Sully and Boo is the emotional core of Monsters Inc, the friendship between Sully and Mike can't be overlooked, either. It may exceed the Woody/Buzz dynamic as Pixar's top friendship. These two are as close as brothers, and it was their relationship that eventually spawned a sequel. It also succeeds where many Pixar movies tend to stumble, in the villain department. With Randall, the movie has a foil that many Pixar movies either do without, or tend to do poorly.
10. Toy Story
Make no mistake, Toy Story is one of the most important films ever made. When Pixar first released a movie that was entirely computer animated nobody was quite sure what how well it would work. While the movie has begun to show its age in some ways (take a look at the animation for Andy today) the fact is that without Toy Story the rest of this list wouldn't even be here. It's a remarkable achievement in the history of filmmaking and will always be remembered as one of the best for that reason alone. But also, it's a really good movie about friendship and acceptance.
9. Finding Nemo
Just start crying at the beginning and don't quit until the movie is over. Finding Nemo is the movie that showed us what an emotional punch Pixar was capable of delivering, and they've rarely done it better since. A character is faced with the loss of his child, the most terrible thing a father could endure, and he goes to the ends of his earth to get him back. It's an adventure but it's also a quest worthy of Joseph Campbell. Seeing the father and son reunited is end of Pixar's great emotional rollercoasters.
8. Toy Story 2
The middle child of the Toy Story franchise. Toy Story 2 doesn't have the benefit of being the surprising first installment or the emotionally cathartic end to the trilogy. Still, it's a significant step forward for the franchise, and it worked as proof that Pixar could do sequels right. Everything from the animation to the story are taken to the next level. Also, we got introduced to Jessie (Joan Cusack), and her story, a much darker view of what it means to be a toy, is the main reason the movie is so good.
Pixar is great at creating magical worlds, but they're usually inhabited by equally magical characters. Coco, while it's still full of magic and wonder, is the most human story the studio has yet told. While the focus is a culture that will be foreign to many, the themes of the importance of family are universal. Miguel is a real person and the most relatable protagonist Pixar has ever created. Coco is a movie that celebrates a particular culture, but one that can be enjoyed by all of them. The land of the dead is a visual treat throughout, and while it's not Pixar's first musical, it's proof Pixar could make one.
The criminally underrated Pixar movie award without a doubt goes to Ratatouille. Patton Oswalt is fantastic as the rat Remy who simply wants to cook. While many films are about chasing dreams, there is no more an underdog story than this one. It's truly unique as a film, even among Pixar's eclectic mix, and shouldn't be overlooked by anybody. Everything about the movie, from its focus on cooking to its French location, is more than a little weird, but it all just plays into the fact that Pixar has never made a movie quite like this one.
5. Toy Story 3
For a generation that grew up with Pixar's Toy Story series, the end of the trilogy was a special experience. Toy Story 3 had a lot it needed to accomplish, but it did all of it nearly perfectly. It brought the character's full circle, wrapped up the story of Andy's childhood, created a solid villain for the movie to overcome, and did it all while still being funny. It also has one of the most truly chilling moments that Pixar has ever envisioned, a frightening moment that probably scarred a generation of children. While this film may not be quite as high on the list as some might expect, that has little to do with its own brilliance.
4. The Incredibles
Before superhero movies reached the absolutely explosive levels that they now have, Pixar showed Marvel and DC how to do it right with their own film in the genre. The Incredibles is a fantastic superhero movie and a beautiful family drama. Each member of the family is complete and fully realized, and while the film still has the emotional core that we expect from Pixar, it's also a fantastic action movie. Truly, it's still one of the best superhero movies yet made.
3. Inside Out
There are great movies and then there are important ones. Inside Out is both. It should be shown to every growing child in school as they begin to mature and learn to deal with their own new emotions. An incredibly simple premise, giving personality to different emotions, becomes so much deeper upon closer examination. It's a story that literally anybody can relate to and one that can't help but kick you right in the heart, even on repeat viewings. It's the pinnacle of not just what animation, but filmmaking, is capable of doing. It holds a mirror up to life and helps us understand ourselves just a little bit better.
You know you've done something special when you can tell an epic love story without saying a word. Up did it in the first 10 minutes of the movie, butt Wall-E does it for the entire runtime of the story. There's barely a word of dialogue in the first half of the story but that doesn't keep us from falling in love with Wall-E and Eve as they fall in love with each other. The animation has to tell the story and it does so perfectly. A movie like this was a serious gamble but it paid off big time with one the best science fiction movies ever made.
I'm not even sure what can be said about Soul. It's the culmination of everything Pixar has done to date. Maybe, if Soul had arrived at a different time, it would have meant something different, but it arrived during a pandemic and it asked its audience to do the most radical thing imaginable, appreciate being alive. A jazz soundtrack melds with the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross score perfectly. Next level animation creates the world of "the great before" is a way that feels perfectly ethereal. It's just a special film and the best we've seen from Pixar so far.